"Future Unknown" is a quiet, deliberately-low-stakes coda for the season — and, very likely, the series — following last week's big plot-resolving action extravaganza. And it proves that spending time in the company of this crew is enjoyable when it's just sitting back and being a laid-back hangout comedy. Indeed, this is the most Orvillian comedy episode of the season, and it finds the precisely right mutedly humorous tone.
But this 80-minute episode, perhaps more than any all season, suffers from its runtime bloat. It's way, way too long, by at least 20 minutes and maybe even more, and it had me checking the clock more than once. You can sense that MacFarlane suspected this was the end of the line and just couldn't bring himself to cut it down to length. He had to get it all in. But by indulging himself, his cast, and his crew, he only waters down what could've been a perfectly acceptable character-based sendoff for the season and series.
It begins with an amusing Moclan cultural ritual in which our resident Moclans renew their marriage by Bortus chasing Klyden through the forest. The way the episode goes all-out in depicting the pure action of this idea, while treating it simultaneously as serious and silly, is surprisingly effective. It's enough to prompt Isaac to think about making a similar commitment to Claire, so he asks her to marry him. Among the unique benefits he brings to the table is his vow that he will look after her children long after she dies, and even "monitor the Finn lineage through the eons of time."
At this point, you either accept Claire and Isaac as an item or not. I still fall into the "not really" camp, but I put that aside for this episode, which features the usual robot misunderstandings, as when LaMarr tries to convince Isaac to "date around" before he gets married in order to ensure the marriage isn't doomed by his lack of additional experience. This is obviously a bad idea, and when Claire finds out what's going on she at least rightly blames LaMarr rather than Isaac, but you'd think she wouldn't be so mad when she should know at this point that Isaac is going to make these sorts of honest mistakes. This is comedy, sure, but it's also everyone involved (LaMarr, Isaac, Claire) not being nearly as smart as they should be.
So the wedding plans commence. This leads to some funny moments, like the idea that Gordon, whom Isaac asks to be his best man, has the role stolen right out from under him by a rather brazen Bortus, who says he will do a better job delivering the toast because he was always considered very funny on Moclus. Meanwhile, Isaac asks Kaylon Primary to attend the wedding along with "all units." Primary readies the fleet, and later shows up at the ceremony with 4,000 ships, which startles Mercer enough to contact Union HQ and make sure they know it's not an invasion.
We also get Isaac's bachelor party cut up against Claire's bachelorette party. Claire's party felt like it was trying a little too hard to be rambunctious; the idea of Bortus throwing a hopelessly boring party as an Elvis Impersonator worked reasonably. And in perhaps my favorite moment, because it hits home and is so absolutely accurate, Claire asks for opinions on her wedding dresses, and when a hapless Mercer carefully says they both look great, he's castigated for being so useless. (Seriously, ladies, why do you ask us?)
There's a B-plot here involving Lysella (Giorgia Whigham), the young woman from "Majority Rule," contacting the ship and asking to leave her world because of how toxic the social media feeding frenzy has become. This becomes a lengthy study, with Kelly as the teacher, on the issues surrounding whatever the Union calls the Prime Directive, and an analysis of Union culture in comparison to Lysella's world, which is a stand-in for our own. The episode treats this storyline as a central case of audience education regarding Union economics and the dangers of cultural contamination. (Like much of this season, Adrianne Palicki shows she is the bedrock of the cast.)
And while we'd deduced all that from what already exists in Star Trek, this episode does a good job of breaking it down in-universe, with Lysella asking why Kelly and the Union can't help her planet overcome its societal difficulties, and Kelly providing the reasons why it's not the Union's place to "play God." (Kelly ultimately demonstrates this on the simulator with a history lesson showing how the Union's attempts to help a society before it was ready ended in world-ending technologically induced warfare.) Like the main character story, what's here is mostly perfectly fine, but it goes on for far too long, until our interest wanes.
As an aside, the episode pays off the time-traveling sandwich gag from "Twice in a Lifetime," which I was very happy to see, even as I was also disappointed they didn't pay it off in a more clever or funny way. The payoff is simply the fact that they didn't choose to forget about it, and nothing more. Ah, well.
The episode ends on a big wedding ceremony, which is performed completely conventionally, with everyone dressed up, and is full of friends and extras and a whole bunch of Kaylon, who sit on the groom's side and stand up and sit down in perfectly synchronized unison. Alara makes a surprise return, which is nice. Bortus makes a toast to the bride and groom which is hilarious in how it's nothing short of awful, which vindicates Malloy, who gets to take over and deliver a toast the way it should be done, which is to say, safely, conventionally, and with good-natured jabs. The episode ends with Malloy singing the ship off into the sunset, and I must say that I'm never not impressed when Scott Grimes sings on this show.
As I've said, the problem with all of this is that so much of it should've been cut merely for the sake of pacing. Plenty of it is trivial and inessential by definition, so there's no reason to be so lax in the editing bay when the end result is so sluggish. But I suppose this is forgivable given the fact that no one knew at the time of editing (and indeed, still even now), whether the show would be back for another season. The uncertainty is right there in the episode title, which describes the series more than the episode. It's more likely than not that this is the end, so I suppose MacFarlane allowed himself some self-indulgence — although that doesn't explain the self-indulgent bloated runtime trend through the rest of the season. (Then again, we're also talking about a series whose very existence was fueled by self-indulgence, with MacFarlane creating a Star Trek clone with himself as the captain.)
This was the best season yet of The Orville, and even if it had its misfired episodes and issues with the episode length, it showed growth in building its universe and definitely benefited from its massive upscale in the VFX department. If this is the end, I'm perfectly fine with the show going out like this, and wish the cast and crew godspeed. It took a while, but this series has done a good job honoring the core spirit of Star Trek.
Previous episode: Domino
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