You know, there’s something to be said of a series which has reached such a level of self-confidence that it actually manages to use – and pull off, too – Dolly Parton’s ‘9 To 5’ not just as the anthem for a revolution, but also as backing music to a full tactical assault sequence without seeming utterly ridiculous. The Orville has definitely hit a purple patch, and is truly at the height of its powers.
While not having the same level of story running throughout the season as Star Trek: Discovery has done this season, The Orville has still continuing elements which have been threaded carefully over the course of its latest run, with a number of them coming to the fore in ‘Sanctuary’. The looming threat of the Kaylon menace is still lurking in the background, and has led to the Planetary Union turning to the Moclan people to fortify them, in view of their reputation as weaponsmiths of the highest order. However, there’s also a salutory lesson about the risks of putting all your eggs in one basket, and making a deal with the Devil.
Earlier this season, we’ve revisited Bortus’ views on the Moclan culture’s approach in relation to women – not only are they seen on Moclus as unnatural, but any females born either get surgically altered into men, locked up for life in prison, or even exterminated, something which Bortus (Peter Macon) increasingly believes to be wrong. A simmering resentment of his life partner Klyden’s (Chad L. Coleman) strict adherence to this viewpoint manifested in ‘Primal Urges‘, where old wounds were aired over Klyden’s decision to have their child Topa (Blesson Yates) undergo the sex reassignment surgery, against the express wishes of Bortus, in Season 1’s ‘About A Girl’.
The theme of Moclan females and having a single-sex species also came to the fore in ‘Deflectors‘, where Klyden betrayed a Moclan engineer who had an attraction to women, which ended up in that character facing Moclan justice, merely for the ‘crime’ of who he loved. Here, all of these themes culminate in a storyline which threatens the very stability of the Planetary Union, as lines start to be drawn regarding the Moclan stance on how it treats anybody who isn’t a male. Two Moclan visitors to the Orville smuggle aboard their female infant in stasis, claiming that they’ve been given asylum, as they wish to bring their daughter up without having the threat of her being forced to undergo surgery.
However, when it turns out that they’ve not been completely honest about where they’re actually going, the Orville’s crew discovers a sanctuary planet hidden away inside a remote nebula, with a population consisting of approximately 6,000 natural born Moclan women. The colony’s leader, Heveena (Rena Owen), is already known to the Orville, having testified on Bortus’ behalf in ‘About A Girl’, and is intent upon protecting the residents from discovery and retaliation by Moclus. This results in conflict within the Union Council, when an application is made to recognise them as a sovereign state, with all the benefits of Union protection.
It leads to the series revisiting the ethical and moral debates on the issue that have already been explored previously; on this occasion, however, the stakes are higher than before, as Moclus threatens to leave the Union altogether, and try to form an alliance with the Krill. It’s a fascinating conundrum which the Council has to try and navigate, because as much as they can’t be seen to be casting judgment on another species’ culture, they also can’t let innocent people be oppressed, mutilated or even killed. However, the Council also knows that if Moclus secedes, they will all be at risk from attack by the Kaylon.
It’s a genuine dilemma, as how far do you go in order to protect freedom and liberty, especially if it means impinging upon the rights of others vicariously in the process? At one point, Admiral Perry (Ted Danson) actually accuses Captain Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane) of oversimplifying what is a complicated issue; however, we have to remember this is a series with 45-minute episodes, intended primarily to entertain: complicated moral debates aren’t able to be resolved in that time, but at least they try to make some headway, and from past form, it looks like The Orville will come back to it again.
We also get another Star Trek reunion of sorts, with Jonathan Frakes directing, and guest stars including Marina Sirtis, Tony Todd and F. Murray Abraham all having been The Next Generation alumni. It all goes to show that two very disparate yet rather similar entities are able to coexist peacefully, which surely must bode well for Moclus and the Union, in a nice bit of unconscious signalling. Until Star Trek manages to deify Dolly Parton, however, I’ll be giving the points for this round to The Orville.