NOTE: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS FULL SPOILERS FOR SEASON 2 OF THE ORVILLE.
A few weeks ago, space adventure series The Orville wrapped up its second season. I enjoyed it so much that I, like every person that uses Reddit, felt inclined to write an essay on why I consider it a masterpiece.
Of course, the main reason is because the episodes are phenomenal, but that’s something that has been well covered by other reviewers. As such, what I want to focus on is why this season, despite being one where almost every episode is standalone, works so well as a cohesive, 12+ hour movie. Serialisation in otherwise episodic shows isn’t anything new, but the way The Orville executes it is on a level I’ve seen from few other shows. Every episode adds to the bigger picture in some way, be it by setting up a character arc, piece of world building, foreshadowing a thematic payoff and more. Each episode intertwines with one another in unexpected ways, and all of this culminates into an astonishing television feat.
It starts with the season opener, “Ja’loja”. On first watch, I felt this episode was underwhelming. It lacked a lot of what made season one so incredible to me – there was no grand space adventure, not much social commentary, and various other nonexistent elements that made it feel surprisingly run of the mill for a show that is usually so ambitious. After seeing the bigger picture, however, I immediately appreciated what this episode pulls off. “Ja’loja” sets up many aspects that are paid off throughout the season; Teleya’s undercover work that isn’t paid off until three episodes later, the re-establishment and advancement of Claire and Isaac’s relationship (including expanding on the “Isaac as a father figure” idea that makes fans wonder if there’s more to their relationship since what we saw in season one’s “Into the Fold”), the expansion of Ed and Kelly’s relationship (including the addition of a boyfriend for Kelly that allows the birth of Creep Mode Ed), and a few other threads that are concluded later on in a satisfying way.
“Ja’loja” is also notable because of the way it works in the season’s structure. Many thought opening the season with a bottle episode (an episode taking place entirely in one location) was a strange choice, but looking at the season as a whole makes you realise how brilliant it is. All well paced entertainment products start either with an action packed scene or, like in this case, a slow burn that introduces you to the world and characters so that you care what happens to them when the action occurs. This is what “Ja’loja” does; by starting with a slow paced, character centric episode, the season naturally builds up to those epic moments that not only makes watching the season in one sitting have great pacing, but it makes those action scenes all the more thrilling because you’re genuinely concerned what will happen to these characters you got to spend a day in the life with in the season opener.
While the next series of episodes have some great developments and set ups (including the departure and introduction of Alara and Talla respectively), the next episode to drastically contribute to the season scope is “A Happy Refrain”. On first viewing, “A Happy Refrain” is an enchanting love story that makes a relationship between a human and robot way more likable than it has any right to – it’s charming, funny, heartwarming and an overall joy to experience. What you don’t realise until you see it in hindsight, however, is that the events of the episode are so important that the universe would have been taken over if not for them.
In the epic two parter “Identity”, a leading reason why the Kaylon were defeated is Isaac’s relationship with the Finn family. The Kaylon were switched off by Isaac, which only happened because of his connection to Claire and her children. Suddenly, this cute, seemingly small scale side story becomes one of the most important episodes of the show that has a rippling impact on everything that is to follow. The season finale “The Road Not Taken” shows how the universe would have ended if Ed and Kelly didn’t get together, but that statement very much applies to Claire and Isaac’s relationship too.
After “A Happy Refrain” is “Deflectors”. On first viewing, this episode, despite expanding on the Moclan culture a little more and adding some depth to the newcomer Talla, appears to be a generally standard episode that is fun to watch but ultimately inconsequential. However, rewatching the episode after “Identity, Pt. 2” reveals a much grander purpose to this episode, and it’s right there in the title. The catalyst of the episode is the Moclans installing new deflectors on the Orville that few other non-Moclan ships currently have. This seems like an excuse to introduce a new Moclan so the episode’s story can start, but it actually ends up playing a huge role. In the Battle of Earth in “Identity, Pt. 2”, the Orville withstands a lot more damage than the rest of the Union ships. Many viewers dismissed this as plot armour, but in reality it’s the payoff of those first few minutes in that seemingly completely unrelated episode. This attention to detail is simply fantastic, and it’s the kind of genius writing that is often lacking in fully serialised shows or movies, nevermind a show that’s meant to feature “standalone” episodes.
Moreover, it also sets up the twelfth episode, “Sanctuary”. Before “Deflectors”, we knew the Union and the Moclans were in talks, but “Deflectors” shows that their connection actually goes much deeper – that the Union actually need the Moclans for crucial equipment. This is expanded on in “Sanctuary” by showing that, on top of the defence upgrades, they entirely rely on them for their weaponry. As such this episode, which would have been filler on an inferior show, gains even more weight beyond what you see on the surface. If you removed “Deflectors” from the show, the Union’s tolerance of the Moclans would have made much less sense. There’s one less personal reason for the Orville to be so connected to that species (Talla’s relationship with Locar, the Moclan that installed the deflectors). The Orville likely would have been destroyed in the Battle of Earth. That’s how you write those episodes that take place between the “big” moments.
