The Orville Season 2, Episode 7 – Aired Thursday, February 14th, 2019
Written by David A. Goodman
Directed by Seth MacFarlane
When a brilliant Moclan engineer comes aboard to upgrade the ship’s deflector system, it’s his personal life that will have the most lasting impact on the lives of many of the crew.
This Valentine’s Day episode of The Orville features storylines that advance the personal lives of Kelly and Cassius as well as Bortus and Klyden, and gives Jessica Szohr’s Lt. Talla Keyali her first meaty role. There’s barely a laugh to be found in an episode that shows that The Orville can do drama exceptionally well when they set their minds to it, and that demonstrates just how different The Orville is from Star Trek: The Next Generation, philosophically.
Warning: I don’t want to lead you on, it’s not fair to you. Below there be SPOILERS!
IT’S NOT YOU, IT’S ME
“Deflectors” is an apt title for an episode whose framing plot is about an upgrade to the Orville’s deflector system, but is also filled with people using every possible means of shielding themselves from being hurt by other people. It starts with a scene set in a lovely simulated recreation of 1945 New York City, as Kelly and Cassius enjoy coffee at a sidewalk cafe. Their light conversation soon turns emotional as Kelly dodges another of Cassius’ invitations to take some time off for a vacation with him. His insecurities flare up as Kelly implies that his job is less demanding than hers is, and in a conversation about their respective hopes for their relationship, Kelly realizes that the two of them want different things, so she breaks up with him.
What’s interesting about this dialogue is that both Kelly and Cassius are likable characters, and they express valid points of view. Neither one comes across as the “bad guy” in what plays out like a mature but difficult “DTR” (“define the relationship”) conversation any one of us could have had at one time or another in real life. Kudos to writer David A. Goodman, a veteran writer from Star Trek: Enterprise and author of Trek books including the forthcoming The Autobiography of Mr. Spock.
As the episode unfolds, Cassius makes repeated attempts to get Kelly to talk to him and perhaps reconsider, sending her text messages on her comm, sending her a cookie bouquet (is there an “Edible Arrangements” franchise aboard the Orville?) and eventually having a giant, sentient potted flower (surprisingly voiced by an uncredited Bruce Willis!) make his appeal on his behalf! These extreme lengths seem a little out of character for someone as famously even-keeled as Cassius, but they serve to emphasize the firmness of Kelly’s resolve. Her decision is made, she regrets the pain she’s causing Cassius, but she’s ready to move on. Again, it’s mature and relatable writing on display here, and both Adrienne Palicki (Kelly) and Chris Johnson (Cassius) play these scenes as emotionally healthy adults.
I NEED TO FOCUS ON MY CAREER
The spaceship portion of the plot involves genius Moclan engineer Locar coming aboard the Orville to test out an upgrade to the ship’s deflector system. From the first moments, Locar is aboard the Orville, it is clear that he and Bortus have a history together – Locar is Bortus’ “kodashik,” or ex-boyfriend. While Locar wants to talk things out with Bortus, Bortus keeps him at arm’s length, assigning Lt. Talla Keyali to serve as his liaison.
The tech stuff plays out exactly as you’d expect. Locar works with Lamarr and his engineering crew to install the upgrades in the ship, a stress test is executed in which the Moclan cruiser and the Orville engage in mock combat, it appears as though the upgrades fail, and then at the last moment, they kick in as designed, proving their usefulness. Easy peasy, and by the numbers. Along the way, there are grace notes, though, including engineering officer Jenny offering celebratory cupcakes topped with miniature Orville-shaped frosting bits to the crew, drawing predictable enthusiasm from Dann, and a funny, brutally-blunt Moclan response from Locar. And all the while, Locar’s glances linger meaningfully on Lt. Keyali.
I THINK WE SHOULD START SEEING OTHER PEOPLE
Soon, Locar confides in Keyali that he is attracted to her, an attraction that is forbidden in the all-male Moclan culture. As we learned in previous episodes, and especially in “About a Girl,” Moclans are not a uniformly all-male species – some Moclans are born female, but are almost always forcibly surgically transitioned to live as males, a process that Bortus’ mate Klyden insisted be done to his child with Bortus, Topa. In this episode, we learn that some Moclans are attracted to females. How this works out in a culture where, one way or another, everyone around them seems to be male, is not clear. But those who are attracted to females either hide their orientation or are imprisoned for life. Their families share their shame. “On Moclus,” Locar says, “mediocrity is the only behavior above suspicion.” It’s a powerful line, though it seems like a non-sequitur.
Keyali takes Locar into the simulator, running Kelly’s 1945 New York City program, and teaches him how to dance, human-style. The dialogue here is layered and enjoyable, featuring a great description of how slow-dancing works, and why it’s so intimate. It culminates in a kiss that requires the strikingly-tall Locar to bend almost in half to reach the lips of Lt. Keyali. When she is called away from the simulator to deal with Kelly’s Bruce Willis infestation, Locar is confronted in the simulator by Klyden, who has been following them. “I know what you are!” Klyden accuses.
