****KAYLON VESSEL-SIZED SPOILERS!!*****
“Identity Part 2” continues what can best be described as The Orville’s take on Star Trek: The Next Generation’s “Best of Both Worlds” two-parter; a cybernetic race (the Kaylons instead of the Borg) and a single starship both race back to Earth in a desperate to conquer or save the galaxy, respectively. And, like part 2 of “Best of Both Worlds”, “Identity part 2” is largely a ‘bottle show’, taking place mainly within the confines of the ship itself, which, through selective lighting (stylistically and in-story), appears far less cheery than usual. “Identity” marks a bold new direction for the sci-fi dramedy series, and it is most welcome.
A Kaylon-occupied Orville is forced to fly in formation with a battle fleet of massive Kaylon ships, while the senior officers and crew are held captive in a shuttle bay. Helmsman Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes) attempts to “get some answers” from their captors. It doesn’t work, of course, as the Kaylon soldier completely ignores him.
Captain Ed Mercer (series star/producer/writer Seth MacFarlane) and his officers try to formulate a plan. As Kaylons enter the bay, Security Chief Talla Keyali (Jessica Szohr) charges at them with her superior strength, but is shot and nearly killed by Kaylon weapons, which spring from their heads (literally).
Ed pleads to the Kaylons to allow him to take the wounded Talla to sickbay, where Dr. Claire Finn (Penny Johnson Jerald) saves her life. Kaylon science officer-turned-traitor Isaac (Mark Jackson) shepherds his former colleagues to the briefing room, where they are to receive their marching orders. Ed is bitter as Isaac refers to him as ‘captain.’
In a somewhat darkened briefing room (Kaylons find the extra lighting an unnecessary use of power) Ed finds other members of the senior staff (including the fully-recovered Talla) are rounded up, as the Kaylon leader (Graham Hamilton) informs them that the human race, and all other biological lifeforms will be exterminated throughout the galaxy.
Another Union vessel, the USS Roosevelt, is approaching, and the ‘biological’ officers are needed on the bridge to hail the vessel and give the appearance that all is well. Ed only reluctantly agrees to the charade, since his refusal would result in the immediate decompression of the hostage-filled shuttle bay.
On the bridge, the Roosevelt approaches and Ed receives a hail from Captain Marcos (Carlos Bernard), who is more than surprised to hear Ed’s lie that the Kaylons have accepted the offer to join the Planetary Union. Ed attempts to use a code to inform Marcos that the ship is occupied by a hostile force, but the Kaylon leader sees through the ruse and immediately destroys the vessel.
Ed is saddened that his actions led to his sister ship’s destruction. Matters only get worse as the Kaylons see the need for further punishment by forcing a random crewman (Mark Mammone) out of an airlock right in front of the captain, as a lesson in disobedience. There is nothing Ed can do as the helpless crewman is unceremoniously blown into the deadly vacuum of space. It is a hard-hitting scene right out of Ron Moore’s Battlestar Galactica.
The dispirited officers are back in shuttle bay with the rest of the crew. Heroic Yaphit First Officer Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki) decides, with Gordon’s help, that she can take a shuttle out of the bay (using the bay’s forcefield to hold atmosphere and prevent explosive decompression of the rest of the crew). Once clear, she and Gordon will fly into enemy Krill space in a Hail Mary pass to seek their foe’s help, since the Kaylon are a threat to all biological life forms in the galaxy. Ed (once again) reluctantly agrees, and Gordon nervously pilots the shuttle out of the bay while Orville is still at quantum drive speeds (very dangerous). They’re off, with a Kaylon ship breaking formation and giving chase…
With little time remaining until Kaylon reinforcements arrive in the bay to investigate the unauthorized shuttle launch, Chief engineer LaMarr (J. Lee), Talla and the gelatinous Yaphit (voice of Norm MacDonald) hatch a plan to get a message to Planetary Union Headquarters on Earth using randomized frequencies to disguise their transmission. Trouble being that direct access to the comm system is in another part of the ship. There’s a small access conduit in the cargo bay which the shapeshifting Yaphit can easily squeeze into, but it is not large enough for an adult human to join him.
