The Orville Copies Season 1 Plot Point From Star Trek: Discovery in Latest Episode

The battle between the respective fandoms of Fox’s The Orville and CBS All-Access’ Star Trek: Discovery has been raging ever since the two shows premiered within weeks of one another back in September of 2017, but the purported feud may have reached new heights this week when the Seth MacFarlance-created homage/spoof of the long-running science fiction franchise lifted a plot point directly from the first season of Discovery.

In what has to have been a conscious decision, seeing as the episode aired the same night as Discovery’s second season premiere, the plot of The Orville’s “Nothing Left on Earth Excepting Fishes” revolves around Captain Ed Mercer (MacFarlane) taking his new girlfriend, Lieutenant Janel Tyler (Michaela McManus) on a romantic trip away from the titular ship they work on. They are quickly the target of an attack by the nefarious Krill, often the foil for Mercer and his crew. The two are taken hostage and Mercer is forced to give up his command codes to his captors, fearing that they’ll harm Tyler. It’s however quickly revealed thereafter that Tyler is actually Telaya, a former Krill schoolteacher who Ed encountered in the season 1 episode “Krill”, in which he and Lt. Malloy pose as Krill officers in an attempt to recover a copy of their sacred religious text, the Ankhana. The mission goes awry when they learn the ship is in the midst of destroying an innocent colony, so they use the opportunity to kill everyone on board; with the exception of Telaya and her classroom.

Telaya vows revenge and attempts to deliver it in this episode, after being introduced as Lt. Tyler last week, where she begins her catfishing of the captain. Shortly after the revelation and after an alien attack on the Krill warship, Telaya and Ed are forced to take an escape pod to a nearby planet and work together in order to send a distress signal from the top of a mountain. With the Krill’s sensitivity to natural light, they’re also forced to spend a lot of time together in a cave, where Telaya explains how she was radicalized following Ed’s ruthless murder of her shipmates, her brother counting among the casualties, and elaborates on the Krill’s way of life and beliefs.

It’s actually a pretty evocative episode that does the most work so far to build a larger universe for the show and developer Ed as a character. This second season of the show has been a little weak so far, the episodes feeling disparate and somewhat aimless, focusing on relationship drama rather than any of the usual science fiction tropes. “Fishes” feels like the kind of classic episode of The Next Generation that we were always promised with MacFarlane’s show, which falls somewhere between homage and parody.

With “Fishes”, however, you can feel the show falling more into the territory of the latter, as it lifts its plot directly from a season 1 arc in what some fans might consider to be the competition in Discovery. If any of those details about Telaya/Lt. Tyler sounded familiar, it’s because they pretty much align directly with the Klingon Voq’s arc on the latter show.

In season 1 of Discovery, the Federation enters into a war with the Klingon Empire after a fanatical house leader named T’Kuvma starts a confrontation with Starfleet. T’Kuvma dies in one of the intial encounters, and one of his followers, the albino Voq (played by Shazad Latif) vows revenge, and that T’Kuvma and his teachings will be remembered. Voq undergoes reconstructive surgery to take on the identity of one Lt. Ash Tyler, a casualty of the war who appeals to Discovery’s captain, Gabriel Lorca, and finds his way onto the ship as its chief of security and, eventually, a love interest to Michael Burnham. After his true nature is revealed, he and Burnham are forced to work together to stop the war despite his inherent betrayal.

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There are of course some differences between the stories. Voq’s memories are wiped when he becomes Tyler, in order to maintain his status as a sleeper agent. And his arc plays out over the course of most of the first season. But the similarities are remarkable, even beyond the obvious clues such as naming both human counterparts Lt. Tyler. In both instances, the alien version of the character is lower on the totem poll in their society, thrust upwards and radicalized by a life-altering event and a perceived slight from the enemy. The Discovery Klingons we see in season 1 and religious fanatics, much like the Krill in The Orville, and both seek galactic domination at the expense of the humans. Both of their human versions seek the favour of their new captain, both seek a relationship (in The Orville both roles are fulfilled by the same person) and both are forced to work with the person they betrayed in order to save the day.

And to be honest, both stories are well-done. The Orville, despite making a strenuous callback to the first season and only spending part of a single episode developing the story, makes the most of its time with Telaya/Tyler and uses it to further Ed Mercer’s arc and character development and contextualize why we should care about this show’s version of the Klingons. And while many might not like the character design of Discovery’s Klingons, I spent a lot of time talking about how, esoteric looks aside, they did a good job of updating the side of the species that we do see to the kind of villain one would expect from a science fiction show depicting a futuristic conflict with allegories to present day problems. To put it more simply, I always saw Discovery’s Klingons as a combination of Space ISIS and white nationalism, and there’s actually a lot of depth to them. Voq/Tyler’s arc also has a lot to say about PTSD, religious beliefs, identity and other things, and of course plays out over a longer period of time.

