Hulu's The Orville: New Horizons is always looking for new ways to challenge perceptions, continuing to embrace in many ways its spiritual homage to Star Trek. In the latest episode "Mortality Paradox", the crew explores a once-thought desolate planet that might have more to offer than originally thought. There are tons of twists and turns throughout in what felt to me was a loving & respectful homage to Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone. So with that said, consider this your minor spoilers warning moving forward…
We start out by seeing Talla (Jessica Szohr) returning from shore leave and anxious to get back to work, having tolerated her relatives long enough- to which, Grayson (Adrianne Palicki) agrees. As they depart, the Orville's scanners are wreaking havoc with the crew's sense of what's real and what's not. First, they're getting readings of what they always knew of the desolate planet, only for the computer to then begin registering readings completely different, signifying some kind of civilization with significant life. As the landing party of Grayson, Mercer (Seth MacFarlane), Talla, Malloy (Scott Grimes) and Bortus (Peter Macon) take a shuttle onto the planet to investigate- and end up going from a forest to a 21st-century high school.
An example of the things coming across as rather unusual? How about everyone from the high school, from students to faculty, go about their business as if the uniformed Planetary Union officers weren't standing out in any way? Heading out, nothing on the surface really appears to make sense, with scenarios and situations seemingly lacking in connective tissue. And the scenarios are pretty random, from an airplane to a random mysterious chamber to the surface of another planet. Meanwhile, the remaining crew attempts to find out what happened to their away team, who seemingly disappeared from their scans.
There are several instances in "Star Trek" franchise where the futuristic crew visits contemporary time, either through time travel or a world that reflects a certain period in earth's history. In the instance of "Mortality Paradox", the audience is presented with a storyline, themes, and tones that contribute to The Orville's unique take on that approach. While it initially hooks you with this feeling that we're just watching a bunch of random scenarios cooked up by MacFarlane and Cherry Chevapravatdumrong (with props to Director Jon Cassar) to put the crew in, the episode accomplishes sewing those various threads together in a way that offers an episode that "Star Trek" (especially ST: TNG fans) would appreciate. But more important than that? Fans of The Orville will love it. New episodes of The Orville: New Horizons stream Thursdays on Hulu.