Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Orville Season 1, Episode 3: About A Girl


A couple weeks ago I posted a lengthy rant about Seth MacFarlane's new scifi series
 Star Trek: The Next Generation, er, I mean The Orville. At that time I said I had no plans to review the show, because I just didn't have time and I wasn't all that impressed with it.

Well, we're now three episodes in, and I still haven't decided if I actually like the show or not. I have to admit it's starting to grow on me though. Much like a hard-to-cure foot fungus. So against all logic and reason, I've changed my mind and here I am reviewing the goddamned Orville.

I'm starting with this week's episode, which I know is a bit odd. I'll backtrack and review the first two in a bit.

As you can probably tell, I still have a weird love/hate relationship with this show. I was a huge fan of ST:TNG back in the day, so I'm both attracted and repelled by how much MacFarlane's cribbed from that series. Seriously, it's downright shocking. Last year CBS, who owns the Star Trek brand, got all pissy and unilaterally outlawed the making of fan films— even the non-profit ones! So how the hell is MacFarlane getting away with making what amounts to a professional fan film like this? I honestly don't get it.

The Orville is also quite the schizophrenic little series, as it can't quite figure out what it wants to be. It's too silly to be taken seriously, but it contains too much drama to be considered a comedy. It's desperately trying to tread in both camps, but so far hasn't found the proper balance. Hopefully they'll figure it out soon and settle on a more consistent tone.

This week's episode was written by creator and actor Seth MacFarlane and directed by Brannon Braga. Trekkies will certainly recognize Braga's name, as he was a writer on all the modern Star Trek series. He's also responsible for writing the Voyager episode Threshold (the one where Captain Janeway and Tom Paris turn into giant salamanders), which is widely considered to be the worst hour of ANY version of any Trek series.

MacFarlane attempts to create an old school Star Trek "morality play" episode here— the kind that uses an alien culture to comment on a hot-button issue that's plaguing our own society. Like featuring aliens who are black on one side and white on the other, to show us that racism is bad. In this particular instance it's gender identity.

MacFarlane's script does a decent job at first, presenting rational arguments on both sides of the issue, which actually gives the viewer something to think about. Unfortunately he loses his focus in the third act, as the story devolves into a "women can do anything and men are stupid" girl power rant, which is not the same issue at all.

Even though it didn't exactly work, I'll give MacFarlane credit for trying to say something relevant. It was a bold move, especially in our current society where the country's viscously divided over which goddamned bathroom certain people can use.

Despite the fact that The Orville's first two episodes aired on Sunday night, apparently the show's moving to Thursdays. Unfortunately this move caused the series to take a huge ratings hit, pretty much halving the audience. I have a feeling that's because most people didn't realize it moved. I only found out when I just happened to see a mention of it online. Hopefully people will figure it out, find the show again and the ratings will pick back up.


The Plot:
Bortus and Klyden, members of the all-male Moclan race, are stunned when their child is born female. Since this is seen as a horrible birth defect and a socially embarrassing abnormality on their world, they intend to have their daughter surgically corrected to become a male.

Bortus asks Dr. Finn to perform the procedure, but she refuses, smugly claiming it would be unethical. Bortus then goes to Captain Mercer, and asks him to order Dr. Finn to comply. Mercer also refuses, saying it's wrong to subject a child to a life-altering procedure without her consent. Bortus correctly points out that it's wrong for Mercer to judge another culture by human standards, but the Captain's adamant.

Later Mercer's contacted by the Moclan government, who announce they're sending a ship to rendezvous with The Orville to pick up Bortus' child and take it to Moclas for alteration. Mercer's livid with Bortus for going over his head and calling for a ship. Kelly goes so far as to say Bortus' actions could jeopardize Moclas' place in the Planetary Union, which seems a little over the top. Mercer relieves Bortus of command, and he and Kelly discuss the morality of the situation.

Mercer gets a half-baked idea— he gets Alara to challenge Bortus to a boxing match. 
As a Xelayan, Alara has super-strength, and Mercer hopes this will make Bortus see that females can do anything. Or something like that. Bortus sees through this lame plan and quite rightly demands the crew stop sticking their noses in his business.

Gordon and John take a shot at convincing Bortus by watching Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer with him (?). Amazingly, the whimsical animated Xmas tale opens Bortus' eyes, and he actually changes his mind about altering his daughter (!).

Bortus tells Klyden that they should leave their child alone. Klyden disagrees and refuses to go along with it. When Bortus asks why, Klyden sheepishly admits he was born a female and was physically realigned.

Bortus is furious with Klyden for not telling him about this until now. Klyden says he's glad he was altered, as otherwise he'd have been an outcast in their society and would have lived a life of shame and ridicule. Bortus says Klyden doesn't know that, and he might have achieved great things as a woman, just as Rudolph did with his glowing nose.

