Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Orville Season 1, Episode 7: Majority Rule

This week on The Orville, we get a good old fashioned Trek-like message episode, one that's massively relevant to our lives today.

Majority Rule examines the downside of social media, including mob rule, mistaking opinion for fact and the pitfalls of everyone having their own personal soapbox. It's a timely take on the age old question, "Who needs facts in the court of popular opinion?" 

It's pretty amazing and more than a little scary how closely this episode mirrored our current society. How many times in recent months have we seen someone's life completely ruined after the public ostracized them for speaking one wrong little word?

And think about how today every person can publicly voice their opinion, which is then immediately canceled out by someone on the other side doing the same, until the ether's filled with so many uninformed points of view that it blurs into static.

Overall I liked this episode a lot, as the social commentary and satire was sharp and right on point. But the effect was marred a bit by the focus of this episode, Orville navigator John LaMarr. He was long overdue for a spotlight episode, as so far about the only thing we've learned about him is that he like drinking Space Cokes.

Sadly John turned out to be the weakest part of the episode. What the hell was wrong with him? He's been a bit of a goofball since the series began, but this episode definitely didn't do him any favors, as it made him look like a complete idiot. He's an officer onboard a Union spaceship, and he's on a covert mission to another planet, so of course that's the best possible time to start grinding his junk against a statue, which naturally lands him in trouble with the natives.

I'm assuming we're supposed to like John and were supposed to identify and sympathize with him here, but his antics with the statue even made me want to punch him in the face. Even after John's ultimately exonerated, he STILL hasn't learned his lesson, as he tells the native they can all "suck ass." Seriously? Are we really supposed to like this character?

It would have been much better if they'd gone with the "Alara Offends Someone With Her Choice Of Hats" subplot as the reason for the problem. Her innocent faux pax was much more believable, and the audience would have immediately identified and sympathized with her, which would have made the episode nearly flawless. And if were really determined to do a John episode, they could have toned down his cockiness and given him the hat as the plot engine.

SPOILERS:

The Plot:
We begin on the planet Sargas-4, a VERY Earth-like world. A young woman named Lysella gets ready for work as she watches The Breakfast Show, which features two men named Lewis and Tom, who are apologizing for their recent "disgraceful" behavior.

As the two men express their regrets, the bottom of the TV screen registers how many "up" and "down" votes the public's giving them. Unfortunately for them, the downvotes far outweigh the ups. Lysella casually presses the downvote symbol on her screen because "one of the guys has weird eyes."

We then see Lewis and Tom being marched through a prison, until they come to a small room. Tom looks inside, freaks out and takes off running. He's shot in the back by one of the guards, as Lewis is hustled into the room. He's then strapped into a chair and a high tech helmet is placed on his head. Lewis looks at a tote board, and when his downvotes reach ten million, the helmet begins shocking him.

The Orville then arrives at Sargus-4. Captain Mercer tells the crew that two Union anthropologists have been studying the planet for a month, sending back interesting data, and then suddenly went silent. The Orville's been assigned to find out what happened to them.

Mercer checks on the Landing Team, which consists of Kelly, Doctor Finn, Alara and for some reason, John. They're all donning typical Sargasian clothing and complaining about it. Alara wears a large, ridiculous looking hat and a bandage on her nose to cover her Xelayan features. Mercer gives them each a stack of money, since Sargus is still a "capitalist culture." He tells them to go in, find the anthropologists, bring them back and leave as tiny a footprint on the planet as possible. Which pretty much guarantees there'll be trouble.

The Landing Team flies down to Sargas. They're amazed at how much it looks like old Earth (implying they all know what old Earth looked like). They note that everyone around them is wearing a badge with both up and downvote arrows on them. Kelly approaches a newsstand, shows the vendor photos of Lewis and Tom and asks if he's seen them. He thinks it's a joke, as they're currently two of the most infamous people on the planet. He says they used to hang out at a cafe up the street.