When Keyali returns to the simulator, Locar is gone, and a computer search shows he’s no longer aboard the Orville. Keyali plays back the simulator recording, and sees a distorted figure confronting Locar and then vaporizing him with a weapon! This is now a murder investigation.
YOU DESERVE BETTER
In a tense briefing in the ship’s Conference Room, Keyali reveals that Locar was a heterosexually-attracted man, causing the Moclan captain to fly into a disgusted rage. He calls it “deviant behavior,” and accuses Keyali of making up spurious allegations against Locar. Keyali responds with righteous fury: “The only thing I did was accept him for who he was. If you people weren’t such a bunch of closed-minded, bigoted–!” Captain Mercer cuts her off and promises a full investigation.
It is clear that Moclan culture, with its strange practices and strikingly different view of sexuality from that of the Planetary Union, is difficult to reconcile with the culture on the Orville. We’ve seen this brewing from the first season, and in interviews, creator Seth MacFarlane has promised that there’s more to come: “the Moclans [are] a race that’s deliberately positioned as very problematic. Their viewpoints do not align with ours, but we have to find a way to coexist. There’s nothing more relevant than that right now.” And the crew of the Orville has divergent opinions about the Moclans. Ed has found their culture bewildering and dangerous, like when Klyden stabbed Bortus in a Moclan ritual of divorce in “Primal Urges.” Here, Ed is the voice that is trying to calm Keyali’s fierce judgment.
In a way, The Orville presents a more nuanced view of cultural differences than the straightforward toleration espoused in Star Trek: The Next Generation. That toleration is on display in “The Orville” at times, but there is also a deeper confusion, disgust, and anger that surfaces frequently. While progressivism in the 1990s was about accepting differences, in the “woke” 2010s, a progressive viewpoint embraces judgment, shaming, and cultural ruin for those who believe differently than the standard progressive view. In Lt. Keyali, writer Goodman presents a sincerely-felt, love-driven judgmental fury. In Mercer, we see someone trying to live out the 1990’s progressive approach in a more complicated world. And fascinatingly in Bortus, we have a person who grew up in a deeply-entrenched cultural framework who now has to question, over and over, whether or not he still believes it is just.
It is not clear what perspective The Orville will ultimately take on cultural pluralism: will they return to optimistic TNG-style relativism, embrace the fiery separation of 2010’s “woke” progressivism, or chart another course entirely? Time will tell.
LET’S JUST BE FRIENDS
The murder plot quickly unravels, as a little computer wizardry by Lamarr and Isaac reveals that the distorted figure in the simulator is Klyden, and while he becomes their prime suspect and confesses that he threatened to expose Locar’s deviations, he is a poor fit for the murder. In a powerful conversation in Bortus’ quarters, Keyali determines the key. To the surprise of no one in the audience who has seen TOS’s “Court Martial,” Locar is not really dead, but faked his own murder to avoid the shame of either exposure or suicide.
After a somewhat bizarre search of the ship (do they really think the 7-foot-tall Locar is hiding in bureau drawers or cabinets?) Locar is discovered in the shuttle bay, and Lt. Keyali reluctantly turns him over to the Moclan authorities, freeing Klyden.
Once again, the writing here is nuanced. Locar doesn’t come across completely sympathetically, casting guilt on Keyali for doing her job. While she had feelings for Locar, she can’t countenance the imprisonment of Klyden when he had not committed the crime for which he was accused.
When Klyden later approaches Keyali to thank her for saving his life, she explodes at him with hot tears. “You want to repay me? Here’s how. When you see me in the corridor, walk the other way. Locar didn’t hurt you, he didn’t hurt anyone. All he wanted was love. And yet, because of you, his life is over. For no reason, except your own prejudice. So as far as I’m concerned, you can go straight to hell.” It’s a brutally difficult scene that raised my estimation of Jessica Szohr’s acting ability by a dozen notches.
IT FEELS LIKE WE’VE GROWN APART
MacFarlane has indicated that the tension between Moclan culture and the pluralism of the Planetary Union will be an ongoing theme of this season of The Orville, and perhaps that will be seen nowhere as poignantly as in the relationship between Bortus and Klyden. Klyden is traditionally-oriented, secure in the righteousness of his own position, and willing to sacrifice everything to follow through on his convictions.
Bortus, however, is clearly rethinking everything he was raised to believe. In a final moment between the two of them in this episode, Klyden returns to their quarters, looking smugly satisfied, while Bortus gazes out at the stars. They look at each other wordlessly across the room, and then turn apart and go their separate ways. Will their marriage survive?