The Moclan ship arrives, and its Captain demands Bortus hand over the child to him. Mercer refuses to let the baby leave the ship, saying it's under his protection. The Moclan Captain threatens Mercer, until Bortus finally calls for the matter to be settled by Tribunal. The Moclan Captain claims it's pointless, as the Tribunal will undoubtedly side with him. Bortus asks Kelly, who he sees as a neutral party, to be his advocate (aka lawyer). She reluctantly agrees.

The Orville and the Moclan ship arrive at Kronos, er, I mean Moclas. It's an ugly, industrialized world filled with factories that constantly belch pollutants into the air.

At the Tribunal, the Prosecutor states his case, claiming that if Bortus doesn't allow his child to be altered, he'll rob it of the chance to have a normal social life and meet a mate.

Kelly tries a different tactic, as she attempts to prove that females are better than males (which isn't even close to the same argument  but whatever). She has Alara demonstrate her great strength, which is far higher than that of any Moclan male. She also proves that Gordon, a male, is far stupider than any women. The Prosecutor rightly points out that these examples have nothing to do with Moclans.

As the Tribunal winds down, Mercer gets an idea. He calls Isaac on The Orville, and has him scan the planet for female life signs. Amazingly, Isaac senses one high in the mountains. Mercer, John and Alara fly a shuttle into the mountains, where they find an elderly Moclan female living alone in a cabin.

Meanwhile the Prosecutor demands that Kelly stop stalling, and convinces the Judge to end the Tribunal. Right on cue, Mercer returns with the Moclan female. The Tribunal is stunned by the very sight of such a creature. She tells her life story, revealing that her parents chose not to have her altered, and moved high in the mountains with her. There they taught her and raised her until they both died.

The Prosecutor isn't convinced, claiming she's worthless because she's never contributed anything to society. She then begins quoting the works of Gondus Elden, Moclas' most revered writer. The Prosecutor demands she stop sullying the name of Elden, until she reveals she's actually him, having written under a pen name her entire life.

The Tribunal is gobsmacked that a female could produce such works, but end up ruling in favor of altering the baby anyway. Bortus is crushed.

Later a Moclan doctor returns the baby, now a male, to 
Bortus and Klyden. Bortus vows to give his child a good life and love him, whatever he decides to become. They name their son Topa, and Bortus places a stuffed Rudolph toy in his crib.

• While watching this episode I glanced at the time code, and noticed it was less than forty three minutes long— and that's including beginning and end credits! Jesus Christ! That means there's about forty minutes of actual content, and TWENTY minutes of commercials! How long before it's half and half?

• Moclan biology doesn't seem very well thought out. In the pilot episode we're told that ALL Moclans are male, which raised the question of just how they reproduce. Last week we got an answer, as Bortus was apparently impregnated (!) and laid an egg (!!). 

So... are ALL Moclans capable of doing that? They'd pretty much have to be, because if only half of them can reproduce, then wouldn't they technically be considered... female? And if all Moclans CAN reproduce, how does a couple decide which one's going to be the mom?

Apparently none of this is any of our business, as it's never fully explained.

• This is the second week in a row now that Doctor Finn refused to help a member of the crew. Last week when Alara was left in charge of the ship and asked for advice, the Doctor told her to figure it out for herself. This week Bortus asks her to alter his daughter and of course she balks. Does she actually do anything on the ship?

• I'm assuming they used CGI makeup on Bortus' kid, and didn't actually glue rubber prosthetics to a newborn baby's head.

• Bortus tells Ed that all Moclans are male, but once every seventy five years or so a female "anomaly" is born. Later in the episode Klytus reveals he was actually born a female and was surgically altered to become male.

That means one of two things: Either Bortus is wrong about the frequency of female Moclan births, or Klytus is over seventy five years old!

• Although this series shamelessly lifts virtually everything from ST:TNG, it fails to copy one huge component of that series— its humans are nowhere near as evolved. Mercer seems to have a healthy disrespect and even outright contempt for Moclan social mores. This causes Mercer come off as a smug asshole rather than an enlightened leader. Who the hell made humans the moral guardians of the galaxy? What happened to celebrating our differences and honoring alien cultures?

• Despite the fact that The Orville's human crew spends the entire episode judging Bortus and Klyden for their treatment of their child, no one ever bats an eye over the fact that two Moclan dudes are living together and having sex. In fact it's never mentioned even once, and is completely accepted by everyone. So kudos for that, I guess.

• Does The Orville have any kind of schedule or regular assignment? Can Mercer really just zoom off to Moclas (or wherever) whenever he feels like it?

