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Bortus is into some kinky shit. That’s not the actual takeaway from tonight’s episode, which confronts how poor communication and unaddressed resentment lead to self-destructive behaviors we often pursue as a way to sabotage our relationships. But since that message was conveyed via Bortus using a ship simulator to create intricate sex prisoner porn scenarios for himself; that ends up being the more indelible statement.

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“Primal Urges” was originally intended to be the season 1 finale, and you get a sense of that from the cinematic effects in this episode. We open with the ship observing the last planet in a solar system to be consumed by a star that has gone red giant. And it really was quite a lovely sequence watching as the thick plume of the planet’s atmosphere was siphoned off into the sun. Bortus, however was unimpressed and asked to leave his post early. Instead of returning home, he goes to the ship simulator and starts up a rustic woodland scene where he meets another Moclan and the two begin making out. This was just a mild introduction into an episode that focused on Bortus’ increasingly involved sexual fantasies. I’m going to profess my ignorance here and say that I’ve never once delved into what must be entire server rooms’ worth of Star Trek holodeck erotica. So, lacking that resource, I guess I’m pleased The Orville has chosen to explore the questions that have crossed my mind countless times since the mid-90’s:

1. Everyone must use the holodeck for porn, right?

2. How do people keep from doing so all the time?

The answers, we learn, are: Yes, and sometimes they do. I sincerely appreciate how the show infers it’s a given everyone uses the simulator for their own self-satisfaction and there’s no shame in some regular deep-space maintenance. It’s solely when it becomes all-consuming where pornographic simulations are a problem. The problem here is that Bortus is not only spending too much time in the simulator, but doing so at the expense of his marriage. He refuses to make time or have “the sexual event” (as the show cringingly insists on having the Moclans call it), to the point where a frustrated Klyden drives a knife into Bortus’ chest. Bortus survives and we learn the stabbing was a botched divorce attempt, in keeping with Moclan predilection for violent, brusque solutions to complicated problems. In order for Klyden to stay aboard, Ed forces the two to attend marriage counseling. This service is provided by Dr. Claire, who’s MD is either more broadly applicable than our modern day version, or she’s the closest one among the ship’s modest crew of 300 people to fit the role.

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As the only (still) married couple on the Orville, Bortus and Klyden’s relationship gets a lot of attention. And while their dialog is pretty uninspired stuff, I commend both men for working their sincere hardest to convey a real emotional connection through the staid mannerisms of an alien species and enough prosthetic that they can’t turn their heads to face each other. The big cathartic reveal emerges when Bortus finally admits that he’s been shutting Klyden out due to lingering anger over his choice to allow the surgery that changed their daughter to a boy. It does seem like a pretty damn big deal, so I’m grateful the show is keeping that storyline alive and also doesn’t offer up a pat resolution to the issue.

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Isaac learns that the last, dying stragglers of the doomed planet are living underground to wait out end times. But a rescue attempt is hampered by a virus the ship suffers from Bortus’ illegal porn scenario. The last-ditch solution is for a shuttle to land and grab as many survivors as they can cram onboard.

It’s a really beautiful set piece as Isaac and Bortus land planet side. A bloated red sun dominates the sky and chunks of the planet surface peel off and hurl into the furnace. The pair locates the doors leading into the catacombs and descends to gather up the remaining inhabitants. I’m often frustrated by The Orville’s superficial approach to its moral topics. The show never explores a topic too deeply, nor approaches any subject from other than the most expected, straight-forward angle. But there are some things it continuously does well. And one of them is the limitations of what one mid-sized exploratory vessel —staffed by smart, dedicated, but still just regular people— can accomplish. Due to the planet disintegrating faster than expected and the virus infecting the ship, the crew is unable to save all 75 of the planetary survivors. Less than half, in fact, make it out. And it’s sad! There were a bunch of children! But some problems can’t be solved, and there are rarely last minute miracles. The survivors hold a lottery, the chosen get on the shuttle, and it takes off. And that’s all there is to it. The planet is destroyed along with the remaining 45 people. The final scene on the planet where the minister who is remaining behind, says goodbye to her partner is there to be overheard by Bortus and make him reflect on the value of his own relationship. But it works more effectively as a simple illustration of the unbending intractability of some situations.

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Bortus returns to the Orville dedicated to making his marriage work. It will be interesting to see if the show ever addresses his holo-porn addiction since I still can’t shake the feeling that would be an incredibly tough habit to break. That said, it’s been a couple of Bortus-heavy episodes in a row now, and I’m not feeling any great urgency to revisit his erotic misadventures too soon.

Stray Observations

  • It’s killing me that I can’t just call it the Holodeck.
  • Porn addiction isn’t listed in our current DSM 5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). I don’t know what edition they’re up to in the 25th century, but perhaps it’s made it in.
  • As different as Moclans may be from humans, Bortus’ fantasies fell into familiar human scenarios of forced submission, medical play, and good ol’ fashioned pastoral bacchanalian orgies. It’s nice to know that as different as we are, in a lot of ways, we’re very much the same.
  • I loved the practical effects costume for the big, chunky alien that provided the orgy simulation for Bortus. I’m exhausted that the show remains in love with the idea that wouldn’t it be hilarious if this crazy alien just talked like a regular bro? Maybe they’ll work through it by season 3.
  • Poor John has to fend off a gaggle of horny Moclans while trying to isolate the virus.

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