And it turns out that Cassius has accepted a teaching position on another ship, and he and Kelly parted with a handshake. Ah well, I liked his character and Chris Johnson’s performance. He will be missed.
This episode has the potential to be a turning point for The Orville. There was no potty humor, very few jokes, and a poignant, nuanced, difficult dramatic storyline. It featured layered scripting, foreshadowing and metaphor, and complicated but personal storytelling, competently directed. It showcased how seriously the show can take its characters and the situations they are in. There were a few chuckles, but not nearly enough to please some of Season One’s most ardent fans.
Is this the direction The Orville intends to go? If so, count me in.
- Moclan ship design has cool, deco-looking yellow-orange glowy bits, and the Moclan shuttle looks like a chunky computer mouse from the early 2000s. Cool designs.
- In the combat test of the deflectors, Malloy employs some fancy evasive maneuvers, making me wonder why, if this is a test of the deflectors? Then I realized that maybe they want to put a strain on the ship’s power systems, like in actual combat?
- The Keyali-Locar relationship suffers from TV show Rapid Onset Romance syndrome, but not fatally. You can see what they see in one another.
- I did chuckle as Ed responded to Kelly’s woes about Cassius’ constant texting. When my wife and I first became friends, I was attracted to her long before she had any feelings for me, and I counseled her through a number of would-be suitors who wanted to date her. I can relate to Ed’s constant advice for Kelly to have nothing more to do with Cassius.
- Seriously – can anybody enter the simulation room when someone else is using it? Where’s the privacy? This was an issue in “Primal Urges,” as well as a few other episodes. Don’t people even need to knock?
- The song that plays in the 1945 simulation and over the closing scenes is “The White Cliffs of Dover,” by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra.
- When Talla starts her investigation in the simulator she asks the computer to replay time index 1701.7. Which seems to be a nod to the designation of the USS Enterprise from Trek.
- Bruce Willis’s giant alien potted plant, Groogen, is a Katrudian.
- Locar (Kevin Daniels) had a brief previous appearance in the season two opener, attending Bortus’ Ja’loja.
- “Sounds like you’re a pretty big deal back home.” “Yes.” “(chuckles) Okay. I like the honesty.” Keyali and Locar
- Topa: “What is a relationship?” Bortus: “It is what comes before the egg.”
- “Locar, cupcake?” “No.” “Are you sure?” “I have given you my answer!” Jenny and Locar – I love Moclan bluntness
- “Hey guys – no torpedoes, okay? We said ‘no torpedoes.’ We said no torpedoes, right?” “I was right there when we said it.” “You were right there.” Ed and Kelly
- “[Isaac] was going around the ship asking everybody what sexual positions are most pleasurable for biological life-forms.” “I was merely attempting to provide Dr. Finn with the most dutifully calibrated coital experience.” “Yeah, that’s what women want – dutiful coitus.” (Gordon and Isaac) “Hey! I’m trying to eat here!” (Lamarr)
- “The galaxy is full of so many unhappy people. Why ignore something good?” Keyali
- “Who are you?” “I am Locar.” “What’s wrong with your head?” “I am a Moclan.” “Oh. This is Betty. I got her for Christmas.” “That is not my concern.” Locar and a holographic girl with a doll – again, Moclan awesomeness.
- “It is very uneventful.” “It’s about subtlety. Little nonverbal moves your partner responds to. Try leading.” “Leading?” “Use physical communication to tell me how you want me to move.” Keyali explaining human dancing. I loved this bit.
- “Look, nobody’s saying this isn’t messed up, and we’re not trying to go all HR on you here, we’re just saying you should’ve told us.” Ed zings Human Resources departments.
- Keyali and Bortus have a powerful scene in the armory. “You know, you’re right. I don’t understand the Moclan way. I don’t understand a screwed up culture that keeps people from being who they are under threat of personal ruin. I thought you’d be more evolved, especially given what they did to your daughter.” “I SAID! That. Will. Be. All.” chills.
- “Any Moclan would be disgusted by what he is. Even you!” Klyden to Bortus.
- “This has to be the most insane thing that’s ever happened on this ship!” “Well, one time I almost died because I humped a statue.” “Isaac once cut my leg off.” “And the Captain and Commander, they got put in a zoo.” “And Bortus almost crashed the ship ’cause of porn.” “I see.” Gordon and Lamarr lay things out for Keyali.
- “Why would Locar go through all this trouble to fake his own death?” “Because he knew his time was up. That Klyden was going to expose him. His life was over, and the only way out he could see was suicide. But on Moclus, suicide means banishment of all family, and he didn’t want them to have to pay for his… for his sins.” Another well-delivered line by Jessica Szohr.
- “My brother says, no friendship is complete until your friend turns to you in despair.” Locar.
- “You know, the more I learn about the Moclans, the more I see that our differences go right to the core of our values. How long can an alliance with a culture like that last?” Ed Mercer.
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