So I don’t really mean to slag on The Orville because they clearly knew what they were doing here. I do, however, question their motives, because not only are a few too many of the details too similar for this to be an homage rather than something akin to a warning shot, especially with Discovery moving to the same night as The Orville, but “Fishes” was also written by two people known for their work on Star Trek ever since TNG, Brannon Braga and Andre Bormanis.

Funny enough, though, Discovery also featured what had to be a shot across the bow of The Orville’s hull, as a weirdly comedic turbolift scene ending in a bit of physical humour is very reminiscent of a recurring gag from The Orville featuring an alien crewmember named Dan.

With Discovery’s concerted effort to adopt a lighter tone with a little more humour, its dig at The Orville could probably seen as a little more light-hearted than an entire arc lifted from a competing show, especially with a fervent fanbase that is quick to judge these two shows against one another even though they are completely different things. I hate taking a side in this debate because I really do enjoy both shows, but for all the talk among fans of how positive The Orville is and how much more in line it is with Gene Rodenberry’s original vision for Star Trek (allegedly, I don’t necessarily believe that), it kind of leaves a bad taste in my mouth to see two writers who are likely bitter that they don’t get to work on the franchise anymore coming real close to actual plagiarism. It almost feels malicious when you really lay it out, or as if they’re encouraging their fans to further bully anyone who likes Discovery. It would have been way simpler and nicer to merely reference something from the show or even straight up make fun of them. If there is indeed a feud between the shows, this won’t help it.

Personally, I choose to continue enjoy both  of them. I think both bring something interesting to the table in this day and age of modern science fiction. The Orville can be an episodic throwback that looks at modern issues from the lens of a well-worn format. Discovery can do what I personally believe is the more “Star Trek” kind of thing and actually push the medium forward by adapting modern storytelling techniques including the more complex serialized storytelling of Voq’s arc. I’m glad that both exist, and I hope that they can find a way to coexist. Fans should be happy to have two shows operating in similar space, yet doing wildly different things in such good ways.

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Star Trek: Discovery charts a bold new path for season 2 with ‘Brother’ [Season Premiere Review]

 

If season 1 of Star Trek: Discovery taught us anything, it’s that, for the most part, each episode is only part of the story. That shouldn’t surprise anyone who has witnessed the evolution of storytelling on television over the last twenty years; episodic TV is a thing of the past, and in genres like science fiction especially, serialized storytelling is king. Last season, a lot of people were quick to dismiss what Discovery was trying to do because they only bothered with the first few episodes. But it was over the course of the entire 15 episode first season that the story of Michael Burnham and the war with the Klingons unfolded. It had an arc that didn’t even clearly convey its central thesis (the arrogance of the Federation’s expansionist idea of peace and enlightenment, among other things) until about halfway through.

On top of that, as a serialized show in the 21st century, it took time for it to find its footing. Even discounting the change in showrunners and the added pressure of existing within the framework of an over 50-year-old franchise, and no less as a prequel, that’s a normal thing for TV shows these days. And I really do think it wound up finding its footing. As the season wore in, it become more optimistic, more lighthearted, it featured more technology and exploration, and it made its points, all within the framework of a modern, serialized show, something I think Star Trek in 2019 needs to be.

In season 2, it’s going to have to do all of these things over again, because a subtle promise in the season’s build up and marketing is that this is sort of a soft-reboot of Disovery. The showrunners have changed again (during production, even), fully eliminating Bryan Fuller’s imprint on the show, other than his name as creator in the opening sequence, and making it Alex Kurtzman’s. Some of the pressure has been lifted off Discovery’s shoulders, with the promise of no less than half a dozen other Trek series in the works, including the highly anticipated return of Sir Patrick Stewart to the role of Captain Picard, but the pressure to make Discovery bigger and better persists, all while finding a way to channel that old school notion of what it means to be Star Trek.

I thoroughly enjoyed “Brother”, the season 2 premiere, but I must warn anyone watching or planning to watch that there’s no way that it can satisfy everyone’s desires of what they want Star Trek to be. Watching the episode it was clear to me that Kurtzman and the writers have abandoned the idea of boldly taking Trek into completely new places, instead focusing on balancing this new version of the franchise with a more familiar tone. In season 2, Discovery is funnier, lighter, more positive and brighter. There are times where it’s almost obnoxious, but they always find a way to reel it back.

