The Orville Season 2, Episode 4 – Aired Thursday, January 17, 2019
Written by Brannon Braga and André Bormanis
Directed by Jon Cassar
As the Orville is called to deliver supplies to a colony in need, Captain Mercer and his new girlfriend, Lt. Janel Tyler, decide to take their relationship public and go on a vacation together. Meanwhile, Gordon begins the process of applying for a Command-track position.
“Nothing Left on Earth Excepting Fishes” is a competent but bland episode that hits all the expected marks but does very little that isn’t completely safe, boldly going where we have been many times before.
Warning: there’s nothing left below excepting SPOILERS!
I’ll admit, if I hadn’t been warned in the comments thread of a previous Orville review, I wouldn’t have seen the big switcheroo coming, that Lt. Janel Tyler was really Teleya, the Krill schoolteacher whose brother Ed and Gordon killed in the Season One episode, “Krill.” There are a couple of reasons for this. The first is that I suspend disbelief in a heartbeat – I’m a sap. The second is that we saw so little of Janel Tyler that there was very little time for the show to seed clues to her deception.
Prior to the start of the second season of Star Trek: Discovery, I rewatched the entire first season, thanks to my kids who got me the DVDs for my birthday. As I watched along, I picked up a ton of the breadcrumbs left by the show’s writers hinting that Lt. Ash Tyler was not quite who he seemed to be. Lots of little references, here and there. Granted, he also had way too thorough a grasp of English slang, culture, and idiom for a guy who learned the language in a month or two – a problem that also plagues Janel Tyler – but there were hints there to be found, because Tyler was on screen for several episodes before the big reveal.
Janel Tyler has no such track record. She’s been in this episode and very briefly in the season opener, and that’s it. This episode gives us some clues early on – mainly in the fact that Tyler has an inadequate knowledge of 400-year-old movies and music – but the character has left no trail for us to have followed, and so the revelation that she’s a Krill infiltrator has a lot less emotional punch than it should.
Janel is apparently a perfect woman. Ed says to Gordon, she “checks all the boxes,” and later Teleya says she was created to be the ideal Union officer. But because we barely know her, we have only their word for it.
All that sounds like I disliked this storyline, and that’s not the case. Michaela McManus does a good job with her part, and Seth MacFarlane’s Ed Mercer seems convincingly smitten. It is great to see him smiling rather than snarking. Audiences want to see their favorite characters happy – up until their lives are destroyed by the machinations of the plot. So all of that is good, and the scene where Ed tells Kelly that he’s seeing Janel is a great parallel to a scene earlier in the season when Kelly told Ed about Cassius. There are a couple of spiffy lines in the dialogue, but it’s mostly routine, by-the-numbers TV drama stuff.
Ed and Teleya crash-land on a nearby planet and have to learn to trust each other or be killed, which is a classic sci-fi trope, as well as being derivative of DS9’s “The Ascent”, where Quark and Odo have to work together and carry equipment up a mountain in hopes of calling for help after they crash.
This ends up lending a certain predictability to the proceedings of this episode. Will Teleya hold a gun on Ed? Check. Will Ed make long speeches about humanity’s moral superiority to the Krill? Check. Will circumstances conspire to require Ed to save Teleya’s life? Check. Will she need to learn to trust him, despite herself? Check. The episode needs to add more boxes, because all of these are checked, and were checked long before they unspooled on screen.
The B-plot involves Gordon Malloy wanting to apply for the Shipmaster Qualification Program, also known as the Command Test. Malloy is probably the most useless character on the show, serving only to deliver the lamest of the show’s punchlines and to make the most obvious of its observations, so it may seem that anything that gives the character something interesting to do would be a gift. However, that would require giving him something interesting to do.
Everything we see in this plot is taken from somewhere else. The desire to pursue a command track is reminiscent of Deanna Troi’s attempts to become a bridge officer in TNG’s “Thine Own Self”, and his simulator ploy is a direct lift from TOS’ “The Corbomite Maneuver.” Gordon’s responses to Dr. Finn’s psychological test are the punchlines to one of the oldest jokes I remember my Dad telling when I was a kid. Only Bortus enlivens the storyline with his characteristically-blunt assessment of Malloy’s chances: “He will fail.”
These scenes throw together two characters we rarely see paired up on screen: Gordon and Kelly. Looking back over prior episodes, Kelly’s opinion of Gordon seems to be almost entirely negative, and it is Gordon’s discussion of his masturbatory habits two episodes ago in “Primal Urges” that leads Kelly to say, “God, this whole ship is gross.” And so it comes as a surprise and somewhat insincere when Kelly, on discovering that Gordon’s primary motivation for entering the Qualification Program is to enable him to impress “chicks,” responds, “If your goal is to prove how charming and awesome you are, as far as I’m concerned, you’ve already passed that test with flying colors.” Really, Kelly? Really? Have you ever watched this show?
The plot kind of sputters out without a real resolution. Gordon emphatically declares, “I’m a pilot” in the well-staged and well-executed shuttle rescue scene, but it’s not clear if this is a realization and a decision, or just a momentary declaration. Later, Kelly asks Gordon if he’s sure command is the direction for him, and the camera lingers on Gordon’s pondering face. Perhaps a future episode will give us the resolution of this question, but for now, the whole thing feels incomplete.
