The latest episode of “The Orville” is once again focused on the previously poorly-and-underused character of Lt. Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes). Gordon was the class clown/smart-ass helmsman whose only other function besides flying used to be throwing out one-liners and bad jokes. This season he’s really coming into his own in a strong way. The show is now wisely harnessing the talents of actor Scott Grimes. This year we’ve seen Gordon sign up for command training (a thread that dead-ended fairly quickly), have his loyalties tested with a renegade POW buddy, and now engage in a full-on romance with a simulacrum of a woman dead for several centuries who survives via ‘lasting impressions’ left on her ancient iPhone.
The beginning of the episode sees yet another welcome from a Star Trek veteran, in this case “Voyager” Vulcan costar Tim Russ, who plays an archeologist overseeing the unearthing of an Earth-based time capsule from the year 2015. The Orville is to transport the recovered items from the capsule to a permanent museum, as well as help in reactivating one of the items that could shed significant light on the lives of average 21st century people…an intact iPhone. The device is too antiquated in Orville’s 25th century to easily interface with their power systems or computer technology, but engineer John LaMarr (J Lee) and helmsman Gordon Malloy (Grimes) give it a try. Security chief Talla Keyali (Jessica Szohr) seems particularly fond of a Yankees baseball cap, and Moclan third officer Bortus (Peter Macon) seems inordinately fond of the scent of a 21st century cigarette…
John and Gordon are successful in reactivating the iPhone, even giving its battery a 10 year boost with modern tech (oh, how I wish my iPhone could have battery life like that!). They are also successful in unlocking its tech, discovering that it used to belong to a young woman named Laura (Leighton Meester), a former sales manager for Macy’s, who also had secret aspirations of being a singer. Gordon learns so much about the woman through her device that he decides to interact with her by recreating a simulator-room program he’s made of her, based solely on the images, videos and other data collected in her iPhone.
Inside the simulator, Gordon’s program begins and he finds himself in the middle of Laura’s house-warming party. He is still in uniform and it’s a bit awkward trying to explain it away to some of the guests, but ultimately he meets Laura, and is immediately enchanted with her.
They hit it off, and eventually Gordon finds himself returning to the simulator and even listening to her sing at a local bar on open mic night. Gordon is fascinated by the charming woman, and they begin dating. He learns that she is coming off from a bad breakup with her ex, Greg, hence the reason she is so open to seeing Gordon.
At the bar, she gives Gordon her number and he even spends the night at ‘her place’ (still in the simulator), making him late for a duty shift. His simulated life is beginning to encroach on his real life.
Meanwhile, Captain Ed Mercer (writer/producer/creator Seth MacFarlane) and First Officer Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki) go through a 21st century newspaper and Ed is mortified to hear that our century’s pending disaster from climate change is seemingly less newsworthy than a one-page story on teeth-whitening (a sad but sly commentary on our times).
Bortus and his mate Klyden (Chad Coleman) replicate 21st century cigarettes in their quarters while their son Topa is in school, and begin taking up the quaint but deadly habit of smoking. Turns out the Moclan species is particularly vulnerable to nicotine addiction, eventually landing the two in sickbay for help in kicking the habit, courtesy of the ministrations of Dr. Claire Finn (Penny Jerald Johnson), who tells them that there is no readily available sure for such addiction, since smoking was abolished centuries before. With their habit getting worse, as well as conflicts arising between them when they try to quit cold turkey, Claire rushes to find a cure.
Ed and Kelly, along with the other senior staff, begin to worry about their friend Gordon’s obsession with the long-dead 21st century Laura, and they confront him in the ship’s lounge, where he somewhat angrily dismisses their concerns (even reiterating the captain’s own brief relationship with a Krill Spy) and returns to the simulator where he finds Laura back in the arms of her ex-boyfriend Greg (Darri Ingolfsson).
In a fit of shortsightedness, he exits the program but instructs the computer to “delete Greg” from Laura’s life. He reenters the chamber, only to find Laura a very different person from the person that he knew. This version of Laura lacked the courage to sing publicly (a courage she only gained in her relationship with Greg). By remaking Laura to suit himself, Gordon has inadvertently changed many of the things that made him fall in love with her in the first place. Like her career in retail, Laura only comes off-the-rack and is not customizable to fit Gordon’s needs.
