On the eve of the signing of a treaty between the Planetary Union and the Krill, a delegation is invited to the Krill homeworld where the treaty is to be signed. The Orville will, of course, carry the delegation, and Admiral Halsey invites Mercer and his away team to attend the signing.
This invitation happens after we've already witnessed Teleya (Michaela McManus) — the undercover Krill woman who pretended to fall in love with a duped Mercer (see "Nothing Left on Earth Excepting Fishes"), and who is now a rising populist politician with a growing following — provides an ominous speech that begins Trumpian and works its way up to Hitlerian as she decries the treaty that's going to be signed and promises that all who have taken part in its creation will be punished as traitors if she wins the election. The crowd screams and chants like a howling mob. The delegation is made aware of Teleya, but is assured her fringe support is not enough to overcome incumbent Supreme Chancellor Korin's comfortable lead as the establishment candidate. (Stop me if you've heard this one before.) Certainly, there's plenty of Fake News in the mix to cloud the issue.
As it happens, the Union delegation arrives at the Krill homeworld on election night. This is so typical of the Union's sense of oblivious, dim-witted planning: Sure, why not visit an enemy world on the night they are having an election where the rising populist opponent has vowed she will absolutely rip up the treaty you are there to sign and will punish the ones who engineered it? What could possibly go wrong? LOL. Of course, without this rather stupid premise, there would be no story, so we have to grant some things in the interest of drama.
This does, however, give our characters a front-row seat to the 2016-like election upset, where the opponent that was laughed off by the establishment suddenly ekes out an unlikely win. After the election is called, things move ... alarmingly quickly. Armed guards come into the chancellor's office (right after he has said to those in the room he plans to contest the election as a false result) and Teleya, who I guess becomes supreme chancellor immediately upon the election being called (the show is unclear on the legal aspects of how the power transfer is supposed to happen), takes power and shortly thereafter brings the outgoing chancellor onto a public stage and personally executes him on the spot. Oof. She announces that the Union delegation will be executed in the morning, as well.
"Gently Falling Rain" is a lot of things, and it does most of those things pretty effectively — although it's also messy and scattered and unfocused at times. It's like the kitchen sink of political sci-fi action shows. This is like a major DS9 political episode mixed with a healthy dose of ripped-from-the-headlines story beats and a large helping of action pyrotechnics. It also includes some impressively realized sights, including the dystopian Blade Runner-esque Krill cityscape, which employs a visually immersive mix of darkness and neon. There's a massive statue of Avis in the middle of the city that's frighteningly evocative.
In terms of world-building and establishing absorbing things within this universe, this is one of the best yet for the series; it really makes the Krill capital feel like an actual place. The plot works reasonably in its nuts and bolts as it becomes a matter of trying to rescue the delegation before they're executed. There's some silliness in a plan called "Directive 21," which is a secret for no good reason other than to hide what's going to happen for the audience. But we're in good hands with Grayson in command. Adrianne Palicki again shows what a commanding presence she is as an authority figure. She honestly makes a better captain than the actual captain on his best days.
Then there's the whole Mercer/Teleya matter, which plays out here in a fairly realistic fashion, given the characters. Teleya doesn't necessarily want him dead, but even with Mercer here she isn't about to change her point of view. She's angry and ruthless and means everything she said about the treaty with the Union. Her anti-Union position remains despite the Kaylon threat and what it means for everyone if there's no alliance working together to resist it. You can't reason with good old-fashioned isolationist hatred.
Meanwhile, Mercer has to deal with the fact that he was duped and there was absolutely nothing real about the relationship he thought he had with "Lt. Janel Tyler." Like, nothing. He was a sap, and he let her go hoping she might help him bridge the gulf between the two cultures, and instead she has gone and done the exact opposite when the bridge was already happening separately from that with the previous leadership. It's a real kick in the teeth. And indeed Mercer does look foolish. In a way, it's brave of MacFarlane to let his character be seen this way.
The episode's big twist is that Teleya had a secret half-human daughter with Mercer (named Anaya, which means "gently falling rain"), which Mercer didn't know about and who is hidden away to protect Teleya from political scandal, but who was carried to term because Teleya opposes abortion, which is forbidden in Krill society. A secret half-human child seems like something that would be impossible to keep secret in a capitalistic society that traffics in political deepfakes, but let's not nitpick too much.
It's about here where the episode brings up one idea too many, with a shoehorned-in scene featuring an "aborted child simulator" which shows, as punishment, a custom-tailored simulation of a child to the would-be parents who have committed an illegal abortion of that child. This feels like a ham-fisted and half-finished sketch of an idea that really either needed to have more screen time or none. (I write this on the very day Roe v. Wade in the U.S. has been overturned, reversing 50 years of precedent protecting the right to abortion. The timeliness of this aspect of the episode could not have even been imagined when this was shot well over two years ago, but that doesn't make this scene feel any less awkwardly inserted).
Ultimately, there's an uneasy tug-of-war here between Star Trek and Star Wars that absolutely has Star Wars winning in the final act. The politics and dialogue of the first few acts give way to a Big Action Sequence where "Directive 21" turns out to be members of the Orville crew being disguised as Krill so they can infiltrate and evacuate the delegation at the last minute before they're executed on stage. Meanwhile, a massive Union fleet arrives at the Krill homeworld (quantuming in with that awful copy-and-paste CGI method, with the ships implausibly crammed right on top of each other, which I hated about the fleet in the last episode of Picard season one) to engage in a battle to provide cover for the evacuation mission. This leads to a sequence that features, yet again, a score that shamelessly mimics John Williams and has a lot of explosions, although, it would seem, limited casualties. After the barrage of clashing, the Union ships all quantum away. This feels weirdly inconsequential even though it should mean absolute open warfare.
So, yeah, this episode is entertaining and frequently absorbing but also suffers from its sprawl and scatterbrained lack of focus. But for the first time this season, I have no complaints about the pace. The running time (65 minutes) works just fine for the material at hand, giving it time to breathe. The episode leaves little on the table as it unleashes open hostilities with the Krill and reveals Mercer's previously unknown child. The only question is whether there will be enough time during this (brief) season to deal with all the storylines they've opened up here.
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