• Bortus' mate Klyden is played by Chad S. Coleman, who starred as Tyreese on The Walking Dead. No matter how hard I squint, I just can't see Tyreese under all those heavy prosthetics.

• The Rudolph Xmas special is currently owned by Universal. I wonder how much Fox had to pay them to use clips of it in this episode?

By the way, the scenes that Bortus, Gordon and John watch are heavily edited, as large chunks fly by while the crew's talking.

The Orville is a horribly designed starship. In this episode we get a good look at the main (and only?) shuttle bay, and we see that the central engine ring is located just behind it. You can see the ring as the bay doors open in the image above.

That means every time a shuttle takes off, it's got to immediately fly up or down and thread its way through the engine rings to avoid smashing into them (that's the shuttle desperately trying to avoid the rings in the center of both images above)! 

This is a HUGE design flaw, as The Orville is constantly launching shuttles due to the fact they have no transporters. No wonder Gordon has to be "the best pilot in the galaxy!" One slip-up during a launch and he'll destroy the whole ship.

• There's some blatant plot trickery during the Tribunal scene when Mercer contacts Isaac on The Orville. He says, "I want you to run a planetary scan on the following search parameters," but then types in the rest of the message.

Why the hell'd he do that? Why type in "scan for female life signs" instead of just saying it to Isaac? Answer: Because if he did, then it wouldn't have been a "shocking" reveal to the audience when they discovered there was a Moclan female secretly living in the mountains.

This is an old, old plot trick used by thousands of TV shows and movies over the years, as a way to keep the audience in the dark until the writer's ready to reveal their twist.

• Early in the episode, Mercer speaks into a small communicator built into the sleeve of his uniform to acknowledge a hail. Later on Moclas, he pulls out a full-fledged Star Trek communicator to call the ship. Why have two different devices?

I'm betting the handheld communicator was needed as part of the "Scan For Females" plot trick, because it had a keypad on it and the sleeve model didn't. 

I suppose we could be generous and say the handheld communicator has a longer range than the sleeve model. I suppose we could say that, but I don't see why we should.

• When Mercer and the others are searching the mountains for the female Moclan recluse, John says it's hard to get a fix on her because there's a lot of "thermal interference coming from beneath the surface," which is interfering with their detectors.

So their scanners can't work because the ground's too hot? Ummm....

• This Week's Incongruous 21st Century (And Earlier!) References:
— Kelly tells the Moclan Captain that he can entertain himself by playing board games such as Scrabble, Candy Land or Monopoly.

— As mentioned earlier, Bortus, Gordon and John watch the Rankin-Bass Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer Xmas Special, which first aired 455 years earlier in 1964.

— When Bortus quotes the most famous writer on Moclas to Kelly, he says it's customary to respond with a quote from your own planet's greatest mind. Kelly replies with lyrics from the Destiny's Child song Survivor. Yeah, that song's not gonna be around in 2419. Hell, it's only 2017 and I had to look it up!

— I have a theory about these modern-day references. Over on ST:TNG, the crew lived in the 24th Century but were constantly reading Shakespeare while listening to classical music. I wonder... is it possible that all the modern pop culture references on The Orville are a very subtle jab at that trope? It that the joke, that the crew of The Orville listens to Beyonce instead of Mozart? If that's really the case, it's actually kind of clever. Is Seth MacFarlane really capable of coming up with such an understated joke?


— This entire episode borrows HUGE swathes of its plot from the ST:TNG episode The Outcast. In that story, the Enterprise-D encounters the J'naii, a race of genderless beings. Commander Riker works closely with a J'naii named Soren, helping repair one of their ships. 

Soren tells Riker about its race, saying that although they're androgynous, every now and then a J'naii is born who identifies as male or female. Soren confesses to Riker that she thinks of herself as female, and of course he immediately falls in love with her.

The J'naii government finds out about Soren's "perversion" and orders her to undergo mandatory conversion therapy to eliminate all traces of her female urges. Riker protests, and the rest of the episode is a big morality play about gender identity and choice. In the end, Soren's forced to undergo the therapy, becomes androgynous again and Riker loses her.

Sound familiar? Like I said before, I still don't understand how MacFarlane's getting away with this.

— The Orville has an almost exact duplicate of the Enterprise-D's Ten Forward lounge, complete with a bank of panoramic windows, offering a spectacular view of space. They've even got an alien bartender, although this one appears to be male instead of a lady in a comically enormous hat.

The Orville's version of Ten Forward must not be in the front of the ship though, as the Enterprise-D's was. When Mercer and Kelly are talking in front of a large window in the lounge, the stars are slowly moving AWAY from them, not towards them as they would if they were facing the direction of travel.

— In the ST:TNG episode Data's Day, Worf visits the replicator room as he tries to decide on a wedding gift for Chief O'Brien and Keiko. In the background we see a couple replicating a stuffed toy for their kid.