The vendor then asks them where their badges are. Kelly says they lost them, and he offers to sell them a set of four for forty "lods." They buy them and each member of the team puts on a badge. 


As they walk along, John chides Alara for going through two boyfriends in two months. She defends herself by saying she dumped Andy because he danced weird. When they ask what that means, Alara says he was "too grindy."

John then asks what "too grindy" means. He sees a statue of a woman next to him, and for some reason climbs up and starts grinding against it, asking Alara if this is what she means. Suddenly the people around him gasp, and start filming John with their phones. Kelly yells at him to stop, as they're supposed to be inconspicuous.

The team enters the cafe where Lewis and Tom were last seen, which is where Lysella just happens to work. Kelly asks if she's seen either of the two men, and Lysella says of course, as they're famous. She also mentions they were both "corrected." Doctor Finn asks what that means, but before Lysella can answer, John's badge starts registering thousands of downvotes. Lysella's horrified, and asks John what the hell he did.

A monitor in the cafe then plays a news report of John grinding against the statue. As John's downvotes increase, Lysella tells him he's got to leave. The team hurries out of the cafe, and are immediately surrounded by angry citizens. Kelly contacts Mercer and tells him there's been an incident, and they're returning to the shuttle. Before they can do so, the police then arrive and arrest John!

On the Orville, Mercer contacts Admiral Tucker (last seen in Command Performance), for permission to extract the Landing Team from Sargas. For some reason Tucker refuses to authorize a rescue (which doesn't make any sense, as things are only going to get worse) and says John will have to play by the Sargasians' rules.

On the planet, John is taken to the police station, where he's assigned not a lawyer, but a "publicity officer" named Willks. He explains that John committed a lewd act against a statue of Mella Giffendon, a beloved pioneer hero on Sargas. The video was uploaded to the "Master Feed," where it got over a million downvotes, which is a crime on Sargas. 


Willkes is there to help John organize his "apology tour," to say he's sorry for what he did. If the public believes he's sincere and his downvotes stay below ten million, he's free to go. If they top that amount, he'll be taken in for "social correction." When John asks what that means, Willks says he'll undergo a series of neuroligical treatments to eliminate and prevent any future transgressions. Uh-oh!

John's allowed to meet with the rest of the Landing Party, and tells them about the apology tour. He asks if the Orville can't just send down an armed rescue party, but Kelly says the Admiral forbids it. John says he's allowed one person to go on the tour with him, and wants it to be Kelly.

John then begins his apology tour on The Chat, a thinly disguised version of (*shudder*The View. John tries to apologize, but the hosts tear him to shreds, saying he doesn't sound sincere enough. Kelly contacts Mercer, who's watching the show on the main viewscreen. He's amazed that this planet's legal system seems to rely solely on public vote. Isaac chimes in and says what they're seeing is "an absolute, unstructured democracy." He says there's no record of this system occurring on any other planet in the Union. No wonder!

The show doesn't go well for John, but it gets even worse when one of the hosts asks him who Mella Giffendon was and why she's famous. John doesn't know, and tries to bluff his way through by saying she "saved the whale forests." This cause his downvotes to increase even more, to four million!

Meanwhile, Alara and Doctor Finn return to the cafe to talk to Lysella. She tells them she's sorry they were associated with a "criminal" like John, and says she can't believe she thought he was cute. They ask if she might know where Lewis and Tom were living before their correction.

Just then, a man wearing a hat similar to Alara's appears. He hisses that she's not "Kelvic," which is apparently some sort of religious or ethnic group here, and tells her to take it off immediately. Doctor Finn hurries her into a bathroom so she can put a scarf around Alara's alien forehead and ears. Just then Lysella enters and sees Alara's not human. She tries to run, but they grab her before she can get away.

