In “A Happy Refrain”, an insulting episode of The Orville, all the women of the ship convince one of their peers to get into a doomed relationship, then get mad about it.
This recap of The Orville Season 2, Episode 6, “A Happy Refrain”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
Dr. Claire Finn (Penny Johnson) hasn’t gotten a good episode centered on her since early last season, so I had high hopes. However, when “A Happy Refrain” started out with Claire developing a crush on the android Isaac (Mark Jackson), I thought we were in for light comedy. I was wrong.
Isaac brings Claire a banana because she “gets cantankerous after 1600 hours,” and he notices that she changed her hair. He’s also taken an interest in educating and mentoring her kids. They’re about as close to being friends as he’s capable of being. This is sweet and all, but unlike his Star Trek analog Data, he has no desire to better himself by becoming human. In fact, his people would see this as a demeaning desire. He agrees – this relationship is just built to succeed.
This leads us to the dumbest advice anyone could give. Dumber than Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes) telling Bortus (Peter Macon) to get a mustache. Claire, recognizing the warning signs of her potential crush on Isaac, goes to Commander Kelly Grayson (Adrienne Palicki) for advice. After repeatedly talking about Claire’s unwavering, rock-solid brilliance, that she’s “the wisest person on the ship,” Kelly gives her boneheaded advice: “As someone who’s been with a man who could be unemotional at times, just be careful. We’re all attached to Isaac, but the reality is that he can’t love. Just make sure you don’t get hurt.”
Seriously?! They expound on the fact that Claire is likely projecting these feelings onto the robot (because he can’t, you know, have feelings!) and that he can’t reciprocate them at all. And then that Claire’s judgment is impeccable. So, go for it. Pursue a relationship with a) a machine who is b) emotionless, and c) thinks that you’re a lower form of life worthy only of study. Boo.
Now, I know that this means we have to press onward for story purposes, that we wouldn’t have a story otherwise. But maybe there should be more of a Data-like glimmer that there are possible feelings in the works. Otherwise, Claire, the repeatedly-described excellent discerner, just looks like a lonely, crazy person.
She asks him out, and his response (after being confused on what that means) is that “such an outing would yield substantial data regarding human behavioral patterns.” She replies, “Is that a yes?” This is not a judicious character. This is a delusional lady.
At least Bortus has some good sense: “A human and an artificial life form are incompatible. It will not succeed.” Kelly and Alara-replacement Talla Keyali (Jessica Szohr) both continue this maddening romanticization of the situation. Kelly reassures them, “They bonded during the shuttle accident and it’s just blossomed into something more. It happens.” Keyali adds that “they’ve always been close, right?… they could just be two people in love.” I’ve actually got a problem in the way they paint the intelligent, capable, trained women of The Orville to be simpering, unthinking pools of desire, purposefully refusing to address the electric elephant in the room: Isaac cannot have feelings and doesn’t want them.
Isaac goes to Lt. John LaMarr (J. Lee) to ask for dating advice (hilariously refusing to listen to Malloy). This simply furthers the farce: Isaac is going to lead the crazy lady on. For some reason, she gets frustrated with his desire to have an efficient date with a prompt ending. When he tells her that he’s already begun analyzing the data from their date (while still walking back to her quarters), she says, “Well, at least you’ll be thinking about me.” And then she kisses him! And then, the next day everyone interrogates him about his feelings on how the date went! What kind of crazy backward world are we living in?
When she finally does come to her senses and realizes that she was “lonely and reaching out in the wrong direction,” and that she “can’t even kiss” him, John only hears that last part. He helps Isaac create a simulation of a real person (played by Jackson). It would be really romantic, if not for the fact that this simulation just shoved her further into her delusion that they can have a relationship.
The moment they’ve copulated, Isaac gets ready to break up with her, having finished his research on human relationships. Isaac has changed not at all (yes, he becomes more curious about her and “interested” in her, but only because he deleted the information about her from his databanks), and what’s more, her feelings for him are skin deep. She had realized her mistaken infatuation with him and the pointlessness of a relationship, but the moment he transforms into a human in the Simulator, she falls head over heels. She shoves all rational thought aside.
“A Happy Refrain” seems like a mirror universe version of the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “In Theory” (written by The Orville producer Joe Menosky, oddly enough). In that episode, Data hopes to pursue a relationship in order to understand what it’s like to become more human. He seeks a personal answer in his series-long quest toward humanity. Isaac just wants to study humans and sees them as far beneath him. He has no interest in furthering himself, just researching. He’ll break up with her when he’s done.
…and then it’s all back to stupid humans being passive aggressive toward Isaac for breaking up with her. Everyone on the ship thought it was a bad idea at first. Isaac was very clear that he’s simply a robot just trying to do research. And everyone kept pushing Claire to go out with him. I have rarely been so irritated by an episode of television.
Its only saving moment: the episode finally recognizes its own farcical nature, when Isaac decides to break up with her and gets more advice from John. He shows up in Claire’s quarters wearing a wife-beater, briefs, and holding a beer, telling her she needs to make him dinner and that she doesn’t need any more cake. It’s a hilarious moment. All he does is emulate behavior—everyone else in the episode is just delusional.
But that’s all just fine because they get together in the end. “A Happy Refrain” just doesn’t work for me, at all. It contradicts itself at every turn; they try to make Isaac a Data character when the fun came in his non-Data-ness; and worst of all they seriously and thoroughly diminished the intelligence of every female character on the show.
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.