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Post Mortems

The Orville's Seth MacFarlane Explains Drama-Free Finale — And Why the Hulu Series' First F-Bomb Was Defused

Wedding Orville Finale

The Orville ended its maiden Hulu mission with a (semi-awkward) Moclan mating ritual, a friendly visitor, and a wedding that went off with near-zero hitches. Was that low-key closer by design?

After all, the episode “Future Unknown” followed “Domino,” a rollicking hour-plus that dramatically shifted Union alliances, featured much derring-do and led to one crew member’s selfless, tragic sacrifice.

TVLine spoke with Orville creator/on-screen captain Seth MacFarlane about Season 3’s drama-free finale, the action-packed episode that preceded it, Charly’s death, and the visual effects that blew him away this season. (Also, be sure to read his latest thoughts on renewal, and how Disney+ viewing could make a difference.)

OrvilleTVLINE | Were the specific events of the Season 3 finale — namely, the wedding — something you had locked in on before you started filming the season, or is it something that took shape as the COVID delays piled up and the prospect of a Season 4 looked like it might be limited?
No, we wrote that before we even started shooting a frame of film for Season 3. We really hone our scripts before we sit down to shoot, because it’s the only way to assure a cohesive season. I think that if we were trying to write and shoot at the same time, the results would be less than gratifying.

TVLINE | Do you tend to like a less drama-filled finale? No cliffhangers?
Well in this case, without knowing what the future of the show was going to be, it seemed like the only sensible thing to do and the only thing that would be really satisfying. The challenge was creating something that would function both as a season finale that set up possible new threads and yet also could be a series finale, if we don’t come back.

I like the idea of ending on a character-driven note. I like the idea of “Domino” being our penultimate episode, and this one being our finale, because it really highlights the strengths of The Orville. The landscape is so crowded with so many sci-fi shows, and they all look so great — there’s so much great production design, visual effects — and I think the thing that really separates us from the pack is that at the end of the day we really are a purely character-driven show. You can take allll the special effects and explosions out of it, and put all of these characters in little rooms, and construct stories with those limitations, and they’ll still work because you’re tuning in for the stories about the people. I think that a lot of blockbuster-style, effects-heavy sci-fi franchises can project that from time to time, whereas that’s our mission statement. It was representative of the franchise as a whole to end on something that was about the people.

TVLINE | Talk about the decision to bring back Lysella (The Punisher’s Giorgia Whigham) amid everything else in the finale, because that was… interesting.
There are two reasons for that. “Majority Rule” (Season 1, Episode 7) was an episode that kept coming up over and over and over and over as a fan favorite, and we were never really sure how we were going to revisit it, because we had sort of made the point that we wanted to make about that planet (Sargus 4). But also, a theory about Lysella is that she is us. Lysella is the audience in a number of ways. She’s the audience in the Orville world, forcing us to explain and justify the politics of this fictional world that we’ve created, because she wants answers and she wants to know how all of this is possible. That creates the interesting challenge for us as writers of having to explain how and why we have all these things and why we use them in such a way, and how the political structure of this world works — which in many cases in sci-fi you take for granted. It was a challenge, and even in that episode we barely scratched the surface.

But also, Lysella is the actual audience watching the show. She is the fans. She is all of us watching a sci-fi show going, “Man, I’d much rather live in that world than the one I live in now.” She actually says that at one point.

To try to attempt to top “Domino” in a visual sense [with the finale] would have been a fool’s errand, and at a certain point, you’re like, “What are we doing?” More explosions, more battles…. You want that stuff, but it’s not what the show is about. And to give Giorgia Whigham credit, obviously she’s a fantastic actress. Everyone remembered her from “Majority Rule,” and she sold it so beautifully in this episode as well. So it was a lot of things that came together. The popularity of that episode was something that was not lost on us; if there’s one episode of The Orville that keeps coming up and that I keep seeing on my Twitter feed and elsewhere, it’s “Majority Rule.” With Season 3, hopefully that will add a few more to that list.

Orville DominoTVLINE | So I’m watching “Domino,” which was fantastic, but I keep thinking that on any other show, this would have been at least three to six episodes. You had the development of the weapon, the reveal of the weapon, the testing of it, the stealing of it, the recovery mission, the heroic death…. This is easily a half season on another show. Talk about the decision to load that all into one crazy, good episode.
If this were a movie, that would be the story. It would all happen in an hour-and-a half.

