I. “Full of sound and fury…”
I enjoyed the Short Treks, and I’m even happier that they’re having a real impact on Discovery’s story arcs. I was therefore really quite excited at the prospect of returning to Kaminar to check in on Siranna and the rest of the Kelpiens to see how they’d fared in the eighteen or so years since Saru departed for the stars. Discovery did not disappoint.
Discovery detects a red light near Kaminar and warps over to investigate where Saru immediately starts behaving more aggressively, tapdancing on the line of insubordination with Captain Pike, who is decidedly unamused. Saru and Burnham beam down to the planet, where they meet Siranna, Saru’s sister whom we met in “The Brightest Star.” She’s become the village priest in her father’s stead, and the moment she meets Burnham is magic. Siranna welcomes Burnham wholeheartedly, though she does not let her brother off the hook for disappearing for nearly two decades. Siranna’s anger is real, understandable, and addresses an aspect of the episode that might have gotten glossed over by earlier Trek iterations—the very real emotional ramifications of Saru’s departure. This is a Siranna who has come into her own, and she’s a lovely counterpoint to Saru’s rage. Saru has also changed, as a result of the Vaharai, but also due to his experiences as part of the Federation, but though Saru’s technical prowess and intelligence proves invaluable, he has not outstripped his sister emotionally.
Saru’s big moment in the episode takes place when he offers himself as a sacrifice for the Baul. Realistically, that’s supposed to be an indication that Saru is no longer controlled by the fear instilled by his biology, but I’m not really certain it is. Saru was willing to work himself to death to save the Sphere a couple of episodes ago, so he’s had the capacity. He just seems to be realizing a different part of himself, and that’s good to see.
Pike’s decision to go along with Saru’s plan to jumpstart Vaharai in all of the Kelpiens is interesting. While Burnham does some pretty serious verbal jockeying to construct a rationale for interfering with the Kelpiens, the crew of the Discovery is undertaking the creation of a major shift in the Kelpien/Baul relationship. The revelation that the Kelpiens were originally the dominant species (and equipped with spikey projectiles—I wonder if Saru is venomous) plays into previous themes from “Saints of Imperfection” in that the oppressed Kelpiens are monsters to the Baul. Still, we have very little assurance that the now-evolved Kelpiens, having suffered unimaginable oppression under the Baul, will not, in turn, exact vengeance. Sure, the Baul are more technologically advanced, but a great deal of that advance has now been neutralized by the Red Angel. Perhaps Pike, and by extension the viewers, are putting their collective trust both in Siranna and the Red Angel that the Kelpiens will prove to be the more civilized. It just seems like a weak plot-point for a season that has been strong thus far.
The Baul themselves are also somewhat ridiculous. They look like the result of what would happen if Armus and a Xenomorph produced an offspring, and they sound like they’re speaking underwater. I have no idea how we’re meant to accept that this species is at all evolutionarily practical, but I suppose we don’t have to accept it. They exist, much as did Armus, to serve as a manifestation for the episode’s themes. That said, I’d much rather we not revisit the Baul.
II. “A poor player…”
Because this was a two-parter, I nearly opted to discuss both parts of the episode together, but I think there’s enough here to warrant including in this post, mostly because this episode seems to be where the Orville tells us that it’s taking the gloves off. In “Identity,” Isaac shuts down mysteriously, prompting the Orville to leave Union space for the planet Kaylon in order to get their science officer repaired. Once on the planet, things begin to go a bit sideways for our stalwart crew. Although Kaylon Prime reactivates Isaac, he opts to leave the Orville to remain on Kaylon…or DOES HE? Ty pulls a trademarked Wesley Crusher move and sneaks out of the ship to find Isaac only to discover the real horror show that lurks just beneath the literal surface of the planet—Isaac and his people massacred the species that created them. Isaac and his fellow AI compatriots storm the ship, apparently slaughter some redshirts, and use the Orville as a flag ship from which to launch their invasion of the planet Earth.
The Orville is not a subtle show. From the first moment we see them, we know there’s something up with the Kaylon because the default eye color on Kaylon is red, unlike Isaac’s blue. There’s a touch of Star Wars in the color symbology there. Throughout the episode, the script indicates that something is off—Mercer commenting that he feels the Kaylon are stalling, Keyali discovering what could the manufacture of particle weapons, Isaac observing in his goodbye speech that “Right now, you like me.” Sure, there are feints that make up the bulk of the episode. The emotional impact of Isaac’s departure on Dr. Finn, Ty, and Marcus gets a fair bit of screen time.
The crew throws Isaac a goodbye party, which is adorable and intended as comic relief before the episode goes really dark.
The Kaylon storm the ship, and we actually see their…head lasers…make impacts, leaving several Orville crew dead. The episode shows us Ty and Marcus hiding in their quarters while Klyden and Topa are herded with the rest of the crew to the shuttle bay. Mercer, Grayson, and Finn are dragged to the bridge, where they are forced to watch Kaylon interlopers occupy key stations and begin hacking the ship’s security systems. Notably, all of this happens under Isaac’s watchful eye-lights. It’s heavy-stuff for a show that started out its life mostly as a comic version of TNG.
Isaac’s betrayal horrifies Dr. Finn, and honestly, it should have horrified me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as excited to see the episode’s conclusion as any of you, and I want to know if Mark Jackson is going to be departing the show. The episode’s emotional beats just didn’t quite land for me. I found most of the performances to be a bit wooden, with the exception of the scene between Dr. Finn and Ty in the tree. The episode’s pacing was strange; the episode should have been a whirlwind of emotional pathos for Dr. Finn, but she went from grieving Isaac to accepting his decision in about an afternoon. Ty’s distress and Marcus’s teenage angst felt much more real. Dr. Finn’s anger at Isaac felt no more severe than it did in “A Happy Refrain,” and while certainly discovering that one has been used as a science experiment is painful, discovering that your lover is about to destroy your entire species should be a bit more traumatic.
I don’t know what I’m hoping for, in terms of part 2. Isaac’s real, defining quality has been that he honestly believes himself to be superior to humans. If he turns against his people to save the day, I’m not sure how he can do that without losing that quality, especially as “Identity, pt 1” set that up so nicely. The boys call him out for the meanness of that attitude in the episode’s opener. If the events turn out to be a simulation that tests the humans to see if they’re worthy, I’ll be massively disappointed, especially as the Orville has already borrowed way too much from TNG plotlines. On the other hand, if this episode is the show’s attempt at TNG’s “Best of Both Worlds,” I’m not buying it yet. They’ll have to do more to sell me on it, particularly as the Kaylon are not nearly as iconically terrifying as the Borg. If anything, Isaac’s betrayal feels more like a nod to Lorca’s actions in Star Trek: Discovery, but we’ll have to see how it plays out. I know I’ll be on the edge of my couch.
Stray Observations from the Couch:
1. Seriously, Siranna offers Burnham tea. I loved the moment, and I really loved the teapot.
2. Dr. Culber appears to be hale after his resurrection if more than a little freaked out. Granted, if Stamets was staring at me with that expression, I might be freaked out a bit, too.
3. We now know that the Red Angel has some sort of EV suit. I wonder what THAT can mean!
4. Did anyone else think the head lasers looked like demonic pigtails? I giggled, and now, I share that image with you, dear readers.
5. Bortus and the flower—don’t judge. We have ALL been there.
6. I had no idea Scott Grimes could sing, and y’all, it was a weird, weird moment.