Episode 14 of the Orville takes up exactly where “Tomorrow, Tomorrow, and Tomorrow” left off, though at first, it’s a bit confusing. The episode opens with two figures trudging through the snow, and the camera work feels a little reminiscent of the opening to “The Vulcan Hello.” That’s where the similarity ends, however, and we jump franchises, going from Star Trek to Star Wars, down to Yaphit sticking part of himself through a peep hole, not unlike the scene in which R2D2 and C3P0 confront the mechanical eyeball at Jabba’s Palace in Return of the Jedi. Even the bridge of the scavenger ship visually calls back to the Millennium Falcon’s iconic paned cockpit. I want to believe that all of these choices were a deliberate meta-commentary on the two franchises, considering the episode’s theme.
“The Road Not Taken” places the Orville crew in an alternate timeline in which the Kaylon won the battle from “Identity Part II.” As Kelly explains once she captures Mercer and Malloy, the Kaylon victory stems from her decision in “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” to refuse Mercer’s offer of a second date because she wished to spare them both pain. Because she and Mercer never married and subsequently divorced, she never secured Mercer’s captaincy of the Orville, meaning that Dr. Finn and her children never arrived onboard. As a result, Ty never formed his deep friendship with Isaac, so Isaac never betrayed his people, leading to total Kaylon victory. Thus, Kelly’s decision to spare herself and Mercer the pain of divorce results in the literal end of the world.
I’m a bit tired of “Kelly Grayson messes up with horrific consequences” as a plot sequence in the Orville, but I do like that the show revisits the question of how to cope with the knowledge that your life does not turn out the way you expect it will. Lieutenant Grayson concluded that she’d rather avoid the mistakes Commander Grayson made, but in the process, she made new ones with disastrous consequences. Lieutenant Grayson’s decision in “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” makes sense from her more youthful perspective, and the Grayson we meet on the scavenger ship, like Commander Grayson, has learned from the subsequent disasters.
I was worried that this episode would turn into an effort by the show once again to convince us that the Grayson/Mercer relationship is Incredibly Important or otherwise make Mercer the driver of the plot, but the episode seems cleverly to subvert both possibilities. The events in the prime timeline occur not merely because Mercer himself is present, despite Grayson’s assertion, but rather as a sum of everyone’s decisions over the course of seven years. Halston Sage’s cameo appearance as Alara Kitan reinforces that idea nicely. However, as the episode progresses, there are more and more moments between Grayson and Mercer that are…disappointing, including a “second date.”
I also have to admit that the episode itself is beautifully rendered. There are some moments in which the CGI hiccoughs feels a little flat, but the sequence in which Malloy pilots the shuttlecraft through the ice planet (again, it feels like the X-wing bombing run from A New Hope) is stunning. The visuals they create for the black hole’s event horizon are also beautiful even though I have it on good authority from an astronomer, Dr. Eric Schulman, that black holes simply do not work that way. The visual of a dead Earth is also fairly impactful, more so than I anticipated, as was the Orville’s explosion.
LaMarr, who has been fairly absent this season, gets to flex his intellect again, and it’s good to see him get a little development beyond “smart but goofy.” He’s a good engineer in this episode, and it’s nice to see that onscreen. Watching him extract data from the Connectome network brings us back to Star Trek. For the interested, it turns out that a “connectome” is a real thing that works mostly as the show presents it.
Dr. Finn gets to save the day, which is always a plus, though I wanted more out of her goodbye to her children, but with the show ending with Grayson accepting Mercer’s offer for a second date, we’re set up to return to the prime timeline for season three. The episode ends by mirroring the end of “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow,” including the terrible wig, and while I certainly hope we have put the issue of the Mercer/Grayson romance to bed, I suspect it will resurface.
Stray Thoughts from the Couch:
1. Apparently, LaMarr and Kitan, in the alternate timeline, had a relationship. It’s good to know that Kitan managed one relationship at least even if it ended badly.
2. Mercer asks Keyali to open the Orville’s bridge doors by asking her about a “jar of pickles” in a nice callback to previous episodes.
3. Of course Bortus is the only crew-member remaining on the Orville, just…of course he is.
4. Is there a reason Kelly’s shirt has to be missing a button?
5. I was fairly entertained by the flying head-drones. I don’t know why.
6. I tasted a Twinkie once. I cannot imagine being as excited about it as Mercer and Malloy are.