“You’re not married. You’re not a Captain. You maintain a distance from your crew. There were three things I wanted in life, and you haven’t come close on one. You’ve made my future a disappointment.”
What if you’d travelled through time, and met your future self? Would you be happy with how things had turned out for you? If you knew how things turned out, would you want to do things differently? And just what would the future you think of their past self, and what their life used to be like? Would you seem like two very different people? The latest episode of The Orville explores exactly this, after an accident during an experiment lets one of the ship’s crew take a long, hard look at herself.
This week’s MacGuffin is research being carried out by Isaac (Mark Jackson) into looking at whether time travel may be possible, including a connection to the use of individual thought patterns, based on studies already conducted by the Kaylon in this particular area. Captain Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane) and Commander Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki) have been reminiscing about old times, including the morning after their first date seven years previously; the ship hits a gravitational disturbance, just as Kelly happens to be the one stood closest to the equipment, and it triggers a temporal distortion. Because sci-fi. Don’t worry too much about the logic, just enjoy the spectacle.
The end result is a Kelly-off, as the Kelly Grayson of seven years prior – from the very morning after in question – ends up being whisked to the present. Whenever a series does a duplicate or doppelgänger episode, there’s always a question of how technically accomplished they’ll be when it comes to ‘doubling up’, and having the actor involved share a scene with him or herself; in this case, they’ve done a more than creditable job. It’s easy enough to do a split-screen effect, as that’s old hat when it comes to pulling off tricks like this; it’s another thing altogether when it comes to direct physical interaction, and having one Kelly holding the other one’s arm is easy enough to do badly, yet they manage to do it here seamlessly, and it’s difficult to know exactly how they did it. Just like any good magician with their tricks, you should always be left wondering.
It’s also an unusual proposition in these sorts of stories to have an actor playing a different version of their character – you’d usually expect them just to have to stand on the opposite side of the shot, but act as they would normally, as doubles don’t usually vary. The big challenge here is for Palicki to have to give us a younger Kelly, someone who’s dissimilar enough from the present Kelly that they stand up as a distinct individual in their own right. It’s reassuring to see that she does a fantastic job in giving us a living, breathing, fully fleshed out character in her own right, one who’s very much her own person. The performance stands up well enough that, at times, you may find yourself forgetting they aren’t using two different actresses, or a younger sister, and that’s a testament to her skills.
It’s one thing to suggest an alternate take on a known character just by changing their physical appearance – in this case, they give young Kelly another hairstyle (including highlights and a fringe), as well as a more subtle lipstick colour. However, that’s only 50% of the job, and if there’s no deeper discernible changes between the two, the whole exercise can fall flat. Palicki does more than enough to create someone who can stand up in her own right, by not only seeming less stiff than ‘our’ Kelly when it comes to physical characteristics – thereby indicating someone younger and less encumbered by the weight of responsibility – but also softening her vocally and altering her tone when she speaks. Palicki more than earns her keep here.
The story also poses a conundrum of what would happen if we were given a second chance to make a failed relationship work – younger Kelly hasn’t yet lived through all the pain of their divorce, and she’s keen to take things further with Ed, who happens to still carry a torch for her. However, the reality can be somewhat different, and Ed realises that he’s grown as a person in the seven years since he and Kelly first met, so he’s far more in love with the idea of the younger her than how she actually is when he’s confronted with it in person, whereas what he really wants is the person who Kelly’s become over that period of time. It all just goes to show that you can never go back.
As the crew struggle to find a way to try and send younger Kelly back, for fear of altering their timeline, the climax of the episode sets up what promises to be a big – and unexpected – chain of events. Even though we call it ‘the present’, it may not always be the gift we actually want, and next week’s big season finale should be a very interesting proposition.