The Orville, S2.14: “The Road Not Taken” offers a familiar yet enjoyable ride…


The Orville continues to revisit ‘roads not taken’ with various Star Trek story elements, while executing them with enough panache, humor and entertainment value to make them well worth revisiting.

Doppelgängers are common in both Star Trek and The Orville.

Last week’s episode, “Tomorrow…” was a nearly scene-specific remake of Star Trek: The Next Gen’s “Second Chances” (both saw First Officers dealing with doppelgängers from their pasts who complicate their present). This week’s season finale follows on the aftermath of past-Kelly Grayson’s timeline-altering decision to turn down future ex-husband Ed Mercer’s offer of a second date. This single action accidentally turns her present reality into a Kaylon-overrun nightmare. If last week was “Second Chances” redux, then this week’s 2nd season finale was a mix between Star Trek: Voyager’s “Timeless” and Next Generation’s “Yesterday’s Enterprise.” Yet served with enough of The Orville’s trademark humor, charm and strong character development to easily overlook the Star Trek ripof–er, homages.

“The Road Not Taken” was written by Seth MacFarlane, David Goodman and directed by Gary Rake.

The Story.

Running scared: Gordon & Ed are two scavengers eking out an existence in a hostile, Kaylon-occupied galaxy.

Opening on a snowy forest on an alien planet, we see two figures trudge across the snow and into a small deserted listening post on a scavenging mission. The two men steal a small, microwave-oven sized contraption that turns out to be a highly valued food replicator. Something the two men, Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane) and his buddy Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes) need to survive after months without a good meal.

The Kaylons are coming!

Sadly, they’re not alone for long, as we hear the hum of landing craft unloading deadly Kaylon androids, on their ongoing, maniacal quest to wipe out all biological life in the universe (think Star Trek’s “Nomad” probe, but successful). The two manage to run back to their banged up Union shuttle and blast off into space…

One of many Star Wars-like moments along “The Road Not Taken”…

…only to have to outrun a Kaylon patrol during a thrilling chase that skims the surface of an icy moon. They manage to outmaneuver their cybernetic pursuers and reset their previously offline quantum drive. Temporarily avoiding capture, Gordon and Ed finally have a moment to enjoy their newly acquired food replicator. First thing Gordon creates is… a Twinkie.

A massive freighter ensnares Ed’s Union shuttle in its tractor beam.

Splitting the delicious creme-filled spongecake between them, their Union shuttle is then immediately ensnared in a tractor beam by a large, battered but formidable-looking freighter. Pulled inside of the freighter’s docking bay, the two break out their weapons, vowing to fight rather than be captured. Once inside, their shuttle’s back hatch is opened, and they are greeted by a ragtag team of very familiar looking rebels… Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki), John LaMarr (J Lee), Talla Keyali (Jessica Szohr), and Dr. Claire Finn (Penny Jerald Johnson) along with her two young sons, Ty and Marcus.

Kelly brings Ed and Gordon up to speed on her plan to rewrite history…correctly, this time.

The rebels were carefully gathered by Kelly, who was sent back in time 7 years from an alternate present, though her memory wipe of her future wasn’t successful (Kelly’s brain is deficient in a specific protein, which negated the erasure). Since the wipe didn’t take, it influenced past-Kelly’s decision not to accept Ed’s offer of a second date (not wishing to endure the pain of a certain divorce). Kelly is the only person with absolute knowledge of the correct timeline, which is why she stole the freighter and gathered her would-be shipmates in an attempt to rewrite their nightmarish present. Her plan is to seek out a nearby resistance base, on a planet located near a black hole, and get the proteins that Claire will need to deliver to past Kelly in order for the memory erasure to take hold. It is hoped that past-Kelly will awaken with no knowledge of her future divorce, accept Ed’s offer of a 2nd date, and rewrite their entire timeline back to normal.

“Chewie, set 2-7-1…”

The next phase of Kelly’s plan involves passing through a dense asteroid field (a former planet ripped to pieces by the local black hole), in order to locate the hidden rebel stronghold.

