Review: “Cupid’s Dagger”
The Orville Season 1, Episode 9 – Aired Thursday, Nov. 10
Written by Liz Heldens
Directed by Jamie Babbit
In “Cupid’s Dagger,” the crew of the Orville are assigned to broker peace talks between the Navarians and Bruidians over a dispute where both claim ownership over a planet. When an archaeologist by the name of Darulio (Rob Lowe) is tasked to decipher the true ancestral claim to the planet, tensions escalate not just between these two warring species but among the crew of the Orville – especially between Captain Mercer and Commander Grayson, for Darulio was the navy blue alien that Grayson slept with that broke up their marriage.
It’s always great when a show adds to the mythology of its universe, even when expanding on little details. It’s even greater when a show subverts expectations of that mythology, taking a plot or character element and turning them on their head. “Cupid’s Dagger” does both of these and does them surprisingly well. It takes what could have been a throwaway moment – i.e. the very first scene of the series where Mercer catches Grayson cheating on him – and incorporates an ordinarily disposable character (the person Grayson cheated on with Mercer) into the main narrative in a funny, subversive, but satisfying way.
Rob Lowe plays Darulio, in one of the better guest star appearances from a well known actor on the series so far. A lot of the episode is crafted around Darulio and the strange effect he is having on the crew. It creates some hilarious moments, such as Dr. Finn finally succumbing to the romantic advances of Yaphit, and it also helps create the episode’s main source of conflict. Mercer is supposed to be brokering some kind of peace deal with the Navarians and the Bruidians, but he’s too caught up with his romantic feelings for Darulio. Yes, the one guy he hates the most for sleeping with his ex is someone he’s fawning over like a high school senior getting nervous about asking their crush to the homecoming dance.
It’s honestly one of the episode’s highlights to see Seth MacFarlane’s Mercer, who has spent the entire series up to this point ostensibly hating this guy, giggling over Darulio and stressing out over which outfit to wear when they meet for drinks. It is also refreshing to see no attention paid to Mercer falling for another man. It’s played very flippantly, and the episode gets automatic points for that. It also cleverly acts as a character tool, fleshing out Mercer and Grayson’s ongoing interpersonal quarrel.
MacFarlane’s Mercer is also slowly but surely becoming a more assured captain. Even after learning about Darulio’s presence on his ship, Ed was still able to keep his cool during his first meeting with the Navarians and Bruidians before the pheromones kicked in. Halston Sage also deserves some praise as her Lt. Alara carried a lot of the plot along, with her being the one character that put the pieces together and both figured out what was going on with the pheromones, and came up with the solution.
If the episode has any flaws, it’s that the resolution felt very predictable and cliche – of course Darulio’s pheromones are going to come into play when the Navarians and the Bruidians approach full-scale war. It would have been nice if Darulio’s turn – from being ambivalent about the harm his pheromones are causing and then becoming concerned – was handled with a bit more aplomb.
Even if that is the weakest part of the story, it still provides for even more humor as the episode, well, climaxes. You never saw two adversarial alien species make out while settling their differences on Star Trek. I also must give credit to the episode’s writer Liz Heldens for not ignoring that Darulio’s pheromones took time to have an effect on our characters when it came to the resolution. Nurse Park’s idea to advance along the pheromone process was a smart touch filling in what could have been a glaring plot hole. It also allowed MacFarlane to show characters we haven’t seen before, such as Nurse Park, play a pivotal role as our lead heroes were stricken with love. Like Nurse Chapel had a recurring role on The Original Series, I hope we see Nurse Park again. In many ways “Cupid’s Dagger” felt like a homage to The Original Series episode “The Naked Time,” showing our characters slightly incapacitated while still furthering along important character arcs.
Even though The Orville is structured around episodes being stand alone, Heldens was able to cleverly pick up a number of character narratives that have been built through the season. This is even done in subtle ways such as a gag at the beginning where Bortus was cut off from showing off his ability to sing, calling back to his claim to be able to sing in “Majority Rule.” The karaoke scene was the show’s best opening teaser so far. It shows the camaraderie among the crew, not that different than the camaraderie between officers on a naval ship. You can still watch “Cupid’s Dagger” without having seen any of the rest of the series, but they are now finding ways to reward regular viewers as well.
While the resolution was a bit predictable, “Cupid’s Dagger” was still a hilarious subversion of a plot device. It not only added to the mythology, it also advanced several character arcs and relationships. At the end of the episode, it feels like Mercer and Grayson are one step closer to not only working better as a team, but also as friends. I also give the writers kudos for leaving the ending a little open-ended when it came to the question if Darulio was in heat when Grayson cheated with him. It’s moments like that, including the bit with Nurse Park, that adds nuance to the show, despite its attempts at broad humor. “Cupid’s Dagger” is another win for The Orville, an episode that cast quite a spell on this audience member.
- Also returning from the pilot was Victor Garber as Admiral Halsey.
- Thanks to a series of funny scenes with Dann (played by Family Guy and American Dad voice actor Mike Henry), the Orville’s elevators now have music.
- Alara catching Dr. Finn and Yaphit under the influence of the pheromones may be the show’s horrifying moment so far.
- We also learned Yaphit sleeps in a pool and his mother has now become his brother. Talk about awkward Thanksgiving dinners.
- Show’s first epic space battle was impressive with the VFX team knocking it out the park.
- The karaoke scene was the show’s best opening teaser so far. It shows the camaraderie among the crew, not that different than the camaraderie between officers on a naval ship. Just don’t interrupt Bortis when he’s about to sing.
Clips from “Cupid’s Dagger”
Preview for next week’s episode, “Firestorm”
‘Orville’ behind the scenes book
You can now pre-order The World of the Orville by Jeff Bond at Amazon. This new official behind the scenes book comes out January 16, 2018. Here is the official synopsis:
Filled with alien species, exotic worlds, futuristic technology and awe-inspiring spaceships, this lavish companion to The Orville takes you behind the scenes through concept art, on-set photography and technical schematics to explore the show’s production design, costumes, makeup prosthetics and visual effects. This is the ultimate guide to this new space-faring epic adventure.
Keep up with all the The Orville news, reviews and interviews at TrekMovie.com.