Claire’s youngest (and smallest) son, Ty (Kai Werner) immediately and bravely volunteers to join Yaphit in sending the scrambled signal. Claire is mortified, but Ty insists. Ed reluctantly agrees, arguing that the danger to all of them is the same no matter who goes or stays. Claire hugs her brave son and Yaphit promises to do his best to look after the boy.
Kaylon reinforcements soon enter the bay, as Bortus (Peter Macon) is forced to surrender his weapon (stolen earlier by Yaphit). The crew in the cargo bay can only wait now, as Yaphit and Ty reach the comm system and send their message using scrambled, randomized frequencies.
The blob and the boy are interrupted by Kaylons. Yaphit attacks; oozing inside of the Kaylon’s armor, killing it. But in the melee, Ty is captured. Yaphit is unable to help, as the Kaylons take the boy away.
Meanwhile, Kelly and Gordon divert all power into the shuttle’s main drive in a desperate attempt to outrun their Kaylon pursuers. The desperate maneuver causes them burst into Krill space ahead of their pursuers, but they are disabled…and, according to plan, they are immediately captured by the fanatically fundamentalist Krill (think: spacefaring jihadists).
Once aboard the Krill vessel, Kelly tries to plead their case to an unyielding Krill captain named Dalak (Nick Chinlund). Their case is suddenly made stronger when the pursuing Kaylon vessel catches up to them, and begins firing upon the Krill vessels. The Krill are incensed, and join the cause in the spirit of retaliation, though not necessarily cooperation.
Back aboard the Orville, the Kaylon leader summons Isaac to the ready room, where young Ty is being held hostage. The leader doubts that Isaac, who was constructed after his people’s revolt against their biological creators, might not be fully onboard with the Kaylon plan. He demands that Isaac kill the boy to prove his loyalty. It looks as though Isaac is ready to comply until he instantly twists the leader’s head off and opens fire upon the remaining Kaylons.
Isaac enters the abandoned bridge with Ty, and tells him that he plans to stop his people with a deactivation signal that will disable himself as well. Ty doesn’t want the beloved android to die, but understands that he does so for the greater good of his shipmates. Isaac sends the signal, and the Kaylons throughout the ship are instantly deactivated…including Isaac.
With the Orville and pursuant Kaylon fleet arriving at Earth, the crew retake their ship and lead the charge against the Kaylon. Having received Yaphit’s message, a massive armada of Planetary Union spacecraft await them.
A pitched battle is soon underway in Earth orbit, with the Orville taking damage, and heavy losses to Planetary Union forces in general. In short, the Kaylons numbers aren’t diminishing at the same rate as the Union ships, and it appears some of the enemy forces will cut through the enemy lines until…
… Kelly hails the Orville from the bridge of a Krill ship and introduces Ed to their new (temporary) allies. The Krill join the battle and level the playing field.
Gordon goes native in a Krill fighter and headgear, as he dives into the fray. Earth is saved as remaining outnumbered Kaylon forces hastily retreat. Earth, and the galaxy, are safe for the time being. Ed offers his thanks to the surly Krill captain Dalak, who immediately returns to his native space.
With the Orville and other surviving Union ships undergoing repairs, the senior staff assemble in sickbay over the body of the inert Isaac. A case is made for his reactivation, since his betrayal of his own people not only saved Ty, but allowed the Orville crew to effortlessly retake their ship. Yaphit, having gained recent insight into Kaylon innards, volunteers to ooze into Isaac and restart the android. Bortus objects, but is overruled, and a bewildered Isaac is brought back online.
Echoing Bortus’ objections to Isaac’s reactivation, Union Fleet Admiral Halsey (Victor Garber) meets with Kelly and Ed at Union HQ in New York City. The admiral wants a failsafe device installed into Isaac to prevent his ever turning on them ever again. Ed argues that leaving Isaac free is precisely what separates the Planetary Union’s values from those of Kaylon’s biological oppressors. Grudgingly convinced, the admiral releases the android into the custody of Ed and Kelly.
The final scene has Isaac, attempting to locate his home planet from the observation deck. His lover Claire walks in on him, and they discuss his predicament. Claire reminds him of the human concept of forgiveness. Isaac reassures her that he’s permanently disavowed any loyalty to Kaylon, and has made his home aboard the Orville. The two gaze out at the stars together…
The Best Of Both Worlds redux (?)
