Much like trying to decide who your favorite iteration of The Doctor is for Doctor Who fans, I think that the Star Trek series a Trekkie loves most is usually the first one they spend any real time with. I believe older generations of Trekkies fell in love with Kirk, Spock, Bones, and the rest of the original series crew. Generation X was coming of age when Picard sat in the captain’s chair and Deep Space Nine and Voyager came along to hook millennials. If my theory is correct (and I think it largely is) then much like me, Seth MacFarlane grew up with The Next Generation.
Here to back up my theory is The Orville. With one season under its belt, it seems undeniable that it is being playful with the Star Trek episodic formula— most specifically, TNG. Make no mistake, however: though it is playful, it is incredibly reverent. While it only takes about half an episode to see MacFarlane’s special style of humor, the handiwork of a group of creators who care deeply about the show’s influences is very evident.
It’s that blend of reverence and humor that actually gives us the best Star Trek-esque on TV right now. Much like TNG, you have characters that are straightforward, yet endearing. You have a tone that is not afraid to keep things light when appropriate, but also knows how to let a significant character moment land. Of course, this balance ebbs and flows with each episode, but I believe that “New Dimensions” finds one of the first season’s better balances.
Much like an episode of TNG, the “A-story” is what moves the story along (in this case, the discovery of a pocket of two-dimensional space) but it’s the “B-” and “C-stories” that really drive the episode. These both revolve around a central theme of identity.
In both cases, Commander Kelly Grayson is trying to encourage the truest self; first with Captain Ed Mercer and then with the helmsman, Lieutenant John LaMarr. She pushes both, leaving the audience to ask, “Who are these characters and what truly defines them?” There is a great exchange between Cmdr. Grayson and Lt. LaMarr around the middle of the episode that sets the framework for the character development we get. It’s also another great example of how humor and depth play hand-in-hand in The Orville.
Cmdr. Kelly Grayson: “Lieutenant, have you ever studied the history of money?”
Lt. John LaMarr: “No, not really. I know people used to use it to buy houses and sandwiches and stuff.”
Cmdr. Kelly Grayson: “Exactly. It became obsolete with the invention of matter synthesis. Predominant currency became reputation.”
Lt. John LaMarr: “Yeah, so?”
Cmdr. Kelly Grayson: “My point is: human ambition didn’t vanish. The only thing that changed is how we quantify wealth. People still want to be rich, only now being rich means being the best at what you do.”
Lt. John LaMarr: “Not everybody wants that. Some people like to keep it simple. Some people like to go to work, go home, drink a beer and pass out.”
Cmdr. Kelly Grayson: “Are you one of those people?”
Lt. John LaMarr: “I am very fond of drinking beer and passing out, yes.”
It is a fascinating idea that, in the future, what you can accomplish becomes more important than what you have. While this isn’t totally untrue today, in our celebrity-obsessed culture, we certainly do see those who “have” getting wealthier without necessarily being the best at, well, anything.
Insert incredibly depressed emoji here.
While we, as Christians, believe that we are more than what we have OR what we do. We are called to do— and do well. Colossians 3:23-24 encouraged us, in whatever we do, to “work heartily” and Proverbs 13:4 reminds us that “the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.” Our reward, however, is not fame, or celebrity, or to be future space rich, but our reward is fulfilling our God-ordained identity. An identity that does not require us to hide or doubt who we are. It allows us to go about our work with the knowledge that we are doing what we are created for. It is freedom. It is confidence. It is ultimately what Cmdr. Grayson wants for both the self-doubting Capt. Mercer and the listless genius, Lt. LaMarr.
Well, the confidence part, not the Jesus part. Let’s not get carried away.
In this episode, Cmdr. Grayson is empowering and encouraging her shipmates because she sees something truer. She sees things that others can’t see about themselves. This is key because it is often the case with each of us. We believe the doubt and subsequent conflict simmering inside both Capt. Mercer and Lt. LaMarr because it is so easy to see ourselves doing the same thing. Being safe. Assuming the worst. Being, perhaps, two-dimensional. This makes it all the more beautiful when our crew begin to see themselves the way she does; one a capable captain, regardless of how he arrived in this latest command; and the other, a genius who just needed someone to give him the opportunity to shine.
As our “A-story” about the two-dimensional rift progresses, we see Capt. Mercer and Lt. LaMarr (on his way to Lieutenant Commander by this point) make confident— and ship saving— decisions. They seem to be the heroes of the episode. But the real hero is the one who set those two on their right path. Cmdr. Grayson found a way to speak truth to the lies Capt. Mercer and Lt. LaMarr were telling themselves. Though she was not preaching the Gospel per se, she was reminding people indirectly of how gifted and unique they are. And that is a bit of that greater Truth that we believe as followers of Christ. And that is something good. Something heroic.
I hope you are enjoying The Orville— I know I am (especially with season two right around the corner). Striking that balance between humor and depth is never easy, but as we chuckle our way through each episode of The Orville, it is nice to know that we are getting to watch some of our favorite characters experience a few new dimensions of their own.
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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!