In which Unimatrix 47 tackles S2E6 of the Orville and S2E3 of Star Trek: Discovery. As always, here there be spoilers.
I. The Orville: “A Happy Refrain”
In Season 2, Episode 6, Claire Finn finally acts upon the budding crush that has been developing since the events of “Into the Fold”, and it goes better than you’d expect from an Orville romance. The episode focuses on the singular plotline, despite a bizarre framing convention regarding Bortus’ attempt to grow a mustache. (Yes, it looked strange, and yes, everyone noticed. No, Klyden did not like it, and yes, Klyden won on that point.)
The story opens with Isaac presenting Claire a banana in Sick Bay because he’s noticed that she gets irritable if she has not eaten after 4 pm, and honestly, who doesn’t? She asks him to help her with a paper she’s drafting, and with his general disdain for humanity, he corrects her work. Somehow, Claire takes all of this in stride, and the episode shifts to her confessing her feelings for Isaac to Commander Kelly Grayson, who recommends that Claire act on her feelings. Shockingly, Claire does and asks Isaac out, prompting him to seek advice from Gordon and LaMarr. If this seems formulaic, that’s because it is. “A Happy Refrain” is the Orville’s Rom-Com episode, and a great deal has been written regarding whether the episode’s conceit is effective. I’m not going to retread whether this episode brings anything new to the “human dating a robot” genre other than to note that the keen-eared watcher will recognize a number of thinly veiled references to Data’s short-lived romance in “In Theory”.
I am, however, going to talk a little bit about the music. While yes, the episode is probably best characterized as a rom-com with its peppering of clever moments—yes, I laughed when Gordon and LaMarr race to the bridge to discuss Isaac’s request for dating advice, I think there’s a certain amount to be said for the importance of music to this episode. Macfarlane, who wrote the episode, goes out of his way to remind us that Isaac is Ty’s piano teacher. Somehow, Macfarlane managed to acquire a symphony that plays “Singin’ in the Rain,” which will become a theme throughout the episode and culminate in Isaac forcing a downpour on the Bridge while setting his apology to “Singin’ in the Rain.” As the song becomes the thematic unifier for the episode, the aptly named “A Happy Refrain” takes on similar qualities to the musicals that informed the development of the rom-com. Claire’s romance with Isaac is entirely stylized, moving so rapidly through their relationship beats that frequently, the pacing render some of the moments a little jarring, but we’re willing to forgive those moments because they exist within a formula we know well. Does the episode really explore a deep theme? No. Does it amuse and entertain? Sure. Sometimes, that’s really all I need from a tv-show, and while I do think Macfarlane is using this as an easy way to give Claire Finn more to do and Isaac greater characterization than just “robot jerk,” I still found myself enjoying the story.
II. Star Trek: Discovery—“Point of Light”
Star Trek: Discovery’s “Point of Light” is a hard episode that centers around hard choices. Discovery has always been willing to grapple with hard choices, and even where the show has failed in that effort, the fact that it has attempted is worth much. “Point of Light” is not one of those episodes that could have been better, and it may be one of the better episodes of Discovery to date, which is high praise coming from me.
This episode quickly wraps up the Tilly/May weirdness, exposing May as a sentient space fungus that took up residence inside Tilly, and I confess, I’ll be interested to see where the show takes this plot line. When May started going on about a blonder captain, I had a moment of fear that they were going to surprise us all with a Kirk cameo, but as it happens, she was looking for someone much, much paler who coincidentally has no idea what she wants. I would have liked to have seen Tilly attempt to interact with May a bit more in the spirit of Starfleet, but I can say that from my safe, fungus-free couch.
The Spock weirdness continues, but we should all take a moment to appreciate Mia Kirshner’s Amanda Grayson, who is just fantastic. She’s a character who got short shrift in TOS and the related movies, but Discovery is giving her space, and Kirshner is running with it. Grayson nabs her husband’s shuttle, heads to the Starbase in which Spock is hospitalized, is denied information, and so she steals it. Then, she zips on over to the Discovery, where she hopes to have her adopted daughter thwart Starfleet’s version of HIPAA and hack into the encrypted files. Y’all, that’s chutzpah, but she’s not even finished. She finds out both that Spock is a fugitive and that Burnham’s did something to destroy her relationship with Spock, and Grayson doesn’t even blink. She’s clearly wounded by Burnham’s confession, but she reaches out to her adopted daughter with a firm, albeit wordless, compassion. Then, she walks out to go find her son, and honestly, my money is on her. Federation law enforcement be damned. It’s also important to note that her conversation with Burnham regarding Spock’s upbringing is a great example of how Vulcan culture has some disturbing parallels with toxic masculinity. In a show that literally killed a mainsplainer in the season-opener, I feel like this theme will reemerge.
