One of the things that continues to fascinate me about The Orville is how it straddles this perfect line between emulating Star Trek: The Next Generation and being some new kind of breed of sci-fi television. Nearly every episode I find myself repeating, “Wow, this is just like Trek!” And it’s such a wonderful homage, down to the doors whooshing, the camera angles, and the way they cut to commercial break with a musical crescendo. But they manage to balance all of that with creator Seth McFarland’s signature brand of humor and an incredible cast, and it somehow just works.
This week’s episode brought out a more serious side of the show. While somewhat light in its humorous moments, McFarland delivered the feels in “Nothing Left on Earth Excepting Fishes.”
The episode begins with two sets of googly eyes between Captain Mercer and their new cartographer Lieutenant Janel Tyler. They are absolutely adorable as they sit and watch The King and I, an old favorite of Mercer’s. (Side note here, but Mercer’s love of all things “old Earth” is very reminiscent of Star Trek TNG’s Captain Picard, who loved classic literature and music.) They discuss the possibility of going “public” with their relationship, and in the end Mercer decides to sleep on it, but he is very clearly infatuated and excited about the possibility.
The next day, he decides to go through with it, even going so far as to inform his ex-wife of his new relationship. She is not at all surprised (and is quite happy for him), and she agrees to take command of the ship while he uses some shore leave to go on a little vacation with Janel.
I’m really hopeful that this little interlude of happy between Mercer and Grayson continues for the foreseeable future – they’re such a great team, and it would be a really cool story line to see the two of them become good friends.
Mercer and Janel are just a few minutes into their romantic getaway when their shuttle comes under attack from Krill fighters. It’s not long before their shields and power are taken out, and they’re dead in the water, so to speak. Taken hostage by the Krill, Janel is tortured while they press Mercer for his command codes. He puts up a fight but ultimately gives them up, and is taken away.
Some time later, the Krill return and he demands to learn what’s happened to Janel. “She no longer exists,” says the Krill woman. “She never existed.” She reveals herself to be Teleya, who we remember from the episode “Krill” from season one. The last time Mercer saw her, he had spared her life (and the lives of a classroom full of children), but he had to take out the rest of the Krill crew on her ship, so it wasn’t as if they parted on the best of terms. A mission was conceived by the Krill to capture the captain of a Union ship – and she volunteered herself to take out Mercer.
Mercer is crushed and confused… and somewhat hopeful? One of the things I love about this character is that, even when the chips are really down, he doesn’t seem to be completely void of hope.
Unfortunately, he gets about five seconds to process this information before the Krill ship falls under attack by another species they don’t get along with, and they’re forced into an escape pod to the nearest planet. Upon landing, Teleya never takes her gun off of Mercer, who takes her seriously enough, but isn’t really unpleasant about it. They begin a hike to reach the top of the mountain to send out a distress signal.
Eventually, that planet’s sun begins to rise, and they are forced to find a cave to shelter in while they wait out the day. Teleya never really believes that Mercer isn’t five seconds away from fighting her, but they slowly ease their way through conversation, first talking about the one movie Mercer showed her she didn’t hate (Raiders of the Lost Ark, though she naturally loved the villain more than Indiana), and then to their own relationship.
Mercer finds it hard to believe that she never felt anything for him at all, given how attentive of a girlfriend she was. She yells at him that he’s too married to his job to ever really be in a real relationship, and it’s a low blow, as this is something he’s heard a lot from Commander Grayson. Mercer attempts to get some sleep, but she advises him to lay on his side. “You snore on your back,” she reminds him, a hint that perhaps she felt more for him than she’s leading on.
When Teleya wakes, she finds Mercer gone. Assuming he’s escaped, she grabs her gun and makes her way to the cave’s entrance, but he’s standing there in the sunshine, making some calculations. Turns out a “day” on this planet is actually equivalent to twenty-three Earth days, so he will need to make the rest of the trek without her. She refuses, again pointing the gun, but it’s so obviously a bluff. Trust him or kill him seems to be her only option, and she reluctantly lowers her weapon as Mercer promises to come back for her.
Mercer climbs to the top of the mountain to send out a distress signal, but he is quickly spotted by those same alien pursuers, still hot on their tail. He rejoins Teleya in the cave, who is in shock that he even came back for her. They have no choice but to flee, but her aversion to sunlight makes them sitting ducks. In a quiet moment, Mercer removes his jacket and offers it to Teleya, who finally, reluctantly, lets him cover her head (and exposed skin) so they can escape.
Meanwhile on the Orville, Commander Kelly received their distress signal and orders Malloy and Bortus to take a shuttle to rescue them. The tension reaches its peak just as Mercer and Teleya do, with aliens hot on their tale. When she realizes he’s called a Union ship, she points that damn gun at him again, but there’s no heat in it. She doesn’t give up much of a fight when Malloy pulls the shuttle around and they barely escape with their lives.
Sometime later, Commander Grayson walks alongside Mercer and encourages him not to do whatever it is he is about to do. She reminds him that he’ll be court marshaled and likely punished – but he clearly cannot be convinced. They end up in the brig, and behind the force field in a cell is Teleya. There’s no struggle here in Mercer’s decision – he tells her to call a Krill ship to come pick her up, because he is letting her go.
Their goodbye scene was poignant in a way that’s difficult to describe. Throughout the episode, it’s evident that Mercer has trouble believing that Teleya is actually as evil as she thinks she is – but it’s never patronizing or demeaning. Instead, he’s got this air of hope and compassion, and it’s somewhat of a reminder that vitriol between warring parties is rarely solved with more hostility. Somewhere along the way, a party needs to extend an olive branch.
Mercer does that as Teleya leaves, giving her a music chip containing the best of Billy Joel. We watch her fly off and rejoin her fleet to “She’s Always a Woman to Me,” and damn if it wasn’t the perfect song for an ending like that.
The Orville is at times a little too kooky, a little too serious, and a little too poignant, but the overall mix creates an entertaining hour of television that I hope will be on for many seasons to come.
You can catch The Orville on Thursdays at 9 on Fox and season 2 episodes are available on Hulu.