The second season of The Orville begins in “Ja’loja”, with introspection and a reacquaintance with our characters and this universe, rather than the high-concept science fiction we’ve been hoping for.
Captain Ed Mercer and First Officer Kelly Grayson (Seth MacFarlane and Adrianne Palicki) are still reeling from their breakup at the end of last season — Ed more than Kelly — and she really hits the nail on the head. Their relationship doesn’t work in the context of the crew. If he has to make life and death decisions involving her, it either risks her life or the lives of others when he doesn’t send her on the mission. Ed denies this, “[Saying it’s about timing] blows free will out the airlock if two people care about each other, the choice to love should transcend timing. And anything less is cowardice.”
We have a few new characters. Lt. Janel Tyler (Michaela McManus) is the dark matter cartographer. She’s eager to learn and explore, and watching a smitten Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes) flirt with her so very badly is quite funny. And then the schoolteacher, Cassius (Chris Johnson), is introduced as a rival to Ed, while Tyler is set up as Ed’s new romantic interest. Finally, it looks like The Orville has a new bartender, Olix (Jason Alexander in heavy makeup).
Much like season 2 of Star Trek TOS begins with “Amok Time,” when Spock must return to Vulcan to mate (we’ve already had that episode with Bortus), we now begin season 2 of The Orville with Bortus, our Spock/Worf combo, needing to pee (Moclans only need to urinate once per year, and it’s his time of the year). This is the Ja’loja, the Great Release. And the crew needs to watch and celebrates, for it symbolizes “a cleansing of the spirit and the beginning of a new year in his life.”
Oh, let the urine jokes commence!
Much like the Ja’loja is a cleansing and new beginning for Bortus, so is this episode. This is a bit of a reorientation – which is both good and bad. We’re catching up with the characters we haven’t seen in a while and setting the tone for the new season. The first season of The Orville was solid, though it took a while for them to sort out their own tone. Quite a few episodes, especially the Pilot, seemed to just be Family Guy in space, which did not work. It was a challenge for them to figure out where the comedy ended and the science fiction began, but then they worked toward blending the two genres, putting out some excellent, high concept sci-fi that made effective social commentary with “About a Girl,” “If the Stars Should Appear,” and particularly “New Dimensions.”
Unfortunately, we don’t get any of that high concept science fiction here. But what we do get is a reintroduction to our characters. We get a few days in the life of The Orville crew as they get ready for a new season. Ed opines to the new bartender Olix, “You know what the worst days are, Olix? The days when you can’t stay busy. No Krill confrontations, no spatial anomalies, just nothing going on. And all your thoughts just march inward.” Later on, he just begs for a new Krill invasion. This is an episode about character-driven introspection and relationships. Ed and Kelly come to grips with their dissolved marriage, Alara (Halston Sage) sorts out her trainwreck of a love-life, Gordon learns about flirting from John LaMarr (J. Lee), and Claire (Penny Johnson Jerald) and Isaac (Mark Jackson) try to sort out parenting.
I’m pretty fine with a The Orville episode like “Ja’loja”–it brings us back into this world nicely. However, the next episode needs to be big. We do need that Krill invasion to propel us forward, or just a really solid deeply philosophical, high concept episode to get us going again. We’ve got some new producers, including Joe Menosky (an alumnus of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Discovery) and Jonathan Frakes will direct another episode. Showrunner Seth MacFarlane has also stated that they’ve got a full season arc planned. Here’s hoping this new season will be a great one!