Considering that it comes from the mind of Seth MacFarlane, you’d expect sci-fi series The Orville to lean more into comedy than drama. But while the show, which is back on Hulu today for its third season, has had its share of hilarious moments in the past, somber season premiere “Electric Sheep” doesn’t have too many of those.
As part of a recent press day, Gizmodo spoke to Penny Johnson Jerald — a Star Trek: Deep Space Nine alum who plays Dr. Claire Finn, one of The Orville’s most complex and intriguing characters. She’s a single mum with two boys that travel the galaxy with her, and her unusual love life has been a central theme on the series in previous seasons. We saw her briefly date a gelatinous cube (Yaphit, voiced by the late Norm Macdonald), then enter into an equally unlikely romance with Isaac (Mark Jackson), the Orville’s robotic engineering officer. Though it doesn’t work out between them, their shared history plays a big part in “Electric Sheep.”
As fans of the show will remember, Isaac’s home planet — Kaylon 1 — is populated by robots who believe all biological life forms to be inferior, a point of view that led to a full-on war between the Kaylons and, well, everyone else during The Orville’s second season. As “Electric Sheep” begins, The Orville’s characters are still dealing with the traumatic fallout from that deadly conflict. The fact that Isaac — who played a complicated role in the war — is still a crew member is awkward to say the least; though Captain Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane) and his senior officers are able to see Isaac as an individual apart from his fellow Kaylons, others aboard the ship feel pain and rage at the sight of him. There’s also the fact that Isaac can’t feel any emotions, something Dr. Finn knows all too well, since she dated the guy — but it’s still shattering for her when Isaac decides to shut himself down after deciding his presence has become a distraction. Much of “Electric Sheep” follows Dr. Finn and sons Marcus (BJ Tanner) and Ty (Kai Wener), who have decidedly mixed feelings about Isaac, as they try to puzzle through their feelings about someone who has no feelings of his own.
“It’s a lesson learned, that you don’t you don’t truly know everything until you go through more things,” Johnson Jerald told Gizmodo. “I think that’s what she goes away. It was grief-stricken, but something that you have to go through. [As for her sons, they] have someone who has betrayed them, who came into their lives and who was a male figure in their lives. So how do you teach your child that people do that — there are some bad people, or there are some good people who make bad decisions? That’s what she has to go through to find her own truth. To film that was a wonderful thing to do, but at the same time, a little depressing because of what I was going through in my personal life. But it was good to be on the set so that I could have an outlet somewhere. So, bittersweet.”
The fact that Dr. Finn is both a doctor and a mother is something that’s shaped the character immensely. “It’s a situation where, when she is the doctor and she’s on the ship, she knows all of her stuff,” Johnson Jerald said. “And I think when the mum element comes in, the mum teaches her that there’s always more to learn. It makes her a better listener when she’s being the doctor on the ship, and [better] able to navigate that things may not always be the way you see them. As the doctor, she’s the psychiatrist as well and I think [being a] mum helps in that. But I think that she is still needing a doctor as a mum. Like, a doctor needs a doctor. And so she learns that she, too, needs a doctor. She’s not as good of a doctor for herself as she is for the ship. So she needs someone else and others to help her in that department.”
The Orville: New Horizons premieres today on Hulu, with new episodes arriving every Thursday.
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