What Happened This Week?
Captain Mercer stayed on board the Orville in this week’s episode (The Orville 107), as Kelly led a mismatched collection of bridge crew officers on an away mission. With Dr. Finn, Alara, and Lamarr, Kelly searched for a pair of missing Planetary Union anthropologists on a mission to research a familiar-looking society. Although the show introduced the duo in the very non-Orville cold-open, we get fooled into thinking they’re probably disgraced public figures making amends with the public. Not so much.
Things Go Awry
As Kelly and her team investigated, a woefully out-of-his-element Lamarr gained the attention of the locals when bumped and ground the statue of a revered local figure. Not unlike what happens in our own culture, Lamarr’s actions brought this week’s alien society’s pure democracy into center stage. Any person’s actions can receive up-votes and down-votes by not only the people around them, but also people with the right badge-code. This voting process establishes a given person’s social status. Does this sound like anything you know?
In Lamarr’s case, his down-votes reached a threshold requiring his arrest and ensuing “Apology Tour”. The tour, coordinated by Publicity Officer and Enterprise alum Stephen Culp, would allow Lamarr to take his case to the only court holding sway over this culture: the court of public opinion. In much the same way as philandering statesmen or drug-addicted actors make the rounds on morning talk shows to appeal to their respective bases in our world, Lamarr and offenders like him (remember those guys from the opening?) have to do the same thing. If Lamarr’s tour results in 10 million down-votes instead of a surge of up-votes, state doctors would have to perform a lobotomy-like procedure on him. This might have been an improvement for Lamarr…
Bad to Worse
Lyselle, our cold open Barista, leads the groups to the missing anthropologists. Bad news though. Their apology tour, the result of not noticing a pregnant woman in need of their bus seat, failed to make a dent in public perception. Extra bad news, 1 of the men was shot making a run for it from the final voting. The other, an acquaintance of Dr. Finn’s, received the aforementioned irreparable lobotomy-like procedure to make him pleasant, docile, and no longer a threat to society.
The Union turns down Mercer’s pleas to extract his crew and he is left with no choice but to find a weakness in the voting system. As Doc and Alara scramble to calm an cultural appropriation blow-up over Alara’s choice of headwear, Lyselle walks in on them and finds out spacemen do exist. Surprisingly, she contains her freak-out and even helps save Lamarr. Useng Lyselle’s insights into her society, like they have mercy on those who were fat children, they swoon for veterans meeting up with their pets and they look kindly on grandchildren who take care of their family, Isaac uses computer wizardry to game the system adding fake photos into the master feed and create a last second groundswell of up-votes.
Do the Writers Think We Are Headed This Way?
The most chilling moment of this episode comes when Lyselle assures The Orville crew that no one will question the forged photos, nor will they try to find out if they are real before they vote. With Lamarr’s redemption, the crew gets the heck out of there… and we as audience members feel the flood of anxiety wash over us. Do we bother to get the facts before we have firm opinions? Do we crucify others via social media without knowing the context of a video or photo? How do we not become Sargas 4?
What’s New This Week?
Not exactly new, this week’s aliens bear no appreciable difference from Earth-born humans. Since the crew constantly reminds us how these people’s culture closely resembles mid-21st century people (that’s us in a couple years), we get an impression of the writer’s cynical take on today’s society. Ouch, guys.
Sci-fi fans have long debated over various technologies. The cultural origins and technological feasibility of fantastic devices have fueled many, MANY flame-wars since the birth of the Internet. With the Planetary Union’s display of cloaking technology, The Orville dives right into the middle of the fray. This mysterious technology has appeared in several sci-fi shows and movies, including the venerable Star Trek. What we found interesting about this cloaking device is the contrast to its familiar roots. Stated another way, in Star Trek, only non-human species have mastered the technology. Humans, even in the STTNG era have yet to figure out what Klingons and Romulans have used for a couple hundred years.
Throughout the life of the show, MacFarlane has picked over the existing pool of sci-fi tech readily available in any nerd’s lexicon. Replicators and faster-than-light starship drive? Yes. Teleporters? No, not really. Cloaking device…..? Yes! We wonder what really goes into deciding which tech to use or extrapolate versus those they decide to leave alone. Could it be related to story? Or maybe style? Most shuttle trips have shown amusing side conversations, allowing for some character development. Could that be main reason why teleporters were left off the slate of borrowed tech? What do you think?
Star Trek (or other) Parallels
Most Orville episodes so far have overtly reminded us of one Star Trek episode or another. The number of times an away mission sent crew members under-cover into society’s resembling Earth exceeds our ability to count them. Although good example probably exist of a time when Kirk and a stocking cap-wearing Spock sneak into some place a lot like 1960s America, this episode most closely resembled groundwork previously trod by the BBC and Netflix’s Black Mirror.
If you haven’t checked out Black Mirror yet, you should definitely set aside some time for this oddity. You find recognizable faces (John Hamm and Bryce Dallas Howard among them) playing out one-shot “what-if” scenarios depicting a very near future. Often, the setup involves a “what if this modern yet immature technology were extrapolated to a ridiculous point” framework. In several episodes, social media and overtly influential public-opinion create the framework for recognizable stories that usually spin out of the protagonist’s control. Nearly every person we’ve recommended this series to has found something they liked about it, so we have no qualms about recommending it to you. You won’t like everything, but something will resonate with you.
How Was This Episode?
Once you finish your viewing of this Twilight Zone-like series, you’ll probably agree: Seth MacFarlane wanted to make his own Black Mirror episode. While not necessarily a bad thing, we’ve been waiting for The Orville to step away from its Star Trek inspired roots and claim its own unique style. Although we’ve seen some steps in that direction, we didn’t expect to detour over into -another- show’s style to get there. We liked this episode… And hope that it’s one-of-a-kind.
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