Strength is relative, especially when you come from a planet with exceptionally strong gravity, like Alara on The Orville. Last night’s new episode found Alara forced to return home, and to the parents she has a turbulent relationship with. The Earth-like gravity on the Orville is starting to soften up her muscles. Her homeworld has strong gravity that gave her strength, and her family may be responsible for her psychological strength because, headed by a patriarch played by Robert Picardo, they certainly seem like they must have been a gruelling exercise to grow up with. This episode was written by Cherry Chevapravatdumrong, who wrote the far bolder episode “Firestorm” from last season, which was also the episode that introduced Robert Picardo and Molly Hagan as Alara’s parents, so it seems Chevapravatdumrong has a particular attachment to Alara.
Chevapravatdumrong is a writer for Family Guy but she also writes young adult fiction under the name Cherry Cheva. “Home”, last night’s new episode, had a very young adult feel to it with its focus on Alara’s need to define herself while finding validation from her parents. For this kind of story, it succeeded pretty well and effectively incorporated some cool Sci-Fi concepts. But maybe the best part of the episode was in its many great guest stars.
Spoilers after the screenshot
In addition to Robert Picardo, there was also Jason Alexander (happily, his bartender character does indeed seem to be recurring), John Billingsley (Phlox from Star Trek: Enterprise), and Patrick Warburton as the temporary security officer with an oesophagus for a nose.
This character cracked me up. Lines that aren’t especially funny turn into magic with Warburton’s delivery. Him explaining to Bortus how his extra oesophagus lets him just “pound” food was hysterical—that inappropriate, Steven Seagal-ish, flat bragging tone that seems to savour the brilliance of his own words . . . Oh, he’s so good. If only he was permanent.
It seems this is Alara’s last episode, at least for now. I guess Halston Sage has decided to leave the show—maybe she considered The Orville just a stepping stone to a more lucrative gig that didn’t require her to wear prosthetics. It certainly didn’t feel like the long term plan from the writers—story wise, it doesn’t feel right for Alara’s thread to stop here. The end of the episode, where she decides to stay on her homeworld, had a subtle tonal difference from the rest of the episode, as though the thing was originally written and shot without anyone knowing Sage was leaving. Alara’s reasoning seems hasty for all the confidence in her tone—she says she was only on The Orville because she needed a family but she’s decided to stay on the planet because now she has her biological family. I thought she was on The Orville because she wanted to be in the military. But I suppose there are plenty of security posts on her homeworld.
I’d certainly watch a spin-off about Alara and her father. I’ve been looking forward to Robert Picardo’s return as the character since I saw him in the first season and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. From early on in the episode, it was clear the plot was going to be about a situation occurring where Alara had the rare opportunity to show to her parents the value of the vocation she’s chosen and Picardo brings a lot of nice complexity to his end of that dialogue. We can see he’s intelligent, even if he’s holding onto a belief that’s detrimental to his daughter’s mental health.
But seeing Picardo and Billingsley together was even better, Billingsley it turns out being capable of a fine, complex performance as a villain. I liked his motivation for taking Alara’s family hostage, an academic argument about a vaccine. You can easily see how such a little thing could lead to such large and small scale problems. There’s intellect and duty on Picardo’s side and on Billingsley’s side there’s also intellect and duty but also his emotional investment in his son, which brings another facet to the story about parents’ pride in the offspring.
It was a nice, engaging episode. I look forward to seeing Alara’s replacement, who I hear is remarkably similar to her. Maybe they’ll call her Alara Pulaski.
Twitter Sonnet #1194
The mazes built in liquid eyes were ice.
Repeated steps became a stair to rails.
In bundled ropes the eyes were kinds of splice.
It’s only water waiting late for sails.
The tracks were made for trains to roll to steel.
The cars were built for glass to cover up.
The book was writ ‘cause beasts were ever real.
The stove was lit so folks could cook and sup.
The question mark ascends the slimy cliff.
On tables set the check was red and white.
The pantry wall was covered full of ‘if’.
Rebounding eyes could not resolve a sight.
The silver petals wink propulsive turns.
The evening sky was left with scarlet burns.