JUST THE WAY YOU ARE
There’s nothing badly done about this episode, but nothing that stands out as excellent or challenging, either. It’s a by-the-numbers science fiction episode, built out of parts done earlier, better, and more convincingly by other shows, many times in the past. When compared to the daring morality discussion of “Primal Urges,” the shocking violence and heartfelt family drama in “Home,” or even the extended piss joke that is “Ja’loja,” “Nothing Left on Earth Excepting Fishes” is notable for very little besides its Billy Joel references.
- Chad L. Coleman (as Klyden) is credited but does not appear in the episode.
- The show’s title is taken from a song sung by Yul Brynner in “The King and I”: “But unless someday somebody trusts somebody there’ll be nothing left on Earth excepting fishes.” It’s a good line.
- Apparently, the Orville’s shuttle cannot raise its deflectors while cloaked.
- Union Central has trained their Captains to give dummy command codes in the event of torture. These dummy codes allow the captor to access mountains of junk information that looks real, but isn’t. This gives the captive time and leverage and seems like an excellent strategy. The code is Alpha Charlie 27 Gamma 42 Delta 6. Does anyone know if these numbers and letters are significant?
- The Krill escape pod launches from one, tiny hexagonal hatch on the Krill Destroyer. Maybe I’m too used to Star Trek ships, which are designed with dozens of escape pod hatches visible on the surface of the ship, but is there only one escape pod? If not, where do all the others launch from?
- The Krill are attacked by the Chak’tal, who look like the love children from the union of a Ferengi and an Orc. They do have nasty-looking weapons, though. “They are savage, and never leave survivors.”
- A day on this planet is 23 Earth days long. Is that possible? Wouldn’t a planet with that slow of a rotation have a tiny gravity, or a mass so huge that it couldn’t support life?
- Ed covers Teleya with his jacket to shield her from the sun – reminiscent of an earlier scene in his quarters, when he brings Janel his jacket.
- On the day this episode dropped, the actors who play Gordon and Kelly, Scott Grimes and Adrianne Palicki, announced their engagement on social media. We at TrekMovie wish them all the best.
QUOTES OF THE WEEK
- “Righteous. Mellow alert.” – perhaps Lt. Tharl’s last line in the season, if Avis has any mercy.
- “Tharl driving you crazy, too?” “He does not stop talking. He makes loud noises when he consumes food. He comes to the Mess Hall wearing…sandals.” – Kelly and Bortus, discussing Puddy-phants’s many charms.
- “We’re supposed to be out here exploring – instead we’re the pizza guy.” – Gordon
- “I just want to make sure you’re okay with it. Because I know you had a thing for her at one time, and if it bothers you at all…” – Ed telling Gordon he’s seeing Janel. How was Ed going to finish that sentence? Characters in TV and movies say these sorts of things from time to time, but never get to finish the sentence. Because how could they? What would be an ending to that sentence that isn’t completely stupid?
- The distress beacon scene was shot in Rocky Peak Park, California, and it’s gorgeous. The distress beacon itself is a cool prop, with lots of bits.
- Kelly’s response to Gordon’s simulator test? “Well, the deflector thing was novel. You’re thinking on your feet, so that’s a start. I’m just not sure that good digestion is an effective deterrent.” Novel? Kelly, Kelly! You need to watch more 20th Century Earth television. Check out “The Corbomite Maneuver.”
- “Part of being a leader is knowing when you’ve reached your limits.” – Kelly with some excellent insight.
- “I liked you a lot better when you used contractions.” – Ed to Teleya
- “We canoodled! You canoodled with me! That was all fake?” – Ed to Teleya
- “I guess lately I’ve been feeling bored with myself. And if I’m not enough for myself, what if that means I’m not enough for other people?” – Gordon in a rare moment of insight.
- “Take a message back to your people: we can keep fighting each other, or we can talk.” – Ed, with perhaps the least impressive parting line ever, other than Gordon’s line about dairy.
- “Our scans show no such device.” “Well, maybe not, but you know what we do have? We have heart. We’ve got a lot of heart, a lot of passion – so – you know – watch out. We also eat a lot of protein, you know, fresh fruits and vegetables, that kind of thing. Very, very healthy diet. Makes us tough. You don’t want to mess with that, trust me. Very little dairy. I mean, the occasional sweet…”- Okay, I admit this was a funny sequence between Gordon and a simulated Krill.
- I liked Teleya’s description of her humiliation and confusion when Ed and Gordon infiltrated the Krill ship last season. It was very realistic and heartfelt: “You offered kindness, all the while preparing to murder my entire crew.”
MacFarlane addresses trope of people in the future referencing modern pop culture
Like many past episodes of The Orville, “Nothing Left on Earth Excepting Fishes” included a number of references, including the film Taxi Driver, Jane Goodall, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The King and I, and especially Billy Joel. These references stand out for a show set in the 24th century. Joel’s “Don’t Ask Me Why” and “She’s Always a Woman” play large roles in this episode, raising the question that keeps coming up with The Orville.
Why are its characters so fixated on 20th Century Earth pop culture? MacFarlane addressed that question this week on Twitter, explaining that fake futuristic music always sounds awful – and I would agree – but the question will keep coming up as long as the show makes pop culture its key touchstone.
Have you ever seen “future music” done in a non-hokey way by Hollywood? Better to steer clear. https://t.co/v04jHkufio
— Seth MacFarlane (@SethMacFarlane) January 18, 2019
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