The Orville Season 3 Perfectly Honors 1 William Shatner Role (Not Kirk)

Warning: SPOILERS for The Orville season 3, episode 3, "Mortality Paradox."

The Orville season 3, episode 3 "Mortality Paradox" pays tribute to an iconic William Shatner role, but surprisingly for the Star Trek tribute, it's not Captain Kirk. Created by Family Guy's Seth MacFarlane, The Orville is a comedy-drama sci-fi adventure series that regularly pays homage to 1990s Star Trek. In "Mortality Paradox," MacFarlane's Ed Mercer and his landing party find themselves put through a series of near-death experiences engineered by an immortal, omnipotent species.

These scenarios involve a life-or-death battle with an ogre on a high school football field, a creepy Moclan morgue, and an attack by a terrifying sea creature. After escaping the high school, Seth MacFarlane's Mercer and his landing party find themselves on board an old Earth passenger jet where all is not as it seems. The unease that falls on Lt. Malloy (Scott Grimes) echoes William Shatner's iconic role in The Twilight Zone, season 5, episode 3, "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet."

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In "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet", William Shatner played Robert Wilson, a man recovering from a mental health condition. After being discharged from the hospital, Wilson boards a passenger jet bound for home, where his wife and fellow passengers believe that Wilson is still experiencing a mental health crisis. He sees a creature on the plane's wing, tinkering with the wiring, and is desperate to draw the crew's attention to this potentially fatal act of sabotage. Given the fondness for pop-culture references in Seth MacFarlane's Family Guy, it's unsurprising that The Orville season 3, episode 3 "Mortality Paradox," pays homage to this iconic episode of The Twilight Zone.

There's a dreamlike, almost nightmarish atmosphere to The Orville season 3, episode 3 "Mortality Paradox," particularly in the scenes aboard the plane; and this is a tone that often defines the best episodes of The Twilight Zone. Written by MacFarlane's Family Guy colleague Cherry Chevapravatdumrong, "Mortality Paradox" also features various visual similarities with William Shatner's iconic Twilight Zone appearance. The shots of Orville crewmembers worriedly looking through the airplane windows recalls the memorable shots of a panicked William Shatner doing the same. There's also a great deal of atmospheric thunder and lightning that causes turbulence for the Orville crew's troubled flight, which also recalls Robert Wilson's fateful flight in the original version of "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet."

The final scene sees Wilson sent back to a mental health hospital after almost crashing the plane in his attempt to stop the goblin on the plane's wing. However, as he's stretchered away from the airport, the camera lingers on the damage done to the plane, proving that his nightmarish visions were real. Chevapravatdumrong's "Mortality Paradox" allows the Orville crew to finally give Shatner's character the recognition and justice he deserves. As a pilot himself, Lt. Malloy senses that the plane is deliberately flying into storm pockets, and so, backed up by his crewmates, he attempts to take control of the aircraft to the horror of an obstructive air hostess. The landing party is more successful than Robert Wilson in trying to avert a plane crash, and, storming the cockpit, Mercer and Malloy take control of the plane and enact an emergency landing.

Given that The Orville regularly invokes Star Trek tropes, it may be surprising that the show has instead paid tribute to The Twilight Zone's Robert Wilson rather than James T. Kirk. However, The Orville, like Shatner himself, is more than just Star Trek. In referencing William Shatner's contribution to another sci-fi franchise, "Mortality Paradox" perfectly invokes the episodic science-fiction so beloved of classic television and proves that The Orville ably fills that gap in the modern TV landscape.

NEXT: The Orville Season 3's New Horizons Name Is Even Deeper Than You Realize

The Orville: New Horizons releases new episodes Thursdays on Hulu.

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