“Half the known galaxy wiped out by those people because we didn’t go out again.”
Nine months ago, the Kaylon used the USS Orville as a ‘Trojan Horse’, to get through to the Earth and start their programme of extinguishing all organic life. In that time, Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki) has been rounding up a group of individuals, many of whom have never met her before. She’s on a mission to convince them that time’s been altered, and they all need to work together in order to set things right. The plan? Make sure she goes on a second date with Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane) seven years earlier.
In last week’s episode of The Orville, we found ourselves ending on a cliffhanger, as the time-displaced Kelly Grayson from some seven years prior was successfully sent back in time, after supposedly having had all her memories of the future wiped. However, it turns out the procedure didn’t work, as she remembered everything she had found out about how things worked out with future ex-husband Ed Mercer, so when he called up for a second date, she turned him down. As with all things time travel-related, it sets off a ‘Butterfly Effect’ which ripples out and alters the course of history in unforeseen ways.
It’s always interesting to see exactly how sci-fi shows will play out the old trope of an altered or parallel timeline, and what they’ll do to indicate things have changed from what we know. It could be a beard or an eyepatch; it could be making rather subtle but perceptible alterations to ship or costume designs. Here, we don’t get to see the Orville until late in the episode, as the bridge crew have ended up becoming scavengers, struggling to survive, so there aren’t any uniforms or familiar settings; having them use a freighter does bring to mind a grungy, careworn, low-tech look of shows like Firefly or Blake’s 7, and gives the show a very different feel.
One nice – and unexpected – touch was the return of Alara Kitan (Halston Sage), but a very different version than what we were used to seeing; here Alara is the leader of a resistance group, trying desperately to fight back against the Kaylon menace. In this timeline, Alara had become a more self-assured and confident character, not the nervy and unsure individual who we were accustomed to. Although having just a small amount of screen time overall, all due credit must go to Sage for managing to give us a convincing and believable performance as an alternate Alara – to do so much with so little, and do it so well, is a noteworthy achievement, and gives us an insight into what range she actually has as a performer.
It’s also a fascinating little twist to see that this Alara appears to have something of a history with John LaMarr (J. Lee), which is an interesting development, as the Alara we grew to know was notoriously unlucky in love, and there was no hint of any form of attraction or romance between the two characters. Perhaps if Sage had stayed on for the whole of Season 2 it’s a direction which the creative team may have chosen to take Alara and John in, but sadly we’ll never know for certain (unless she comes back at some point in the future, and may give the pair of them some much-needed development). In any case, it does help to establish how different this new timeline is.
The big temptation here would be to have gone overboard with making alterations to the other characters, but there’s really no need to, as they’re all intended to be fundamentally the same people, who just went on a slightly different path; it’s not a ‘Page One rewrite’, just a nudge or a shunt onto a slightly different track. Although the cast may have appreciated having the chance to flex their acting muscles a bit here by doing a wildly differing version, it really isn’t necessary, and in fact it serves them better by letting them play all of the subtle differences, rather than sweeping, grand changes. The old adage is true, as in this instance, less is definitely more, and it seems to have been a creative choice that has paid off handsomely.
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If there’s any criticism to be levelled at this episode, it’s that ‘The Road Not Taken’ does feel somewhat rushed, as though it could have easily run over into a second part, and benefited greatly from it. The whole denouement comes over as being arrived at too quickly, and it would have also helped if we’d had a chance to get to spend more time with these alternative versions of the bridge crew. Instead, we hurtle breathlessly from set piece to set piece, not truly getting much respite to be able to find our bearings and take in the exact shape of this strange new world. It does seem a shame that, after setting up an altered timeline, it doesn’t get enough room to bed in before the climax comes along. Sometimes, 45 minutes just isn’t sufficient time in which to successfully tell some of these stories, and that shows here.
If The Orville gets picked up for a third season, then it’s on a good, solid footing, after having such a strong run this year. If, however, this happens to be it (which still seems to be a distinct possibility at this stage), then it hasn’t disgraced itself by any means by finishing with this story, and with where it leaves things it would be a fitting climax for the series. Let’s just hope that fortunate favours the bold, the foolish, and ships called the Orville.