The pursuing Kaylons make a deadly trip through a dense cloud of deadly asteroids even more interesting…

After a harrowing trip through the dense asteroid field (shades of “The Empire Strikes Back”), they find themselves pursued by attacking Kaylon ships. Without options, they take John’s advice and flee just within the event horizon of the nearby black hole. John tells them that the singularity will hide them, since light reflected off of their ship can’t escape the black hole…

Nice to see a space opera TV series actually dealing with the effects of special relativity; something you never see on Star Trek.

Once inside the awe-inspiring vista of the singularity, the rebels observe the seemingly speeded-up Kaylons outside of the event horizon. The effects of special relativity are at play; time is slowing down for the rebels, who are closer to the singularity. Seconds of hiding for them translates into hours for their Kaylon pursuers outside. After the last of the Kaylon vessels appears to leave the area, the freighter cautiously reemerges. Talla reports that those moments of hiding within the event horizon of the black hole were approximately two days of non-dilated time outside of it. Smart-ass pilot Gordon quips, “How was your weekend?”

Claire, Kelly, John and Ed find the rebel stronghold.

Leaving Talla, Gordon and Claire’s kids on the freighter in orbit, Kelly, Ed, Claire and John take the shuttle down to the rebel stronghold in order to get the proteins.

Star Wars Rebels: Yaphit welcomes the group to what appears to be the 4th moon of Yavin.

The group locates the camouflaged outpost, and after being greeted through a peephole by the gelatinous engineer Yaphit (voice of Norm Macdonald), they are led into the rebel base, where John sees a face from his past… former Orville security chief Alara Kitan (Halston Sage, returning for a welcome cameo). It’s implied that John and Alara had a more intimate and painful history in this reality.

Even former security chief Alara Kitan is back in this alternate timeline. Nice that the Kaylons were careful to avoid killing any former Orville crew members… for now, anyway.

Alara gets the doctor her proteins to complete the mission, but before she can ask why Claire needs them, the base is under attack by Kaylon forces. It’s an invasion.

Marching in perfect lockstep, the Kaylons find the rebels, too.

Marching in large groups, the approaching Kaylons are met with resistance firepower, but it’s not enough to stop their advancement. Ed and his gang offer Alara a ride with them, but she refuses, arguing that she’s needed right where she is. She shows the rebels a back way out of the fortress, and they manage to run back to their shuttle…

Well, that particular threat didn’t last long.

….only to find a single Kaylon inside, who orders them to surrender. Ed shoots the lower body of the deadly robot, while Kelly aims for the head, saying “she likes being on top.” Taking the Kaylon’s now inert body with them for study, the group flies back to their stolen freighter just as the rebel stronghold is destroyed. The group’s next stop is to Earth, to find the starship Orville, which fell from the sky in defeat to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Once aboard, they will locate the Aronov time-beam device in the ship’s laboratory that screwed up the timeline in the first place.

Talla and John use their dead Kaylon to great advantage.

During the trip, John and Talla tinker with the Kaylon corpse, which allows genius-John to hack into the Kaylon’s main network, which keeps each Kaylon in constant communication with all others of their cybernetic race. Good thing they kept the dead Kaylon soldier’s corpse aboard their shuttle, yeah?

Second chances…

The voyage to Earth also allows Kelly and Ed to grow closer, as the two steal a moment to have their previously aborted ‘second date’ within the battered freighter. In this timeline, the two of them never got married (let alone divorced), though Ed laments he may have been right when he thought it’d be the end of the world if she didn’t want to see him again…

What the Kaylons have left of Earth…now a lifeless husk of its former beauty.

Arriving at a now-lifeless, bombed out Earth, the rebel crew are shocked to see the results of the Kaylon extermination of their home planet. Earth’s land masses are near-colorless wastelands now, and the orbiting moon is a shattered remnant of itself. Scanning the lifeless world, they locate the Orville deep in the Marianas Trench of the Pacific Ocean. Their freighter is too ramshackle to make an undersea voyage of crushing oceanic pressures, but John theorizes that a Union shuttle might just do the trick.

