Well, last week was the official return of The Orville, ending our first test period to see how well we fare in a world without talking robots, puddles of goop, and walking red headed carpets (aka Malloys). Personally, I can say things went okay… until I started shouting orders to my “helmsman” while driving to work. Little steps, little steps.
With the show’s return came an episode that explores what would happen if everyone was basically a YouTube clip where likes and dislikes shaped all aspects of society. Basically, we got to see your average blog comment section playing out at the societal level. Let’s check it out!
Welcome to Planet YouTube
Mercer and crew are assigned to investigate the disappearance of two researchers who had been checking out a planet’s society roughly equivalent to 21st century earth. After a convenient explanation on how such a society could develop genetically and culturally (ie handy plot device) Mercer assigns Grayson, Kitan, LaMarr, and Dr. Finn to travel to the surface and secretly investigate the disappearance.
A short, cloaked shuttle ride later, the landing crew discovers the planet to be quite modern, yet less advanced compared to themselves. Talking with a street vendor, the group learns each person in the society wears a badge with a green and red arrow on it. Obtaining some of the good old black market stuff, the group can now fully blend in as they work.
So, LaMarr immediately draws attention to the group by humping a statue, causing surrounding people to bust out their smartphones to record the scene. Later on, as the group speak to a local woman named Lysella at a local shop, the videos start to appear on local public feeds. At the same time, LaMarr’s red badge counter starts to increase rapidly. Outside, they are greeted by an angry mob and police officers who take poor LaMarr into custody.
Sorry for What?
At the “police station,” LaMarr meets his publicist who explains that he needs to prepare for an apology tour. Basically, the society works on upvotes and downvotes: if you do something to really piss people off, you get to go around trying to repair your public image while others continue to vote. If you dip below 10 million downvotes, you will be “corrected.”
LaMarr and Grayson begin the tour while the rest continue to investigate the disappearance of the researchers in the hopes of finding some means to reverse whatever damage will be done by a “correction”.
It’s clear that LaMarr must have attended the Charlie Sheen School for Apology Tours at some point since he manages to screw things up rather quickly on his tour. Granted, his publicist isn’t doing all that much to help with the task, but LaMarr gets things done quickly and poorly. While speaking on a The View-style show, he manages to display his ignorance of the local history and culture while lying about donating to a local charity. On another show, he attempts to energize his entrance with waves and highfives to a hostile crowd.
In short, the downvotes continue to rack up. It quickly becomes clear that LaMarr is at risk of being “corrected” if the rest of the crew can’t figure out something.
The Investigation Continues
Meanwhile, Dr. Finn and Kitan continue to look for the missing researchers. Going back to the local shop, they meet Lysella once again for some additional information. Lysella reveals that the two went through the public trial of opinion already. Before that, they had lived nearby the shop and seemed to be frequent customers.
Before the pair can head off to investigate, a local man comes up to Kitan and demands that she removes her hat. Since the hat is a religious garb, it is inappropriate for her to wear it. A scene starts to develop since she can’t remove the hat without revealing her forehead ridges, but Finn jumps in to retreat to the shop’s restroom.’
As the good doctor fashions new head ware for Kitan, Lysella walks in to see Kitan’s true features. The pair have no choice but to tell Lysella the truth: they are from space and need to rescue LaMar.
At the researchers’ old apartment, the now trio look around for evidence of their disappearance. Finn finds the remaining researcher, Lewis, who appears to be happy and complacent. Back on the ship, she finds out the correction procedure essentially lobotomizes the subject and that the damage can’t be undone.
Dogs and Chubby Kids
Near the end, LaMarr finds himself strapped down to the “correction” chair, mere moments away from reaching the 10 million downvote line. On the Orville, Mercer decides to bring Lysella onboard to get help with a potential rescue plan. Lysella describes the master feed where people can publicly post and comment. Thinking this feed can sway public opinion, Mercer decides to add some new factors into the equation.
Using Isaac’s advanced hacking skills, the Orville manages to connect with the feed. They add images of a chubby LaMarr, mention he supports his grandmother, and doctor a video of him being welcomed by his loving dog after returning home from war.
Slowly, the upvotes begin to increase. The downvote counter nears the 10 million mark but slows to a crawl until stopping mere votes away from the correction line.
LaMarr is saved!!!!!!! That was close!!!!!! #NotReally
The Status Report
I’m going to get the major complaint out of the way right now. Can we please have a little more effort involved with crafting a society that is basically a carbon copy of our society today? I get there is only so much time to explain how we are finding other social media obsessed planets in the galaxy, but “unrelated, simultaneous evolution” is a bit of a stretch. Yeah, yeah, the universe is large, and all unlikely outcomes are still possible, but still… don’t give us half-assed explanations just so you can go shoot in downtown LA or wherever.
Beyond that, the main premise of the storyline is actually an interesting look at the influence of public opinion in a society that is an absolute democracy. I’ve read other critics dismissing this episode as just a poor critique on social media, but there are greater political tones than just “Twitter sucks.”
At the very least, it’s an interesting thought experiment considering a real absolute democracy is just something a dictator calls their government for PR purposes. The chat with Lysella was particularly revealing on how a society could shape its laws, knowledge, and social realities based on the majority opinion. While it’s not without its flaws, this episode demonstrates the show is committed to exploring the social issues and philosophical conundrums that have been largely missing in sci fi for years.
Finally, let’s end with some Nerdy Talk: The Orville has cloaking tech y’all! It’s not clear whether the ship itself has the technology or just the shuttles/smaller craft, but these people can disappear.
Oh… and there is no money in the Planetary Union. Much like the Federation, they have apparently done away with money in favor of… sexual favors? I will admit that I’m still lacking some important details, but for now, let’s assume sexual favors.