The Orville: A Happy Refrain
February 1, 2019 9:29 AM - Season 2, Episode 6 - Subscribe

The Orville crew is surprised when Claire's personal life takes an unexpected turn, and Gordon makes an unusual grooming suggestion to Bortus.

The Orville Season 2 Episode 6 Review: A Happy Refrain (Diana Keng for TV Fanatic)
The masks were literally stripped away on The Orville Season 2 Episode 6 when two of the ship's most alien crew members -- Yaphit and Isaac -- show us their human faces for the first time.
Defying the Space Pope, Dr. Claire dates a robot on The Orville (Nick Wanserski for TV/AV Club)
“A Happy Refrain” is the culmination of a relationship that began to form between Dr. Claire and Isaac back in season 1’s “Into the Fold”. It’s also another reminder that Penny Johnson Jerald is one of the best things The Orville’s has going for it. It’s not that no one else would be able to sufficiently realize the love between tomorrow’s modern woman just trying to have it all and a robot, but Johnson brought a delicate range of vulnerability, self-reflection, and thoughtfulness to a storyline that could easily be a dumb joke. It was enjoyable to see her interact with the rest of the crew outside of wisdom dispensation or problem-solving, as well. The scene where she confides with Kelly about her feelings achieved the kind of casual naturalism I feel the show strives for, but is too stiff to regularly deliver.

It also helps that the writing was clever enough to sustain the conceit.
posted by filthy light thief (27 comments total)
 
I enjoyed this episode - especially since (unlike the similarly-themed ST:TNG episode In Theory) The Orville has put the work in to "ground" Dr. Claire's feelings, showing a slow growth of the relationship over several episodes.
posted by Mogur at 10:11 AM on February 1 [2 favorites]


I realize these types of shows are soap operas for nerds, but they really need to back off on the relationship stories and give us some good sci-fi. So far this season is kind of dragging for me.
posted by InfidelZombie at 12:22 PM on February 1 [3 favorites]


Oh yay my ship came in.
posted by some loser at 1:54 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]


Also just gonna make the "fully functional" reference here and now so no one else has to.
posted by some loser at 1:54 PM on February 1 [4 favorites]


More relationship stuff! Relationships in space!
posted by zeek321 at 12:33 AM on February 2 [2 favorites]


My husband and I both enjoyed the hell out of this. I'm so glad I didn't have the actor-reveal part spoiled for me beforehand. And then when Yaphit did it, it was a funny callback, because I know what Norm looks like. - I also appreciated that the B-plot was just the silly little mustache, and not something like Yaphit trying to sabotage the romance, or a sudden threat to the ship for no reason.

The symphony was rather awesome. I was really appreciating hearing one in the soundtrack last week, it felt like Star Trek III in places. Now here they are onscreen! And instead of how it always felt like they were in a conference room on the Enterprise-D, the shuttlebay with the doors open is a fine backdrop for a concert, a nice special occasion.

Incredible restraint shown in not going to "fully functional." I can hardly believe no one said it on the show.

But most of all, Ed and Kelly's banter about the cake made me cry with laughter. Their comedy chemistry is so strong.
posted by tomboko at 9:24 AM on February 2 [8 favorites]


The Isaac and Bortus actors, I'm not going to look up their names, are so, so skilled. One of the things that got me about this show from the beginning was how carefully and consistently both of them are using their voices.
posted by zeek321 at 9:30 AM on February 2 [4 favorites]


So this Issac, it vibrates?

I enjoy the physicality of the actor who plays Isaac. I'd love to see audition tapes of people acting robotic... but not too robotic.

Does anyone get a real life USS Callister vibe from episodes that Seth writes and directs? I can understand saving the best laughlines for yourself when you write, direct, and produce the show, but McFarlane seems to always make Mercer more wise and noble and less knuckleheaded than other writers.
posted by peeedro at 2:16 PM on February 2


The captain is always special? It is a bit grating and self-serving, maybe? But I'll give it to him; I think it's sort of earned, character-wise and show-creator-wise... Hmm, narratively.
posted by zeek321 at 2:29 PM on February 2 [1 favorite]


McFarlane seems to always make Mercer more wise and noble and less knuckleheaded than other writers.