And then we get to the “Identity” two parter, the episodes most of the season has been building to and the rest of the season sees the aftermath of. In short, these are the two most important episodes of the show, both in terms of must see viewing and in universe impact. On top of what I’ve covered already and will cover below, these episodes are so big because they conclude and progress so many threads dating back even to the first season. Isaac’s racist quips from time to time are paid off. Ed’s insecurities as a captain are mostly resolved. Gordon’s skills as a helmsman are shown in their full glory. The relationship between the Union and Krill is flipped on its head. The reason the Orville crew is so special as a collective, and so notable compared to every other ship, is fully realised and exhibited.
I could write an entire new article on these episodes alone but, for the sake of not turning this one into a novel, I’ll just say this; the “Identity” two parter is the culmination of the entire show and turning point of what it becomes, both in canon and as a creative product. The world and the show’s writing and scale both jump into an even higher echelon than before because of these episodes, and will be remembered as the point The Orville goes from incredible to one of the best of its generation (again, I say that in reference to both the ship and the show).
“Blood of Patriots” deals with the aftermath of these behemoths, including featuring a game changing peace agreement between the Union and Krill that completely changes the dynamic of space from that point forward. It also adds depth to the Krill’s history and Gordon as a character. These are all apparent developments and something I won’t lull on.
An incredible set up that is less apparent, however, comes in the following episode “Lasting Impressions”. On first viewing, the episode doesn’t seem to have much relevance to the rest of the season beyond being another nice character growing episode for Gordon. However in hindsight, this episode perfectly foreshadows the season finale and showcases how tightly written this entire show (season one included) is. Kelly’s speech to Gordon at the end of the episode notes how Gordon shouldn’t be concerned about whether Laura is remembered or not because she’s had a huge impact on someone 400 years later, just like how Ed has had a huge impact on so many people despite not being famous. Without Ed, there’s no Orville. Without the Orville, there’s no Claire and Isaac relationship. Without the Claire and Isaac relationship, Isaac doesn’t betray the Kaylon. Without Isaac’s betrayal, the Kaylon destroy Earth and take over the universe. See how this directly sets up the finale, where we see this very timeline occur? Just like that, a great but seemingly disconnected episode is turned into one of the most important episodes of the season in terms of thematic relevance, which yet again showcases the brilliance of the season and its writing.
The season concludes with three episodes that wrap up everything established throughout the season. Season 2 of The Orville, as a collective, acts as a case study on the butterfly effect, relationships, teamwork and more, and the two part finale “Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow” and “The Road Not Taken” conclude these ideas perfectly. While most of the ways these do that are obvious, one area I especially appreciated was the payoff of its teamwork theme seen in episodes like “Home”, “All the World is Birthday Cake” and “Identity Pt. 2”. Throughout the course of “The Road Not Taken”, every character plays a pivotal role, and the entire effort would have fallen apart if not for their contribution; Ed pilots the Orville out of the Pacific Ocean, Kelly starts the entire mission, John does a plethora of things (explained through technobabble I won’t spend half a page describing), Gordon’s piloting saves them a plethora of times, Talla opens the “jar of pickles”, Bortus gets Ed to sit in the Captain’s chair, Alara gives them the supplies to mind wipe Kelly properly, Claire operates it and Isaac has information on how to time travel.
If one of these didn’t happen, the entire thing would have fallen apart. Just like if Alara’s father didn’t help Alara save Ed in “Home”. Just like if the Krill didn’t team up with the Union in “Identity Pt. 2”. Just like if Ed and Admiral Halsey didn’t bounce ideas off of one another to reach the “leave the female Moclan planet alone and we won’t recognise them as a state” stalemate Halsey successfully pitches in “Sanctuary”. One of the things The Orville always pushes is the idea that, despite all the wrongs in the world, an issue can almost always be resolved through communication, and the entire season showcases that philosophy and more to perfection.
Overall, The Orville’s second season is a masterclass not just in sci-fi and television, but in brilliant writing, world building, character development and serialisation. Its seamless connectivity of seemingly unrelated ideas is genius and, even looking at the episodes individually, they’re some of the most thought provoking and entertaining creations of this decade.
I want to end this article by urging you to support The Orville, both in viewership and merchandise sales. It would be a crime for a show this full of depth and excellence to end with just a few seasons, and every view and purchase goes a long way to show Fox we appreciate what this show provides. You can buy the season one DVD here, The World of The Orville book here, the season one trading cards on Dark Horses’ website or various third party sellers and, if you’re like me and have all of this, can even buy the first episode for 10p here (a small gesture but still worth doing). Also be sure to participate in the #TheOrville hashtag, plant a tree for Arbour’s Day and thank all on and off camera crew members for their contributions to this masterful creation (including the person who runs the FuseFX social media account (the studio that does the show’s effects), which I’m definitely not singling out just because they recently followed me or anything).
What do you think of The Orville and its second season? Did I miss a great set up or pay off? Let me know in the comments or via my Twitter profile @JoshsJots (the one followed by FuseFX, may I remind you).