This The Orville review contains spoilers.
The Orville Season 1, Episode 3
Forget the prime directive! The Orville this week explores ethical and cultural issues Star Trek never got a chance to attempt, and the episode admirably forces viewers to formulate their own opinions. Although “About a Girl” is ostensibly about gender politics among the Moclans, it also skillfully pulls in issues surrounding humans imposing their moral structure on an alien race as well as our preconceptions about same-sex relationships. The humor was slightly more successful this week than previously, but make no mistake: The Orville just got serious — and it worked!
Let’s start with the comedy, since these reviews have taken issue in the past with jokes that are protracted. Thankfully, things are getting better. Did the dance-off punchline with the Mexican standoff in the holodeck go on a little long? Perhaps, but only a little. However, the one-liners were even more successful this week than usual, making up for such faults. Particular favorites were Captain Mercer’s line, “Having a vagina doesn’t give you a lisp. I mean, depending on how you use it,” and another great Lamarr-Malloy exchange: “He just left his baby with two drunk dudes.” “Reminds me of my dad.” The bit about letting the Moclan captain be the thimble in Monopoly was pretty good, too.
But The Orville is growing a heart, and fast! Picking up where last week left off with the unexpected birth of a daughter for Bortus and Klyden, the show immediately poses the dilemma that first Dr. Finn and then Captain Mercer must confront: what to do about a request to have the baby’s sex changed to conform to the Moclan’s all-male society. At first blush, many viewers, being human themselves, probably balked at the idea, but even after only three episodes, the Earth-centric Union (especially Ed) has proven to be lacking in cultural sensitivity, creating a question as to whether the humans are over-stepping their bounds in refusing to allow the Moclans to have the procedure for their baby.
The brilliance of this episode lies in allowing these doubts to play out in conversations among crew members, most notably between the captain and his XO. Ed is not the most likable captain in the world, so it was nice to hear him confess, “I’m just policing myself because we all know how easy it is to judge another culture’s way of life just because it’s alien to us.” Even so, few could argue with Kelly when she asserts, “You have to balance that against some sort of universal code of ethics.” The fact that these words came out sounding natural on this show is a minor miracle.
In fact, the dialogue, especially that between Captain Mercer and Commander Grayson, has lately been more sharply effective than entire scenes like the actual tribunal that takes place on Moclus to decide the issue. Both Lieutenant Kitan’s boxing match and the strategic viewing of 1964’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer played out wonderfully, mostly through the admirable performance of Peter Macon as Bortus, whose change of heart is surprisingly believable given that Klyden disagrees and that the negative perception of females must be deeply seated in Moclan culture.
The tribunal itself was a great framework for a deciding vote on the matter, and as enjoyable as it was to see several attempts to liken the corrective surgery to removing a third leg or correcting a cleft palate shot down, the circumcision argument (especially the spit-take when the inquisitor said, “Captain Mercer, tell me about your penis”) created just the right waver in our conviction to contrast nicely with Ed’s ploy to scan for and bring in a surviving female Moclan.
No one could have predicted such a ringer! It was one thing for Klyden to be a former female and quite another to have Kelly’s star witness be none other than the great writer revered by the planet. It certainly didn’t hurt that her philosophy included such remarkable musings as, “The blackest abyss is a pock in the flesh when one has gazed in solitude upon the infinity of self,” making us wonder if we were still watching a Seth MacFarlane comedy.
And that’s why the final decision to allow the surgery was both poignant and tragic. The Orville reminds us that cultural shifts don’t happen overnight and that a parent’s love transcends such ethical considerations. So while it might still be hard to respect a captain that tells the opposing counsel, “You have been a colossal dick all frickin’ day. Shut the hell up,” the show really brought its A-game this week. Now it’s only a question of whether The Orville will find a consistent tone and continue to impress.