It’s a premiere and the show is serialized, so it still sets up a story that will play out over multiple episodes if not the entire season, but there are missions within the episode that manage to get resolved, notably a rescue mission on a Starfleet medical freighter thought to have been lost during the Klingon war. The freighter is stuck in an asteroid field where the physics are wonky, due to a mysterious event that the ship is tasked with investigating, but the nature of that event is put on the back burner (since there are seven things they need to investigate) in favour of focusing on the rescue mission, as the crew is forced to take individual pods out to the asteroid where the ship has crashed.

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As a result, like the season 1 premiere, it’s an episode with a lot of action. But a different kind of action, as no phasers are fired, and there is no confrontation with an alien species. It’s purely a rescue mission, and you can tell the writers specifically chose this path to differentiate season 2 from what came before.

The effort appears elsewhere as well. As already noted, this is a much funnier, light-hearted episode, and that’s displayed not only in what they find on the ship (where the surviving officer is a dry-witted engineer played by the driest of dry comedians, Tig Notaro), but also in how the crew copes with its new leader, Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount, joining the cast), who commandeers the Discovery in order to complete the mission of investigating the seven synchronized events after the Enterprise sustains heavy damage. The crew is apprehensive, because they don’t know much about Pike and he sort of steamrolls them, and they’re still reeling from not one, but two Mirror Universe evil captain reveals. Pike makes it a point to prove to them he’s not Gabriel Lorca. He jokes with them, he makes it a point to learn their names, he’s even a fan of furniture in ready rooms. And he understands that he’s encroaching on Saru’s territory, so he gives him the space he needs as the ship’s number one and, up to his arrival, acting captain. As much as this episode is about establishing this new threat and saving that freighter, it’s about establishing Pike as the new captain and starting to build new relationships.

I really like the Captain Pike portrayed in this episode. He’s different than the other iterations we’ve seen, but very much in line with what you’d expect the predecessor to Captain Kirk to be like. He’s funny, incredibly charming and a bit of a rogue or a maverick. He comes from a ship on a long-term deep-space mission, so he plays a little more fast and loose with the rules than a Saru, which puts him in a nice spot between Saru and Burnham, the latter of which has her own tendency to bend rules and do things her own way. Pike knows things are different on a ship that experienced the war, and he feels bad for being ordered to sit it out, so he respects and lionizes Saru, but he very quickly bonds with Burnham, between their similarities and their mutual acquaintance in Spock. That makes Pike the perfect addition to this show, even though some might continue to think this prequel/TOS stuff is shoehorned in, and Anson Mount is pitch perfect in his portrayal.

And, of course, it’s also about Burnham and her family problems, as the arrival of the Enterprise brings up the curious absence of one Mr. Spock, her foster brother, who has taken leave from his duties on the Enterprise and not spoken to Pike, Burnham, or his father Sarek in a long time. The episode starts with a lengthy flashback to Burnham’s first day in Sarek’s home, and Spock’s initial rejection of his new foster sister. Later on Burnham blames herself for their failed relationship as faux-siblings. But visiting his quarters on the Enterprise, she discovers that Spock had something to hide, and that it might play in this larger mission with Pike. We don’t see adult Spock just yet, but we know he’s coming, as Ethan Peck has been cast in the role and seen in some of the trailers.

All of this makes for a lot to set up for the premiere, and we haven’t even mentioned Stamets’ decision to leave the ship for a teaching gig, abandoning his research with the Mycellium network, or the dark matter asteroid that they bring on board. All of this, obviously, will play out over the course of the season, but it sets up a good base, and it balances all of these elements fairly well. That’s kind of the point of making a more action-oriented premiere. You have a lot to set up, it won’t pan out for a few episodes, so here’s an exciting space jump to tide you over (including a pitch-perfect redshirt death). “Brother” establishes a good pace for us to work with as Discovery launches into new territory this season. I’m excited about the Red Angel stuff, I’m curious to see how the Spock stuff plays out, I’m elated at how good Anson Mount is as Pike and the new dynamic with the crew, and I’m optimistic about the show’s promise to be more about science and exploration, between the seven missions they’ve already set up and the dark matter asteroid they have sitting in the shuttle bay. And that’s pretty much what you can expect out of a soft-reboot premiere like this.

“Brother” gets 8 snarky redshirt comments out of 10.