“Lasting Impressions” in the Holodeck

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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One of my favorite lines in poetry is “I am a part of all that I have met,” and what Tennyson does in a single line of “Ulysses,” the Orville attempts to do in an episode while simultaneously wrestling with humanity’s real fear of being forgotten. It’s ambitious for the generally single-issue show, and while the episode does not quite manage to reach its goal, I applaud the effort.

The basic premise is that, after discovering an iPhone in a time capsule that for some reason, Dr. Sherman (Tim Russ) brings to the Orville from Earth. LaMarr and Yaphit discover how to unlock the phone’s data while the cigarettes fascinate Bortus—more on that below. Malloy, intrigued by the video left by the phone’s owner, Laura Huggins, uploads the iPhone’s data to the simulator and creates an interactive world so that he can meet Laura and see what her life was like. If in Ancient Egypt, to speak the name of the dead is to make them live again, then the Union-era version is to create a complicated interactive computer simulation of a person. Malloy, predictably, begins to fall for Laura, prompting concern from his friends Mercer, LaMarr, Grayson, and Keyali because the Laura texting him is nothing but a computer simulation of a woman who’s been dead for 400 years. Mercer even compares her to Bortus’ sex lagoon, offending Malloy and renewing that episode as nightmare fodder for me.

Due to the nature of the show, we already know we can’t add Laura to the permanent cast, so we go into the episode also cognizant that Malloy’s relationship must eventually end. Unfortunately, as the computer works through the information contained on Laura’s phone, it recreates her reconciliation with her former boyfriend Greg, prompting Malloy to delete Greg from the simulation so that he can continue his relationship with Laura. When he does so, he discovers that Laura isn’t the person he loves without Greg in her life, so Malloy is forced to let her go. In a fantastic move by the show, Malloy really does.

TNG played with this concept a bit in “Booby Trap,” and as with all stories involving Geordie LaForge’s love life, it took a turn toward the creepy. He creates a Leah Brahms from her journals and falls in love with her. When the real Leah Brahms encounters what amounts to holographic porny fanfic of herself in “Galaxy’s Child”, she is understandably angry, though the episode’s structure indicates that we should side with Geordi on this one. No, no we should not. In “Fair Haven,” Voyager played with the question of whether one could have a real relationship with a holodeck character, and that episode ultimately tries to split the baby—Janeway continues her relationship with Michael Sullivan but instructs the computer to prevent her from modifying Sullivan’s character. Sure, Janeway loses Sullivan in “Spirit Folk,” but it isn’t because it’s the right thing for herself or Sullivan but because the holodeck can’t support a program that constantly runs.

Note, I’m not bringing Deep Space Nine’s Vic Fontaine or Voyager’s Doctor into this because while the holograms become friends and valued crew members, neither is the object of a romantic relationship. The reasons for that, at least as far as the Doctor goes, are a subject for an entire essay unto themselves.

Unlike in the TNG and installments, in “Lasting Impressions,” Malloy’s relationship is exactly that, a real relationship in all the ways such things matter. He met Laura, formed a connection, and proceeded to envision a life with her, albeit one confined to the simulator. The episode never questions whether Malloy’s feelings are real or valid, and I think the story shows us that they are. There’s a brief moment of squick on the part of Malloy’s core group of friends, but that squick is largely unimportant to the story, thematically and otherwise. Even Grayson, who serves as the episode’s mouthpiece, ultimately acknowledges the truth of Malloy’s love, pointing out that Greg influenced Laura to become the person with whom Malloy fell in love, the implication being that Laura has now influenced Malloy. In that sense, Laura has achieved a certain kind of immortality, escaping the ultimate fate that awaits almost all of us—anonymity. My husband observed that the episode left him in an existential mope, but in a way, the episode leaves us with bittersweet hope.

I loved that Malloy accepts that he has to say goodbye to this relationship, letting Laura go, not just because she’s a holographic recreation but because she has decided to reconcile with Greg. It’s a shockingly mature move by Malloy, even after he discovers that rewriting the program ultimately destroys what he loved about Laura, and it’s really great to see the show giving him some depth. He’s a far cry from the guy who thought it was funny to stick a piece of Yaphit in prawgus cake (“New Dimensions”).

The B-story was largely forgettable. Bortus and Klyden discover cigarettes, and they become immediately addicted to them. The results are supposed to be more adorable Moclan hijinks, but as it so often does, the show takes it too far. Bortus and Klyden end up in an all-out brawl in their quarters before Dr. Finn can save them with some magic anti-addiction drugs in injection form. I’ll admit that Bortus resolutely chewing gum on the bridge was fairly funny, but the funny moments did not counterbalance the weird, violent undertone in the Bortus/Klyden relationship. The story link was, I suppose, to contrast the Moclans’ addiction to nicotine with Malloy’s holodeck addiction, but fortunately, the script never explored that potential link. As a result, we get a sweet, if somewhat sad story that ends with Malloy confessing his love to Laura by joining her in a duet. The episode is shmaltzy and predictable, but sometimes, schmaltz just works.

Stray Observations from the Couch
1. Dr. Sherman is none other than Tim Russ who played Voyager’s Tuvok; it’s really great to see him onscreen.
2. Was this episode sponsored by Apple? Both phones were iPhones. Apparently, Samsung was unavailable.
3. I did not need to see the weird eye trick, but I like that Grayson gets to handle the situation with her trademark grace and sensitivity.
4. Where was Isaac this episode? Did Mark Jacobs have another commitment?

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