I’m guessing that, upon tuning into the first episode of The Orville, you already knew exactly what you were getting into. You know, a ship in space with a crew and missions and light speed and laser guns. We’ve seen it all before in science fiction. But the producers behind the show knew that and decided it didn’t matter; they were going to take you on a wild, laugh-a-minute ride through space anyway. And as we see in “Old Wounds,” they’re ready to get on with it. So, we begin with a shotgun start.
The show’s self-awareness is a strength, especially for a pilot episode we’ve seen before. To get to the trek through the stars we’re here for, we still need to set things up- the crew, the setting, the backstory. The show wisely gets through these particulars at warp speed. We’ve got a Captain receiving his long-awaited first command, a green-behind-the-gills security officer with super strength, a devil-may-care helmsman, a cybernetic life form seeking to understand humanity, a stoic and mysterious alien officer called a Moclan, and more. Got it? Now for the fun stuff.
That fun stuff is largely rooted in an understanding of Star Trek lore. Creator Seth MacFarlane is known to be an avid Trek fan, particularly of The Next Generation, and it’s clear that somebody gave him a big budget to just go play Trek for real. The show’s Trek similarities go right to the core with its morality play structure. The Orville has its flashy visuals, lowbrow jokes and sci-fi oddities, but it also has something to say. “Old Wounds” makes it clear there will be a strong message about community in the storytelling.
Captain Mercer and Commander Grayson’s broken marriage plays anchor to a theme of acceptance that we see throughout the first season. That’s kind of the point of a crew-on-a-ship series, after all. Every crew member has a background, a story, and even some baggage. The fact that they have to work together despite differences is an active picture of community. It may appear that The Orville is more interested in cracking jokes at the crew’s eccentricities, but it’s smarter than that. It uses humor to help illuminate truths and to build to genuine moments.
Mercer: This ship is what I’ve been waiting for my entire life, my entire career. So why are you doing this to me?
With so much to accomplish in a short run time, the episode does feel like a flash in the pan. The substance we do have rests on our Captain’s shoulders. His bitterness over his ex-wife turned first officer, his overprotection of his new ship, and his self-righteousness are a clear picture of what can break a community. “Why are you doing this to me,” he asks. His old wounds cause him to recoil in self-preservation. If this mission is to launch successfully, its captain must first let go of his past pain.
In scripture we see over and over how the gospel calls us to forgiveness. Indeed, it’s the very heart of it, as the primary agency of the grace that saves us is to forgive. We are called to “forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13). Since God forgives all, that’s a tall order, and I think scripture supports this being a process, not simply the flip of a light switch. As Paul continues in Colossians, he says “above all these, put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” Forgiveness may take time for Captain Mercer, but if pursued in love it will bind his crew together and bring harmony to his ship.
Honestly, while “Old Wounds” is a fine pilot episode, it doesn’t exactly sink its claws into you. After first viewing it left me somewhat skeptical that The Orville could stay on course. But what makes the show successful, and what makes it a great Trek, is its crew. A journey into the stars is only as good as the individual journeys of each member on the ship, and its maiden voyage plants firm character roots. It also doesn’t hurt that it is full of MacFarlane’s sharp, gut-busting humor. The trek ahead is set up for adventure and hilarity and I’m not sure what more you can ask for than that. Welcome aboard The Orville.
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Trektember is an annual series about Star Trek; this year, we’re examining the first seasons of Star Trek: Discovery and The Orville. For more information on this series, click here; or, to read every article from the beginning, click here!