I didn’t intend to write more about the Orville, yet here we are.1
Command Performance shares 95% of it’s DNA with a lower tier TNG episode. It starts with the ship receiving a distress signal from a freighter and arriving to find that the ship is carrying Captain Mercer’s parents. Since the third in command is indisposed, the Captain and XO go across to speak to his parents and leave Lt Kitan in charge of the ship, giving her her first command. Of course the freighter turns out to be a trap, with the away team sent to an alien menagerie, and Lt Kitan is left with the decision to pursue or return home. The crew even find a peaceful solution to the problem that leaves everybody happy.
Nothing in the description above would be amiss in a Star Trek episode: Lwaxana Troi was as annoying as Mercer’s parents in this episode, using advanced aliens to comment on contemporary morality is practically the show’s raison d’être, and putting officers, particularly junior ones in difficult positions is built into Star Trek law at an atomic level with the Kobayashi Maru simulations. Sure the word ‘bitch’ is employed again in relation to Commander Grayson, but in context it’s less egregious than its use last week, and is more a tonal issue than a substantive one. Instead, what I want to focus on is the thing that makes this episode of the Orville different from a generic episode of TNG – the stakes of the decision faced by Lt Kitan.
In Star Trek, the decision faced by Lt Kitan would be whether to risk the ship, and possibly war with an advanced alien species, against the desire to try and save two members of the crew. Usually, there would be no right answer, and the crew would either have to find a third option, or deal with the unhappy consequences of one of the available ones.2
In the Orville, the choice is framed in terms of whether to risk her career by disobeying an admiral against being hated by the crew for following orders. Buried somewhere in the background is the Star Trek decision, but the decision is so heavily weighted in one direction that it barely seems like a choice. Worse, the prime motivating factor for Lt Kitan choice appears to be get the crew to like her again. At the end of the episode they give her a medal and praise her leadership, but she literally caved to peer pressure and took the easy way out. As with the problem of privilege in last week’s episode, the Orville gets a lot of the superficial stuff right, but undermines it by missing the heart of what makes Star Trek great.