As tensions reach a boiling point between the nicotine-addicted Bortus and Klyden (with Bortus resorting to hiding cigarettes throughout their quarters), the two break into a fistfight over a prodigious dinner, juuuuust as Claire arrives with the cure…
The heartbroken Gordon receives a sympathetic call from his command-training mentor Kelly (Grimes’ real-life girlfriend and costar Palecki). Gordon tells her that her phone’s history tells the whole story; the real Laura eventually got back together with Greg…it was inevitable. Kelly, trying to lift his mood, shows him her ‘stupid human trick’, her (impressive) ability to cross one eye at a time… an ability she only knew through her failed relationship with Ed. The lesson being that even our broken relationships add into the sum total of who we are.
Gordon makes a final trip to the simulator to say ‘goodbye’; he and Laura sing a nice duet at the bandstand, and he wishes she and Greg well. The artifacts are eventually delivered to the museum and the Orville moves on…
My own impressions of “Lasting Impressions.”
The episode is, once again, a small scale episode, without a driving mission (beyond the fairly routine run of delivering artifacts). Nice to have these ‘breathers’ after the colossal dramatics of “Identity” parts 1 and 2 (the Isaac/Kaylon war mini-arc). It’s also nice to see Gordon once again in the spotlight. In less than two full seasons, Scott Grimes has turned the character from an irritating jokester into a charming, irreplaceable member of the ensemble. I like the Gordon I’ve seen in these last few episodes a helluva lot more than the guy who used to break out stupid one-liners at inopportune moments with the regularity of bad diarrhea. New-Gordon is just a regular guy; fallible, yes, but very honest about his failings, which makes him all the more relatable and human. Well done, Scott Grimes, as well as writer Seth MacFarlane (once again) and director Kelly Cronin, for helping to bring out the best in both the actor and character. And Grimes can really sing, too!
A lot of credit has to go to guest star Leighton Meester as “Laura”, Gordon’s temporal long-distance muse. Meester is so typical in her 21st century ‘ordinariness’ (living in the suburbs, working retail with dreams of a musical career) yet she is embellished with her own unique charm that makes Gordon’s attraction to her very understandable. One wonders how any of us might react if one were to ‘meet’ a live person from the past, resurrected in such perfect detail. Meeting someone from another century firsthand would be like meeting someone from a parallel but slightly askew world. I imagine that most of us couldn’t help but be fascinated by a living, (seemingly) breathing glimpse into another century. It also makes a person uncomfortably aware of just how much of our personality is embedded in our handy-dandy mobile devices…
The story also reminded me (very much) of Richard Matheson’s story (and film) “Somewhere In Time” (1980, directed by Jeannot Szwarc). In that film, a young contemporary playwright (the late Christopher Reeve) falls in love with a portrait of an actress (Jane Seymour) from the 1920s. Literally willing himself back in time, he meets and falls in love with her, but the relationship is ultimately doomed due to her complicated past, and the young man returns to his time, only to die of a broken heart (where he is reunited with his lost love in the afterlife). Substituting the current ‘time portal’ of a smart phone (which contains photos, conversations and even our voices, all frozen in time) is a clever change, as is making the leads a bit less larger-than-life, and more relatable. I don’t know if writer MacFarlane was directly riffing on Matheson’s story or not, but given his penchant for using other such inspirations, it’s hard to imagine that he’d not been inspired (however indirectly) by Matheson’s “Somewhere In Time.”
Arguably, the episode also draws on holodeck-addiction stories seen in Star Trek: The Next Generation (“Hollow Pursuits” “Booby Trap”), Deep Space Nine (“It’s Only a Paper Moon”) and Voyager (“Fair Haven”).
One minor nit.
One little piece of this otherwise nice little love story that I found a bit odd was exactly how iPhones were used. I own one myself, and I just have to wonder how they managed to get the damn thing to make calls in this episode without a 21st century wi-fi signal (?). There’s also the issue of Gordon replicating his own iPhone so that he might call Laura on his off-hours, and even sneaking in texts to her while on duty (another bit of sly social commentary about phone addiction). My concern is how he was able to keep communicating with Laura even when he left the simulation; presumably, he turned the program off when he exited, so where exactly are the Laura text messages coming from? The ship’s computer? A continuously-running simulator room that Gordon never shuts off?
Summing it up.
A gentle but touching romance that is just shy of being Gordon’s “City on the Edge of Forever”, “Lasting Impressions” provides an interesting way to have one’s time travel cake (via modern technology) and eat it, too. Free of any burdensome lessons about the dangers of undoing history, the episode only has one lesson to be gleaned… the dangers of trying to remake a single life to selfishly fit our own. People will be who they are, whether in the 21st century or the 25th, and neither time nor technology can force them to change.