Sandwiched between the long-awaited Avengers: Endgame and Sunday’s big Game of Thrones throw-down is the season finale of The Orville. Picking up from the surprise ending of last week’s “Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow,” “The Road Not Taken” is an exciting dose of time-travel wonkiness with a beating heart fueling the plot.
Following Kelly’s decision to erase her marriage to Ed from existence, Ed and Gordon find themselves barely surviving in a harsh, dystopian future. Can the crew of the Orville set things right?
“The Road Not Taken” drops us into the nightmare created by Kelly’s ill-advised decision. Ed and Gordon are being hunted by the Kaylons – who won their war with the Union without Ed around to stop them – as they raid an abandoned Union facility, trying to scrape together what little they need to survive as fugitives. They’re decked out not in Union uniforms, but dirty rags, a symbol of their new status. When they escape in their little heap of a ship, they reveal that the item they stole is needed to build a food replicator. This opening scene is a perfect example of how to use humor to compliment a story; the first thing Gordon creates with the food replicator is a Twinkie, and despite Ed’s initial disbelief, he readily accepts half of it, and the two best friends lustily gorge themselves. It’s very funny, and Seth MacFarlane and Scott Grimes play it just right, but it’s a window into how bleak their world is now; they have to take pleasure in the little things because there’s nothing left for them anywhere else. Luckily for them, hope comes in a form other than golden sponge cake.
Kelly, it seems, has been busy since she destroyed the universe. She alone knows how things are supposed to be, and she’s been assembling the old crew in the hopes of undoing her mistake; now, she’s found Ed and Gordon. This is a pleasant surprise, and “The Road Not Taken” finally corrects one of my biggest issues with The Orville this season: Kelly is actually called out for her actions, and by Ed, no less! When she explains why their reality is the hell it’s become, she initially gets defensive, but Ed doesn’t let her get away with it, and she admits that it’s all her fault and she should’ve known better. She even admits to cheating on him and that being the cause of their divorce; I thought we were past this, but I’m glad we don’t once again have to pretend she’s blameless. Her admission is a sign of her taking responsibility for the timeline changes, and hopefully, a sign that she’s growing as a character. I know I said I was over Ed and Kelly as a couple last week, but their makeshift date is very sweet, as is their expressed desire to run away together and remarry. The tragedy is that it took this apocalyptic disaster to bring them together again, and undoing will likely split them apart. The writing is excellent here, but credit also has to go to MacFarlane and Adrianne Palicki for selling their love for each other after how tired the back-and-forth had become.
That relationship is also used to point out the profound effect being on the Orville has had on each crew member. As “The Road Not Taken” unfurls, we meet back up with Alara, who was never a part of Ed’s crew and has never been able to reconcile with her family, instead leading a resistance cell. When John tells her there’s a place for her with them, she retorts not that she wants to stay where she is, but that they need her at the resistance base. She’s never belonged anywhere without Ed. The Orville itself, when they find it, is a lifeless husk, devoid of the captain who made it a home for his crew. Ed and Kelly have made these people who they are, and none of them are what they could’ve been without that pairing.
The rest of “The Road Not Taken” is pure tension and suspense, as the crew scrambles to fix the time distortion. This scenario puts the events of “Identity” into even greater perspective because we now have a good look at what would have happened if the Kaylons won and destroyed the Union (and Earth along with it). No planet is safe, and there are pockets of resistance everywhere. My only regret in this aspect is that we don’t see the Krill and how they fared alone against the Kaylons; Moclus, on the other hand, is said to have been destroyed, along with Klyden and Topa, whom Bortus thought he was sending to safety. Every character we meet is in hiding, doing what they can to protect themselves from the next Kaylon attack. Going for suspense instead of straight-up action is a smart move; “The Road Not Taken” would never have been able to outdo “Identity Part 2” in those terms, but it effectively communicates the threat the Kaylons pose through the fear and desperation of everyone trying to survive them. That all of this horror and tragedy ends with a simple acceptance of a date is brilliant.
Somehow, I managed not to make a big deal out of this yet, but I will now: Alara is back! Well, probably not for good, but she does turn up for a quick scene in “The Road Not Taken,” and the hole she left when she departed the Orville (and The Orville) is immediately felt. It’s unfortunate that she’s only around for maybe two minutes; I would’ve liked for her to be part of the adventure, or at least to take out some Kaylons. What really made me angry, though, was when Ed asks Tala to open a jar of pickles for him; that’s something specific to Ed and Alara, and his using it with Tala is a slap in the face to her. I hope that this is solely to demonstrate how much the timeline changed (this Ed doesn’t even know Alara), in which case I get it, but it’s still hard to hear. I imagine this was just a one-off, but they’ve got me hoping for her return again.
The music in “The Road Not Taken” is another terrific piece of work; apparently, some classic movie scores were sampled, and I’ll have to watch it again to see if I notice them this time, but the original stuff is epic and involving. I also appreciated the variety of terrains, even though there aren’t many; it shows how much of the universe the Kaylons have overtaken, and how no environmental factors have been able to slow their conquest. Even the lighting on the different ships is important, as the typically bright Orville is now darker, with the lights slowly coming on as Ed returns; this is in contrast to the other ships, which are always dark because Ed and the others don’t belong there.
After a season finale like that, The Orville better get renewed. “The Road Not Taken” is a tense, exciting, and all too human capper to a season that started slowly and a bit off-key but found its footing with some incredible episodes. There’s been a strong emphasis on relationships this season, so it’s fitting that the importance of Ed and Kelly’s is reinforced. Great science fiction seems to have a habit of being canceled before its time, but I really hope The Orville sticks around. There are many more stories to tell, and the characters aren’t nearly done growing yet. And this damn jar of pickles still won’t open.