The heart and soul of the episode, however, is the Klingon drama. Mary Chieffo and Shazad Latif reprise their roles as an embattled Chancellor L’Rell and the conflicted Ash Tyler. Tyler is clearly a liability, but L’Rell is determined to hold onto him, despite the problems he could cause her, and the episode gleefully allows us to think that it’s just because Tyler is all she has of Voq, for whom she felt a love that rivalled the love between Kahless and Lukara. However, it’s more complicated than that as during their brief relationship, they conceived a son whom L’Rell nurtured ex-utero and had never seen. We also see the painful result of the thwarted love between Tyler and Burnham, during a brief, ill-fated communication between them. Martin-Green and Latif handle this moment beautifully; Tyler and Burnham are both clearly grieving for the loss of their love, but they equally as obviously understand how and why it happened. They’re handling it with maturity and grace, which is something we should see more of on our screens.
The Klingons generally are not handling the unification of their people with either grace or poise, so Kol-Sha of the House of Kor plots to force L’Rell to sign over the chancellorship to him, using the son she and Tyler have newly agreed to raise together. Kol-Sha has the infant kidnapped, and after a fantastically Klingon fight sequence, Kol-Sha dishonorably injects them both with a paralytic. However, deus-ex-Georgiou steps in to save the day, but doing so is not without cost. Georgiou, erstwhile Emperor and current Section 31 Operative, forces L’Rell to make a choice between her son and love and the Empire. L’Rell takes the choice, and they contrive the means to fool the rest of the Great Houses into believing that both Tyler and the child are dead while the still-breathing Tyler takes the child to a Klingon monastery where he will grow up never knowing his parents.
It’s gut-wrenching and terrible to watch, and it’s especially poignant when juxtaposed with Amanda Grayson’s refusal to allow Spock to be hunted by anyone but herself. L’Rell’s speech naming herself the Mother of the Empire smacks a little bit of Queen Elizabeth 1, no doubt because in part, she’s navigating the space as a woman in a man’s role. The decision to have her renounce further offspring did not sit well with me, but Georgiou’s point that the infant was a liability stands. I do hope we’ll get to see how this choice costs L’Rell throughout the season, especially as Discovery is good about showing the fall out.
III. Stray Observations from the Couch
1) While I’m sure Mark Jackson was excited to get to work outside what has to be an uncomfortable mask, I am a little disappointed that getting the two of them together required “humanizing” Isaac. I’d like to think that by the time we get to intergalactic travel, we’re beyond that.
2) Yaphit is back, and he’s still an absolute sleaze-ball, even when he wears Norm McDonald’s face.
3) I was a tad underwhelmed by the Mardi Gras fur on Claire’s first date dress, which is strange since the Orville’s costuming has been so good to this point. Her second date outfit made up for it.
4) The simulator/holodeck aspect of all of this is a tad creepy. One wonders how and when it gets cleaned.
5) “This is the weirdest ship in the fleet.” Yes, Gordon. Yes, it is.
6) I love L’Rell’s outfits, and something about it reminds me a great deal of Elizabeth I.
7) I don’t quite understand why Georgiou decided to join Section 31. She was seriously skeptical about the Federation last season, but maybe that’s been handwaved in favor of the potential Georgiou/Section 31 spin off?
8) I’m a tad irritated that the show keeps tapdancing around whatever horrible thing Burnham is supposed to have done to Spock. This feels cheap in a season that has hit its stride, and furthermore, I cannot imagine why Burnham couldn’t just have explained to Spock with logic that he wouldn’t be safe around his adopted sister because Vulcan terrorists targeted her. This all seems a bit overwrought to me.