At the center of The Orville: New Horizons, the third season of the series and the first to stream on Hulu, is the theme of connection. Every character is looking for a connection to something, whether it’s another person, a mission, or their sense of identity.
For Dr. Claire Finn, the ship’s medical officer and mother of two, and Isaac, the lone Kaylon crew member, their unexpected and unorthodox relationship was a complicated but ultimately worthwhile union showcased on the season finale, The Orville: New Horizons Season 3 Episode 10.
Via Zoom, Penny Jerald Johnson and Mark Jackson chatted with TV Fanatic about the journey their characters have been on and all the discoveries and developments that have been a part of it.
WARNING: This interview contains spoilers for the finale for those just catching up on the season on Hulu or since it dropped on Disney+ on August 10.
Claire and Isaac’s personal relationship began way back on The Orville Season 1 Episode 8 when they were stranded and separated on a hostile planet, forcing Isaac to care for Claire’s sons, Marcus and Ty, while trying to reunite with Claire and escape.
It was an intensely dramatic shared adventure, but apparently, the actors approached any future developments in the characters’ relationship in very different ways.
Penny likes to keep things as fresh as possible. “I think Mark probably knew more than me because I didn’t want to know, and Mark always wants to know. I guess anything to get out of that suit, huh? [laughs]
“I didn’t know. I didn’t know until I really read the script. I mean, Mark would try to tell me, and I’d just put my fingers in my ears and go, ‘LALALALALALA… I don’t want to know.’ So I was pleasantly surprised.
Mark concurs with this account of events. “Yes, that’s all true. You did do that. ‘LALALALALA…’ [laughs]”
He explains that MacFarlane had laid out a pretty detailed roadmap for what he had in mind for Isaac.
“I had a chat with Seth before we started filming, and he described Isaac’s arc basically. Of course, that involved a lot of Penny, and it was so much to do with their relationship, so I did know what was happening.
“I was delighted because there aren’t many romantic relationships on this show. The Ed-and-Kelly will-they-won’t-they thing was sort of put to rest with this season. However, there is a very affectionate moment at the end, which I’m sure we’re all aware of.
“But… CL-ISAAC. It’s definitely a central romance on the Orville. So I was delighted to see that it was being picked up again [in Season 3].”
A major point of discussion for viewers has been Isaac’s nature as a Kaylon, a sentient artificial lifeform with no programming for emotion or affection.
On The Orville: New Horizons Season 3 Episode 7, Isaac’s programming is patched to give him emotions, but it is a short-lived solution.
With no hope of Isaac ever regaining the ability to express and experience emotion, we ask Penny what she thinks Claire gains from the relationship.
She is emphatic in her answer. “An awful lot. That one moment in the simulator when they’re dancing and… she’s so full. It’s like a kid who gets to taste the best ice cream for the first time.
“And you know what? You NEVER forget what that ice cream tastes like for the rest of your life. I think that that moment was so full, so [even] if Isaac never gets it back, she has had that experience.
“First of all, that’s not what she fell in love with, to begin with. He is not able to lie – he’s always telling the truth – and I think in the maturity of [my] character, being a mother, being the ship’s doctor, I think that that – not that it replaces the affection of love – but that certainly does fulfill that particular emotion.”
Without the ability (most of the time) to use facial expressions to convey non-verbal reactions, Mark points out that Isaac’s expressiveness is not, in fact, emotive.
“Isaac doesn’t express emotion. When we watch Isaac, and we think he’s contemplative, or he’s sad, or he’s titillated or whatever, it’s our projecting onto him.
“With Isaac, really, he’s all about logic, he’s about efficiency, and he’s certainly very curious. But it [means] keeping it simple. It’s always about keeping it simple with Isaac, particularly when he’s in his human form.
“To then be able to have the face to use to act with which is great. Unless he’s got his emotion chip in, it’s a self-containment exercise all the time.
“I rely on Seth to be able to bring me back if I need to because sometimes, as an actor, you naturally veer towards emoting. But Seth would now and again bring me back, which was very helpful.
“I realized in Season 2 that effectively when I’m in the suit, I’m a puppeteer; I’m not an actor. And that was very helpful to me because actually, the suit covers up the actor and, as you say, all the tools of the actor’s trade, and I was finding it quite difficult to square.
