Like with many resolutions to alleged status-quo-shattering cliffhangers, "Identity, Part II" fails to live up to its setup. Oh, sure: The episode builds to a prolonged ending battle sequence that doesn't disappoint — a real humdinger of pyrotechnics that outdoes anything even remotely attempted on this series. (I don't use the word "humdinger" lightly; it's very possible I've never actually typed that word before.) As the Dude once said: And that's cool. That's cool. But the real question of this episode was how they would bring Isaac back (or indeed if they believably could) after he seemingly went past the point of no return by helping the Kaylon seize control of the Orville, killing a bunch of its crew in the process.
The way they bring him back is probably one of the most obvious scenarios, with him having a change of "heart"/mind and saving the Orville crew by betraying the Kaylon that have hijacked the ship. That's a better option than the even more obvious route of attributing his actions to some sort of reprogramming the Kaylon forced on him. This way, at least it's the character making the choice (and being responsible for both betrayals) and not a dumb plot device. This is more potentially consequential.
But the problem is that Isaac's change of course is difficult to decode, and arbitrary if you look at it through a logical lens. He changes his mind because he has what you might say is an emotional reaction when Kaylon Primary (Graham Hamilton) is about to kill Ty. This conclusion is foreshadowed with an earlier sequence where Kaylon Primary airlocks one of Mercer's men after Isaac makes a humanitarian-masquerading-as-logical argument against it.
But what was Isaac's endgame here otherwise? To just go along with the Kaylon eradicating Earth's population, even though he didn't agree with it? I guess the point is that for it to take an extreme personal connection for him to respond is an indication of his growth as an ethical/feeling machine — but as a machine, shouldn't he have done the math to get to this epiphany long before he did? I mean, the Kaylon were going to commit genocide, which also includes Ty. This was the plan all along. (Although that plan seems kind of forced in thinking back on it. The Kaylon could expand wherever they want. Hell, they're AIs; why do they need more planets, or even bodies? They could just live in a massive database. The fact that they want to pick a fight with the Union and exterminate Earth seems like overkill, or perhaps revenge.) I guess the answer is: Just don't think too much about it, because it's a matter of Isaac doing what he does when he does it because it needs to happen at the moment it does for the day to be saved.
The other problem here is that the consequences all around don't seem like enough, at least not so far. The battle at the end costs the Union dozens of ships and countless lives, but it doesn't feel like the major punch-in-the-gut blow that it should. The early destruction of the ship with Captain Tony Almeida (Carlos Bernard; I bet he didn't actually die in that explosion) was more vividly and emotionally depicted than all the faceless action-packed destruction at the end. And while I appreciate that Admiral Halsey is skeptical of Mercer's plan to put Isaac back on the Orville, the fact that he ends up back there with so little pushback after such a devastating betrayal feels too pat. I hope there are serious character consequences to follow this up.
I also have to again register my objections regarding the stupidity and ill-defined nature of the Planetary Union. They willfully allowed an unknown alien from a totally secretive society of purely artificial lifeforms to infiltrate one of their ships — without asking basic questions like: who built them and what happened to those builders, and gee, maybe we should think about that before giving them access to our secured data? I guess anyone who knocks on the door and acts polite gets let right in.
Given all the holes here, it's probably best to think of Isaac and the Kaylon plan as the means-to-end vehicle to lead us to the big climactic space battle, with that battle being the primary selling point here. (The rest is merely moving plot pieces around, and perhaps some character and world-building gravy if they can make it mean something more substantive down the road.) And it sells, and I'll buy. The impressive but sometimes excessively video-game-like space battle here goes full-on Star Wars, with its fighter-pilot POVs, laser-beam exchanges framed by backgrounds of chaos and explosions, while Joel McNeely's score shamelessly channels John Williams. (In 1994, I wrote a review for Terminal Velocity — the first thing I ever wrote for my college newspaper — and in it I mentioned that Joel McNeely was doing his best John Williams impression. Nearly 25 years later, trends continue.) Notable here is the nice execution in how the 3D action of the VFX shots align with the camera moves in the practical on-set shots to sell a consistent sense of motion. Jon Cassar has always done action well.
The plot mechanics that get us to the final act are fine, if sometimes hacky, but I don't care to dwell on them. With most of the crew trapped in the shuttle bay (and apparently using one part of it as the "pee corner," as Malloy notes, something I guess never adequately explored in these sorts of hostage situations), it's up to Ty and Yaphit to sneak around and disable Kaylon lieutenants who should probably be better at not getting thwarted by kids and Jell-O, who then find a way to send secret communications to warn the fleet, etc.
The other big development is the Krill, who ally with the Union thanks to a desperate call for help by Grayson and Malloy. Like much of this episode, it's more interesting as a concept for future episodes than something that makes ironclad sense. The show has spent all this time building the Krill up as this unbending, religious fundamentalist threat. Now they suddenly decide to join a battle against the Kaylon because the Kaylon don't worship Avis. That's a quality no different from any other non-Krill society, so why are they so willing to flip 180 degrees and suddenly be sensible? This fragile alliance will hopefully pay more dividends down the road; for now it's a convenient plot device.
So how do I score this? I'll go with the "fun show" scale that The Orville so desperately wants to be accepted as, and say three stars. This is entertaining and fun, but the regular problems with this series never change, which is that a show that wants to be taken seriously in one breath decides to give us a joke that hand-waves it away in the next. Paradoxically, the humor itself has become less jarring over time and feels more welcome. It's not that it's annoying so much as I just can't take this show's portents of doom remotely seriously as a matter of dramatic stakes. (My rating last week was probably way too optimistic. So, probably, is this one.)
Perhaps the best comparison here is Independence Day — a movie that blew up the world's cities while cracking jokes and embracing clichés with open arms. Okay, then — I happen to like Independence Day on its chosen tone, and I liked this too. But I'm not holding my breath for this show to ever prove it has any other ambitions than to be a lightweight romp of sci-fi nostalgia. Forgive me if Isaac's plight at the moment strikes me as glib.
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