Cut to Alara, Doctor Finn and Lysella at an outdoor bar. They explain that they're aliens from two different planets in the Union. They sent anthropologists here to study their world, but lost contact with them and want to find them. Doctor Finn asks what Lewis and Tom did, and Lysella says they committed the heinous crime of not giving up their subway seats to a pregnant woman, and shows her a video of the incident. Doctor Finn says it looks like they just didn't see the woman, and Lysella says it doesn't matter, as the people have voted.

Lysella says one of the men tried to run and was killed, but she doesn't know which one. She says once someone's corrected, they're sent home. Alara, Doctor Finn and Lysella than find Lewis' apartment. Doctor Finn, who's a former colleague of Lewis, sees him sitting on his bed. She asks if he's OK, and he replies like a brain dead zombie that he's "well." He drones on that he did something wrong, but he's been corrected and is now happy and healthy. The Doctor tells Alara she needs to get Lewis to the ship.

John goes on another talk show, and things go badly again as his downvotes pass nine million. Willkes tells Kelly that if John's downvotes stay below ten million until the tour ends, he'll be fine. But he says he's never seen anyone with this many votes avoid correction.

On the ship, Doctor Finn examines Lewis, and says he's been lobotomized somehow, and not even the Orville's medical tech can reverse the damage. She tells Mercer they can't let the same thing happen to John. Mercer says the Admiral told him he couldn't send anyone in, but didn't say anything about taking someone out. He tells Doctor Finn he's brining Lysella aboard the Orville.

Cut to Alara flying Lysella up to the ship. She meets with Mercer, Isaac and Bortus. She explains that everyone on Sargas-4 gets a badge when they turn eighteen, and wear them for the rest of their lives. It's how they can tell who's "good" and "bad" in their society. She asks how Earth society works, and Mercer says they elect representatives who discuss issues and enact laws. Lysella scoffs at this, saying everyone deserves a voice. Isaac says he believes her society confuses opinion with knowledge.

Mercer says they need a way to turn the tide of public opinion, and Lysella says everyone uses and reads the Master Feed. Isaac says he may have a plan.

Just then John's taken into the conversion chamber, and is strapped into the chair. Willkes tells Kelly the Final Vote begins in seven minutes. On the Orville, Isaac gains access to the Master Feed. Mercer asks Lysella what kinds of things would endear John to the public. She suggests trying things like saying he financially supports his grandmother, that he was overweight as a child, and showing him reuniting with his dog after coming home from war. Isaac floods the Feed with these items, and the populace begins sharing them.

In the conversion room, John watches helplessly as his downvotes climb toward ten million. Suddenly they begin to slow, and miraculously stop at 9,999,9966. Well, at least they didn't go for 9,999,999.

The tour ends, and Willkes says John's a free man. They return Lysella to Sargas, and the Orville flies off.

Cut to Lysella waking up sometime later as she watches The Breakfast Show, which features yet another person on an apology tour. She reaches for the screen to vote, then thinks better of it, shuts off the TV and goes about her day.

Thoughts:

• This isn't really a nitpick, just an observation...

When Lysella's alarm clock starts beeping, she reaches over and slams the top of it, shutting it off.

Take a look at the crystal clear pyramidal top of that clock! It looks like it comes to a pretty sharp point. Lysella really slams that thing when she shuts it off. I can't help thinking that that has to hurt when she smacks it every morning!


• Last week on Legends Of Tomorrow, I noted that Vixen had a "conversation sensitive" TV. Somehow it knew to mute itself whenever she was speaking, but automatically turn up the volume whenever there was a broadcast something relative to the plot.

Looks like Lysella has the same model of TV! Hers quietly mumbles in the background while she's on the phone, but then cranks itself up when she's done.


• Does Tom (no last names, please) the Union anthropologist look familiar to you? If you grew up in the 1960s or 1970s he will.

He's played by Barry Livingston, aka Ernie Douglas of My Three Sons fame! What a bizarre cameo.

• When the Orville arrives at Sargas-4, the Landing Team replicates typical native clothing so they can fit while investigating the planet. There're a lot of interesting details in this little scene.

