"Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow" — a title with a repetition I must confess I don't exactly understand the rationale for — is a high-concept sci-fi premise that produces a middling character episode focusing on a worn-out thread on this series, and exhibits no shortage of misguided character decisions. The episode is redeemed almost entirely by the subtle and nuanced performance of Adrianne Palicki, who wins this week's MVP by taking some decent insights and strange sitcom situations and spinning them into sympathy-earning gold.
This episode is okay, but it's a notable step down from what the series has done recently, and it relies on plot developments we see coming a mile away — but the characters for some reason choose not to. It unfortunately feels like the Orville falling back on old habits, as if the writers woke up one morning and decided to go shopping at the TNG Store, found the "Second Chances" kit on the shelf, brought it home, and then made their personal modifications during assembly.
You may recall that in that (very good) episode, Riker discovered he had been duplicated in a transporter accident, and the duplicate had been stranded on a planet for eight years. The duplicate and the original suddenly find themselves facing an identity crisis when they learn about each other and have to live in the same world (and the duplicate wants to resume a relationship with Troi). In "Tomorrow," a whatever-technobabble-thingamabob pulls Kelly from seven years in the past into the present. So now there are two Kellys — the one who has lived the past seven years of her life, and the one who has skipped over those years to find herself in the presence of her future self.
It's a good starting point, so now what to do with her? The characters note that her removal from her own time period somehow doesn't seem to have affected the timeline (although how would they know if it had? [insert mind-blown gesture]), and they don't know if they can send her back. Ed floats two alternatives — tell her nothing about what has happened, or tell her everything. He opts for everything. "We can't just keep her locked away in a room," he says. Funny; I was thinking that's exactly what they should do. Locking her in a room would be far smarter than making her a member of the crew, which is what they essentially do. (I'm not saying they have to be mean about it; they could give her a bunch of books, provided they are at least seven years old.) Or, at least, given the possible ramifications of this, how about taking some time to think about it and do some due-diligence research into the anomaly? (I'm reminded of the guy in "Homeward" who escaped the holodeck simulation and realized he was no longer on his homeworld but ... somewhere else. Rather than shutting up, the crew goes on to explain everything about where he is (hey, you're on a starship, in space!) — without regard for what that might mean to him. Ultimately, he ends up killing himself. Good job!)
So Past Kelly becomes a de facto member of the crew, which is hard for her, because she's living in the shadow of Present Kelly, and knowing one's future is not all it's cracked up to be, especially when your goals were to be married and a captain by the time you were the age of the future self you're now encountering, for whom neither is the case.
Of course, the other big thing here is the whole Ed/Kelly situation, a piece of character business that was as inevitable as tomorrow's sunrise. The episode has Ed asking (yet again) if Kelly will give him another chance, to which Kelly says, politely, patiently, no. Well, Past Kelly had arrived after having been brought forward in time from the very day after Ed and Kelly's first date seven years ago. (This is not a mere coincidence; the episode strongly suggests that Present Kelly thinking about that night is specifically what led to Past Kelly being pulled from that moment in time when the tech anomaly struck.)
In what seems like a really bad choice all around given the circumstances, Past Kelly decides she wants to pick things up and have a second date with Present Ed, given that he and Present Kelly are divorced. Ed is open to this and wants to explore it, and after a discussion with Present Kelly (Ed is nice enough to at least ask her first, although phrasing it as "Well, hey, given that we're never getting back together, maybe I can try again with you from seven years ago?" is probably not very smart), things move forward ... and it's not all what it was cracked up to be. After all, how could it be? Ed is seven years older, and hanging out in a simulation of Past Kelly's favorite nightclub is not nearly as fun as it was back then. I mean, it's so damn loud! My bro Gordon and I are fortysomethings! (Bortus and Klyden like the club; I guess they've put their massive ideological differences aside for now so they can get a groove on.)
Here's the thing: All of this is an indulgence of the scenario and really the whole reason for its being. I get that. I mean, how can you not work through these character beats given what the episode is about? But at the same time, I just can't quite buy that given such an extremely weird scenario that this is how these people would behave — that this relationship would be the thing most on their minds. Past Kelly jumping straight into dating Present Ed seems unlikely when you consider she's just had her entire life upended — not to mention her future self is right there basically looming over everything, and this is sci-fi where there's a very good chance you may be going back to your own time given enough (even a few days of!) technobabble research. The episode acts as if she's stranded here forever ... up until the breakthrough suddenly reveals she's not. My thinking: Maybe wait a few days and see what's actually going to happen and think it over before making such rash decisions that seem likely to just hurt everyone anyway.
I mentioned before that Adrianne Palicki's performance redeems a lot of this. I need to repeat that, because she's really good. She creates subtle differences in the two versions of the character. She has conversations with herself that reveal real vulnerabilities in both characters. It's a tricky balancing act, and Palicki does the most with it. Present Kelly in particular shows a lot of grace and intelligence given the weird situation and emotions involved, even if Ed and Past Kelly are foolhardy for jumping into an emotionally fraught situation. (Seth MacFarlane is pretty good here too, and even if it takes Ed a while, he finally admits, to his credit, that this is not a great idea and the past should remain there.)
The visual effects used to put two Kellys in one shot — even with moving cameras and the two Kellys physically interacting — are as seamless as if there had really been two actors. The technical details in these shots were undoubtedly elaborate to stage, but end up being completely invisible. Also notable from a VFX standpoint are the crisp, clean, simple, and beautiful shots of the Orville evading two Kaylon ships in the ice rings of a planet.
There's a last-minute plot twist here. When it's discovered Past Kelly can be sent back to the moment she was pulled out of time, she agrees to have her memory of the future erased, and the trip back is successful. But we see in the past that when Ed asks her out on a second date, she sadly turns him down, saying it's not going to work out. What happened here? Did the memory wipe fail? Does this exist in some alternate timeline? This may play into next week's season finale somehow, but even if it doesn't, I'd be okay with it having no explanation whatsoever. Somehow, Kelly's knowledge of the future made her decide to take another path, and even if we were never to see it play out, there's something intriguing about the open-ended question at the end of this episode.
But I've long since lost interest in Ed and Kelly as a couple — assuming I ever had it, which, let's face it, I didn't. I accept their history, but it should remain that — history — and the sooner Ed gets that through his skull and accepts that they are friends and won't be more than that, the better off we'll all be. The Orville writing staff seems to want us invested in the question of whether these two are going to get back together someday, but I don't know that anyone in the audience cares.