This The Orville review contains spoilers.
The Orville Season 1 Episode 10
The deception in this week’s episode of The Orville may not have been the most innovative gimmick in the trope closet, but if most viewers realized early on that none of what was happening to Alara was real, at least “Firestorm” did a good job of keeping everyone guessing as to how the horrific reality was manifesting and to whom. But just because the episodic nature of this series allows it to explore one-off concepts like this doesn’t mean it should. The horror elements, although admittedly scary, mostly felt out of place making this another dud in a season of ups and downs.
Perhaps the humor this week was meant to be low key to allow the genuine fear to shine through, but the few jokes that popped up were mostly clunkers. Once again, Bortus got a majority of the deadpan successes: the “Am I early?” line dressed in a powdered wig, the assurance that the alligator in the cargo bay has been crushed, and the surprising fear of Isaac revealed at the end give the Moclan the comedy MVP for the third week in a row. The jokes about purgatory being like marriage and the warnings to watch out for pies, seltzer bottles, and balloon animals were not worthy of the normally excellent humor in The Orville.
It was clever, however, to cast Robert Picardo, who played a holographic doctor in Star Trek: Voyager, in an episode about a holographic simulation. We learned a little bit about Xelayans through Picardo’s character as he expresses his disapproval of his daughter’s position in the service. We’ve seen quite a bit of Alara’s insecurities in season 1 so far, and the parental influence goes a long way towards explaining her hangups and her fears.
And fear is at the heart of this episode, despite the fact that the situations were at times ridiculous. The clown was genuinely scary; the spiders were definitely creepy; and Alara’s distress was clearly apparent, but it all felt a bit hokey. That being said, rooting the whole scenario in the security chief’s feelings of guilt over the death of a crewmate was definitely effective, and it’s nice to know the stakes are real in this show (even though Lieutenant Payne was technically a red-shirt).
In the end, it was the execution that fell flat. Perhaps some viewers thought Nurse Park had truly died and that Claire was temporarily insane, but as soon as Gordon was eaten by a giant spider (or perhaps even as early as the abyss in Kelly’s quarters), no one was fooled any longer. The storm was clearly to blame, even if we couldn’t figure out how or why. Was it a surprise when it was revealed that Alara was in a simulation? Sure, but the path to that reveal was sprinkled with half-baked horror scenarios that only fooled us because of the supposed presence of the other crew members, who were equally as confused as we were.
The layers of misdirects were there, making us think the whole thing was mass hysteria, collective insanity, peyote in the food synthesizers, or even some alien presence in the clouds of the storm nebula. The red herring of having Alara suspect that Isaac was somehow behind it all once she and the Kalyon were the only ones left on the ship was meant to be one last twist, but by then we knew it was just a matter of time before Alara woke up or figured it out.
That brings us to Directive 38, which allows the security officer to lock out even the captain from ending the simulation that the horror show ends up being a part of. Alara’s “therapy” is an interesting concept, and the episode ends on a note of ingenuity despite the pat conclusion. Thankfully, Captain Mercer points out the misuse of the rule because otherwise her measures might feel a little over the top, but her feelings of guilt are real, and her desire to purge her fears is completely understandable.
Alara is already a strong character, and she probably didn’t need a bottle episode like “Firestorm” to flesh her out. The standalone story was different but not necessarily better than some episodes that have come before. The Orville doesn’t need to please everyone with each installment, but with mediocre episodes now prevailing these past few weeks, we can only hope to return after Thanksgiving to a funny, rip-roaring adventure of a more traditional nature to enjoy.