Feb 12, 2023

Shipping Claire and Isaac of The Orville

So I recently became a huge Orville fan. I spent years putting off watching the show despite people telling me over and over again that as a Trekkie, I would absolutely love it. I think I originally had the wrong impression of the show; I thought was going to be a super-goofy parody and I wasn't ready for that. I kept waiting for the new wave of Trek shows to just give me what I wanted: 1990s Star Trek, but with better special effects.

After Strange New Worlds restored my faith in modern Trek, I decided to give Orville a try. It was not at all what I expected. First starters, the studio spared no expense when it came to the budget. So everything from the set, to the lighting, to the special effects is nothing short of astounding (now if they would just do something about those Tyler Perry wigs...).

I was ecstatic to find out Star Trek alumni were involved with the show at every level, from writing to directing to producing and even starring. I'd known beforehand that Jonathan Frakes was involved, but I had no idea how many others were too. And I hadn't been curious because again...there's Star Trek, and then there's attempting to pitch something "like" Star Trek, which doesn't 

And speaking of favorite characters, I really enjoyed the casting and character design. Not only is the cast diverse (could've used more Asian, Hispanic, and Indigenous characters), but we also have a same-sex couple as regulars. As you'd expect for a story set in the future, we see queer relations throughout the series. They're not the type of relations that raise eyebrows.

Which brings us to Claire and Isaac.

Deep Space Nine alumna Penny Johnson-Jerald portrays the Orville's Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Claire Finn. She's a brilliant doctor and single mother of two boys, Marcus and Ty, and though her age is never explicitly stated, Jerald was in her late fifties when she first started the show. Now, I'm bringing up her age here because her love interest, Isaac, is portrayed by a significantly younger man (a male commenter on YouTube didn't like that, which made me roll my eyes. How many times have we seen the reverse?).

English actor Mark Jarkson does a phenomenal job portraying the extremely powerful android Isaac. Isaac is from a highly advanced race called Kaylon, which the Orville's captain describes as "legendarily racist" (when delivered in context this line is absolutely hilarious). Due to having served as slaves to their creators, the Kaylon believe all biological lifeforms are inferior and inherently destructive. The Kaylon send Isaac to "observe" aboard the Orville, where he meets Claire.

Their romance subtly begins when Isaac volunteers to accompany Claire and her children on shore leave. Their shuttle crashes on a hostile planet. Claire is initially separated from the group, leaving Isaac to deal with her children on his own. After surviving this experience, the two begin spending more time together. Isaac becomes Ty's piano teacher, and has Claire's back in a parent-teacher conference when Marcus gets in trouble.

Realizing what's happening, Claire asks Isaac on a date, much to the bewildered amusement of the crew. To be honest, I had no idea where they were going with this at first, so I wasn't entirely surprised when the first date ended up being disastrously hilarious. Always eager to learn, Isaac does some research (i.e., consults the very nosy crew), and asks Claire on a second date, where we get to see Mark Jackson out of the android suit for the first time (sorry, I couldn't find a clip of that scene).

The second date is much more successful than the first, and after they have sex (oh yes; they go there), Isaac assumes that means whatever he's going on with Claire is over. Things quickly fall apart, and Isaac once again assumes he'll just go back to the way things were before. Instead, he learns that everything in his life changes: he can't see Claire or her children anymore (which he took for granted), and his crewmates voice their disappointment in his treatment of Claire. Distracted, Isaac--an android--makes a mathematical error while working on the bridge, triggering the shock and dismay of his biological crewmates.

The captain checks on Isaac later, after a self-diagnosis where the Kaylon is struggling to reconcile his programming. On the one hand, he can technically delete memories of Claire. But on the other, he's grown used to her, so much his programming has adapted specifically to her. Deeply amused, the captain points out that Isaac "is probably the first artificial lifeform in history to fall in love".

The fact the captain says it flat-out like this is extremely important, because it confirms that comedy aside, this romance is not joke, and that Orville is committed to doing for Isaac what The Next Generation utterly failed to do for Data. After having a good chuckle, the captain then counsels Isaac that winning the girl back is part of the human relationship experience, and Isaac proceeds to do so in a very...Kaylon manner.

As Claire and Isaac's romance progresses throughout the series, we are constantly reminded that Isaac can't feel emotions, much like we were repeatedly told Data couldn't either. I've always found this repetitive reminding annoying because both androids' actions speak louder than words. They feel...they just experience and express feeling differently.

And this is why the Isaac/Claire romance is so important, because to those of us who fall on the neurodivergent, aromantic, and/or asexual spectrums, we see Isaac and feel seen. In many ways, we sometimes come across as androids, so our differences from neurotypicals and allosexuals and alloromantics are often summarily dismissed as limitations.

And yet for all of Isaac's similar "limitations", we get to watch him meet and fall madly in love with Claire, and we can say he does so "madly", because in an episode where a scientist grants Isaac the ability to experience and express emotion that way humans do, he can't stop gushing to Claire.

The change is temporary, of course, for which I'm grateful, but it does allow Claire to know once and for all that Isaac loves her back every bit as much as she loves him. He just didn't have the ability to express it.

Sound familiar?

Ultimately Isaac proposes, but Claire doesn't accept right away. As usual the whole crew weighs in, and one pressing concern is their differences in lifespans. Isaac assumes he'll take another mate after Claire dies (much to her ire), but he says something else: he promises to look after not only her children, but all her descendants. I got shivers when they had this discussion; not only does Orville give us this unique romance, it gives us a love that's nothing short of mythic.

Imagine a human family is guarded by the same immortal for generations, all because once upon a time, he fell in love with their ancestor?

The Claire and Isaac ship is officially one of my favorite TV romances of all time. I hope Orville does come back with a season 4, and I really hope we get to see how these two manage their post-wedded bliss. This was some top-notch writing in an age when Hollywood creators typically can't write for shit.

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