Orville: New Horizons brings us back once again to the 25th century world of the Planetary Union and space fleet officers who seem overly preoccupied with pop culture from the 20th century – but it seems like something unusual happened in the nearly three-year gap since we saw the crew last. It is sometimes tempting to wonder if New Horizons brings us to an alternate universe, perhaps the result of another mishap of Captain Ed Mercer or his first officer and former wife, Kelly Grayson – when you think about how the second season ended.
The short teaser Hulu offered last month didn’t lie to you. Even if the cold open of “Electric Sheep” is a dream, it’s a traumatic memory of a very real incident from Season 2 when the android Isaac betrayed the crew to the Kaylons – an incident they barely escaped from. Even if Isaac managed to deprogram the Kaylon fleet with an EMP, he’s largely resented by the surviving crew members of the Orville for the loss of their friends – such as the new Ensign Charly Burke (Anne Winters), who managed to flee in an escape pod after her friend had to stay behind on the burning ship and release it manually. It’s one of the most human moments to happen on the show – shot beautifully as the ship erupts in flames and there’s a gamble of whether or not Burke will even survive the enemy fire outside if the launch is successful.
Isaac may be a robot – and therefore incapable of processing the same feelings of loss and pain that everyone else is going through and Burke thinks this is unfair – as he deserves to feel all of the pain that he has inflicting on the crew from his betrayal to the Kaylons’ assault that nearly resulted in a takeover of Earth. While this opening is reminiscent of the beginning of DS9, “Electric Sheep” then takes off and explores some interesting territory. As harsh as Burke came across, Mercer also agrees with her to an extent. There’s no real guarantee that Isaac won’t betray them again – even if it’s only because of him that they escaped.
Isaac, being the perpetual observer who once reported all his data back to Kaylon, is intrigued by this new emotion of hatred that’s never been directed towards him. Things don’t seem to get better, and following Ty’s advice, he commits suicide – with only the precision a robot can – frying his neural networks after giving the ship one final upgrade. What1 is permanent for humans is likely permanent for robots too – and Isaac’s ultimate fate is in the hands of Burke just as the crew faces another Kaylon attack. An interesting point is made by Dr. Finn when she emphasizes that humans often make a decision to take their own lives due to an inability to see the future – another limitation Isaac has.
While previous episodes of the Orville have delivered interesting premises – few have managed to resonate as successfully as this one did, with the overall tone of the show often getting in the way. This time, the jokes take their time as the story deals with the characters’ concerns and the rifts in their relationships. There’s only a handful of them in the episode, and even a note of unresolved anger at the end – as the starship journeys deeper into space.