As stated earlier, “Identity Part 2” superficially (and at times, specifically) resembles Star Trek TNG’s “Best Of Both Worlds” two-parter, but like most of Orville’s homages to the voyages of Treks past, there is much that is new in the mix to keep it fresh and exciting.
Claire has a lot to unpack in this story; her new lover Isaac betrays her shipmates, she is forced to allow her youngest son Ty to go on a dangerous mission, and she later summons forgiveness as Isaac sacrifices himself (and any allegiance to his people) to save both her son and the crew. We arguably feel the personal costs in “Identity part 2” just a little bit more than we do in the equally ambitious Trek story.
Star Trek’s Borg were never anything more than horrific, soul-robbing monsters. Their hook into the Trek characters came when they kidnapped Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Sir Patrick Stewart) and ‘assimilated’ (i.e. violated) him, forcing the captain into their collective. Picard became the human conduit for the Borg, much as Isaac is humanity’s conduit into the Kaylon. The difference being that Isaac is native to the Kaylon. His humanity comes from without, not within, yet he still makes a conscious choice to betray his people in favor of his new shipmates. In that regard, Isaac is more like the newly-minted individualized Borg named “Hugh” (Jonathan Del Arco) from the later Next Gen episode, “I, Borg”, which saw a member of the Borg collective learn (and embrace) the concept of individuality.
Star Trek’s Commander Riker (occasional “Orville” director Jonathan Frakes) used a desperate ship-separating maneuver in an audacious effort to rescue Picard from the Borg in “Best of Both Worlds, part 2.” In “Identity part 2”, Commander Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki) has an equally inspired moment when she takes a shuttle out of the bay at quantum speeds in an attempt to enlist the aid of the Union’s mortal enemies, the Krill.
The battle royale at Earth is much like Trek’s infamous battle at star Wolf 359, only we get to see this battle this time, and not just its aftermath. This is no doubt due to nearly 30 additional years of CGI FX technology and experience directly benefitting the producers of “The Orville.”
At a panel for “The Orville” at a recent convention in Los Angeles (“Gallifrey One”), fans of the show were fully aware of, and totally okay with The Orville’s various homages to Star Trek (esp. Next Gen), since it consistently takes those familiar stories & tropes into new and exciting places. In some ways the series is an alternate universe Star Trek (not too unlike the JJ Abrams’ Star Trek movies), yet arguably more in tune with the soul of Star Trek than current Star Trek.
Take a bow.
Everyone has their moment to shine in this episode. Kelly and Gordon’s reckless shot into Krill space. Talla’s heroic but futile charge at the Kaylon guards. John’s plan to send a message. Ty volunteering to crawl into the conduit. Ed’s plea to Admiral Halsey on Isaac’s behalf. But the biggest hero of the hour (IMO) deserves a bow…the gelatinous blob, Yaphit (voice of Norm MacDonald). He steals a weapon, sends a message to Earth, oozes into the Kaylon guard to kill it, tries to save Ty, and later slimes his way into Isaac to reactivate the ‘dead’ android. That last act of Yaphit is particularly noble, considering that he has a crush on Isaac’s paramour Claire as well.
Take a bow, Yaphit!
I used to think Yaphit was little more than a sleazy blob-joke, but “Identity Part 2” is his finest hour. It almost makes one wish Claire would reconsider his offer.
While there are some who are probably still hemming and hawing over whether Claire should’ve engaged in a love affair with the android Isaac (I’m okay with any love, as long as both parties are consenting), I find it remarkable that she chooses forgiveness over revenge, the same way that Ed chooses not to install a failsafe device in the reactivated Isaac to prevent his ever betraying them again. Loyalty through the threat of death isn’t loyalty at all… it’s subjugation. The very thing that caused the Kaylons to murder their creators (and see all biological life as a threat) in the first place. A hostage isn’t loyal to their captor out of affection or common cause, but only out of mortal fear (or Stockholm syndrome).
Bortus and Admiral Halsey are not necessarily wrong in their objections to Isaac’s reactivation, but this is what separates a show that depicts an aspirational future rather than a dystopian one. Ed and the crew of the Orville, for all their failings, are trying very hard to be the better people they know they can be through the choices that they make.
Not a bad lesson gleaned from a space dramedy series sprinkled with pee and poop jokes…