After several misfires and some issues with originality, The Orville seems to have righted the ship and sorted out where it’s going. Hopefully.
This recap of The Orville Season 2, Episode 5, “All the World is Birthday Cake”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
Finally, it seems as though The Orville is getting back on track with “All the World is Birthday Cake.” After three weeks of vacillation, cutting a main character, bringing on another, removing that character, and navel gazing, I’m proud to announce that I once again hope that The Orville might have begun its second season.
Don’t get me wrong, we’ve got a long way to go before we’re actually really underway, because I’m just waiting for more nothing to happen. All that being said, this was a good start. We’ve got some solid science fictional, allegorical storytelling, a first contact, and a decision for our characters to take a true stand for what’s right in the face of overwhelming odds.
That why we tune in!
Right off the bat is an excellent, engaging (albeit tried and true, but no complaints from me) premise: a civilization calling out into the darkness and asking: “Is anyone out there?” As it turns out, The Orville is out there, so this has become a first contact mission with Regor 2, and the crew is psyched, ready to go. Everything is going smoothly, Captain Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane) and the government of Regor 2 are getting on swimmingly, until the shoe drops, as it must in a First Contact situation. Someone must step in it.
It’s Kelly (Adrienne Palicki) and Bortus’ (Peter Macon) birthday, so obviously that means that the civilization they’re contacting wants to hold them captive. It turns out that the planet is governed by astrology, and Kelly and Bortus have been born under a bad sign. According to the Regorian Zodiac, Kelly and Bortus are Giliacs, the worst, unluckiest sign, which means they must be prone to violence and dissension, so they must be punished. So obviously they need to be taken captive and to a concentration camp, held there for over a month until they lead a revolution.
While there, Kelly and Bortus latch onto their fellow inmates who have suffered under this injustice–most of them for their entire lives. We discover that people will time pregnancies, arrange early C-sections, or hide away children so that they aren’t accidentally born Giliacs. And this is where I really appreciate the sci-fi storytelling. The Giliacs are clearly Jews (or, really, any oppressed people grouped for the crime of, you know, being born), having been shipped off and abused for doing nothing other than existing.
While something as specifically horrendous as concentration camps aren’t exactly prevalent in the civilized world of today, they’re not exactly fictional. Moreover, the crime of being born bearing some arbitrary “undesirable” attribute and having to suffer demeaning ridicule for it is infuriatingly just as familiar today as it has been. We can roll our eyes and bemoan having heard the story before, but just because we’ve heard it doesn’t mean it’s sunk in. “We actually have this crazy system where we judge a person by their actions, not their birthdates. It’s a wacky system, I know,” says new crewmember Lt. Talla Keyali (Jessica Szohr–more on her soon). Prejudice is just as stupid as that: we judge actions, not attribute. This is a story that should still be told, and when Kelly and Bortus stand up and fight for what’s right, we should still stand and cheer. It may not be brand new, but it still matters.
On a lighter note, we have a fun guest appearance by Ted Danson as an onscreen Admiral (a continuation of the major guest roles since last season, following Liam Neeson and Charlize Theron). In addition, we meet Alara’s replacement: Lt. Talla Keyali, who’s also Xelayan. Honestly, she’s a more irritating version of Alara Kitan (Halston Sage), about whom I can tell you nothing other than that she talks about punching her captain in the nose a lot. She’s less earnest and more grating than Alara, and I hope that the series will be better with her, but I’m not hopeful on that point.
We need another episode of consistency from this point on. We need to solidify this season’s direction. We need to figure out how Keyali will fit into the crew (does she need to?). “All the World is Birthday Cake” demonstrates that we seem to possibly be headed in the right direction, but I’ll wait until we get another show or two under our belts before I make that an official determination.
Tyler is a teacher, librarian and the Co-host of The Geek Card Check Podcast. He has been a Film Critic for Ready Steady Cut since 2018.