Episode 3: Mortality Paradox
“To many humans, a mystery is irresistible. It must be solved.” Wise words from arguably the wisest of Captains in modern television history, Jean-Luc Picard.
That is exactly what got the Orville crew into this week’s trouble, and to be honest, most of the trouble that The Orville or any space-faring show gets into is because we are curious creatures by nature. We open with Lieutenant Keyali returning from a week-long leave, where she was apparently visiting her parents. She checks in with Commander Grayson as soon as she’s back on the ship and lets Kelly know about some unusual Kaylon activity that she came across during her flight back to the Orville. Keyali lets Grayson know that anything that far out in the sector is considered strange and should be treated as a threat. As the Orville heads to investigate the Kaylon activity, Isaac detects bizarre electromagnetic readings from a nearby planet, Narran 1, which was previously known to be only barren rock void of life.
When they arrive at Narran 1, Isaac scans the planet further. His sensors indicate that there is a vast civilization, with a population of 8 billion inhabitants. Looking through the view screen, the bridge crew can also see cities covering the surface of the planet. Bortus, Keyali, Malloy, Grayson and Mercer take a shuttle down to investigate the newly advanced civilization. However, when they get to the planet and start skimming the surface, the cities are gone and the planet is now nothing but forest and vegetation as far as the eye can see. As they find a place to land, their scanners on the ground confirm that the forest goes on for thousands of kilometers.
As the crew searches for answers through the dense evergreens, Grayson makes contact with LaMarr, who currently has command of the Orville con. He confirms what the away team sees, that the cities have vanished. All readings indicate merely vegetation on the entire planet. Bortus suddenly picks something up on his scanner indicating there are life forms ahead. As the team makes their way through a clearing toward the signs of life, there is only one thing that stands out among the forest, a cookie cutter high school building, something you’d see in an 80’s or 90’s John Hughes movie. When the crew enter the school to investigate, they find themselves trapped with no way out and no communication with the Orville. When a school bell rings, typical human teenagers create more bustle and more confusion, and even though the crew can ask them questions, no one has a straight answer about where the Orville crew are.
Isaac and LaMarr attempt to break through to the crew below, but with no luck. Isaac indicates the shuttle is intact, but the crew is nowhere on his scans. LaMarr decides a second landing party is best, so he orders Isaac to take Doctor Finn with him in case there are injuries. Isaac argues the same fate might befall the second landing party, which sparks anger in Ensign Burke, who reminds Isaac that they are not Kaylon and should not be dismissed as merely “lost commodities.” It was a brief exchange between the two, but a nice reminder of the dynamic between Isaac and Burke season 3 set up in the premiere. When Isaac and Doctor Finn arrive on the planet’s surface, they see exactly what has been reported for years with Narran 1, that it is, in fact, desolate. There are no signs of life, and no signs of the first away team.
Back down on Narran 1, Talla and Bortus discover classes within this mirage of a school continue as if it were any other day. They try to break through classroom windows, but still to no avail. Separated from the rest of the away team, Malloy is suddenly ambushed by three 20-something looking teenagers who tackle him into a washroom, rough him up, and demand that “Randall” gets his money. Having no idea who Randall is, Malloy does his best to stall and ask for more time. But he ultimately gets beat up and sustains minor injuries. However, during the altercation, when Malloy feels his life is in danger, his eyes go completely silver/white and a feeling of being in another place overcomes him. He later explained this to the rest of the away team when they regrouped.
Now that we’ve established that whatever is going on, the crew can be hurt, and may even be killed, we move forward with each member of the away team experiencing an event that ultimately leads them to believe they are about to die. During each instance the crew member also experienced what Malloy described earlier, as if they were in a different place. Each encounter was specific to each member, like the fear was pulled straight from their minds for them to experience. This fear ultimately leads to them believing themselves to be about to die. The mystery absolutely drives the story from beginning to end, and much like Picard once said, it’s irresistible. Some viewers might be slightly confused by the random nature of some of the scenes, such as the 90s-era CG Troll that comes out of nowhere or how 40-year-olds still get cast as teenagers, but ultimately it is a very enjoyable ride.
We find out that this was all done by the unnamed race from the final episode of season 1, Mad Idolatry. In that episode, the Orville found a planet that was only in our universe for a short time and then was pulled back to a different universe, and each time it was pulled back, the race jumped and leaped forward in evaluation. Now fast forward to this episode, and find that they have advanced so far they are immortal and forgot what it was to feel like you’re going to die. They set this whole scenario in motion to be able to temporally exist in the body of the crew member that felt they were going to die, so the unnamed race can once again know what it was to feel like you were going to die.
This episode was very reminiscent of the classic science-fiction adventures many of us grew up with. Each vignette felt like it had palpable tension and actual stakes, regardless of the fact audience members knew no crew member would actually die. Knowing the formula of episodic television should never take away from the fear; it should still have you on the edge of your seat, and ironically, “Mortality Paradox,” following up the horror episode last week, seems like higher stakes with larger thrills.
More importantly, and unlike the previous two episodes this season, “Mortality Paradox” gives several cast members a chance to shine. In the first two episodes of the third season, we’ve only had Doctor Finn stories to chew on, and both have been fairly heavy. This episode gave us a chance to get Malloy’s trademark sarcasm, learn a little more about Moclan culture, see various alien creatures of varied computer-generated success, but most importantly, just have fun.