“But then, when I realized I was being a puppeteer in the suit, that made a lot of sense because I was effectively wearing a skin though it could be used to convey Isaac’s character.”
As characters, Claire and Isaac have developed and evolved significantly since the series began in 2017 when the core cast was first assembled. We ask Penny and Mark how the cast has grown over time behind the scenes.
Penny remembers her initial take of the cast. “When we first met, some of us knew each other, but most of us didn’t. And immediately, I felt that I was part of a really great group of people because I found at the table, everyone was actually listening to each other.
“Usually when you get a bunch of actors together, we all like to talk… because we are actors, [but] I found that everyone had something to say, and everyone had something to learn. And I think in a good cast situation (which evolves into a family-like situation), you know the strengths and the weaknesses, and you’re there to cheer on everyone to be the best version of themselves.
“We have a great core of people working together. So when we started off, we started off together, and we ended Season 3 together, no one hating one another, just loving each other even more because of that very first day. We listen and care about one another.”
Mark endorses Penny’s thoughts on the cast and adds his own. “I agree with all of that. I’d say that this is oftentimes a difficult show to film because it is a grueling schedule, and it goes on for months and months and months, probably three times the length of a normal show to film.
“It’s intense, and it’s quite easy to lose your way with the work you’re doing. Also, it’s difficult [as] lots of people have families and partners and all that jazz. But what that kind of working environment does is it forges friendships that are build to withstand it. I think we’re all close for a cast like this. It feels like a theater cast, in a way.”
Penny agrees with that description. “Oh, absolutely. Definitely. It’s a real company.”
Both Mark and Penny have extensive training and experience in live theater performance. Is The Orville: New Horizons a production where those skills can be put to use?
Penny is thoughtful as she answers. “I would say yes because [on] regular television, you’re putting on a wardrobe, and you wanna look as pretty as you can, you want your make-up to be as glamorous as it can be.
“But with The Orville, the uniform itself is definitely like the theater. The moment you put that uniform on, it informs you of your posture, and through that posture, it informs you of the resonance of your voice.
“In no way do you feel like you need to start improvising because words are there, so you give great homage to the words on the page.
“That is very theatrical because oftentimes in television, you want it to be – not to say we’re not natural – but in regular television shooting, you want it to be so natural that you start adding your ands and your ifs and your little connecting words.
“But we don’t do that on The Orville. We are so true to the page, and I think that’s a theater muscle. You make it work because it’s there.
“The costume informs that, and again, you’re grounded once you’re at that posture, you’re there.
“I’m sure Mark can speak on that because he is in his full-on uniform. To me, that’s like the ultimate mask work.”
Mark picks up the topic with his thoughts. “What isn’t theatrical about Isaac? There’s so much theater involved with him.
“When I first met Seth, he said to me, ‘What’s your CV? What have you done?’ I said, ‘Mostly theater,’ and he said, ‘Oh good. I was hoping that.’
“I did think, ‘Why haven’t you read my CV? I’m in LA, having [already] got the part. It’s very weird.’ [laughs] But yeah, I think it’s very helpful on a show like this.
“But as Penny says, we’ve got to be very disciplined with the script. I think theater training gives you discipline, which is good.”
Penny adds a couple more thoughts on the intersectionality of theater and The Orville. “[On] the idea of all the wonderful mechanisms from theater we actually use. The battles, that’s stage combat. The different aliens, that’s dialect. It’s just juicy stuff. I’m very excited about it.”
Returning to the relationships among the cast, it would be remiss not to discuss Claire and Isaac’s respective relationships with her sons Marcus (BJ Tanner) and Ty (Kai Wener).
Penny’s affection for the boys is tangible. “I genuinely feel like they’re my kids. I genuinely feel that way partly because I’ve been given permission from their parents, who are just wonderful people.
“I’ve watched the interaction with the boys and their parents just to see what kind of people they truly are because you get to see totally who they are, not just young actors, but their background, where they come from, their influences.
“I feel that their parents truly give them over to me when they’re on the set, and, being a mom, I don’t know any other way to treat them. I do give kudos to them as young professionals, but I think I’m more of a mom-type to them.
