“I mean, we all live and die on this planet, and most of us are just forgotten. To me, there’s nothing sadder about the world than that.”
Poor, hapless Lt. Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes). He’s not had the best of times this season. Notoriously unlucky in love, he’s also had the blow of recently finding out that a lifelong friend who was held as a POW had become a terrorist. You could say it’s not exactly been his year, and it’s time for him to catch a break.
Luckily for him, ‘Lasting Impressions’ has given Gordon his moment in the sun. Up to now, pretty much all of the crew have had an episode focused on them, and we have gotten to know and love all of these characters in a way that didn’t happen in the first season of The Orville. The main exception to this has been Gordon, who’s not been best served by the writers thus far. The last episode for the show’s mini-hiatus – ‘Blood Of Patriots‘ – didn’t cast him in the best light, and made him look like a bit of a dick. Thankfully, his character gets a shot at redemption here, and manages to even come across as likeable.
How much of these problems have been down to the writing, and how much the performance, it’s difficult to say exactly. However, the two sync up here perfectly, and by the end of the episode, you can’t help but root for Gordon. He doesn’t get the happy ending you might want, but he comes away feeling like a more rounded and engaging person than he has so far. It does seem odd having two Gordon-centric episodes back-to-back, but this short gap between episodes helps give us a bit of distance, as to have had them running in consecutive weeks would have felt rather jarring, especially with the tonal shift we have between the two stories.
The premise of this tale is that the crew of the Orville have been trusted with taking the contents of a time capsule which was found on Earth to a museum in the Delta Pavonis system (the present custodian of the time capsule being played by another Star Trek luminary, Tim Russ). Amongst the contents is an iPhone, containing the photos, text messages and e-mails of one Laura Huggins (Leighton Meester), along with a video message from her addressed to the people of the future who find the phone, so they can use it to get an insight into her life in 2015.
Gordon is quite taken with Laura, and he manages to use the data contained on her phone to extrapolate a simulation which he uses to get to know her. Gordon starts to fall in love with her, and the simulated Laura reciprocates. This causes concern among his crewmates, particularly when it starts impacting on his performance on the day job. As writer, Seth MacFarlane manages to give us a tender and credible romance between the two of them, and it’s played to perfection by both Grimes and Meester, to the point that it becomes genuinely heartbreaking when you know that it can’t end in anything but a rather bittersweet fashion.
To turn around the perception of a loser like Gordon is no mean feat, and even at those points when he starts acting out of self-interest – like deleting any mention of her on-off boyfriend – you still manage to sympathise with him. We share his pain when he realises that trying to rewrite and edit someone’s life to suit him has unforeseen consequences, and that he’s not able to change things in his favour without also changing Laura as a person (albeit a virtual one). It’s a journey that Gordon needed to go on, and one which makes him a better person at the end.
Not only have other sci-fi series shown us the dangers of virtual reality, particularly in terms of falling for simulated versions of real people, but we’ve already had an exploration of the very addictive nature of such unreal pursuits in this very season of The Orville; in fact, the events seen in ‘Primal Urges’ are referenced explicitly by the memorable turn of phrase “Bortus’ sex lagoon” (which is the name I’ll choose if I ever set up a prog rock group). It’s nice to see the theme tackled in a much sweeter, more tender way, giving us the unlikeliest of love stories, albeit one we can really get behind.
The theme of addiction is writ large here by the episode’s B-story involving Bortus (Peter Macon) and his mate Klyden (Chad L. Coleman) becoming hooked on smoking after Bortus replicates the cigarettes that were also in the time capsule’s contents. It seems Moclan physiology is particularly susceptible to nicotine addiction, so the two of them have to go cold turkey, which leads to some amusing interplay between them.
Macon and Coleman are always a delight to watch together, and as well as having shared some heavy storylines, they’re also adept when it comes to playing comedy. The pair are like a sitcom married couple here, with each of them becoming increasingly indignant when they find the other one has been secretly smoking, or hiding cigarettes. In fact, Macon excels at the passive-aggressive flourish as he pulls out each cigarette that he’s secreted about their living quarters, before the coup de grâce where Bortus unzips a cushion and empties out hundreds of smokes onto the table. Exemplary execution of the comedy of the slow build.
The Orville shows us every episode of a space series doesn’t have to be all about high-stakes drama; it can also tell small, personal stories, which are as compelling in their own way as big spaceship shoot-em-ups, and perhaps more satisfying in the long run. It’s managed to feel a far more rounded and accomplished show than Star Trek: Discovery has managed so far, which shows just how far The Orville has come. The ability to perfectly balance out being able to make us both laugh and cry in equal measure is no easy task. This is destined to be an episode which not only stands up to, but also very much requires, rewatching. That’s a lasting impression which you really want to leave with your audience.