This review of The Orville: New Horizons contains spoilers.
The Orville: New Horizons Season 3 Episode 9
When The Orville: New Horizons was introduced eight weeks ago, it appeared to be everything you’d want to see was on the horizon. It was shiny, big, bold, exciting, and most importantly: it introduced new ingredients that promised to take the show in directions it had yet to explore.
Yet it would be all for naught if the scripts didn’t bring that same revitalized energy, or take any chances in terms of the story. If New Horizons lacked vision, then this could easily be an overinflated last horizon for the show.Proving once again that the writing team had a cohesiveness that makes this third season easily the strongest, “Domino” opens ominously on the rainy planet of Krill, where Chancelor Teleya (Michaela McManus) and a Moclan delegation meet to discuss an alliance against the Planetary Union.
It is a brief teaser of a scene, but it’s an immediate payoff in terms of several story threads that have been woven throughout the season, and raises the tension of the episode just as quickly. Knowing this alliance was inevitable, the Union and the audience are thrust into a sense of danger and unease, and that dramatic tension lasts almost the entire episode. The writers, Brannon Braga and André Bormanis, give audiences everything they need in these first five minutes, including a fearlessness of calling out the ideals of The Union and their hypocrisy, an important challenge to the very core belief system of the show which would pay off later.
When we first see The Orville and her crew, they are a part of a large defensive phalanx of Union ships in position around Xelaya to fight an oncoming Kaylon force. When the Kaylons arrive, the Orville is the lynchpin of the defensive effort as they have developed a new weapon (simply called ‘the device’ for most of the episode) which triggers an overload in the Kaylon network’s relays. Powered by the Quantum drive, the device overloads the Kaylon ships and obliterates their vessels. While a new threat comes in the Moclan/Krill alliance, the Union can breathe a little easier knowing that they may have another threat under control.
When the crew from the Orville, including Ensign Burke (Anne Winters), Isaac (Mark Jackson), and Captain Mercer (Seth MacFarlane) meet with the Union Admiralty, they discuss the implication of this weapon, once again addressing the issue of morality. Since the weapon’s range, if given a large enough energy source, is seemingly limitless, the Union questions whether it should be used as a deterrent, or to end the Kaylon once and for all. When Admiral Perry (guest star Ted Danson) suggests they eliminate the Kaylon, Mercer is the first to call that offense for what it is: genocide.
After the Admiralty convenes, it is decided that The Orville and Admiral Halsey (Victor Garber) should attempt to meet with the Kaylon to discuss a ceasefire, since the race of artificial beings will have no choice but to agree to their terms. When The Orville arrives at Kaylon 1, they must use the weapon twice in a massive display of destructive power before the Kaylon agree to meet, and eventually, agree to the terms of a treaty.
At approximately the halfway point of the episode, it does seem that “Domino” is going to lean towards being a more politically driven episode, despite seeing interludes of The Orville decimating Kaylon ships and reducing them to shattered pieces. Yet, the writers this season have proven time and again that “balance” was a word undoubtedly thrown around the writer’s room when they were drafting the scripts.
Still feeling the uneasiness of the looming Krill/Moclan alliance, the Union, in a bit of dramatic irony perhaps, feels a little secure for the first time in years. That is, until the device is stolen from Union Headquarters and shuttled away into the depths of space. It is revealed that Admiral Perry and a small group of Union defectors are giving the weapon to Teleya and the Moclans to do what the Union could not, and eliminate the Kaylon permanently.
As the Admiral boards his shuttle and begins to fly away, Teleya fires on the shuttle, citing the fact that the Union does not need to know about the new alliance or that they are the ones with the weapon just yet. It may be delaying the inevitable, but it still gives them more time to prepare the weapon.
The Orville crew cut their sabbatical short and, along with Halsey, begin to investigate the missing weapon. When they discover the remnants of Perry’s ship, and scan the area, they now learn the truth, and realize the massive threat that a Krill/Moclan alliance poses. They have no choice but to go back to the Kaylon for an uneasy alliance, as neither the Union nor the Kaylon want to see the extinction of the artificial race.
It is at this juncture that it’s best not to think about some of the convenient writing that has been present in an otherwise intriguing episode filled with thrilling twists. Burke once again being the “wunderkind”, and her under-explained gift for four-dimensional geometry, has been forced and overused throughout this season. Yes, it is leading to something massive, but it’s an easy macguffin.
Continue to suspend your disbelief as well when the Orville arrives to investigate the scene. Bortus is the first to realize there’s an alliance between the Krill and the Moclans, as he detects weapon signatures from both cultures, despite the Moclans never firing on Perry’s ship. Bortus wasn’t finished spouting macguffins either, as he conveniently knows exactly where the Moclans would take the device, as there is only one Moclan scientist who would know how to use it.
Yet for the rest of the episode, forget any potential plot holes, because the writers and director Jon Cassar give audiences a continuous action sequence that for The Orville is simply unparalleled. When the show was renewed on Hulu, there was a question as to what the Disney “flavor” of the show would taste like. “Domino” showed us exactly what it is, and it tastes sweet for any science-fiction fan.
In perhaps a subtle ‘thank you’ to their new Mouse-eared overlords, these were the most Star Wars inspired action sequences The Orville has ever shown; it was clearly an homage (or at the very least subconsciously inspired by A New Hope). While Commander Grayson (Adrianne Palicki) and a small group of rebels, including Burke and Isaac land on the Moclan base to take back the weapon, a massive battle takes place both in the planet’s atmosphere, and in orbit. The sheer scale of all three conflicts is absolutely awe-inspiring and creates one of the top memorable moments of the show’s entire run. We also finally got to see an entire fleet of Pteradons taking on the Moclan base much like Luke took on the Death Star.
Much like the title of the episode would indicate, the story, and the show’s overall arc got to this moment because of a series of falling dominoes audiences have witnessed over the last eight episodes. This aforementioned continuity makes the show infinitely more engrossing, and prior to this season, The Orville failed to do so on a continuous basis utilizing episodic adventures that could easily be missed week to week.
“Domino” wraps up several threads, and to varying degrees of success. In one of the more daring story conclusions, Burke sacrifices herself to destroy the weapon, as once again, her “gift” is the only tool The Orville crew can use against the Moclan offensive algorithm. While it should be applauded that The Orville killed off a character they only just introduced this season, sadly, the impact of her death could have been more rousing. Despite Winters getting a few scenes to once again make her opinion known about the Kaylon, those scenes lacked anything but a reminder of a character flaw that didn’t need a reintroduction. Even the unspoken looks between her and Isaac when Isaac saves her life, didn’t seem to resonate, and so it seemed Winters and the character needed more time to allow the emotion to marinate. Perhaps an impossible task in an already packed episode.
Yet don’t forget: It’s all about the long game. When Burke was first introduced, she made an immediate impact, and took the storyline and character dynamics in a new direction. Her death will serve that same purpose. Knowing how some fans have voiced their disdain for Burke, there should be many of those viewers who now realize what the long game of Burke was all about, and how her redemption and sacrifice paid off beautifully. You may hate the character, but that was the point. You may hate the conflict she created, but that was the point. Viewers must realize that tension, even when it comes to characters you don’t agree with, drives the story forward, and that, simply put, is excellent writing.
The only question now is, with all the excellent writing this season has produced… What’s left for the season finale next week? Teleya has been arrested. That perhaps means the Krill are no longer the same threat they once were. The Kaylon, after years of tension are uneasy allies, and the most prominent character relationship between Burke and Isaac has wrapped. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the tenth and final episode is entitled “Future Unknown”.