This review of The Orville: New Horizons contains spoilers.
The Orville: New Horizons Season 3 Episode 8
When Den of Geek spoke to the creative team of The Orville: New Horizons, director Jon Cassar, and executive-producers David A. Goodman and Brannon Braga spoke of how many of the episodes in this third season felt like making small films. There is no doubt “Midnight Blue” is the ultimate example of that creative approach.
This third season has far surpassed the outreach of the previous two outings of The Orville in terms of scope, scale, and more importantly: social commentary. Only three episodes ago, in “A Tale of Two Topas”, the show dealt with an immensely important and topical issue when Topa (Imani Pullum), felt unhappy in their existence. While Topa had the support of one of her fathers, Bortus (Peter Macon), they truly only found themselves when they transitioned to female and once again claimed who she is. Along this very personal journey, carried expertly by the young Pullum, Commander Grayson (Adrianne Palicki) shows Topa a recording of Haveen (Rena Owen), one of the only outspoken female Moclan voices in the entire universe. This is due to the fact that her own race does not recognize the rights of females, and often performs gender reassignment on infants to maintain an all male culture.
The Moclan culture has been an ongoing story thread throughout all three seasons of the show, and often an area of contention. When last Haveen and The Orville crew met, it was in an attempt to have The Planetary Union recognize the sovereignty of “The Sanctuary”, a colony where female Moclans can live in peace and without fear of persecution or harm. The Union, at the time, feared losing Moclus as an ally in the fight against the Kaylon, and so simply did not recognize The Sanctuary as its own state.
In the beginning of “Midnight Blue”, Admiral Halsey (Victor Garber) sends Grayson and Bortus to The Sanctuary to ensure that there has been no breach of agreement between the colony and Moclus. In the agreement, Moclus is not permitted to attack or interfere with The Sanctuary, but at the same time, Haveen and her underground network are no longer permitted to rescue other female Moclan infants, or their parents who wish to be free.
Topa comes on the trip with Grayson and her father, and while they did initially deal with prejudice from the Moclan delegation there to do the inspection, it is otherwise a very reaffirming experience for Topa to see other women like her, and the society they’ve built.
This is the first instance in an epic episode where the show begins to drag somewhat. It is certainly an important moment for Topa, but the time she speaks to Haveen, has dinner with the colony, and chases the lightning bug luminites, almost feels like an entire episode on its own. The writers of this episode, Brannon Braga and André Bromanis don’t really give the audience enough credit. They clearly have so much they wanted to write between Topa and Haveen, but it was already explicitly known from previous exchanges and episodes.
There is a bond enough there already, that by the time they get to the exchange between the two, the eight pages of dialogue feel redundant. The episode may have also benefited from a subplot as well to break up these longer sections, which has been a concern in previous episodes. At times the writing can seem unbalanced, as it either has too many subplots at once, or none at all, and that can often mess with the overall narrative.
While the visit to the Sanctuary is only one fifth of the episode, and while it may feel longer, it is ultimately necessary to set up the main conflict. After Haveen asks Topa to become a key member of the underground “railroad”, Topa is kidnapped by the Moclan delegation, and taken to a secret military instilation where she is tortured and interrogated. The Moclans want to know the name of the railroad’s accomplice on Moclan, as they consider him to be a traitor. While Grayson and Bortus attempt a rescue without communication with The Orville, Captain Mercer (Seth MacFarlane) and the crew investigate the disappearance of all three, and discover the truth.
The third act of this episode is impeccable, and in fact finds the balance it lacked in the first act. Mercer needs Haveen’s help to admit what is happening so that the Union can conduct an investigation without instigating the Moclans, and the exchange between a steadfast Haveen and a frustrated Mercer is among the best writing of the series. Haveen refuses to admit to Moclus that she continues to rescue infants and those who seek refuge, which spawns a poetic response from Mercer that while he respects her struggle, she was wrong to try and recruit a child, and that she cannot “advertise tactical opportunism as pious morality”.
In other reviews, we’ve mentioned how MacFarlane has shown his best dramatic work this season, and it is not even close. Mercer has evolved so much in these three seasons, and while some of his actions can be compared to classic Star Trek captains such as Picard, this is the instance where the comparison concretized. That line, expertly delivered by MacFarlane, was as if both he and the writers channeled classic Picard, and for a character that has at times been entirely immature, the gravitas was undeniable. Both MacFarlane and Owen were absolute powerhouses in this particular exchange, and it elevated the episode immediately.
Yet once again, the episode belongs to our resident Moclans. The young Imani Pullum in just two short episodes has proven herself well beyond her years, and this episode was once again a tremendous journey for both the character and the actor. Macon, much like the previous Topa-centric episode, gives the typically reserved Bortus such believable highs and lows and runs the gamut of emotions, which is always a pleasure to watch.
However, not everything is entirely believable. There is a somewhat incongruous subplot where it seems the writers are trying to introduce a romantic bond between Bortus and Grayson. At first, it is merely a younger female Moclan innocently asking if they are mates during dinner, but later, the hints toward romance become more obvious. During the rescue mission, Grayson is injured, and as Bortus patches her up as best he can, the two exchange a longing look. Bortus admits Kelly is a part of their family because of what she does for Topa, but it truly seemed to go beyond that.
At this point, it is all theory what that look truly meant. Fans will undoubtedly be chewing on that for some time, especially considering the conclusion of the episode where a resourceful Klyden (Chad L Coleman) returns to The Orville and his family, and apologizes for the truly awful things he said to his daughter when he stormed out a few episodes ago. The writers must tread carefully with this romance, and not simply because it would mean that Bortus would seemingly awaken a new part of his sexuality, but because so far, one of the proposed romantic relationships this season simply did not work. The all-too-brief and quite-unbelievable romantic entanglement between LaMarr (J Lee) and Keyali (Jessica Szohr) was way too rushed and felt forced, and if they are going to develop anything between Bortus and Kelly, one would hope it is more organic and well-developed.
While there were certainly moments where characters were shoe-horned into the episode, this was a massive lynchpin for The Orville universe, and it’s difficult to argue its importance. With the Union doing what they should have done long ago, and expelling Moclus from its ranks, they have now lost two powerful allies in the battle against the Kaylon. Families were changed, relationships were destroyed, wrongs were rectified – and yet the larger battles still lie ahead.
The episode features exciting battle sequences, beautiful special effects, powerful performances, well-written political intrigue, and even a guest appearance from The Smoky-Mountain Songbird herself, Dolly Parton. If this is any indication as to the scope audiences can expect in the final two remaining episodes, it may be impossible for any fan not to be excited.