Voyage to the bottom of the sea.

One the shuttle goes oceanic, pressures rise outside. No fish are present… the Kaylons were very thorough in their wanton extermination of all of Earth’s biological life. The tiny submerged shuttle threatens to crack like an egg like under the tons of water pressure miles beneath the ocean’s surface. Just in time, Talla spots the submerged Orville and the shuttle enters her landing bay, where the water around her is purged, and air pressure within the bay is restored. Inside the deserted ship, Talla reads one life sign, up on the bridge…

Bortus on board.

… and it is a lone Moclan, former Orville third officer Bortus (Peter Macon) who stayed behind with the vessel as his crew mates, husband and child all fled in escape pods. He’s survived the past nine months living on minimal life support and eating emergency rations. After introductions are made (Bortus never met Kelly, Ed or Gordon in this timeline), Bortus tells the rebels that hope of rejoining his family on Moclus someday has kept him going. With a heavy heart, Gordon tells him that Moclus was destroyed by the Kaylons. With nowhere else to go, a saddened Bortus joins his new family of rebels.

In this timeline, an untested Ed is put in command of the Orville… for the first time, as Kelly assumes her station as first officer.

Next, the crew powers up the Orville, under Ed’s command (as it was meant to be), in order to get her back into space to carry out the next phase of their mission; using every drop of ship’s power to run the Aronov device on Dr. Finn, thus allowing her to repair the timeline.

The money shot: The Orville leaps from the ocean like an airborne whale…

The long-submerged vessel powers up, and bursts out from the dead ocean of Earth and back into outer space. Once in orbit, and with no immediate Kaylon pursuit, John has an idea; he hopes to surf the Kaylon web, and locate one specific Kaylon mind; former shipmate-turned-traitor Isaac (Mark Jackson). John gets a crazy idea; he wants to download Isaac’s mind from the Kaylon internet into the severed head of the Kaylon soldier, allowing him to easily extract the data he needs on the Aronov device (since both he and Isaac worked on the device in the other timeline).

John downloads Isaac’s mind into a severed Kaylon head…turning its formerly red eyes Isaac-blue.

Ed and Kelly manage to have a last drink together in the Orville’s abandoned lounge. A reinforcement of the idea that the entire timeline hangs upon these two getting together…and then breaking up again. He tells her that he’s actually enjoyed getting to know her again after 7 years. Pondering a future together should their mission fail, Ed later proposes. Kelly accepts.

Kelly and Ed kiss in the abandoned ship’s lounge.

With the data recovered, Claire says a farewell to her boys, reminding them the when (not if) she succeeds, none of this will have ever happened, and they will be reunited. Tearfully, the boys watch as their mother is strapped to the sickbay table, preparing to be sent back in time to seven years earlier, to ensure that Kelly’s mind wipe succeeds.

Devoted mother Claire with her sons, Ty and Marcus.

The Aronov device is powered up. Bortus reports from the bridge that Kaylon ships are entering the system. They’ll be in weapons range in two minutes. Time grows short. On Ed’s orders, all ship’s power, including life-support and shields, are diverted into the Aronov device. This is an endgame with no second attempts. Power is diverted, and unlike what happened in “Tomorrow…” the ship buckles under the strain. Claire is sent back…just as the Orville explodes!

The ship has had better days…rescued from the bottom of the Pacific only to blow apart hours later.

Seven years earlier, a younger Kelly awakens, makes coffee and then drops her cup as she finds herself back in bed, reawakening to see Dr. Claire Finn, whom she’d met during her time jump from future-Orville, standing in her apartment.

Claire has a hypodermic and a sleep-inducing device ready for her, telling her she needs to go back to sleep. Kelly trusts Claire and complies, but asks what she is doing with the hypodermic. Claire answers, “Saving the galaxy.”

Kelly sleeps, as Claire vanishes.

The injection is delivered. The sleep inducing device and Claire herself both vanish. They are not a part of Kelly’s reality at this point in her life. Kelly awakens, blissfully unaware of what fate has resting on her shoulders. She gets a morning call from a younger Ed, with whom she had a first date with the previous night. He nervously screws up the courage to ask her out a second time. She smiles, and says she’d love to.

