The Orville: New Horizons episode “Midnight Blue” blasted onto Hulu last night, fully recouping the slight dip in quality that has plagued this season throughout the last few episodes. “Midnight Blue” comes as a breath of fresh air to the series and a welcome return to form. Unlike its predecessors, this episode expertly balances characters, action, plot, and themes. In contrast, the previous episodes seem to only excel in balancing one of these focuses.
This episode features some difficult conversations and thoroughly explores the struggles of all the characters facing horrifically hard decisions in hard times. None of the decisions are easy, and “Midnight Blue” excels at exploring them while not demonizing any of the heroes for their competing ideals. “Midnight Blue” comes as a sequel to “A Tale of Two Topas,” season 1’s “About a Girl,” and season 2’s “Sanctuary,” perfectly marrying the conflicts of all these separate episodes with the looming threat of the Kaylon invasion that will come to a head in the upcoming finale.
“Midnight Blue” sees the Orville returning to the Sanctuary colony of Moclan females for a routine inspection. However, when Topa joins the inspection team as an excuse to meet females of her own race for the first time, she is roped into a conspiracy to rescue females from Moclus. Her involvement in this conspiracy soon escalates, leading to her kidnapping by the Moclans. Kelly and Bortus set off on a rogue mission to rescue her while Captain Mercer and the leader of the Sanctuary, Haveena, return to Earth to beg the Union Council for aid in recovering Topa.
This episode focuses heavily on interpersonal relationships between the characters that fuel the story’s conflict. All of this drama is expertly executed and never feels CW-like. Even the exploration of teenage girl angst at the beginning of the episode does not stray from being compelling at any point. These angsty and hormone-fueled scenes are essential in further understanding Topa’s mental state and changing worldview, not only developing Topa but her relationships with Kelly and Gordon. Even the touchy scene with Topa admitting her feelings for Gordon is both humorous and telling. This moment, in particular, could have been incredibly damaging to this episode considering the real-world issues surrounding current-day Hollywood and their apparent desire to treat children as if they are adults. However, “Midnight Blue” never makes any untoward statements about these subjects; it merely uses them for some brief comedy while thoroughly condemning the feelings as wrong, immature, and in no way reciprocated by Gordon.
“Midnight Blue” features so much beauty in its scenery, depth, and emotions. At every possible opportunity, the show displays vibrant colors of an expansive nebula, stunning rainbow arrays of firefly-like creatures, and sweeping landscapes. The universe is beautiful and worth exploring and standing in awe of, as all the characters do when exposed to such incredible sights. These moments of wonder are perfectly driven home by the actors reacting to them. Topa standing amongst the fireflies is an especially poignant image.
Bortus is a standout in “Midnight Blue,” with Peter Macon delivering what is easily the best performance of the episode. As a now single dad, Bortus struggles with carrying all the weight and responsibility of raising a hormonal teenager by himself, merely doing his best using what skills he has. He doesn’t always do it perfectly, but he is always trying so hard, showing his love for his daughter at every opportunity. As a parent, you don’t always need to be perfect; you just need to be there and do your best. In an age where fathers are treated horrifically by Hollywood, such a good dad fighting for the safety of his child is uncommon and a welcome surprise. Bortus’s two exceptional scenes come near the end of the episode, with his assault on the torturer and his speech to the Union Council. Both moments make perfect sense for his character and speak to his emotional state, delivered in a compelling performance.
Dolly Parton’s cameo is another standout moment. Dolly has never been thought of as much of a poet or philosopher, which derived much comedy for The Orville in the past. However, her contribution to this episode is compelling and thought-provoking, with the words she has for Haveena containing far more depth than would have initially been expected. As the emotional turning point for Haveena’s arc, Dolly blows her performance out of the park, becoming a great addition to “Midnight Blue.”
Many shows find it extremely difficult to compellingly and viscerally portray tension. However, “Midnight Blue” has no such problem, delivering tension in every moment. All the actors’ performances, the visual effects, and the fight sequences perfectly demonstrate how important it is to rescue Topa as soon as possible while not feeling contrived. Driving this tension home, the action is surprisingly competent. From both the firefight through the Moclan black site to the subsequent dogfight in the canyon, this episode’s action is thrilling. Beyond a few logical inconsistencies in this fight, such as the weird column design in the black site to the lack of coherent distances between the black site and the shuttle, there is very little to criticize here.
Another great addition to “Midnight Blue” comes in the form of Klyden’s redemption. He was done a little dirty in “A Tale of Two Topas,” which required rectification. Despite being fundamentally wrong in that episode, it was easy to understand where he was coming from. Fully making up for this mistreatment of him, “Midnight Blue” brings him back and allows him to reconnect with his family, turning away from the corrosive traditions of his culture. This reunion is incredibly emotional and compelling. Admitting one’s own bigotry is a difficult thing to do, but handled extremely well in this episode.
The primary flaw of “Midnight Blue” is the motivation for the conflict. How did the Moclans immediately know that Topa was privy to sensitive information the moment that she received it? To resolve this unanswered question, a few simple things could have been done. Perhaps the initial motivation for the kidnapping was to punish Topa for her de-transition before they discovered what knowledge she possessed. Alternatively, a fascinating way the episode could have gone that would have driven character conflict up to a new level would have been that Haveena had leaked this information to the Moclans in order to force the Union’s hand in their divorce from Moclus and their recognition of the Sanctuary’s independence. As that ended up being the final result of this conflict, it would have been incredibly interesting to explore the repercussions of Haveena orchestrating all of this while filling in this rather massive plot hole. As it stands, this gaping hole in the logical consistency of the episode is incredibly damaging and may be a blaring blight in the eyes of some viewers, making it extremely difficult for them to enjoy the narrative of “Midnight Blue.”
Overall, “Midnight Blue” ranks among the best episodes of this new season and leaves the Union in an incredibly precarious situation when it comes to their upcoming conflict with the Kaylons. How will they prevail if their greatest allies and weapons manufacturers are no longer at their backs? The Union is in the weakest position it has been in since the end of season 2. It will be very interesting to see how they combat the Kaylons in the coming two-part finale.