****PLANETARY RING-SIZED SPOILERS AHEAD!!****
The Orville’s latest, “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” (a title alluding to Shakespeare’s “MacBeth”) is, in many ways, another Star Trek: The Next Generation remake. In this case, the Commander Riker-centered “Second Chances”, which saw Riker facing a transporter-created doppelgänger unknowingly left behind on an away mission. The Orville comes at it a bit sideways; creating a doppelgänger of Commander Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki) as well, but instead of a transporter beam split, Grayson’s other self is literally plucked 7 years from her own past, a past wherein Lieutenant Grayson was more optimistic and carefree than her current, more responsible present-day self.
Ship’s resident Kaylon android Issac (Mark Jackson) and chief engineer LaMarr (J Lee) are working on a time-beam created by scientist Dr. Aronov (Brian George) in the pilot episode, hoping to refine it in order to make time travel practical. An accident occurs (of course, because time travel beams… what could go wrong?). A sentimental Commander Grayson was fleetingly remembering her first date with ex-husband/current captain Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane) when her thoughts were used by the device to pull her past self out of time and onto the Orville.
Initially skeptical of this younger version of Kelly, Dr. Finn (Penny Jerald Johnson) runs genetic scans and confirms that the ‘intruder’ is indeed what she appears to be; a 7-years younger version of the ship’s first officer.
The temporally displaced Lieutenant Kelly Grayson is confused and disoriented, and Commander Kelly Grayson feels a bit the same, seeing her naive younger self… still reeling from a hangover after her first date with Ed Mercer (7 years ago for Commander Grayson; last night for Lt. Grayson). Lt. Grayson soon bonds with the relatively new Security Chief Lt. Talla Keyali (Jessica Szhor), who seems to have a natural empathy with strangers aboard the ship.
Commander Grayson has a word with her junior grade self as she observes her telling Gordon and John wild drinking stories from her days at Union Point Academy… something the more responsible first officer of today would rather not have shared with her subordinates. The conflict between the two women soon becomes a case of ‘whose life is it, anyway?’
Ed, who still has feelings for his ex-wife/first officer, takes the younger version up on her offer of a ‘second date’ (which she hasn’t experienced yet). They do dinner, get drunk, and seem to restart their courtship all over again.
Lt. Grayson later invite Talla, Bortus (Peter Macon), his mate Klyden (Chad Coleman) and Ed’s best friend, helmsman Gordon Malloy (Scott Malloy) to go ‘clubbing’ with them in the ship’s simulator.
It is here that Ed (and Gordon) begin to really feel their middle age, as the younger Kelly and Talla burn up the dance floor… as do Bortus and Klyden (the Moclans’ dancing is easily the single funniest moment of the entire episode…it’s not to be missed). The music reminds Bortus of a fertility dance from Moclus (of course). A despondent (and nearly deaf) Ed realizes that this clubbing, hard-drinking Kelly isn’t his Kelly… she’s a Kelly from his past.
Things get dangerous for the ship as well, when dangerous two Kaylon starships (see: “Identity part 2”) are identified on sensors. Thanks to a fresh idea from Lt. Grayson, the Orville manages to immerse itself in water ice from its own water tanks, and hide on a chunk of icy debris in a planet’s ring system. The trick works, and the dangerous Kaylons eventually move off.
Ed and Lt. Grayson’s relationship begins to heat up, and he begins to feel a bit…weird. For Ed, it’s a combination of his own middle age, and his feeling as though he’s ‘cheating’ on the other Kelly. It’s complicated. Eventually salvation comes in a theory from Isaac and LaMarr, who think they can ‘reverse the polarity’ of their time beam (always worked on “Doctor Who”) and send Lt. Grayson back to her own point in spacetime. Dr. Finn also believes she can erase Lt. Grayson’s short-term memory for her return, so as not to corrupt her own timeline with knowledge of the future.
Commander Grayson, who wasn’t comfortable with her doppelgänger being aboard the ship in the first place, wishes her younger self well. Talla also reminds her newfound friend to ‘keep in touch.’ Commander Grayson also reassures Lt. Grayson that their plan must’ve worked since she doesn’t remember it ever happening (can’t argue with that, right?). The beam is applied, using a dangerous amount of ship’s power, and eventually Lt. Kelly is zapped back to her old apartment…
…reawakening the very morning after her first date with younger Ed. Ed calls, worrying if it’s “too soon” (a common guy fear…seem to recall having it with my own wife when we were dating, too). Lt. Kelly, appreciating Ed’ sincerity, tells him that she’s sorry, but she just doesn’t think that it’ll work out (!). A nice unexpected left turn for the story. Has Lt. Grayson unwittingly altered her own future? We’ll see…
Second chances… again?
Once again, The Orville takes a story that has been done to death in Star Trek (and sci-fi, for that matter); the doppelgänger story. As stated above, the episode most strongly resembles the Commander Will Riker-centered episode of TNG, “Second Chances”, which even had the familiar love triangle between the two Rikers and their ‘ex’, current ship’s counselor Deanna Troi. While TNG made the brave choice of keeping “Thomas” Riker alive at the end of the episode (later to turn up on “Deep Space Nine”), Orville makes the alternately brave choice of sending younger Kelly back where she belongs… only to not have her do what was assumed to be predestined. Was there a minor quantum variation perhaps? Maybe…
“Tomorrow…” also tells its story with another different angle… that of the ‘new’ Kelly being slightly younger than Riker’s same-age doppelgänger. Seven years may not seem like much to some, but the maturity difference between say, age 25 and 33 is fairly big for some… even bigger is that same 25 year old’s relationship with her now fortysomething future ex-husband and current captain. Lt. Grayson unwittingly makes the more sedate Captain Ed Mercer feel every minute of his age, and that’s an interesting angle to explore as well.
My biggest nit with this otherwise pleasant enough story is its too-familiar feeling. Usually The Orville (which makes no bones about its homages to TNG) manages to add something new enough to make a familiar (or borrowed) story seem fresh again, by telling it from an entirely new perspective. “Tomorrow…”, despite its charm, is an all-too familiar retelling of “Second Chances.” Many of the beats are the same as well, only the genders and a few other minor details are changed. “Tomorrow…” is a solid remake, but a remake nevertheless…
Another nit I have is with younger Kelly’s distractingly phony-looking wig. The creative team on this show do such wonderful alien makeups and creature effects, yet they don’t seem to have mastered making a subtle wig that doesn’t make Adrienne Palicki look like she’s going trick-or-treating as Suzanne Somers for Halloween. Frankly my wife uses better wigs for her cosplaying. Fortunately however, Adrianne Palicki sells it entirely on the strength of her performance. She easily owns Kelly-centered episodes whenever given the chance (S1’s “Mad Idolatry” was a great example).
Summing it up.
A solid, if too familiar story with not enough new elements to truly differentiate it is still a solid piece of entertainment, thanks largely to The Orville’s characters (and the charm of the actors who play them). Adrianne Palicki does a phenomenal job as the two versions of the same woman, despite a less-than-convincing wig.
A dangerous game of Kaylon hide-and-seek adds a nice bit of tension to the episode, especially shots of the Kaylon ships cruising over the Orville’s transparent iced-in ceiling. I’m also interested to see where the divergence in younger Kelly’s actions take the show in its season finale next Thursday. This may turn out to be one of those installments that is mostly setup for a more intriguing second part.
We’ll find out in one week…