Note that Alara's red uniform is neatly folded and lying on the platform behind her, and John's orange one is just visible in the lower right. And as we join the scene, we see John pulling on a pair of tight skinny jeans.


This means that apparently all the members of the Landing Team stripped off their uniforms and got dressed— in front of one another! 


I could maybe see the gals undressing together, but John too? I guess in the 25th Century modesty no longer exists!


• Why the hell is John on this Landing Team in the first place? Kelly was there because she a senior officer, Doctor Finn because she was a collegue of missing anthropologist Lewis, and Alara because she's Chief Of Security. But there's no good reason for John, the ship's navigator, to be there. Yeah, he's a pilot, but in the past we've seen Kelly fly a shuttle, and Alara does it later in this episode.


The only reason for him to be on this Team was to give him a spotlight show and to get the plot rolling.


• Mercer says that before Lewis and Tom disappeared, they sent back some "interesting images." I guess none of that info included the fact that Sargas-4's system of justice operated on a bizarre point system! If they had, maybe the Landing Team might have been a bit better prepared!


• Does the Union have a "Prime Directive" like the Federation of Star Trek? Sometimes it seems like they do, other times not. 


Mercer tells his Landing Party to "leave as small a footprint" on Sargas-4 as possible, indicating he doesn't want to pollute their culture. Similarly, Admiral Tucker tells him he doesn't want to reveal the existence of life on other planets to the Sargasians, fearing it'd freak them out. 


Put together, this would seem to indicate there's some sort of Union rule about interfering with other planets. But then in the third act, Mercer yanks Lysella from her comfortable little society and brings her to the Orville, showing her a whole new universe teeming with wonders. And then he plops her back down on the planet when he's done with her, with nary a memory wipe to be seen!


• Once again, a ship exits the Orville's shuttle bay and barely misses one of the engine rings. What a terrible and dangerous design!

• The biggest surprise in this episode— the Union has cloaking technology! That's certainly a surprise! 

So is it just the shuttle that can cloak, or can the Orville do it as well? If so, it would have come in very handy a few episodes back in Command Performance, when the Orville was trying to sneak into the Calivon System. Too bad Alara didn't remember the ship had that capability back then.

• Man, Saras-4 really IS a marvel of parallel planetary development! Take a look at that silver car in the foreground. It's hard to see the nameplate in this image, but that's a Chevy Cruze! 

What are the odds that a culture on another planet four hundred years in the future would manufacture a car identical to one Earth people are driving around now?


• In addition to having Chevys, the people of Sargas-4 apparently worship a central God. Several times during the episode various citizen say, "Oh my God." And at one point John even says, "I swear to God" once and no one questions what he means, so... looks like they practice some sort of monotheism.


For what it's worth, they also have dogs as well.


• The inhabitants of Sargas-4 also speak, read and write English! They have to be, right, since the Landing Team can perfectly understand what everyone's saying and read the numbers on their various TV screens. What an astronomical coincidence!

Once again, this "Everyone In The Galaxy Speaks English" trope is just one of those things we're all going to have to accept on this show, and move on. I will attempt to stop mentioning it every week, but I'm not making any promises.


• Looks like it's the year 2015 on Sargas-4. If you zoom in and look at the magazine right next to the news vendor's right arm, it reads, "The New 2016 Silverado." Car companies always release their new models in the third or fourth quarter of the previous year, so that means it's 2015 here!

• Funny how pretty much everything on Sargas is just like Earth, but their currency is inexplicably called "lods."


• There's a subtle little bit of design in this episode that to help indicate this episode isn't taking place on Earth— everyone on Sargas-4 has double collars and lapels! The men also tie their ties oddly as well. It's pretty subtle, and I have to admit I didn't even notice it the first time I watched the episode. Pretty cool!

By the way, Willkes was played by actor Stephen Culp, who's actually another Trek alumni. He played Major Hayes of the MACOs in the third season of Enterprise.


