Orville Episode 5 Is an Allegory Done Right… Accidentally
I’ll say this for Episode 5 of The Orville Season Three: Regardless of my personal opinions about the show’s message, structurally speaking, this was the most solid story so far.
Previous episodes have been plagued by random scenes that don’t seem to correlate with each other and pretentious diatribes that would surely turn off a viewer who did not agree with the writer’s opinions to begin with.
In this episode, I felt like I was dealing with a writer who, at least, knew what he or she was doing. And the amazing thing about this is that the higher quality in the writing raised the quality of the actors’ performances as well. Cast members who were stale and boring through the majority of the series so far, all of the sudden, looked like they were awake. I don’t mean that they would’ve walked away with academy awards, but they were engaged in their scenes, and seeing this attention on the part of the actors was a breath of fresh air.
Now, don’t misunderstand me here. I’m not calling this episode good. After the watching the robot suicide episode, I have set very low standards. Thus far, the writing has been so atrocious that I’ve been begging for a surrogate with a straw man argument. But strawmen are not good! And under normal circumstances, I’d be complaining about such arguments. But the very fact that this episode has a surrogate with a strawman argument puts it in the running of competent.
But it’s not necessarily good. That said, I will give the episode one genuinely positive compliment. There was a scene where I felt something besides disappointment and chagrin. I felt anxious. I felt the emotions of two actors performing a scene together.” They were “in” the scene. They were engaged. I can assure you we will not see this for the rest of the season, but for one fleeting moment, I believed. In an ocean of nonsense, two actors sold me their story, and I appreciated it.
Now, before moving onto to the plot, we need to discuss some Orville history. There is a race of aliens called the Moclans, who really hate women—so much so they preform gender reassignment surgeries to turn all their babies male.
Now, the show is kind of hilarious on this point. The writers assume that telling us that Moclans lay eggs is enough to explain their breeding process. But the whole fertilization procedure is just ignored. They lay eggs so males and females are irrelevant? But they can’t be a single sex species that produces fertilized eggs naturally, because they do indeed have females. The very presence of a female Moclan means the males cannot be the only ones participating in the reproduction process. If they could, then there would be no need for two genders. The writers might be able to explain this, but they don’t. So, in effect, biology is entirely ignored for the purposes of the plot.
Anyhow, during a first season, Bortus’s child is born female, and a Moclan trial is held to decide whether or not the child, Topa, should go through the gender reassignment surgery. The Orville crew is opposed to the surgery, and they even manage to find an elderly female Moclan to testify before the court, but their efforts are in vain, and Topa is turned into a “man.”
I’m sure you can see where this episode is going. It’s basically an allegory for the transgenderism issue, particularly, the issue of forcing a child to go through such a surgery. The best thing to do — considering the fact that the entire episode revolves around this topic — is to get the elephant out of the room and deal with the issue head on before talking about the writing itself. It’s odd, but in the first season, the general mood of the show was that the Orville crew was against such surgeries, but two years is an eternity in modern politics, and apparently, children going through gender reassignment surgery is just fine now, provided the child is marginally older than an infant.
To cut to the chase, the bottom line is, the allegory doesn’t work. Topa knows she’s really a woman, which makes sense because she was in fact born a female. But transgender people do not match the sex they’re born with. That’s the entire crux of their argument. They maintain that gender identity is rooted in something other than physical traits. But Topa really, physically, is a female, so it would make sense for the poor kid to feel weird. This fact makes the situation incomparable to what transgender people actually claim. Their entire argument hinges on the idea that gender goes beyond the physical body. So a character’s regression to her original biological state would only reaffirm that the distinction between male and female is primarily physical.
I think the writers sensed this too because they threw in a tremendous amount of political posturing to tell everyone what side of the isle they were on. I think they were scared that people would misconstrue their plot into an anti-transgender allegory. And let’s face it, that would’ve been very dangerous for them, given that they are now on Hulu, which was bought out by a certain Mouse who got into a certain tiff with a certain governor over such subjects.
But, despite the lousy set-up for their allegory, the show managed to do one thing right, even if by accident. They managed to introduce an effective surrogate for the opposing point of view. They were not nearly bold enough to make that surrogate likable, but despite their intentions, it turns out, the actor who played Bortus’ husband, Klyden, was actually compelling, and made the character, somewhat relatable, and therefore, this episode was not nearly as bad as it could’ve been. We’ll talk about that next time.