This The Orville review contains spoilers.
The Orville Season 2 Episode 3
Hardcore fans of The Orville will often cite the fact that the show holds true to the spirit of Star Trek: The Next Generation, but the reality is that most episodes feel more like a late-season Voyager episode or standalone episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise. And before Orville fans take offense to that statement, this isn’t intended as an insult. I love Enterprise, specifically the 2004 episode titled “Home,” which shares its title— and themes — with this episode of The Orville. When Alara’s (Halston Sage) physical condition begins to weaken, she has to return to her homeplanet resulting in a weird storyline about anti-vaxxers in space and a heartbreaking departure.
As far as the set-up goes, hardcore Trekkie, the new Orville episode “Home” will feel like a mash-up of the Enterprise episode “Home,” the Deep Space Nine episode “Prodigal Daughter” and a dash of The Next Generation’s “Family.” The old Trek formula here is pretty simple: A crew member returns to their home planet for a sci-fi reason, but the episode is really about how that character pissed off their family by leaving said home planet, and through the course of the episode has to learn how to make peace with their family, and get their family to accept their new space-adventure life.
In fairness, this episode of The Orville gives Alara a better — and more exciting — reason for returning home than the Treks it is referencing. In the Enterprise version of “Home”, T’Pol had to return to Vulcan to participate in a mock wedding. In Deep Space Nine’s “Prodigal Daughter,” Ezri Dax was back home because of a secret mission. And in TNG’s “Family” Picard was home on Earth, mostly just because the show needed a break.
But Alara is home because of her alien physiology. The reason why she’s super-strong normally is because her home planet has gravity that is way heavier than “standard” Earth gravity. But, when she loses an arm wrestling match to the equally strong robot Isaac, it’s clear her bones are weakening. Hence, Alara is forced to convalesce on her home planet. This leads to conflicts with her father (Star Trek: Voyager’s Robert Picardo reprising his role from season 1) conflicts her mother (Molly Hagan), and eyerolls from her sister (Candice King). The set-up also allows this episode to literally bring in a reference to Star Trek: Enterprise in the form of John Billingsley as a neighbor named Cambis who walks over and introduces a new plot point. Billingsley played Dr. Phlox on Enterprise, which is meta, because of course, Picardo played the holographic Doctor on Voyager. Which means, when Billingsley and Picardo sit down for a meal together, this is actually two Star Trek doctors hanging out.
But, that’s not the reason Billingsley’s Cambis is there. Turns out, his house was supposedly been broken into and the local cops haven’t done anything about it. Alara is, of course, the security chief on The Orville, meaning she immediately goes into detective mode. This is a little like in TNG’s “Family” when Picard is presented with an opportunity to do cool work on Earth, that would mirror fun exploratory work he does in space. The stakes for Alara are different, of course, but the set-up is similar.
However, the episode takes a truly bizarre turn when it turns out that Cambis and his wife (Kerry O’Malley) are really there to take revenge on Alara’s dad, because he once authored a paper which shut-down their son’s research that certain vaccine put children at risk. Basically Alara’s dad is pro-vaccination, and this couple is against it, mostly because the refutation of their son’s anti-vaxx research led to his suicide.
This plot point is not only bizarre, but clumsy. Not only does it distract from the story of Alara trying to get her mojo back, but it also sends a strange message. Are we meant to sympathize with the guy who killed himself for with his anti-vaxx research? Or, because the parents are resorting to terrorizing people and pointing guns, is The Orville trying to say that anti-vaxxers will try to hold people at gunpoint? Many episodes of Star Trek have awkward mixed messages like this (TNG’s “The Outcast” springs to mind) but the bizzare thing about this episode of The Orville is that the anti-vaxx thing comes out of nowhere, late in the third act of the episode. Sure, it all gets resolved with the help of Ed and the gang, but it makes an otherwise heartwarming episode feel gross.
It’s also particularly heartbreaking because the episode ends with Alara leaving the crew of The Orville seemingly forever. For Trek fans, this is like some Tasha Yar action, but worse, because Alara’s departure seems totally unnecessary. In the real world, rumors suggest that Halston Sage might return to the show, but in the immediate future, she will be replaced by another Xelayan character named Talla, played by Jessica Szohr. Will Talla and Alara interact? Will Alara return? Some rumors suggest her departure is connected to the fact she was briefly dating Seth MacFarlane, which if true, is a disappointing reason for her leaving, and leaves any rational person wondering if this is Macfarlane’s fault. As of this writing, it’s unclear what is going on exactly. But if this is Alara’s last episode of The Orville, it could have been a lot better.