On FOX's The Orville, the themes of destiny and community always seem to be at odds – and there was no surer example of that than in this week's episode, "Identity, Pt. 1"
The formula for the show is simple and clear: weighing humanity's standards through the Planetary Union against the standards of the numerous participants it serves. The Orville built many contentious moments with one of its allies with Moclus, but the crew faces its biggest challenge trying to work with the Kaylons – who haven't decided if they want to join the Planetary Union.
The episode begins when Isaac (Mark Jackson) plays a game with Dr. Claire Finn's (Penny Johnson Jerald) sons, Ty (Kai Wener) and Marcus (BJ Tanner). Isaac touts his intellectual superiority as the reason why he always wins as usual, but after all this time, it foreshadowed more into the nature of the Kaylon than we realize.
When Finn comes home, she joins Isaac in revealing their relationship to her sons – to their surprise, privacy is a luxury not often afforded on the ship. Isaac malfunctions and shuts down in Finn's quarters afterward. With the lack of any feasible understanding of Kaylon physiology, Capt. Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane) sees little choice but to travel to Kaylon to take their emissary Isaac in hopes for a recovery.
The episode offers a contrast between what is within one's nature (Isaac and the Kaylons) compared to the Orville and the Planetary Union's influence on him.
In previous reviews, I often questioned the show's motives. Is it inspired by the Star Trek franchise or is it trying to recreate the franchise's themes? "Identity, Pt. 1" harkens to the theme often revisited between the relationship of man to machine – as ally as well as adversary.
The strongest examples are found in Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager with Lt. Cmdr. Data (Brent Spiner) and the Borg. Isaac is Data – but the Orville imposes their humanity onto him, regardless of his desire for it or understanding of it.
Whether they understand how Isaac is or if they don't want to understand, sometimes the experience can be a frustrating one. The show idolizes and emulates The Next Generation, yet they still don't appear to understand the "how" or "why" of Isaac – especially the doctor. As long as Isaac can act the way they want him to, they accept him as one of their own – but how long can that last? With Data, there was no superiority complex to remind the crew of the Enterprise-D of his physical and mental prowess: he possessed a child-like innocence and genuine curiosity about humanity. With Isaac, his interest in matters only come into play if they are relevant to his "studies."
This couldn't be more evident than the episode "A Happy Refrain." In The Next Generation, the crew of the Enterprise understand Data far more because of who he is and what he wants to be. Isaac never wanted to be human like Data did, however: he's a proud Kaylon and his mission is only that of study – not some evolution to mimic biological beings.
The Orville crew appreciates Isaac for all he's done for them and treat him as an equal in their own way – despite their ignorance of his nature. I made the choice to refrain from spoilers for this review since there is still a second part to go – but I thought it was important to show how this episode reminded viewers why we can't approach Isaac to someone like Data, because of how different they are as characters once you scratch the surface.
This is evident with Jerald and how Finn is written in the context of her relationship with Isaac. She runs to the same brick wall and refuses to understand who and what he is. The show can't seem to decide if she wants to change or understand him.
The episode is directed by Jon Cassar (who worked with Jerald on 24) and written by MacFarlane and Star Trek's Brannon Braga. You can see Braga's thematic influence here, since he was a creative force behind The Next Generation and Voyager. I can say without any question that Cassar is The Orville's best director. The show can be far greater when it wants to be – and "Identity, Pt. 1" might just be that "point of no return."
The Orville airs Thursday nights on FOX.