We got two episodes for the price of one last week as The Orville officially made its way over to the regular time slot. Thursdays will be a good spot for this show, especially since I will no longer have to set my DVR to adjust for when an NFL game goes long. More importantly, this latest episode proves that the regular routine of the show displays more and more promise. Others obviously disagree, but what would a sci-fi show be without its nerdy share of debate?
This latest episode is the show’s first attempt to really explore the deeper, more controversial aspects of science fiction, which is a space other contemporary series have long explored. How does this delicate balancing act of comedy and drama pull it off as it dives into the waters of cultural relativism? Well, let’s just say that all goes well until Rudolph shows up.
Since the action was on the lighter side this time, here’s the brief recap:
Meeting The New Baby
We start off with Bortus and his husband, along with many of the rest of the crew, cooing over their new baby. While it is a joyous occasion for all of the non-Malcan humanoids, something is obviously amiss with Bortus and Klyden. Once everyone else leaves, the couple agrees the “proper” steps must be taken.
Bortus meets with Dr. Finn to request a gender reassignment surgery. This becomes our introduction point to Moclan culture as a (nearly) all male species. Females are rare and are seen as a genetic abnormality: something that must be corrected immediately. Dr. Finn refuses, Bortus takes his objections to Mercer, he refuses. Eventually, Bortus seemingly has no choice but to contact the Moclan government to arrange transport back to the homeworld.
The first half of this episode basically lays out the philosophical chasm that exists between the Moclans and humans on the Orville. Virtually everyone, including Kitan, agrees that the idea of performing a surgery on a baby just because she is female is wrong. Most of them have no hesitation trying to convince Bortus of this view, including tossing him into a boxing ring to face off against Kitan, who I’m pretty sure is using cheat codes at this point.
Despite the differing personal viewpoints, Mercer makes it clear to Bortus that Union law won’t support handing over a child for this type of reason. Bortus remains firm on his viewpoint, until Malloy and LaMar come knocking on his door for a guy’s night in with a bit of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer.
After the hour and a half Christmas movie, Bortus’s entire perspective on the subject has now changed (we will get to this in a moment). Perhaps his baby girl can exist in an all-male society. Who knows?
It seems that the rest of the Moclans in this episode do know: no way in hell will this poor baby girl remain a female. After Bortus tries to convince Klyden, his husband reveals that he was originally born female as well. Because of the operation, Klyden didn’t even know his original sex until a human doctor found signs of the procedure. Despite (or perhaps because) of his past, Klyden stands his ground against Bortus’s new wishes.
Things come to a head when the Moclan ship arrives, forcing everyone to head over to the Moclan homeworld for a good, old-fashioned court drama.
The Law Says What?
The fate of Bortus’s baby is left up to the Moclan version of family court. Bortus asks Mercer to represent him, who turns to Grayson (due to her one year of law school) instead. Grayson finally agrees and the courting begins.
Through various cross-examinations, both sides make their case. The Moclan attorney argues that a female Moclan could never fit in their society. She would be shunned, emotionally scarred, and even blame her parents for a difficult childhood. Grayson makes the argument that females in other species are equal and even some males aren’t all that bright (sorry Malloy).
Mercer, meanwhile, decides to introduce a little evidence of his own into the equation.
Apparently, female Moclans are more common than we thought?
High from the mountains of somewhere-Moclan, Mercer brings in a female Moclan who has been in isolation for most of her natural life. Despite her experience, she makes a dramatic speech about the empowerment she has experienced being female. In fact, she’s been writing great literature under the pen name of one of the planet’s most respected authors all this time. Surprise!
No Says I
Despite the warm, fuzzy feeling the female Moclan’s testimony creates around the room, the jury comes back with a ruling favoring the gender reassignment surgery. At the end of the episode, Bortus and Kylden receive a bouncing baby boy and move onto being great parents.
And they all live happily ever after.
The Status Report
Okay, this is a difficult one to judge. Overall, I’m actually impressed with how the show dealt with an extremely difficult topic. The first half of the episode was basically a college ethic’s course on interspecies cultural relativism. Who is right? Who is wrong? Who is to say? Philosophy majors everywhere finally had something to show off their superior ethical reasoning skills in front of their better-employed friends.
The moral dilemma created the great kind of “ick” factor that energizes ethics lovers. Yes, human morality during this time dictates males and females are equal. Union law even enforces this notion. But in a society where a single sex is capable of reproducing on their own, are these circumstances different enough to warrant a different perspective?
Unfortunately, the episode only skims the surface of these issues before backing off so no feelings are really hurt. How?
Rudolph the F%#!ing Red Nose Reindeer, that’s how. Seriously? A short children’s movie is enough to change someone’s entire notion on gender equality? Let us pray Bortus never sees a documentary on female spiders eating their mates after doing the nasty.
This is one place where The Orville needs to steal and frame a page from the Star Trek playbook. Episodes dealing with Data’s sentience or the Doctor’s creativity demonstrated that morality isn’t something that changes overnight, much less in one sitting. Even Riker had to bite the bullet when forced to play devil’s advocate because Starfleet JAG doesn’t care about law degrees.
If The Orville wants to show it’s a hip, cool new show that’s in touch with mainstream culture, it’s going to have to improve on this aspect.