• Although I like this episode quite a bit, the logic of it starts to crumble a bit if you think about it too hard. The "Upvote Society" on this planet couldn't possibly be much more than a couple of decades old. The badges and all the up and down voting are connected to the Master Feed, right? So this "ultimate democracy" couldn't have developed until the Sargasians invented their version of the internet and wifi. Unless hundreds of years before that everyone had mechanical voting machines in their houses!


• Next time I go to a comic book convention, I expect to see a poop-ton of Sargas-4 cosplayers. It'd be pretty easy! All you need is a lighted badge. You can even wear your own regular clothes!

OK, you might need a shirt with double collars, but still...

• Man, the fake The View show in this episode was every bit as horrible and annoying as the real thing!

Over the years Seth MacFarlane's made numerous jokes about The View on Family Guy, so it's not hard to figure out what he thinks of the show.

• By the way, it's too bad John apparently didn't have a bluetooth earpiece like the one Kelly has. Then when The Chat host asked him what Mella Giffenden did, Isaac could have quickly looked up the info and piped it into John's ear, saving him a lot of trouble and strife!

• This week we find out that Xelayans are from the planet Xelayan. I dunno, that sounds really awkward to me. Why not Xelaya?


• Doctor Finn's hair deserves some scrutiny in this episode. When she goes undercover on Sargas-4, she doesn't have her characteristic lock of color-coordinated green hair (so she'll fit in better, I guess?).

She then finds the brain-damaged Lewis and brings him up to the Orville. Mercer enters the sickbay for a report, and suddenly Finn's wearing her medical uniform, complete with her hunk of green hair!

That means she must have flown Lewis to the ship, helped into sickbay, told him to sit quietly for a while, went to her cabin, changed into her uniform and took the time to die her hair— all before examining him!

• Alara flies Lysella up to the ship in a shuttle. As they approach the Orville, Lysella tries to take a photo of the ship on her phone.

If you look closely at her smartphone screen, you can see a tiny little image of the Orville in the middle of it! Nice attention to detail!

Sadly, it appears that even the people of Sargas-4 insist on taking goddamned vertical videos, even though we all then have to try and watch them on widescreen TVs. People are idiots all over the galaxy.

• This Week's Incongruous 21st Century (And Earlier!) References:
When Gordon finds out that Sargus-4 is almost identical to 21st Century Earth, he wants to go there and order a Manwich.

"Friggin" is apparently still a faux curse word.

Somehow Justin Bieber is still known, but his name has mutated to "Bustin Jieber."

Gordon mentions American Idol. Now in its 416th Season!

• THIS WEEK'S STAR TREK SWIPES:

Gordon's amazed that Sargus-4 looks so much like Earth. Mercer says, "With all the different planets in the galaxy, you're bound to have some cases of parallel species development." Captain Kirk said much the same thing when the Enterprise ran into an exact duplicate of Earth (right down to the shape of the continents) in The Original Series episode Miri. This was known as "Hodgkin's Law Of Parallel Planetary Development," and was intended to explain why Kirk & Co. visited so many Earth-type planets.

Alara and the others seem puzzled by the concept of money, implying the Union no longer uses it. In all the various Trek series, the Federation doesn't use currency (technically they kind of use it on Deep Space Nine, but only when dealing with alien cultures).


As the Landing Team prepares to infiltrate Sargas-4, Alara wears a ridiculously large hat and what appears to be a Breathe Right strip on her nose, to hide her alien features. Later she ditches the hat and ties a scarf around her head to hide her pointed, scalloped ears.

On The Original Series Spock often wore a wide array of hats to cover his ears when he'd go undercover or to Earth of the past.

He hid his ears with a scarf in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home as well!

I'm assuming the bandage was a shoutout to Bajoran officer Major Kira, who hid her nose ridges the same way when she visited Earth's past in the DS9 episode Past Tense: Part 2.

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