Honestly, it hasn't really bothered me, but I can't say for sure whether that's just because Kirk and Picard tended to get "special treatment" as well so it just feels authentically Trekky. Mercer's obviously no Picard, but at the same time, his crew ain't Picard's crew either so it's a little easier to seem like Captain material by comparison. I think it bothers me more when they tilt so far in the other direction (as a few episodes last season did) that you really start to wonder why Mercer's in charge at all or how he ever made captain (I know, I know, Kelly helped).
posted by mstokes650 at 3:36 PM on February 2 [2 favorites]


Okay, yes it was a bit hokey, but both actors made me buy the premise, and it was fun seeing the actor beneath the Isaac mask. This is yet another Seth Macfarlane written script that I enjoyed. I appreciate that he made the episode about other chatacters. It will be interesting if future episodes continue their relationship (unlike the single episode where Data got a girlfriend.)
posted by wittgenstein at 7:54 PM on February 2 [1 favorite]


I can't stop seeing Isaac in his grungy tighty-whiteys and singlet.
posted by Marticus at 3:32 PM on February 3 [2 favorites]


I thought that using the body actor for Isaac was neat; I wonder if he has the same lack of facial emoting when he's in suit, too? Mark Jackson's kind of cute.

Bortus looks better with a 'stache.
posted by porpoise at 5:33 PM on February 3 [2 favorites]


I'm hoping the mustache is foreshadowing an upcoming mirror universe episode.
posted by peeedro at 9:51 PM on February 3 [2 favorites]


I think Claire and Isaac's relationship would kind of HAVE to continue in future episodes, after this. If it was a one-off, it'd just feel too weird now.

This one had a lot I liked, but I found the central relationship highly problematic and I wasn't too happy with that ending. Isaac has been Claire's friend, sort of, but he constantly belittles her intelligence and tells her she's an unfit mother. She can overlook that because he's a machine and he doesn't even understand that he's being rude, but there's nothing about their dynamic that suggests the potential for a healthy romance. He's literally incapable of love and their relationship is a science experiment to him, as he readily admits.

When Ed suggests that Isaac should try to "win her back" I thought it was terrible advice. I think what Isaac needed to do was go to Claire and be honest, explaining that he had no desire to hurt her, that he was insensitive because he has no emotions and thus has no business being in a romantic relationship, and he would very much like to go back to the way things were. I think that's all he actually wanted from her, and he was just acting out this big romantic gesture because he missed having her in his life (in his detached, robot-y way) and he thought this was what it would take to resume their association.

I think an ending like this could have worked with Data, because no matter how much he insisted he had no emotions we always had this feeling like maybe he was feeling something and he just didn't understand it. But Isaac isn't like Data, he seems less innocent and childlike and more like a genuinely unfeeling machine. (At least, so far.) If we'd gotten the impression that Isaac was actually feeling some stirrings of love for Claire, that he was experiencing new emotions, maybe I could have bought the ending. But when he described missing her it sounded like he was just kind of inconvenienced by all the ways his life was altered by not having her around. The whole speech was kind of cribbed from how Data expressed missing Tasha Yar, but even then Data seemed like he was expressing grief in the only way he understood while with Isaac I didn't get that same sense of true loss. He wasn't missing Claire like a partner, he was missing her like a computer "misses" a deleted subroutine!

Also, I was a little weirded out by Claire having to turn him into a human to get intimate with him. Not that there's anything wrong with preferring to shag humans rather than robots, but doing it this way kind of seems like making your partner always wear a mask or something. She doesn't want his body, so she swaps it out for a body she likes better. Obviously he's consenting to it and it's not like he has feelings to hurt, but there are so many things about this relationship that are really troubling if we try to map them to a real-life human relationship at all.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:47 AM on February 4 [4 favorites]


Loved the episode, but I'd really, really, really like to see more Sci-Fi, fewer romance / relationship plots. I like all the characters, and I'll keep watching even if it continues to be Love Boat in Space, but c'mon already.

