It seems fitting that the first script credited to Voyager alums Brannon Braga and Andre Bormanis involves a Shuttle Crash™. It's a shuttle crash that, from the looks of it, should've left everyone aboard, with the possible exception of Isaac, quite dead. The tail end of the shuttle even breaks off, like the plane in Lost. This leaves our crash survivors separated from each other.
Specifically, this leaves Dr. Claire Finn separated from her two young sons (we learn here that she's a single mother by choice), who are protected by Isaac, who must play the role of Dad to the two kids, Marcus and Ty (BJ Tanner and Kai Di'Nilo Wener), who — let's be honest — are pretty damn annoying. (Yes, kids can be annoying. I know this. I have two of them. That doesn't make it easier to watch annoying kids on TV.)
The shuttle crashes in the first place because the two are fighting over a game device that hits the shuttle's console and sends it careening off crazily. (The shuttle goes through a "spatial fold" that sends it 1,000 light-years away before crashing on a planet, but the spatial fold, strangely, becomes utterly irrelevant to the story.) The idea of a shuttle going wildly out of control because a kid's toy hits the controls is one of those goofy comic things you might accept as "plausible" in a story that is pitched as goofy, but this feels like pretty weak sauce.
Besides, "Into the Fold" isn't even goofy. It's played completely straight, and unfortunately, that's part of the problem. This is probably Orville's biggest clunker so far because it's so utterly pedestrian. It's a lifeless crash/survival/kidnap/rescue story that has an absentee plot, and characterization that, while not terrible, is mundane. Penny Johnson Jerald carries her scenes with aplomb, but those scenes involve being dragged away by one of the locals (Brian Thompson) and thrown in a cell with very little information. The only reason she's put there is so she can be menaced and later escape. That's it.
The character bits of the story involve (1) showing Finn's survival skills and (2) showing Isaac come to learn the value of temporarily parenting two kids who are now under his watch. Neither of these stories did much of anything for me. The Isaac material is a pretty obvious take on "robot learns human ways" and suffers from cornball dialogue. Meanwhile, Finn is stranded in a story that feels like the writers didn't even finish it. We learn the planet's population suffers from a mass sickness because of a devastating war that has poisoned the water supply, leading to "cannibalism and chaos." But we're given no explanation for why Finn is being held prisoner. Her captor says it's for her "safety," but she, and we, don't believe him. (In tangentally related news, the universal translator apparently does exist on this show.)
When she cleverly escapes her cell with the tool she conveniently finds that allows her to pry the conveniently loose panel off her cell wall, she kills her captor. She's then followed through the forest by dozens more of the natives. Why do they follow her? No clue. Maybe they want to eat her. The Orville crew, after sending a rescue shuttle, shoots them all down in a gratuitous, boring "action" scene that can be roughly described as "pew pew pew." You'd think a story involving a planet-wide disease and our hero doctor would somehow naturally combine those pieces into something about her curing them, or helping them, or something. Nope. Maybe the writers were trying to subvert expectations. But the result feels like homework that was turned in half-finished.
Sometimes I am confused by the rating and target audience for this show. Every episode of this series has been rated TV-14, even though a great deal of this, when we don't have dick or glory-hole jokes, is really TV-PG. The violence is ever-so-slightly harder than the Trek days of yesteryear (Finn stabbing her captor, for example), but not really by much. Meanwhile, the stories themselves feel like they are aimed at older kids. Certainly this one doesn't feel sophisticated. It's a weird straddling of the fence that's perplexing. I'm not sure what I'm even saying here; it's just an observation.
But then "Into the Fold" has me struggling for observations.
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