The Orville: New Horizons Pushes Horror From “Shadow Realms” (S3E2)

I’m a science fiction nut. If there are any big shows happening in science fiction, I’m probably watching them or have watched them already. Obi-Wan Kenobi, Star Trek (any of them), Halo, Outer Range, you name it. Back when it premiered in 2018, I became an instant fan of The Orville, and when it came back to Hulu last week, I jumped on that immediately. Though it’s been a couple of years since Season 2 ended, Season 3, now titled The Orville: New Horizons, picks up right where the Fox series left off, just months after a Kaylon attack on the Planetary Union. Why would I be talking about a science fiction show on a horror website? Well, this week’s episode “Shadow Realms,” episode two of New Horizons, really brought quite an homage to science fiction horror.  

Ed Mercer looks at the screen, the words "Horror Movie Stuff" are captioned

Spanning films like Event Horizon, The Fly, and Contamination, this episode of The Orville was a complete surprise. The show, starring and created by Seth MacFarlane, is typically a more Star Trek affair tinged with a toned-down version of the Family Guy creator’s humor. Waiting nearly three years for the third season and applauding the decision for its switch to Hulu, I never saw a horror episode coming. While last season’s Kalon attack sequence was some of the absolute best sci-fi action of the past ten years, I guess I should know how easy it is for this show to surprise me.  

If you’re planning on watching “Shadow Realms” soon, stop here and come back. Spoilers for the latest episode of The Orville will follow. 

The events of “Shadow Realms” move the show into unexplored territory, aka why the show is named New Horizons, and with that emerges new threats. The episode begins with the news that the crew of The Orville will be picking up Admiral Christie (James Read) as he brokers a temporary alliance with the Krill, a long-time enemy of the Union. With the new peace offering comes the hope of exploring Krill territory into Union uncharted space, and The Orville may be allowed to traverse through it. The beginning of “Shadow Realms” contends with any number of Star Trek episodes that consider the politics of these situations. The following scenes reveal Dr. Claire Finn (Penny Johnson Jerald) and the Admiral were once married, and the viewer thinks this will likely be the episode’s main controversy. As “Shadow Realms” continues, Dr. Finn confides in Commander Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki) about her marriage while the crew party amongst the Krill ambassadors presents our actual A-story. 

The alien Krill Ambassadors sit at a long table in The Orville "Shadow Realms"

Captain Mercer (MacFarlane), Commander Grayson, and Admiral Christie later negotiate the exploration of Krill space, but it comes with a list of concessions and caveats. The Krill give Mercer a route to stick to and insist a tracking beacon be placed on the ship to monitor its adherence to the course. As the Admiral speaks with the ambassadors about the space beyond what the Krill have charted, they insist the crew not enter the Kalarr Expanse because it’s a “domain of evil” and “demons dwell within.” 

The Krill ambassador says: 

The Anhkana warns of shadow realms. Gateways to the depths of the underworld, where demons lie in wait to possess the souls of those who dare to stray within their reach. They corrupt all that is holy. Within their grasp, even the most righteous can be forced to commit unspeakable acts of depravity. 

As Mercer, Grayson, and the Admiral probe the question of the Krill warning, they reach an unspoken consensus that the Krill’s word of caution, written in the culture’s biblical text, is likely more of a deterrent and make it known they plan to explore the space. The ambassador responds by saying, “We will not stop you, but do not expect us to save you.” 

The Orville crew enter the alien vessel

From the sci-fi perspective, it’s a great initial back and forth with the series’ Klingon-esque characters. While peace is only a beneficial happenstance of the threat of further Kalon attacks, both sides seem to genuinely want to benefit during the temporary alliance. My first thought, as a fan of the show, was that Mercer and Lt. Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes) would end up making things hostile when one of the Krill ambassadors remembered them from a Season 1 episode where the two went undercover in a Krill ship to obtain a copy of their “Anhkana.” Luckily, The Orville is better than those sitcom-styled situations, despite the cringe opening of its pilot episode.

At any rate, Mercer does mention the Anhkana The Orville now has in its database as the trio brief Admiral Halsey (Victor Garber) on their meeting after being issued an ominous prayer meant for “those about to die” from their Krill visitors. This Krill warning plays a lot like a horror movie trope and is equally effective as Crazy Ralph telling the campers, “You’re all doomed!” at the start of Friday the 13th. The Krill’s cautious words are then discussed in the negotiations and appropriately dissected by the group. As the religious origins of grandiose supernatural lore are weighed against the realistic implications of a threatening species, Mercer suggests caution while Grayson and Christie lean on the side of exploration. The smart and enjoyable part of the conversation is Mercer’s ability to consider the warning regardless of how overly devout the Krill appear to be, even though he too feels rather spirited to journey forth. After determining it’s been over a century since the Krill last entered the Expanse, the crew decides to risk demonic possession by traveling into the unknown.  

A good chunk of “Shadow Realms” dives heavily into Admiral Christie’s pursuit of Dr. Finn, and I won’t dive into the details of the will-they-won’t-they tease the show insists on building up. Since this is Christie’s first episode of The Orville, most fans will quickly dismiss the character because we know this B-story romance will either last longer than a single episode or more likely be over by its end, one way or another.  