“They are like my young men now because I look up in the air when I’m looking at BJ….”
Mark points out, “So do I!”
“… and with Kai, I’m looking right at him, one-on-one. So to answer your question shortly, it’s genuine, and the Claire-sons relationship is definitely the Penny-BJ-Kai relationship.”
Mark’s perspective on Isaac’s relationship with the boys requires further analysis of the Kaylon’s primary motivations.
In his marriage proposal to Claire, Isaac includes a vow to always care for her sons and all future descendants, a promise that will extend far beyond Claire’s lifespan.
Mark realizes that his personal response to that element of the proposal diverges from Isaac’s reasoning in making it. “My take on it as me? I think it’s a charming thing to do. It’s utterly gorgeous.
“In terms of Isaac, it’s important to remember that Isaac isn’t wanting to turn into a human. He doesn’t want to be a human. He’s often compared to Data from Star Trek [The Next Generation], where Data was built for humans, and he was built to slowly become more human over time.
“Isaac isn’t doing that. He’s trying to keep doing what he’s doing but just making it more efficient in terms of communicating with humans and being around them. And he’s reprogramming himself, so that’s what we’re seeing.
“Like with Claire – a relationship with a beautiful woman and to go on a journey of marriage – with the boys, the journey of adopted fatherhood, I guess, is also something that he wants to investigate.
“When he says that he’s going to look after all of Claire’s descendants, he does say, ‘Well, I just think it’ll be fascinating to observe them, really.’ [laughs] That’s probably him putting on a bit of a face.
“But then the kids… pfft ‘the kids’, the young men, BJ and Kai, they’re so brilliant. They are professional, but they’re SO nice. They’re so kind. And they’re kind to each other. Y’know there’s an age gap there, but they’re brilliant together on set.
Penny adds to that impression. “They’re like brothers, off set. The two of them are.”
Mark drives that point home. “Absolutely. They must feel like brothers, I suspect.”
As the over-simplified adage about Shakespeare’s plays goes, “Tragedies end in funerals, and comedies end in weddings.” It behooves us to remember this is a comedy (despite tackling complex and controversial issues), and, as such, The Orville: New Horizons Season 3 concludes in matrimonial festivities.
As often is true with real weddings, the idyllic and flawless presentation masks the hard work and challenges involved in the preparation.
Penny is forthright about her experience. “It was grueling. It was three days of shooting, and so it was grueling. There wasn’t any time to really think about what we were doing.
“I literally stood up for three days. I did not sit down because I could not sit down in that dress. I didn’t eat. I didn’t do anything.”
Mark backs up his on-screen bride on this. “I have photo evidence of this.”
Penny is also eager to share behind-the-scenes shenanigans but is wary of spoiling things for new viewers.
“Yes, I’m going to post evidence of that in a few weeks. I want people on Disney Plus to be able to see things, but there were some wonderful behind-the-scenes activities going on.”
But returning to her feelings about the shoot, “It was grueling. There you go.”
Acknowledging the arduous effort put into the production of the wedding, Mark also comments on its narrative purpose.
“All of that. Absolutely. I mean, I didn’t have to stand up for three days, so I was okay.
“But for Isaac, I think it was the great end to one of Isaac’s major character arcs.
“He starts the season by being unanimously hated by the crew. Maybe hate’s a bit of a strong word for Claire, for example, but he’s not liked, and he’s ostracized.
“Then by the end of it, not only is he accepted by the crew – you’ve got Bortus and Gordon competing to be his best man and Claire getting married to him – but you also have on the other side of the room, all of the Kaylon who’ve accepted him as well.
“It’s a very special moment for Isaac.”
All three seasons of The Orville/The Orville: New Horizons are now available to stream on both Hulu and Disney+.
Well, Fanatics, while we wait for the word to come down from on high as to whether Season 4 is in the cards, let us know what you hope to see if The Orville’s horizons are renewed.
What will Isaac and Claire’s home life look like? How will Isaac contend with two adolescent sons?
Do you think we’ll see more of Mark Jackson sans Kaylon suit?
Hit our comments with your thoughts on CL-ISAAC and who truly was the better Best Man/Moclan.
Until we meet again, “Praise Avis”!
Diana Keng is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.