All the difference a ‘yes’ can make.

The proper timeline is restored.

The End.

Minor timey-whimey nits.

The Orville’s alternate timeline saw the same missions under a different commanding officer and exec, yet everything still worked out just as before, save for the Kaylon invasion in “Identity Part 2.” We even see the Aronov time device, acquired in the show’s pilot episode, still safely tucked away in the ship’s science lab (just as LaMarr and Isaac set it up, well after the Kaylon invasion).

The gang’s ALL here…coincidentally.

It’s also convenient that, despite the Kaylons obliterating so much of the Planetary Union, all of the main officers of the ship (past and present) are still alive, just waiting to be gathered up by Kelly Grayson (who is also still conveniently alive). It’s a stretch, yes, but a very entertaining one, so I willfully bought it. Time travel stories, by their very nature, are inherently illogical. Sometimes you simply have to accept certain things, and move on. These stories are written by television writers, not prophets or PhDs in astrophysics.

Star Wars-ing a bit.

Look out for giant slugs hiding in craters…

Aside from Trek, there were innumerable Star Wars references throughout the episode as well; the battle in the asteroid field was right out of “The Empire Strikes Back.” The image of Yaphit pouring his mouth out of a peephole was reminiscent of the electronic eye-stalk that protruded from Jabba’s palace door in “Return of the Jedi.”

“The Death Star will be in range in fifteen minutes…”

Even the ‘resistance base’ looked very much like the rebel HQ on Yavin’s 4th moon in “A New Hope.” There were others, but they whizzed by so fast, I didn’t make note of them…nor care too deeply, either. I enjoyed how they were used, even if I easily recognized where they came from.

Star Trekking…even more so.

As stated earlier…

The arrival of the older USS Enterprise-C in the USS Enterprise-D’s present unravels the skein of time, causing a devastating war that didn’t previously exist. The older ship is forced to go back to her own time, while the Enterprise-D sacrifices herself to send her older sister ship back safely…

With a little bit of this thrown in as well, for good measure…

Star Trek: Voyager’s “Timeless” (that series’ 100th episode), saw an alternate future where the starship Voyager was buried in ice on a faraway planet, leaving only bitter survivors Harry Kim and Chakotay to try and restore the timeline. The deserted Orville stranded at the bottom of the Pacific ocean was an image quite similar to this, as was Harry Kim’s communication through time with his younger self.

Once again, the nods to specific Star Trek episodes are fairly obvious. Did I mind? Not at all. All science fiction and fantasy draws inspiration from other sources (subtle and unsubtle) if you know where to look. With The Orville, you just don’t have to search quite so hard (hehe).

Refreshingly familiar.

The multiple references & homages are blended with The Orville’s refreshing mix of characters, and it’s through their eyes that I can enjoy those familiar elements anew. Like the “Candy Man” song, writer/creator Seth MacFarlane “mixes it with love.”

“Take us to warp–er, quantum drive… er, who cares? Punch it.”

For better or worse, The Orville is Seth MacFarlane’s Star Trek, minus transporter technology. None of that is a secret, and with two seasons now under its belt, The Orville is coming out from under the formidable shadow of Star Trek. Its distinct mythology is now growing exponentially. Its characters have come into their own and they possess distinctive, charming personae. Certainly the Planetary Union guys are a lot less formal than the somewhat stuffier Starfleet crews of Star Trek.

She’s a mother and a doctor, but neither a wife nor a widow. Claire Finn is the true ‘mother of the future.’

Dr. Claire Finn, a single mother with two boys, is not Dr. Crusher. She’s not a widow nor a deserted wife, because she never bothered to have a father for her two sons. Artificial insemination is fairly common today…who’s to say where it’ll go in 400 years?

Third officer Bortus, while superficially bearing much in common with stoic Klingon warrior Worf, is also in a same-sex marriage, and has severe addictions with nicotine and porn. In fact, The Orville beat Star Trek: Discovery to the punch with a same-sex couple living together on a starship (in fact, gay crew members on starships were an idea long overdue on Star Trek…).

