'The Orville': "A Happy Refrain" is Rom-Com Ex Machina [SPOILER REVIEW]

If there's one way to describe The Orville– it can be a little too eager to please.

The episode offers a payoff of sorts to the relationship between Dr. Claire Finn (Penny Jerald Johnson) and Isaac (Mark Jackson). The episode begins with Finn wanting to show her appreciation to Isaac for everything's he's done for her and her boys. Following her youngest, Ty's (Kai Di'Nilo Wener) piano recital, which Isaac served as his tutor, Claire thought about taking the relationship with Isaac to the next level.

'The Orville': "A Happy Refrain" is Rom-Com Ex Machina [SPOILER REVIEW]
Mark Jackson as Isaac, Penny Johnson Jerald as Dr. Claire Finn
Photo courtesy of FOX

She confides in Cmdr. Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki) about how she proceeds given Isaac's nature as a Kaylon, an android species without the ability to feel emotion. After advancing the plot with the mindset of "love finds a way," Claire confesses her feelings to Isaac to which he accepts her invitation to a date as it would help his research on his understanding of humans. How very "Data" of him.

'The Orville': "A Happy Refrain" is Rom-Com Ex Machina [SPOILER REVIEW]
Some bowlin' going on in "The Orville" season 2 episode 6, "A Happy Refrain"
Photo courtesy of FOX

Throughout the episode, you see Claire and Isaac trying to figure things out with each going back to their respective genders for further advice on how to proceed. Rather Claire only has Kelly and Talla (Jessica Szohr) and Isaac has the rest of the men in Ed (Seth MacFarland), Gordon (Scott Grimes), and John (J. Lee) to turn to. Poor Bortus (Peter Macon) only gets a mustache Claire grafts on so everyone can have an opinion on it.

It's become as formulaic and predictable as you expect rom-coms can be until Isaac finds himself changing far more of who he is because of how his "programming" came to care for Claire.

While it's not fair to compare Isaac's objective to humanity on The Orville like Lt. Cmdr Data (Brent Spiner) from Star Trek: The Next Generation as apathetic androids, the pacing on both shows couldn't be any more different. The Orville is not one to want to dangle a "will they or won't they" tease through seasons. They'll just answer it as soon as they can. For Data, his reasoning to understand humanity is far different than just for research purposes, because he wanted to be more like them during the show's entire run. Isaac is content as an android remaining to his Kaylon ways.

Orville0206_03 - Seth MacFarlane and Mark Jackson
Ed (Seth MacFarlane) and Isaac (Mark Jackson) have a heart-to-heart.
Credit: FOX

MacFarlane written and directed the episode and it felt that he wrote himself into a wall since he felt the need to change Isaac as an obligation to address a racial flaw. It blurs the ethics of staying true to the nature of a character. One can see this as an evolution, but Isaac didn't see anything wrong with what he did nor was he ever deceitful in his intentions, yet he suddenly developed very human characteristics not seen before like doubt, compassion, and insecurity not seen in his character at any other point during the show's run.
For the purposes of a rom-com-themed episode, all that goes out the window since MacFarlane had to find a way. It was tender and bittersweet seeing Isaac trying to maintain a status quo he had a part in ruining.

The human-loves-robot story is far from anything new. Even Data's ability to "love" another human being was address in a season one episode of TNG, "The Naked Now." You also seen it addressed in the Blade Runner with Deckard (Harrison Ford) and Rachel (Sean Young). The most effective use I felt of this trope that most thoroughly examines the complications of a robot-human relationship is the Black Mirror episode, "Be Right Back" with Martha (Hayley Atwell) and Ash (Domhnall Gleeson).

Perhaps, I am a little too rigid as far as what I should expect from my characters and The Orville isn't any typical science fiction show. There's a degree of flexibility needed to appreciate what the show tries to do. The episode tore down a wall, at least with Claire, but something that I'm far more curious is with how they'll handle Isaac now since he's reached a point of no return for me. I'm just afraid the rest of the show will just treat this is a cheap one-off or anomaly.

A heartfelt moment from MacFarlane is the closing scene of the episode when Isaac programs the bridge to rain while "Singin' in the Rain" playing in the background from the musical film of the same name. It was a sweet tribute to his friend, Debbie Reynolds, who was in the 1952 original. Their friendship extended to her daughter, Carrie Fisher with both lending their voices to his animated show, Family Guy.

The Orville airs on FOX on Thursdays.

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About Tom Chang

I'm a follower of pop culture from gaming, comics, sci-fi, fantasy, film, and TV for over 30 years. I grew up reading magazines like Starlog, Mad, and Fangora. As a professional writer for over 10 years, Star Wars was the first sci-fi franchise I fell in love with. I'm a nerd-of-all-trades.
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