Also, loved the 'stache.
posted by jzb at 6:31 AM on February 4


She doesn't want his body, so she swaps it out for a body she likes better

I thought the whole turn here was that Isaac swapped his body out. Because he made the intuitive leap that she would like that. All his idea. It's still a little creepy but then it's also kinda romantic. At least Claire thought so.

I loved the moment Claire hit the accelerator. Share one kiss over a dinner table and then it's bam, "computer take me to my lovemaking room." I like almost everything about Claire's character, really, she's well written and a good actor.

Speaking of well written and a good actor, Talla sure jumped into Alara's role seamlessly. If anything I think she's better, at least she plays well with Kelly being Claire's girlfriend to gossip with about Isaac. I think it helps that she reads as a little older and a little wiser in the ways of the world. Mostly she just already feels like she's been on the show forever.

I continue to be baffled by the atrophied B-plots for this show. Last time it was 45 seconds of esophagous-face security guy. This time it's 2 minutes about Bortus' moustache. It's like the show writers know they're supposed to have a B-plot but don't have enough material to tell a real story.
posted by Nelson at 7:19 AM on February 4


I haven't watched this show since the first few episodes which were ok, but really not my thing. I'm a TNG fan so a person at work keeps hounding me to watch it. She said this one was standalone enough to watch and showed how much better the show had gotten. It was decent and certainly much better than the first few I watched. I was very uncomfortable watching Isaac though. I get that we're I get that we're supposed to find it goofy how he reacts to people and situations but it's not very far off from how I'd act, and have acted, in similar situations. I tend to default to the literal meanings of things and have to think if there is colloquialism, innuendo or other wordplay happening. I thought they did a very good job with the other characters reacting to that but it was kind of hard to watch.

I think I'll give a few more episodes a shot because the acting and writing was much better than I remembered it.
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 12:04 PM on February 4 [1 favorite]


I’m Mark Jackson and I play AI badass Isaac on The Orville. Ask me questions! (over on Reddit).

He says (nicely) Brent Spiner has nothing to do with how he plays Isaac. But I have a very, very hard time believing that.
posted by Nelson at 1:56 PM on February 4 [1 favorite]


Yeah, now that you point it out, I remember that it was Isaac's choice to appear human to Claire when they made love... the FIRST time. But I was kind of expecting that if they did it again she'd say something like, "Let me see your real face this time." And that didn't happen. If their relationship continues I wouldn't be surprised if that becomes an issue. Even if he doesn't really have feelings to hurt, at some point I think he'd point out that it seems she prefers a human lover to his true form, and realizing the truth of that might make her feel guilty or at least raise some troubling questions in her mind. (But then again, so much of their relationship seems based on NOT asking troubling questions!)

I don't think the show has bad B-plots. I think a lot of these episodes just have one plot, with a running gag for fun. Bortus' mustache isn't something we're supposed to be emotionally invested in, it's just comedic relief. The same for the elephant-headed security guy and other stuff. If you're looking for the classic TNG thing where a character has a personal problem and at the same time there's a weird space anomaly, and in the end (hopefully) the two plots come together, I don't think you'll see too much of that here.

Something to bear in mind is that while McFarlane has had several long-running shows before this, I don't think he really has much experience telling actual stories. His cartoons weren't stories really, they were gag delivery systems. So if his plots have some occasional rough patches I chalk it up to him being kind of a novice screenwriter in some ways. I think this show is rather good, but it's amazingly good when you consider how bad it could have been. He has no experience making a show like this, with real characters and plots and stuff, and the network will probably let him do whatever he wants. That could have been a fucking disaster but somehow it isn't! I think his Trek fandom may be what saves it. He's enough of a Trekkie to understand how that works, and it gives him a solid template. (Plus he's wisely got Brannon Braga and other old school Trek folks around to help him out.)

Clinging to the Wreckage, the first season started wobbly but I think it's worth going back and giving it another shot. Before long the show settles into being a full-on 90s Trek series with occasional Seth McFarlane jokes. It's weird that that's what it is, but it is.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 6:32 PM on February 4 [2 favorites]


Clinging to the Wreckage - I can definitely relate to the uncomfortableness. But... if I was to give credit, I'd give it because lots of "normal" people got uncomfortable seeing a mirror to their own memories of being awkward, too.