In About A Girl we see Klyden visiting the replicator room to materialize some new clothes for himself. In the background we see a couple replicate a decorative vase! Jesus Jetskiing Christ, even the camera angles are exactly the same!

— I just realized this week that Mercer has a ready room just like Captain Picard did in ST:TNG. It's even located right next to the bridge!

— Bortus' quarters look almost identical to Worf's on ST:TNG as well.

Hell, he's even got some kind of weird ass sculpture in the corner, just like the chair/abstract art thing Worf had in his room!

— In addition to aforementioned The Outcast, this episode borrows bits and pieces from several other ST:TNG episodes as well. 

— In Sins Of The Father, Worf challenged the Klingon High Council in an effort to clear his family name. He went outside his race and chose Captain Picard to stand by him as his cha'Dich, which was sort of the Klingon version of a legal advocate. Much the way Bortus chose Kelly to defend him in the Tribunal in this episode.

Also in Sins Of The Father, Picard hunts down an ancient Klingon woman named Kahlest, who has evidence that can restore Worf's honor. Picard brings her into the High Council as a surprise witness, pretty much exactly like Mercer does with the Moclan female here.

— In Devil's Due, Captain Picard was also drafted into defending a planet against their version of Satan. And in The Measure Of A Man, Commander Riker was forced to try and prove that Data was a machine, and not a sentient being.

— Lastly, in A Fistful Of Datas, Worf's son Alexander talks him into going on a Wild West holodeck adventure, giving the cast a chance to play cowboy. And in this episode, Mercer, Gordon and John go on a Wild West holodeck adventure, giving the cast a chance to play cowboy. 

How is any of this legal?


  1. I'm glad you're reviewing this show. I know it's off to a rough start, but so far I've enjoyed it, and I like seeing your thoughts so far. Hey, at the worst it's good for a hate watch!

  2. When it was first announced, I thought, "Oh, it's like 'Galaxy Quest.' That could be fun." Then it premiered, and I was surprised that it was more mildly amusing, rather than funny. And I was SHOCKED at how close it came to replicating ST:TNG. And it's not even a parody of that show-- they don't comment on it or poke fun at it-- it literally IS Next Generation.

    They need to hurry and decide whether they want to be a comedy or a drama, because right now they're a bit of both and the tone is just... weird.

    They also need to try and establish their own identity, and stop cloning ST:TNG at every possible turn.

  3. Tonight I listened to the latest Reduced Shakespeare Company podcast, which features the Executive Producer of the Orville. While not addressing the ST:TNG swipes, he discusses the line they've chosen to take between comedy and drama. You might enjoy it. Here's the link:

  4. First, I agree the whole Moclan/gay analogy is a bit tortured. What I DON'T agree with is that Mercer, et al, are being particularly un-enlightened by negatively reacting to the Moclan cultural imperative to "fix" what amounts to the Moclan equivalent of a gay child. The principle they are defending is that of the personal integrity of the child, its right not to have society arbitrarily impose an identity on it.

    The show is confronting a very fundamental question that Trek ran into several times itself. When is "tolerance" taken too far? What happens when "tolerance" runs head on into fundamental moral conflict with another, equally-important principle such as the rights of an individual?

    I like that the ending leaves all sides feeling uneasy, unlike, say, the TNG episode "Half a Life" where the flag of "tolerance" flies proudly and smilingly as a man is pressured into committing suicide because his society says he's too old.

    There are no easy answers when two fundamental values clash, and I give McFarland credit for not having a clean, pious resolution that tells us one side is right and the other wrong.

    1. I get your point about the crew trying to protect the child's rights and all. I'm still not convinced it was right to try and apply human values to an alien culture though.

      Like you, I also liked the uneasy ending. No one really got what they wanted (except Klyden, I guess), and everyone went home unhappy. That's a pretty daring ending for what is ostensibly supposed to be a comedy, or at least a "light" show.

      It didn't completely work, but like you, I give MacFarlane credit for at least trying something here. This was officially the episode that won me over on the show. Before this one I was still kind of ambivalent toward it, but this one made me actually feel something, and see that the show has potential beyond being a ST:TNG clone.

      It's great that there's a Star Trek series out there now that's actually sparking debate and discussion like this. It's certainly more thought provoking than the ACTUAL Star Trek series "Discovery," which so far I can't stand.

    2. "I'm still not convinced it was right to try and apply human values to an alien culture though."

      By the same token, Moclas is a member of the Planetary Union, and presumably agreed to adhere to a common standard of rights and protections for individuals as provided by law. It can be argued that THEY are the imposing party.

      It really is an irreducible conflict. TNG side-stepped several times rather than face it head on.


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