Friday, February 22, 2019

The Artificial Supreme

"Identity, part 1", last night's new episode of The Orville, was a nice, eerie pleasure, playing on The Orville's own distinct, established virtues and introducing a new one. Written by writers from various Star Trek series (beginning with TNG), Brannon Braga and Andre Bormanis, this is another episode that shows they've spent the time since working on Star Trek thinking about new ways to interpret and deploy some classic devices. It was definitely time well spent.

Spoilers after the screenshot

The story veers wildly from one emotional tone to another yet it all works well, each section building surprisingly but organically from the other. Isaac (Mark Jackson) and Claire (Penny Johnson Jerald) are still in a relationship, there's a standard, heart warming moment of awkwardness as the kids roll their eyes at Isaac's typical arrogance. He's always so matter of fact about how the Kaylons are a superior species because of their intellect. You just get used to it.

Then, after Isaac mysteriously shuts down, the crew of the Orville decide to undertake a risky mission to Isaac's homeworld of Kaylon 1. They land and we're treated to one of the most beautiful landing sequences on the show yet.

The episode slowly builds towards what should be obvious--the Kaylons are a bunch of genocidal maniacs. Why wasn't it obvious? True, some viewers did predict it but no-one on the Orville did, even with Ed (Seth MacFarlane) compulsively commenting on the Kaylons' infamous racism when he first met Isaac. A charge Isaac never denies.

Why didn't Claire get any inkling? Obviously she's closer to Isaac than anyone. I would have liked more build up, frankly, with Claire getting some suspicions--I found their relationship more credibly written in "A Happy Refrain". At any rate, Claire should stop being surprised when Isaac fails to have an emotional reaction at this point. But watching her kids go through the heartbreak is really effective.

Particularly when it comes to the youngest kid, Ty (Kai Wener), which leads to the big revelation the episode turns on. Watching Ty wandering around the cold, Spartan Kaylon street I thought about how strange it is the little boy didn't seem more freaked out. Can you imagine just walking off a ship onto an alien world? But it makes sense--all Ty has known his whole life is safety and friendly people. That's the environment on the Orville. The adults aren't as innocent as Ty but they are a lot more innocent than the protagonists on other shows. They don't even lock the doors of the Simulator when they're using it. And this isn't the first time Ed and the crew have walked right into an unknown place in good faith. These people aren't cynical or even pessimistic, which is lovely and refreshing, but it has its drawbacks.

For them. For me, the contrast between the innocent Union folks and the sudden discovery of massive piles of bones under the city brought a piquancy to the recipe. These really are two very different cultures.

The Kaylons look a bit like Cybermen but, unlike the Borg, they're not a straight copy of the Cybermen. In fact they're more like the Daleks--they don't seek to assimilate, they seek to exterminate. But unlike the Daleks, they're not angry about it. The subtle irony the episode presents is that the Kaylons reproach humanity for its irrational wars but the Kaylons can't see the irrationality of their own action in wanting to obliterate the Union. It's good old fashioned ethnocentrism--they know they're the very model of good so anything else must be inferior and potentially expendable.

I look forward to seeing how this plays out next week. I hope the writers find a solution that doesn't involve Isaac discovering he has emotions.

Twitter Sonnet #1208

The yellow yarn adopts a human form.
The fabric sky was full of cloudy lint.
A field of wool contrived to make us warm.
But slith'ring scarf from lower drawer was sent.
A navy sailed together facing fog.
As timing liquid moved the eye along.
The floating place collects a grounded frog.
Some tails unite to make a switching song.
Amounts of sleep accepted run to time.
Suggested dreams include a swimming gin.
Consorting feathers sheets were pressed to sign.
Containers built for tea were kinds of tin.
Connected soups became the ocean's goo.
In only briefs the legs were cold but true.

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