Isaac in this episode particularly reminded me of first year college when I was asking other people for dating advice - while some of it was ok and some of it was in good intentions, maybe its just me but a lot of it was detrimental to me and some were actively malicious mal-advice.

I doubt the writers are as deep as this - the Orville's crew aren't exactly elite and are Dunning-Kruger at best; maybe their lack of professionalism extends to the realm of the social and that's something that McFarlane thinks is funny?
posted by porpoise at 8:46 PM on February 4


Ursula - I'm more in the camp that Claire is romantically attracted to Isaac as an intellect; Isaac accommodating her by morphing himself into a complete package that could sexually satisfy her is a great first step. I'm over-analyzing here but it can be argued that Isaac is "making it easier for the lesser biological organism" by morphing-down to her (biological) level.

Perhaps the robosexual stuff can develop as the relationship evolves.

Claire's lack of "lets see your real face" can be ascribed to horniness, but she knows what Isaac looks like physically (and she's probably done deep holographic scans of his robot body) and she's intellectually interested in the inorganic brain first and foremost but possibly stymied by his likewise inorganic body.
posted by porpoise at 8:54 PM on February 4


I've been a sucker for robot love stories ever since I imprinted on that one weirdass Transformers episode and anyway, I'm really happy The Orville exists
posted by prize bull octorok at 10:50 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]


Robot: Earth women who experience sexual ecstasy with mechanical assistance always tend to feel guilty!

Gloria: I’m just scared I’ll come home one day and find you screwing a toaster.

Robot: You’ll just have to trust me.
posted by mikelieman at 4:08 PM on February 16


that one weirdass Transformers episode

You can't just leave us hanging with that.
posted by peeedro at 5:00 PM on February 16


here you go.
posted by prize bull octorok at 11:46 AM on February 20 [2 favorites]


Claire is from Baltimore! Awesome. I wonder if the writers decided to make that her hometown because she's a doctor.

And here I thought that the Expanse would be the space show with max Baltimorians in the central cast. Neck-and-neck now.

I thought this episode was really well done and touching, but this is such a bad idea for Claire. There is just no way for a machine to return her feelings. I understand how she fell for him -- he's good with her children and interesting to talk to and she's lonely. But there's no way this doesn't end in tears.

The advice that the guys gave Isaac was terrible, but I think they were sincerely trying to do their best. I wish Claire's friends had been at least as real with her, but I guess they didn't want to rain on her parade, especially after she said that this was the best it's ever been for her. I mean, jeez.

My favorite parts:
-- Isaac's ridiculous attempt to get Claire to break up with him -- the outfit was fantastic. And it also makes me laugh to think of him researching what will make a woman break up with a man ASAP.
-- The orchestra was legitimately cool. And it felt very Trek, in a good way.
-- Everyone, especially Gordan, being SO PISSED that Isaac had used Claire so callously.

I'm warming up to Gordan. I started liking him more when he was flying into Alara's home planet and said that looking at its beauty made him realize that he was trash, his family was trash -- and everybody just looked at him funny and there was an awkward silence that he didn't seem to notice. That cracked me up. And then I liked him even better when he wanted to take the command program exams and was very open with Kelly that it was because he was worried he wasn't good enough and that if he could tell he wasn't then everyone could probably tell. It was so unexpectedly heartfelt and sweet. I also liked how she was so sweet back, but then, I generally like Kelly (although I still think of her as Sam Winchester's doomed girlfriend, but y'know, I think I like her even better for that). And I especially liked how Gordan was NOT. HAVING. IT. with Isaac after everyone heard about the breakup.

Honestly, I like when this show is sweet and innocent, it does it very well. Like the gags and stuff are OK, but the payoff to that (attempt at) naturalism and humanity/goofiness is how warm the show can be. I would NEVER have expected that from a Seth McFarland show.

And Isaac gives me the creeps. I really didn't like how he kept telling Claire that he was experimenting on/with her. How cruel. How sad that she's so lonely she's willing to put up with it. I hope they give her a real love interest soon.
posted by rue72 at 7:14 PM on February 25 [2 favorites]


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