TV shows have always had a sink or swim moment where an episode takes so much risk in order to keep a show with either considerable resources or a grand vision afloat. Usually it comes later within the first season’s run but this episode is most definitely the shows sink or swim moment mainly for it’s focus on a secondary character and it’s attempts to break from the usual format from which it established in it’s first episode.
Focusing an episode on an inexperienced crew member is an interesting decision considering the initial focus the show should have on it’s main characters. Not willing is it willing to show that it can put it’s secondary characters in similar situations but it also shows that it’s willing to develop them as well. Seeing Alara try to figure out how to command her own ship is kin to watching someone learn how to do something without having an instruction manual to guide him or her and it’s kind of interesting to watch given that Alara has a “tough woman” personality and seeing her mess up reveals a side of her that nobody knew existed until now.
It also gives us a look into her way of thinking… You wouldn’t know it from the first episode but Alara is highly social and wants nothing more but to do the best she can while also impressing the people around her; all she knows how to do is break things down and placing her in an unfamiliar situation like this both makes for interesting TV and makes for interesting character development. A good decision the episode makes is focusing on the struggle between following orders and doing what’s right which is amplified by having someone act as a guiding force to her inexperience; it’s a basic television trope yes but with the character we’re presented and the way the actor plays the character, it at least makes the episode believable.
The plot itself is basic though and if it weren’t for the fact that the show went out of it’s way to showcase this unknown character then it would of justified the perception that The Orville is nothing special and overindulgent. Many of the characters act as side elements to the plot of Alara only working to guide her along her intended plotline, there are brief moments where their characterization shows but watching the limited interaction of the characters shows that they’re only there to provide an illusion of humanity that the show doesn’t appear to posses. Having the main characters imprisoned in a zoo does lead to some good character development towards their plot but The Orville seems intent in milking this “arguing couple” routine for as long as possible.
The minimal usage of special effects does lend this episode some authenticity; every episode of TV can’t be a visual masterpiece or similar to the first episode otherwise the show would be trying “too hard” to recreate the magic. In contrast to the first episode of The Orville, this feels more real and honest in it’s belief that it can be a TV show similar to the greats like Star Trek. This notion is backed up by the comedy included which while brief, does tend to turn the sci-fi genre in it’s ear and lend it some social commentary that similar sci-fi shows don’t have. It’s rare to see it refer to the present and it’s even rarer to make such a provocative statement with a sci-fi show so to see The Orville do that is impressive.
Despite that and despite the episode itself fleshing out another character. Episode 2 of The Orville helps to establish the notion that it’s a “mediocre sci-fi show” and a “mediocre Seth MacFarlane comedy”. It’s better than Episode 1, that’s for sure but this episode gives no assurances that the show has a shelf-life beyond the initial season. I might be wrong and the show will flourish and span 6-8 seasons that will rank among TV’s greatest but given the show’s failed early attempts to wow the audience (myself included), I’m thinking I might be right.