Most of us are still catching our breath after last week’s epic conclusion to “Identity,” so a change of pace isn’t unwelcome, just as long as it’s not another episode that focuses on Lt. Cmdr. Bortus (Peter Macon). As interesting as that character is, he’s hogged the limelight a little of late.
The latest installment of “The Orville,” entitled “Blood of Patriots,” seems to take place a month or so after the Kaylon battle, which is a shame as it might have been nice to have a story set in the aftermath. It would be interesting to see the Planetary Union recovering as well as the crew and Isaac (Mark Jackson) in particular dealing with the recent events, a little like the excellent “Star Trek: The Generation” episode “Family” (S04, E02) that takes place after the Battle of Wolf 359 and Jean-Luc Picard’s temporary assimilation into the Borg collective. Oh well.
Capt. Mercer (Seth MacFarlane) is instructed by Admiral Perry (Ted Danson) that the Krill are ready to begin peace talks, so the Orville must rendezvous with a Krill cruiser to sign a Lak’vai Pact that means they can begin negotiations — the treaty before the treaty, if you will. It basically means that both parties will approach the table in good faith.
Upon arrival, they find the Krill ship blasting one of its own shuttles that appears to be trying to escape. The pilot begs the Orville for assistance and so they bring it on board. Lt. Malloy (Scott Grimes) recognizes the pilot as being Lt. Orrin Channing (Mackenzie Astin) — Malloy’s old friend of some 30 years — and his daughter Layna (Aily Kei). Apparently, they’ve escaped from a Krill prison camp and subsequently destroyed three cruisers, and the Krill are demanding the return of their prisoners. Of course this puts Mercer in a very awkward position.
Finally, we get to see an episode focused on Malloy — and it’s about time. More often than not he’s the comic relief in the show, and while his antics do raise a laugh, it’s nice to see him take on a story with a little more substance.
It’s basically a race to determine who is telling the truth before the window of opportunity for a peace negotiation passes. Are the Krill lying? Did Orrin destroy three cruisers, and, if so, how? We learn that he saved Malloy’s life 20 years ago, when Orrin himself was captured and his wife was killed in a Krill attack. Malloy believed his friend had also been killed, and continues to feel guilt about the events.
The Krill shuttlecraft appears to have no weapons, and the medical scan reveals nothing unusual … although Orrin’s daughter, Layna, appears to be in shock and refuses to let Dr. Claire Finn (Penny Johnson Jerald) examine her. And yet no one raises a red flag. You’d really think that this kind of thing would be mandatory when complete strangers were brought onboard a Union starship. Oh well.
Malloy is convinced of Orrin’s innocence, but at the same time has begun to notice that he seems different than he used to be. Lt. Keyali (Jessica Szohr) is more suspicious, but only has a gut feeling to go on. She catches him snooping around the engineering section, but doesn’t actually see him doing anything wrong.
Keyali has to delay the Krill delegation to buy Mercer more time to find out what’s going on, so she invents a series of boarding protocols, including urine samples, rectal examinations and so on. We can’t help but feel an opportunity was missed here; all she had to do was get the Krill ambassadors to use those pesky fingerprint scanners you get at Customs & Immigration and they would’ve been there for hours.
These jumps between humor and really-rather-serious often feel a little strange … but that’s “The Orville.”
Poor Malloy is torn between his loyalty to his friend and his loyalty to the Planetary Union. However, when Orrin tries to persuade him to steal a shuttle, you get the sense that he reluctantly accepts, deep down, that his friend has changed, as friends sometimes do — and especially as you would if you’d been a prisoner of war for 20 years. Malloy deliberates over what is the best thing to, but eventually he agrees to Orrin’s plan.
Keyali tries to talk to Layna, who hasn’t said a single word so far, and she spots weird looking needle marks on Layna’s arm that look like hypodermic syringe scars. They get into a scuffle and by the time Finn arrives on the scene, Layna has some thick yellow blood dripping from her nose. Finn immediately recognizes it, drags Keyali out of the room and orders a level 12 force field around those quarters and a complete nitrogen purge.
Turns out that the woman who is “Layna” isn’t Orrin’s daughter. She’s an Envall, a race of humanoids from a distant star system called Lacar-B. Their blood cells contain an iodide compound, which, when exposed to a nitrogen-rich atmosphere, renders the plasma highly unstable. In short, when their blood hits the air, it becomes an explosive substance. She’s a living weapon.
The species’ homeworld atmosphere includes an element that neutralizes the effect, but they’re too biologically dangerous for humans to interact with. So 50 years ago, they made an agreement with the Union to stay away from any worlds with nitrogen atmospheres, and very few people have ever heard of them, let alone seen one.
It’s an interesting notion: take “Alien” and up the ante. It’s not like she’s been altered as such; this trait is biologically natural to her race. However, Orrin has been extracting her blood and using it as a weapon and Malloy is now on a shuttle with him. Thankfully though, that was part of a preconceived plan and the Orville is tracking it, but that doesn’t mean Malloy is out of danger.
Orrin and Malloy have their inevitable confrontation; in the process Malloy disables the shuttle controls and Orrin arms his bomb, something that cannot be undone. He explains that he met the Envall on a remote settlement after he escaped from incarceration and that she has her own motives for seeking revenge on the Krill. Malloy hastily dons an environment suit and pleads that Orrin do the same, but he has made his choice and prefers death to a Krill prison, thus ending the pain that began 20 years ago when his wife and his daughter were killed.
Malloy exits the shuttlecraft and is sent tumbling through space, “Gravity”-style, by the shockwave as the bomb explodes. Before long, he’s rescued by the Orville, and shortly after, the first stage of a peace accord with the Krill is signed.
This isn’t an exceptional episode, but it does show an attempt to take the writing to a more mature level. It reminds us how difficult the road to peace can be. Whenever nations, or worlds, wage a bloody war, there always will be those on both sides who will never accept peace, much like we saw in “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.”
It also sails close to some more perilous subject matter — the motives behind suicide bombings, the effects of having been a POW and post-traumatic stress disorder — without fully committing itself. Perhaps as the writing continues to improve, we might see one of these complex topics explored to a greater extent.
What this episode does demonstrate is MacFarlane’s continuing focus on character-driven stories; that and the solid, even pace of each installment makes “The Orville” enjoyable to watch.
“The Orville” takes a rest next week in the U.S. and returns with the final four episodes of this season beginning on March 21.
Season 2 of “The Orville” is on Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on Fox in the U.S. It can be watched on demand on Fox Now and Hulu. It’s also available on Fox.com in the U.S. In the U.K., it’s on Thursdays at 9 p.m. GMT on Fox. The first season of “The Orville” is available to buy on DVD and a season pass can also be purchased from Amazon.