The Orville S02E04 starts off very status quo. In just another shift on the bridge, there’s a brief exchange between Alara’s replacement, Lt Tharl arriving for work again. This is promptly interrupted with Lt Janel Tyler (played by Michaela McManus), resident dark matter cartographer, delivering a report personally to Captain Mercer. Mercer, reacting to the obvious cue quickly makes himself scarce and meets up with Tyler in his quarters. Lounging together they are enjoying the ambience an “old earth flick” like The King and I grants them. This obvious metaphor becomes important later in the episode.
Mercer’s comfortable entanglement with the attractive lieutenant is the first serious relationship we’ve seen for The Orville captain. Brushing over an anecdotal mention of “Taxi Driver” that fails miserably in the joke department. The conversation with Tyler quickly moves to the two of them going public with their relationship. Not just the relationship going public but also a trip away together. What follows on for the next five minutes of the episode is Mercer running this relationship past his subordinates, Commander Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki) and Lieutenant Gordon Molloy (Scott Grimes).
As Captain Mercer prepares to leave on his trip we are introduced to the subplot of Grimes’ character looking to move up in the ranks. Haphazardly instigated by the ongoing complaints of Tharl we learn that Lt Molloy is looking to diversify and take the commander’s test. Grimes’ storyline takes so far to introduce the commander’s test, to Cmdr Grayson uncovering the Molloy’s core motivation to Molloy himself finally coming to terms with his station. What he is to the crew and more importantly – what he means to himself. It’s a familiar character development as Grimes learns what self acceptance really means. Rooting out his own insecurities and antagonism with Cmdr Grayson. Star Trek: The Next Generation fans will relate elements of this sub-plot to “Thine Own Self”, where Counsellor Deanna Troi struggles to take the command test.
Mercer’s angle with Lt Tyler becomes clear when they encounter three Krill spacecraft and are eventually taken prisoner by the mothership. The classic science fiction trope of enemy spy is revealed. Lt Janel Tyler is none other than a krill operative called Teleya. A reality that Reddit user predicted so aptly:
Teleya is after vengeance for what Mercer and Molloy did to the Krill spaceship Yakar (when they killed the entire crew with radiation, including Teleya’s brother). This exchange of unpleasantries between Mercer and Teleya is cut short when a boarding party of Chak’tal warriors cause Teleya and Mercer to abandon the Krill ship in an escape pod.
Fleeing to a nearby planet, Teleya and Mercer are forced to work together as they play a game of cat and mouse. Narrowly avoiding the Chak’tal warriors who have pursued them to this planet they are marooned on. With time for Mercer to breakdown the barriers of mistrust and xenophobia that Teleya is conditioned to believe. Able to finally setup a beacon and being rescued by Molloy they are brought back to The Orville. Where, despite protestations from Cmdr Grayson, Capt Mercer lets Teleya free and returns her back to her own people. The Krill.
The logic is that now Union and Krill can sit down and begin diplomatic talks. Linking back to the early King and I scene at the start of the episode. Racist portrayals notwithstanding, this episode is a story of two individuals representing two cultures finding some common ground so they can move forward to co-exist. Very nostalgic of early Kirk versus Klingon negotiations.
This episode is more Trek than Star Trek: Discovery. Yes, I went there.
For the character development, plot line and action I give this episode 5 Sodas!