"Home" is an effective goodbye episode that writes out Alara Kitan in a dignified and poignant way. It might've worked better if she — or anyone on this series, for that matter — had been on the show longer. I'm not sure why Halston Sage is leaving the series already (there seems to be no "official" line on the matter; various rumors are out there), but the writers have given her a way to exit that fits the character as we've come to know her in this short time.
She's forced to return home when Dr. Finn discovers Alara's physical strength is diminishing because prolonged exposure to lower gravity has induced an atrophy that, if she doesn't return home, may become permanent, making it so she can never return home. How long she will need to remain home to recover is an open question. Varied case histories suggest it could be weeks, months, or forever.
Once home, old family difficulties resume. Her most troubled relationship is with her father Ildis (Robert Picardo), who disapproves of her having joined the Union fleet (always referred to as "the military" here), which he sees as beneath any Xelayan, even his daughter who struggled intellectually. Alara is perhaps overly sensitive to innocuous comments, but it's clear Dad is a frequent critic with a lot of opinions on his daughter's life he plans to share yet again. Even more so than her physical strength, Alara has been defined on this series by her youthful vulnerability and insecurity. This was clear last season in both "Command Performance" and "Firestorm," and we clearly see here where that insecurity grew from.
Meanwhile, we get a nice bit of world-building. Xeleya is depicted as a place of beauty and luxury (the crisp VFX and soaring music really sell this idea) populated with upper-class intellectual elites who live in awesome houses. As Alara tries to re-acclimate to the higher gravity (until which she's confined to a hoverchair) she and her family go to a vacation home on an island retreat. The island is mostly deserted because it is the off-season, but a couple (John Billingsley and Kerry O'Malley) at a nearby house comes visiting, saying they've been victims of a break-in. They seem friendly enough, which should perhaps be a warning for you.
I was reminded of DS9's "Prodigal Daughter," in which Ezri returned home to an overbearing parent and some crime-solving on the side. Alara has some initial questions about the break-in, but instead of becoming an investigation piece, "Home" becomes a hostage scenario. The show takes a sudden and vicious turn when Billingsley's character pulls a gun and tells Ildis to put his hand in a pot of boiling soup. From there we learn his true reasons for being here, which is to force Ildis to publicly retract a published study that discredited their son's work, prompting his suicide. When Ildis refuses, we go from boiling soup to garden shears.
The story's turn from routine dinner party to harrowing hostage situation is whiplash-instantaneous, and it's weirdly effective in its sudden onset of dread. It comes so quickly we're thrown for a loop. It feels all the more visceral and extreme when we see people completely unprepared for the possibility of violence suddenly finding themselves confronted with it. (Meanwhile, as Easter eggs go, there's some meta-discussion worthiness here by having the doctors from Brannon Braga's previous Trek shows facing off against each other.)
Naturally, we see how Alara's knowledge of using brawn over brains becomes a crucial asset her father would otherwise never have seen as an asset. It's a good case of using character to inform action (even if the action is fairly routine), and the actors do a good job of selling all of it. This is easily Sage's best episode in her few showcases, and the guest actors (including Molly Hagan and Candice King as Alara's mother and sister) are all solid as well.
Aboard the Orville, we're introduced to interim security chief Lt. Tharl, aka Elephant/Esophagus Guy, played by an instantly recognizable Patrick Warburton because his voice is unmistakable even under several pounds of prosthetics. Like a lot of this series' non-human characters, Elephant Guy speaks in dude-bro, which is a choice that's becoming predictably tiresome, and he "pounds" food while at his desk because, well, extra esophagus. This is light and purely inconsequential.
In the final act we get Alara's true goodbye. Despite the fact Claire devises a treatment that would allow her to stay on board the Orville, Alara uses the breakthrough with her father to give home a second try. Although I wasn't sure why she couldn't have the best of both worlds — keeping her job and also patching thing up with her family — I like that "Home" comes down to a character making a choice for herself rather than having it imposed on her.
And, yes, while the scene where she individually hugs every member of the main cast in the shuttle bay is perhaps pushing the sentiment a little bit into the overly earnest (we're only 15 episodes into this series; have we really earned this?), and her parting gift to Captain Mercer (an unopened jar of pickles) borders on the hopelessly corny, you'd have to have a heart of stone not to be caught up in the moment at least a little bit. Farewell, Alara Kitan. We barely knew you. But you gave us one of The Orville's better episodes to date.
Previous episode: Primal Urges