Warp Speed Ahead

Dr. Finn Gets an Episode

Marie Brownhill
Game Industry News is running the best blog posts from people writing about the game industry. Articles here may originally appear on Marie's blog, Fan Collective Unimatrix 47.
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For my mostly-on-time Orville post, I’m addressing episode eight, which featured a number of surprises.

“Into the Fold” is a title that refers not only to the plot device du jour but also to Isaac’s entrance not only into the fold of Claire Finn’s small family. This episode centers around a fairly hackneyed plot—the vacation that goes awry in the worst way possible, and if viewers expected this episode to be funny, well, they were sorely mistaken. National Lampoon in Space, this was not. Rather, Finn, her boys, and Isaac have to contend with separation, a water-borne toxin, and cannibals. Finn’s section of the shuttle gets torn apart, leaving Isaac in charge of the two boys, and while Isaac appears to be woefully unqualified to handle their fears, he steps up to the plate, despite some snarky comments regarding their fleshy inferiority. Finn, on the other hand, ends up kidnapped by a random denizen of the moon on which they have crash landed and must break away from her captor in order to save Ty, who is dying from exposure to the toxin before all of them are eaten and/or dismantled by the planetary natives.

I confess that I liked this take on the “shuttle crash” trope; the episode does a solid job of showcasing Penny Johnson Jerald’s acting chops as both harried mother and furious Mama Bear. Marcus gets a small maturity story arc, and Isaac gets an entrée into the emotional life of the Orville’s crew. In addition, the script gives us as viewers an insight into what human family life is like in the Union, and though we do see families in Star Trek, I think the Orville actually improves on its inspiration. Families in Star Trek have tended to fall into one of two categories—either there is a single parent situation due to the death or separation of one of the parents, such as Jennifer Sisko, K’Ehleyr, Greskrendtregk, and Jack Crusher, or the families are very nuclear, like Miles and Keiko O’Brien or Tom and B’Elanna. Thus far, the only divorced parent that I can remember is Bones McCoy, and even then, his daughter is mostly mentioned in the Animated Series. Finn, however, is a single parent by choice, which she explains to Isaac, and using Isaac to question Penny about the boys’ lack of father is an inspired choice because Isaac is the outsider. The implication being made here is that Finn’s choice to have children on her own is so normal that none of the rest of the characters even think to remark upon it. It’s also perfectly in line with Finn’s character. She makes it clear in the first episode that she chooses her posts, so her choice to become a mother, regardless of a lack of partner, is a perfect demonstration of Finn’s agency.

We see more of that agency in how she frees herself from captivity. Now, my husband and I watch the Orville and Discovery together, and usually, we’re both on the same page regarding what we’re watching in the episodes. For this one, however, we had radically different takes on Finn’s escape. I never doubted that Finn’s life was in danger while she was in captivity. Her captor forces her to eat on his schedule, locks her in a windowless room, and never asks her what she wants. He informs her that his is the only safe place on the moon and that he is the only source of safe food and water; he demonstrates the threat he poses by showing her his weapons. He refuses to let her contact her kids even though she has a device to do so; he bullies her into eating. I thought it was very clear that the show set him up to be yet another threat on the planet, so Finn’s use of deadly force to escape did not surprise me. It did, however, shock my husband who thought she should have demonstrated some form of gratitude as the man had saved her from the shuttle wreckage. I don’t know if it’s in response to our different lived experiences, but I didn’t think gratitude was warranted in this case. I think Finn clearly understood what her captor planned for her, and she reacted accordingly.

Portraying her strength in the face of that kind of danger is an amazing move for the Orville. Having Finn dominate her captor establishes in a very real way that once again, its female characters are not damsels. They’re just as capable of rescuing themselves, even without Kitan’s unusual strength. It’s a remarkably mature move, and it isn’t one that always gets made even in Star Trek. I think I’ll be discussing this episode further with my husband, but I’d be interest in your takeaways from the episode. Drop me a comment below.

4 thoughts on “Dr. Finn Gets an Episode”

  1. Great column. I have to agree with your husband on this one though. I was disappointed that Finn’s go-to move out of the gate was to kill the man who rescued her. She didn’t even try anything else. Then later in the episode she tells her son to make sure that his phaser is set to stun when repelling the cannibals who are attacking their camp en-mass with clear intentions on doing harm, namely killing and eating them, “because we respect life, even if they do not.”

    I have to call BS on Finn, given that she just murdered the man who saved her from a similar fate. Yes, he was being unreasonable, but probably because he was crazy from being alone for so long. He never threatened to hurt her, and even went back out into the wasteland to risk his life to bring her medicine when she tricked him into thinking she was dying. He was certainly NOT an active threat compared to the cannibals that she choose to spare a short time later, but she never gave it a second through before murdering him.

    It’s entirely possible, likely even in that environment, that he thought that nobody else sane was out there after finding her alone and unconscious amid a wrecked shuttlecraft, and that letting her go outside before she accepted the reality of the situation would get her killed. His assumption was even proven correct, as the people outside would have killed her if she had not first killed her rescuer and stolen his gun.

    The other thing is that she had so many other options short of murder. All the locks in the apartment were deadbolts on the inside, so she could have simply opened the door and left once she was in the main rooms. When he came back, instead of hiding in her room and stabbing him in the back, she could have hid in the main room and went out the front door after he came in. Or she could have kept talking with him, perhaps grabbed his gun and threatened to hurt him when he let his guard down – something that would have been easy for a trained Starfleet (or whatever they call it in Orville) officer.

    I also wonder if what she did was the true reason she didn’t file her half of the report, and why she made up an excuse to go do something else instead of working on it when Captain Mercer asked about it. She even sort of grimaced when it was suggested that they take the cure back to the moon. I wonder if she didn’t want to face what she did, or if she wanted to ensure that the truth of her actions stayed locked away.

    For a doctor, and for someone who preaches about the sanctity of life, even 20 minutes later in the same episode, resorting to assassination against a person with questionable-but-unknown motives and mental health, who was clearly never an active threat, was a poor choice – one that makes me like her character a whole lot less than before Into the Fold.

    1. I read him as an active threat–from the screaming in her face to force her to eat to the 80’s-tastic here’s-mah-gun move he pulled. That was not a man that was going to let her go, nor was he going to let her contact the outside world. Remember, he had her communicator and refused to let her use it.

      As far as talking him down, I don’t see that as an option, and I really don’t see disarming him as a viable response. In fact, current Army basic training does not teach how to do that. I don’t know that Starfleet/Union-whatever would either.

      Plus, she has an obligation to those kids. If he locks her in, refusing to let her out, how is she going to protect them?

      I also think there’s a different situation with the cannibals. Sure they want to kill her, but she’s not at their mercy in the same way she was at her captor’s. She has agency to spare their lives, so she does. With her captor, the power imbalance limits her choices.

      At any rate, it’s an interesting episode.

  2. I completely agree with Finn’s decision to use force to escape. It’s no different than someone locking you up to keep you “safe from harm”. He may, at one point in his life, been well-intentioned, but circumstances twisted that into insanity.

    1. Right?

      Also, what is this guy going to ask her for? There’s a whole host of really dark issues lurking around the issue of her captivity, and I’m pretty sure the show wants you to draw those conclusions.

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