SUMMARY: This episode defies expectations despite the low-hanging porn jokes. It tackles the sensitive subjects of sexual infidelity and relationship resentment in an adult fashion. (Rating 8/10)
It’s about the jokes, right?
While The Orville is considered to be a lampooned version of Star Trek, the Next Generation, a form of low-brow fan-fiction crafted by Seth MacFarlane, it has begun to take on a life of its own, a weird fusion of futuristic science fiction, layered with cultural references and social issues from modern society.
As much as the idea of the Orville initially put me off, with its presentation of a Star Trek-lite future, with jokes that wouldn’t be out of phase with our modern world, I had to psychologically wall off those jokes and pretend they didn’t happen in order to follow the story being presented. I decided I wanted a science fiction story more than I wanted to deal with the potentially off-color jokes Seth MacFarlane was known to deal in if you were a fan of Family Guy or American Dad.
A season later, I have decided to ignore those jokes and accept such jokes as a commentary on an issue in the modern era and psychologically compartmentalize it, treating the humor as a form of fourth wall aside (akin to Deadpool saying something to the movie going audience), and then the story returns to its futuristic (and occasionally juvenile) storyline.
Primal Urges, Season 2, Episode 2, starts as a commentary on marital relationships (which season 1 touched on just a bit, as well, with the failed relationship between the captain, Ed Mercer, played by Seth MacFarlane and his first officer, Cmdr. Kelly Grayson, played by (Adrianne Palicki) with the ship’s third in command, Lt. Cmdr. Bortus (Peter Macon) slinking out of work a few minutes early to head down to the simulation room (holodeck) and engaging in Moclan sexual fantasies.
The tone of the fantasies escalate as Bortis seems to be seeking greater and greater kinds of stimulation. Meanwhile his emotional connection to his partner, Klyden (Chad L. Coleman), appears to be deteriorating as the two engage in what could simply be called intense marital distress; Bortus coming in late, blaming it on work, refusing to engage in the “sexual act” with his mate.
If it had stayed there, it would have been a very mature episode (especially as a topic for the Orville.) To it’s credit, the episode goes much further.
Meanwhile, the rest of the ship is engaged in the monitoring of a stellar catastrophe, watching a star consume its planets in the dying red giant phase of its development. Nice CGI, questionable science, but since its supposed to be a science fiction show, so I’ll allow it, science notwithstanding.
Like all such stories, scientific observation gives way to a discovery, which leads to the horror that an alien species is still alive on the last planet being consumed. What was thought to be a fuel supply sought by the Union, ended up being a repository of an alien (but humanoid) species hiding in a bunker on their planet, waiting to die. Unexpectedly tragic, I assure you.
In light of this, Bortus’ issues pale in comparison. I found myself, of mixed feelings, with the enormity of the challenges of the episode, considering Bortus’ immaturity seemed downright petty. It is only at the very end to you begin consider things from the commander’s perspective. As you would expect, if this were an episode of Next Generation, Bortus and the aliens would come together in some way which saves the day and brings perspective to the challenges of the larger story. The connection between the two stories is made but not resolved in a way the Next Generation was known for, making it even more interesting for me as a viewer and raising the bar for the show.
Yes, there were plenty of rude, off-color jokes, and the nature of Union officer training leaves a bit to be desired in my eyes, yet these Humans of the Union still seem to be more like us than the Next Generation’s highly evolved Humans ever could.
Is it great science fiction?
Probably not. But it is striving to be better. The series is still trying too hard to be funny rather than good, but unlike most series critics, I am working to understand what they are trying to do, not describe how they are missing the mark.
I also find it problematic to compare the holodeck addiction as portrayed by Lt. Barclay in Star Trek: The Next Generation with the marital avoidance issues demonstrated in this episode of the Orville. This episode was not about holodeck addiction and more about poorly-handled emotional resentment.
I will probably come back to this episode later in the season to talk about WHY, despite the hate delivered on the first season’s story “About a Girl” (S1:E3), it was a story which attempted what would have been a very complicated and socially challenging effort to address our modern conversation on sexuality and gender. Was it successful? Probably not, but I respect the writers for trying, even if they are perceived by many to have failed.
I have worked to avoid giving you any significant spoilers. This episode works best if you just ride with it and experience it on your own. If you want to talk about it in the comments after you have finished viewing the episode, feel free to leave your comments and we can discuss it afterwards.
I can say it was FAR better than I expected, filled with rich emotional notes, I did not imagine the show would be capable of. This episode ranks second in terms of emotional content of all of the first season and currently setting the bar for what I hope will be a very good season of The Orville.
Thaddeus Howze is an award-winning writer, editor, podcaster and activist creating speculative fiction, scientific, political and cultural commentary from his office in Hayward, California.
Thaddeus’ speculative fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals. He has published two books, ‘Hayward’s Reach’ (2011), a collection of short stories and ‘Broken Glass’ (2013) an urban fantasy novella starring his favorite paranormal investigator, Clifford Engram.