Captain Ed Mercer is a guy who can barely keep his own life together, yet he always rises to the occasion when needed. A more realistic, screwed up style of leader for an era that’s fresh out of one-dimensional, stalwart spaceship skippers.

Even Captain Ed Mercer seems the exact opposite of Jean-Luc Picard or James T. Kirk. He’s not some perfect alpha male, nor is he particularly sagacious. He seems to make decisions based largely (and intuitively) on the intelligence and wisdom of his team more than of himself. I remember at an Orville panel discussion at a recent convention, an ex-military officer stood up during the Q&A session. The man said that he’d spent decades in the Air Force, and that he’d never seen a more realistic commanding officer on a TV series than Seth MaFarlane’s Ed Mercer. That was the most defining comment that could be said about any of the Orville characters. These people aren’t flawless archetypes; they’re funny, they swear, they screw up, they have arguments, and they have a genuine affection for one another. In other words, they’re us. Putting these people in Star Trek-style situations is what makes the retreaded Orville stories seem so fresh (and fun) again.

What other space show would think to play Dolly Parton’s “Nine To Five” over a fierce space battle, or show two fugitive heroes stealing a replicator in order to make (and share) a Twinkie? To those that would call these touches banal, I’m sorry; they’ll never get the ridiculous joy that is watching a solidly entertaining (and yes, derivative) episode of “The Orville”.

8 Comments Add yours

  1. ultrabasic69 says:

    All the nits in your summary covered the vast majority of my comments, so I really don’t have a lot to say. I noticed the Interstellar reference in the depiction of the wormhole (thanks Kip Thorne). I thought hiding in the event horizon was a fool’s errand until I remembered reading on-line about the tidal effects on the edge of a super massive Black Hole being a lot less destructive then previously thought. (Thanks Steven Hawking?) Anyway, the time dilation sequence was pretty cool.

    The Orville has become one of my favorite programs, (which is saying a lot since I’m not a big fan of Mr. McFarland’s previous endeavors—I laugh, but I’m not proud of myself for doing so). The Orville captures the essence of the original Star Trek philosophy. Its forward-looking hopeful depiction of the future of humanity is a pleasant change of pace from the sea of dystopic Sci-Fi futures flooding the air-waves and movies theaters.

    1. I’ve only seen one or two episodes of his cartoon shows, and to be honest, I’ve never been fond of them. But The Orville is like a hug from home for Star Trek fans.

      It’s telling the kinds of stories that a new Star Trek series should be telling in the 21st century (“About A Girl” was the one that hooked me forever).

      And yes, good point about the “Insterstellar”-like depiction of the singularity too. I just saw “Interstellar” only a week ago. Hoping to do a piece on it within a couple weeks.

  2. ultrabasic69 says:

    The humor of a lot of McFarlane’s pop-culture stuff is sophomoric and crude, but at its heart there is an underlying humanity of his characters, which endears them to the public, I guess. Hey, who am I to judge, it’s an honest day’s work that’s made him very rich.

    There has always been tension between the utopian ideal posited by Star Trek and basic storytelling truths. That’s what made TOS and the best episodes of TNG so compelling. My next favorite Star Trek franchise is DS9 because it walked this tightrope consistently well. I agree, The Orville is exploring stories that should be told.

    On The Orville, I also like the trend towards what I like to call realistic science. Your observation about transporter-less technology is spot-on. In the future it makes sense that it will be a lot easier to replicate a bunch of molecular goo to form a Mohito than it will be to actually disassemble and reassemble a living being. Anyway, I’m looking forward to your Interstellar critique. I thought it was a “downer” of the type I discussed earlier.

    1. You mention MacFarlane’s more juvenile humor in his cartoons…that was actually one of the things that turned me off about the Orville pilot episode. But it really took off shortly afterward! Instead of a sci-fi spoof, it matured into a real sci-fi show with more organic and character-driven humor. The humor has finally settled into something that feels true to this series, and not gag driven.

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