The glowing red ship sits in the starless sky like a spider with The Orville beside it in "Shadow Realms"

As the crew travels the course through Krill space, they begin to scan the area and find there are no life signs in the space that lies ahead. However, Lieutenant Talla Keyali (Jessica Szohr) picks up the faint sign of a distress signal from inside the Kalarr Expanse. Without much discussion, The Orville jumps to the coordinates and begins approaching the Expanse—a nearly lifeless void without a star anywhere near it. The glow of The Orville’s blue engines against the black nothingness of space is daunting for the crew but more than captivating for the viewer who craves more of this creepy strangeness. The tiny ship looks like bioluminescent food for a predator lurking in deep space, and at the coordinates, that’s just what they find. 

A glowing red ship amidst the dark nothingness appears, looking like a spider in the starless sky. And as things progress, you realize that’s exactly what it is; this Expanse is merely its web, and the bait of the distress beacon has caught The Orville. The image dredges to the surface the old Latin “here there be dragons” expression, and it feels apt for this crew being so far off the map. There’s also the slight conceptual resemblance to Event Horizon’s journey into hell, especially with all the Krill’s forewarning of demons. However, The Orville’s seems to be a bit more on the nose visually than the first impressions of the ship in Paul W.S. Anderson’s film, though the subtle addition of upside-down crosses on the closing dome of the spider ship was a nice touch.

When the crew boards the ship that exudes a “trespassers will be shot on sight” vibe, the look inside the vessel is more Borg with Creepshow than demonic hellscape. The ship is filled with fog and an organic matter none of them have ever encountered. As they investigate the source of the distress beacon, they’re stumped when they scan and again find no life signs. Then we get this feeling of an Alien rip-off, but not just any Alien rip-off, specifically the movie Contamination. Instead of using face-huggers, the show uses a large spore-filled flower to deliver a body horror change when Admiral Christie gets a face full on the foreboding ship.  

Admiral Christie on the bed in sick bay growing new eyes on his left side and his veins darkening in The Orville episode "Shadow Realms"

Of course, once Christie is back aboard The Orville he begins to change, and it’s an amazing use of the show’s budget the way it utilizes practical makeup effects. Christie’s started growing new eyes on his left side, and his veins are varicose around the area. The arc between Christie and Finn comes into play as he spends a chunk of his time in the doctor’s care. But it isn’t very long before he’s a full-blown alien described by the Krill to a tee. Where they talk about soul-sucking demons, the Admiral is unrecognizable. Fully transformed like Sharlto Copley was by the end of District 9, he bears no resemblance to the man he once was, looking like a victim of demonic possession.  

Admiral Christie’s transformation is slow, taking him hours to change into a vicious, wall-climbing predator. However, after he escapes, he begins transforming crew members in moments. This brings us to the eye-popping visual effects scene involving Lieutenant Woodson (Mike Bash), which made me literally cheer when I saw it.

Woodson finds Dr. Finn’s kids, Ty (Kai Wener) and Marcus (BJ Tanner), hiding in the mess hall and attempts to help them only to be sprayed on the mouth and face with an oozy fluid. Where I had wished Admiral Christie had gotten this treatment back on the alien ship, it was better at this moment. There was no cause for alarm among the crew because, even though Captain Mercer had been there when it happened, there was no reason to be cautious. However, in the mess hall, we watch Woodson change from the inside out, recalling moments from The Thing and The Fly. It is intense, grotesque, and terrifyingly delightful.  

Woodson transforms into a creature before our eyes in The Orville episode "Shadow Realms"

The creature (Randy Jay Burrell) itself isn’t nearly as horrifying and looks more like the rubber-suited villains of yesteryear and possibly inspired by William Malone’s monster from Scared to Death. In sticking with the spider theme, the IMDB page even lists the monster as an Arachnid Alien. 

The rest of the episode has its charms, deploying an Alien crawlspace reference on Lieutenant Commander Lamarr (J Lee) and having a dodgy Aliens cargo bay battle with Lt. Keyali, who, since she has superstrength, doesn’t need the P-5000 Work Loader. It isn’t nearly one of the show’s best episodes, but “Shadow Realms” was a fun one-off and an absolute blast of references for horror fans. And despite Admiral Halsey making a Don’t Go in the House reference early in the episode, a flamethrower is never deployed, making for disappointment at what I was hoping could be foreshadowing. 

“Shadow Realms” also doesn’t come from anywhere atypical writing-wise. Writers Brannon Braga and André Bormanis, both Trek alumni and Orville regulars wrote the script with MacFarlane, which feels tonally different from anything fans have experienced in The Orville before. Is this what we’re in for now that we’re exploring New Horizons? Is The Orville really about to go where no Trek has gone before and start bringing back stories of Twilight Zone and Alien proportions? While I don’t think that’s the case, the episode does end with the idea that we’ll be seeing this assimilating species again. As fans, we do have to wonder what else Captain Mercer and his crew are going to find out there?

The Orville is currently streaming on Hulu.  

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Written by Sean Parker

Living just outside of Boston, Sean has always been facinated by what horror can tell us about contemporary society. He started writing music reviews for a local newspaper in his twenties and found a love for the art of thematic and symbolic analysis. Sean joined Horror Obsessive at it's inception, and is currently the site's Creative Director. He produces and edits the weekly Horror Obsessive podcast for the site as well as his interviews with guests. He has recently started his foray into feature film production as well, his credits include Alice Maio Mackay's Bad Girl Boogey, Michelle Iannantuono's Livescreamers, and Ricky Glore's upcoming Troma picture, Sweet Meats.

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