The Orville: The Moral Conundrums of Time Travel, Part 1
What if killing a person’s past wipes out a whole family?
The last two episodes I’ve discussed of Orville, Season 3, have delved into popular political issues that allowed the writers’ bias to damage the plot. This episode, Part 6, does something worse.
It may not seem like a big deal, at first. But let me explain why this episode is terrible from a standpoint that goes beyond the writing. Yes, the writing is bad but that’s par for the course with this show. However, it’s one thing to prattle on about political issues that are in vogue. But it’s another matter entirely to murder a family, and defend the decision, and in so doing, try to establish a set of priorities that are, to say the least, unwholesome.
Writers describe the human condition, which may include revealing the most graphic events and exploring the darkest regions of the soul. But there is a difference between describing an event and advocating for it.
This may seem like just a story, but I’d like you to try and detect their message. I would never recommend this season of the show — and this episode in particular — for enjoyment, but after reading this article, I hope you will consider watching this episode to see if you can pick up on — or agree with – my interpretation. I am going to attempt to describe a very manipulative tactic the writers use in this story to make you agree with murder. In effect, they force you to watch a ritual.
Our story starts out with the invention of a time travel device. There have been time travel episodes in the The Orville before. But the rules for how time travel works are ambiguous, as they must be, for any hope of continuity.
But this fact presents a problem from the start because the Union has a policy of preventing the Butterfly Effect without any clear understanding of the rules of time travel. The Union simply doesn’t want to risk anything, so it takes no chances. This means no interaction with the past in any way, should someone become stranded there.
Now, this is an absurd and impossible notion, as I’ve discussed in a previous article, but we won’t focus on that for the present. As an aside, it’s also hypocritical. We’ll see why later.
The Orville has a time travel device on board, and the Union orders the crew to take it to a lab. During the conversation in which the orders are given, the Admiral — speaking to Ed and Kelly — mentions that the reason the Union wishes to move the device is that the Kaylon or Krill might use it to travel back in time and dissolve the Union. So, they acknowledge that — by the Union’s and the writers’ own rules—if something should happen which would cause them to cease to exist in their current form, that would and should be considered something bad, something like an act of war, something akin to murder. Remember this little factoid. It comes back later.
The Orville crew, along with other members of the Union, fly to the lab, only to find that it has been destroyed. Then, Kaylon ships appear and attack the Union fleet. The Orville is heavily damaged and caught in a tractor beam. In desperation, crew members tell Gordon to destroy the time travel device.
He grabs a gun and heads toward the device. But LaMarr pulls some last-minute engineering and breaks the ship free of the tractor beam. We are told that he overloads the main engine, and the following discharge shatters the beam. But it also causes a glitch in the time traveling device, and Gordon is sent to the year 2015.
Gordon manages to get a message back to the ship somehow, and the Orville must now use the device to travel back to the past and save him. They use the device, but during the leap through time, the ship runs out of Dysonium — essentially, the ship’s fuel — and the ship stops in the year 2025 instead of 2015.
Now, here comes the first major — and frankly, unforgivable — plot hole. In an earlier scene, the crew looks up Gordon’s obituary. So they know Gordon has lived a full life. Any obituary is going to have a list of his children and relations, so the ethical questions raised by this episode should’ve been brought up then when the crew realized what they were about to do. Gordon has a wife and kids. By taking him away during this timeline they’d be snuffing out the children’s existence. That’s a big deal.
And, as was made clear earlier, even the Union recognizes such a change as devastating — at least, when it comes to their own well-being. Causing Gordon to lose his family would be awful, especially if they don’t get to him before he builds his family. That would be traumatic, wouldn’t it. I wonder what’s going to happen?
But ethical questions aside, the commonsense solution would be to wait for Charly and Isaac to return with the mineral and fly to the proper date. True, the ship is damaged, but at this point, the time machine is fine, so the crew could afford to wait. If you’ll pardon the pun, they have nothing but time, and waiting would’ve spared Gordon the trauma of losing his family, which is the moral conundrum of this episode.
But you see, dear reader, the writers want Gordon to endure this trauma. They have a message they want to sell you, and that message only reason for bringing up the ship’s damage at all. They need to make it seem like Ed has no choice but to go down to earth and pick up Gordon in the current time period. But as we’ve seen, it costs them nothing to wait, and it spares Gordon pain.
So, why this contrived drama? Why must Ed really go down to earth and pry poor Gordon from his family now? Because — as Kelly so delicately puts it — “family changes a man.”