The Orville’s latest episode, “Nothing Left On Earth Excepting Fishes” (a direct quote from “The King And I”) shines a spotlight on Captain Ed Mercer (series creator/producer/star Seth MacFarlane), while the subplot focuses on the captain’s best friend, the less-than-genius Lt. Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes).
While Gordon’s subplot is primarily played for laughs (with just a teensy bit of sincerity), Ed’s is a sad tale of love lost. The episode, directed by Jon Cassar, was written by former Star Trek scribes (and current Orville writer/producers) Brannon Braga and Andre Bormanis.
**** UNION STARSHIP-SIZED SPOILERS AHEAD!! ****
The story is a direct sequel to last year’s “The Krill” and this year’s season opener “Ja’loja”, which introduced us to new crewmember Lt. Janel Tyler, who made both Gordon and Ed’s hearts beat a little faster. Janel and Ed begin a whirlwind courtship. In spite of himself, Gordon is quite happy for his long-dejected friend, and even Ed’s first officer/ex-wife Commander Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki) is glad to see her ex moving on with his love life. Janel & Ed enjoy a movie night in his quarters (“The King And I”, from where the episode gets its title) when they decide it may be time to tell the crew, particularly Kelly, who already knows (of course) and gives Ed her full consent.
Leaving Kelly in command for a routine resupply run, Ed decides to take Janel in a shuttle to a vacation planet, when they are captured by the Krill. Ed is forced to reveal (bogus) command codes as the Krill torture Janel in an attempt to make him talk.
Michaela McManus, who plays Janel, also guested in “The Krill” as Krill teacher Teleya, who was scorned by an undercover Ed (who was masquerading as a Krill). As it turns out, McManus is playing the same character. Janel Tyler is Teleya, surgically altered at a cellular level to appear human and to reduce her photosensitivity. She volunteered for a Krill plot to romance a human captain and gain critical command codes. Due to her familiarity and resentment of Ed for killing most of her crew (and her brother), she escaped Union custody and with her people’s help, sought revenge, which is the “will of Avis” (Avis being the Krill god, who had the misfortune to be named after the Old Earth rental car company…).
Meanwhile, Gordon decides to try his hand at command training, and while this subplot is played primarily for sophomoric laughs (one of The Orville’s minor failings in an otherwise terrific show), there is also a surprising undercurrent of sincerity in Gordon’s attempt to better himself. It also adds an interesting mentor/student angle to his relationship with his superior officer, Kelly. She’s an attractive well-built Yoda to his frumpish, middle-aged Luke.
On the Krill vessel, Ed learns of Teleya’s plot in person, as she wanted to give him a taste of the betrayal he inflicted upon Teleya and her people a year ago. Her gloating is cut short when the Krill ship falls under attack by a more ruthless Krill enemy, and she and Ed are forced to take an escape pod to a nearby planet.
The pod crashes on the planet at night (due to their fatal photosensitivity, the Krill program their pods to land on a planet’s night side whenever possible). In a sort of romantic reworking of 1985’s “Enemy Mine” and “The Taming of the Shrew”, Ed and Teleya are forced to rely on each other to survive, despite both Teleya’s venomous hatred of Ed and his own broken heart over losing ‘Janel.’ There is also some intriguing insight into the nature of the Krill, who became more staunchly fundamentalist in their religion as they ventured into space; the opposite of most Union planet members. As dawn approaches, Ed determines the planet’s day is 23 times longer than a terrestrial day, and due to Teleya’s fatal allergy to sunlight, he’d have to call for help long before then. He sends a distress signal (using Krill equipment) as Teleya sleeps.
Orville receives the call, and Bortus and Gordon take a shuttle to rescue the captain. Homing in on Ed’s distress beacon, the shuttle rescues Ed and Teleya from approaching enemy forces bent on killing them both.
Back aboard Orville, Ed takes the drastic (and unauthorized) step of letting Teleya go without any conditions. A Krill ship arrives in the Orville’s darkened landing bay, and Ed asks that Telaya simply take his offer of an olive branch back to her people. He also gives her a gift…the complete collection of Billy Joel, whom she seemed to enjoy during her cover as Janel.
Billy Joel’s “She’s Always a Woman” plays as Teleya’s shuttle takes her back to her people.
Another solid outing for The Orville, taking the cliched ‘enemies working together to survive in the wild‘ plot (a plot recycled endlessly since 1958’s “The Defiant Ones”), but adding a scorned romance subplot, as well as an ending which sees one party fully willing to let go of their animosity with no strings attached. One gets the feeling that Ed would love Teleya even in her native Krill form, if conditions between their peoples allowed it. Hard to imagine Captain Kirk showing such depth of feeling if an alien he was romancing were anything less than human-standard beautiful.
Once again, The Orville is filling in fascinating imaginary spaces often left ignored by Star Trek.
If I had a nit with this episode, it’d be Gordon’s lunkheaded humor during his command training. It’s a little difficult to invest emotionally in the character when he doesn’t take himself seriously. His “Kobayashi Maru”-style training in the ship’s holographic simulator was particularly groan-worthy. But at the very least, this slightly sophomoric subplot (a twist on Deanna Troi’s own command training in Star Trek: The Next Generation’s “Thine Own Self”) gave an intriguing new dimension to the relationship between Gordon and Kelly. Even when The Orville wallows a bit in its own silliness, good things can still be yielded from it.
Kelly had a strong outing in this episode, both as mentor to Gordon and as friend to her ex-husband Ed, for whom she truly wishes the best. Adrianne Palicki is thoroughly convincing as both mentor and friend.
Michaela McManus is so solid as Tyler/Teleya that I’d love to see her become a recurring character for the series; slowly evolving both in her view of Ed, and perhaps of humanity in general. So much potential for this character!
While the main story of “Nothing On Earth Excepting Fishes” is of a melancholy broken romance, it never feels overly heavy or brooding. There is even a door open for the return of Teleya someday. Perhaps Ed has planted the seed of future peace between the Krill and the Planetary Union with this episode.
Once again, The Orville is taking old science fiction tropes and skewing them enough to be both interesting and fresh again.