Part of the thing that maybe makes it feel [like it happened] a little bit quickly — and it’s one of the reasons I wrote the novella — is there was another episode that was supposed to be in between “Midnight Blue” and “Domino.” And if theres a Season 4, I may still shoot it, because I really went back and forth on that. The season had taken so long to make, COVID slowed us down so much, that we were all at a point where we just wanted to get this f–king thing on the air. We would all joke, “Are we just going to be making this show for the rest of our lives and it will never go out on the air?” We all just wanted to get it out there and see how the audience responded. We were out of gas, and the prospect of shooting another episode — particularly one as ambitious as “Sympathy for the Devil” (now a novella)… we just didn’t have anything left.  To me that was an episode that was a really “out there,” cool, sci-fi idea — kind of in the way that “Twice in a Lifetime” was, but very differently — but it also separated two episodes that were both really scope-y and really action-y and universe-altering. So I think that if “Sympathy for the Devil” had been in between those two episodes, it maybe would have felt a little less like all this happened quickly. But at the same time, you have Charly and Isaac working together, these two in-different-ways-brilliant minds. I think Ted Danson at one point says, “How did you accomplish this so quickly?,” so hopefully that justifies it. [Laughs] Come on, you don’t want to see them screwing in bolts and all that s–t.

Orville Charly DiesTVLINE | You could have brought in Charly (played by Anne Winters) to rub some people the wrong way, have her come around/evolve the way that she did, and then kept her on. Why did you instead kill her off when you did?
We had set that up from the very beginning. Part of the reason that character existed at all was because of, going  back to Season 2, the “Identity” two-parter, which was something we had no idea if it was going to work. We had no idea if people were going to allow that more serious sci-fi story coming from us, or if they were going to say, “Shut up and make us laugh.” So we didn’t really deal with the fallout from that in the rest of that season; we just kept Isaac in the background so we wouldn’t have to deal with it.

After “Identity” Part 2, I’d read things like, “Well, Isaac has to be leaving the ship.” People were asking why there were no consequences for this guy, “How he can sit on the bridge like nothing happened?” — which is exactly what Charly said in Episode 1. She was really the voice of all of these fans who were asking this question. But there was sooo much time between seasons, some people lost that thread and forgot that it was an issue. So when Charly was hostile and racist toward him, my thought was, “This is what you all were saying right after that episode aired three years ago!” But this idea of a character who has developed this deep bigotry toward all members of this race, and at the end of the season literally sacrifices her life for that same race, was an arc that suggested itself pretty early on.

TVLINE | There was also the nice symmetry with her last words being about being back with Amanda….
Yeah, and Anne [Winters] did a great job. A lot of these relationships between characters are suggested by things I observe from the acting. Take Peter Macon and Adrianne Palicki, who are both phenomenal: They have a special friendship, there’s definitely a bond there I have noticed on set, and that kind of suggests this sub-relationship there between their characters. It’s a great bunch.

Orville Dolly PartonTVLINE | Which visual effect from Season 3 are you most proud of? Where you were like, “Damnnnn, that came out better than I ever could have imagined”?
That’s a really hard one. The Dolly Parton sequence, I thought, was exquisitely done by FuseFX — creating “1990 Dolly Parton” was a real achievement on their part. and the battle sequence at the beginning of “Twice in a Lifetime” I thought was particularly well-done.

TVLINE | The battle sequence in “Domino” ran, like, 12 minutes!
Yeah, and I think that was several different visual effects houses. The part of the sequence that was down on. the planet was FuseFX; there was also a company called Ingenuity [Studios] that did some great work for us. And there’s a company called Barnstorm [VFX]. And Crafty Apes. All of these visual effects houses came together to get all of this done.

In “Future Unknown,” there was a really nice sequence that was done by Barnstorm….

Orville Future Unknown

TVLINE | That was stunning.
It was particularly successful because you didn’t have an anchor anywhere. You had one little piece of set they were walking on, but the rest of it had to be completely conceived from scratch, literally invented. And I thought that turned out really well. There was a lot of really cool work, like the drone sequence for Gordon testing out the Pterodon [fighter craft] in Episode 1…. A lot of hard work from a lot of talented people.

Orville F-wordTVLINE | Was there any Hulu-friendly adult language or, like, “alien nudity” that you decided to pull back on?
In “Future Unknown,” there was a take that J. Lee did, right after Claire chews out John in engineering, where he looks down and see the other three looking up at him and says, “What the hell you all looking at?” There was a take he did that I came close to fighting for, where he said, “What the f–k you all looking at? But then I thought, “This isn’t Family Guy,” this is a show that people should be able to watch with their kids. I think “s–t” is about as far as we can go, and Hulu definitely felt that way. That wasn’t a battle I wanted to fight, particularly with people who have done nothing but support my show.

Orville FinaleTVLINE | One last, pretty random question: Was that actually Peter Macon running through the forest in the finale, wearing almost nothing but full prosthetics? Because he was absolutely booking it!
That was Peter and Chad [Coleman], in Mammoth, no less, at that altitude! It was Peter and Chad, but it was also two stunt actors who did some of the wider shots. But I will say that Peter and Chad were booking just as quick as the stunt doubles in some cases. And in some cases, they were going faster. [Laughs]

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