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A new romance fights an old prejudice on The Orville

Illustration for article titled A new romance fights an old prejudice on The Orville
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“I wonder how long we’re going to put up with them?” Ed muses to Kelly towards the end of tonight’s episode, “Deflectors”. He’s speaking of the Moclans, and his own increasing difficulty in reconciling their strict, reactionary society with how much they’ve done to help advance the Union’s technology. But the same sentiment could apply to the show. The Moclans, with their signature literalism and enthusiastic violence, are a fun species, but they need to be used judiciously. And it feels like the show is beginning to draw on them too heavily to frame the myriad sex and gender political premises. For the most part, “Deflectors” was deft enough in its storytelling to overcome Moclan fatigue; I just hope they’re used more sparingly for the rest of the season.


But before we delve too deeply into the strange tale of Locar (Kevin Daniels) the engineer, I just want to discuss the episode’s B-story: Kelly and Cassius’ breakup. It was an inevitability they would split, as Cassius was by design a completely underdeveloped character. He had zero purpose except to be Kelly’s boyfriend for however long the writers wanted to maintain that extra layer of obstacle between Ed and Kelly’s possible reunion. So it can’t be said that his post-breakup antics —the constant texts, cheesy poetry, and sentient alien flowers sent to Kelly’s quarters— were out of character, since he didn’t have much character to be out of. It did have the effect of keeping any of the jokes from landing, since there was nothing to contrast his behavior against. It’s fine for Cassius to be a narrative place holder; it’s a long and noble television tradition. But there was never anything to him that suggested he could be otherwise. He’s nondescript handsome, easygoing until the plot demanded he wasn’t, and even his job as a school teacher is the kind of benign, altruistic, and not too showy television profession that allows you to establish someone as at least a reasonably moral romantic partner without having to prod that notion any deeper. Even the off-hand manner in which he was dumped at the top of the episode had a listless, perfunctory air. But whatever. He’s gone now, and with Ed’s last girlfriend actually being a member of an evil race of space vampires, it looks like the table is cleared for Ed and Kelly’s possible reconciliation. I guess in my heart, I always sort of hoped the show would just let that aspect of the premise fade away. Ed and Kelly have great chemistry as friends, and I’ve never once been captivated by the will they or won’t they aspect of their relationship. But The Orville is, so we’ll see where it all goes from here.

Illustration for article titled A new romance fights an old prejudice on The Orville

Okay, back to Locar! One of Moclus’ finest engineers boards the Orville to help upgrade the shield system. When he first comes aboard, we learn that he and Bortus used to date. Neither one discloses the reason for the breakup; though it’s obvious Bortus carries more tension about their former relationship than Locar does. At first that seems like a setup for a fairly straight-forward conflict between Bortus, Locar, and Klyden, but it ends up being more involved than that. During his time aboard the ship it becomes obvious that Locar is developing an interest in Talla. This becomes explicit when he confronts her in her quarters to confess that he’s one of the rare Moclans who are attracted to women. Locar explains that being attracted to women is a genetic anomaly viewed the same way as all anomalies are among the Moclans —harshly. I enjoy how The Orville uses a homosexual species to embody a reactionary culture. It’s a minor tweak on our own culture’s conservative heteronormative fearmongering that’s just different enough to demonstrate how often bigotry is a side effect of cultural dominance, regardless of what that culture may be.

Talla leads Locar to Kelly’s small town USA simulation where the two begin to kiss. When Talla is briefly called away, Klyden —who has an astonishing knack for showing up at simulators at narratively opportune times— arrives to confront Locar. Talla returns, Locar is gone, and according to the ship’s biosensors, nowhere on board. When a John and Isaac reconstruct a playback of the scene, it appears that Klyden disintegrated Locar.

The mystery provided opportunity for Talla to come into stronger definition as a character. She unashamedly admits to the Moclan captain and crew that Locar was attracted to her, that she reciprocated, and that they were all being assholes for freaking out about it. Later, when she and Bortus were alone to talk about Klyden’s alleged crime, she confronted Bortus about his ambivalence around his son’s sex change as a reason why he should be sympathetic to Locar’s plight. In both situations she was right, but also clomped through each conversation so aggressively and with such little regard for who she was speaking with that she did more harm than good. Talla has been framed as a harder-edged version of Alara, but this is the first chance we’ve had to see what that looks like.


Eventually, the crew figures out Locar is using his powers of super-engineering to doctor simulator footage to make it appear as though he were murdered, hide his bio-signs, and cloak himself on the ship. While Talla discovers him hiding on a shuttle, where he tells her directly if she turns him over to his people, his punishment will be on her. It’s manipulative and unfair, especially since he framed an innocent man for murder, but an emotionally honest reaction to being hurt, and exhausted, and out of options. And sure enough, there’s no escape. He is brought to Moclus for sentencing, as incapable of affecting change or sympathy among his people as anyone who has tried before.

Stray Observations

  • The rumor is Bruce Willis voiced that giant plant. Seth Macfarlane is cashing in all his favors to get some real big names to show up and deliver some really forgettable performances.
  • I don’t begrudge Seth MacFarlane’s obsession with post-war Americana, but it proved to be a distraction here. I appreciate using the simulator as a way to create visually distinct scenes on an episode otherwise confined to the ship, but using a 20th century neighborhood as a backdrop for a breakup and then an awkward courtship and fake murder never resonated.
  • Locar’s heterosexuality raises further questions about Moclan physiology. As an all-male species, attraction to biological females concurrently means attraction to aliens. That’s an intense biological drive to produce both hetero and xenosexuality. Or maybe it’s just that the attraction to the female sex is so strong, the secondary nature of the person’s species is irrelevant. It’s safe to assume if a female-born Moclan wasn’t given reassignment surgery, a Moclan heterosexual would be attracted to them as well. None of this matter to the story, it’s just what I thought about during commercial breaks.
  • I want Bortus and Klyden to be happy, but after tonight’s episode, my sympathies for Klyden have evaporated. Sure, he’s always been the more conventional of the couple, but his contempt of Locar felt too germane to our real-world bigotry. This is the first episode where the crew struggles to come to terms with a culture so distinct from Union values and that accounting is a more interesting dimension of a species usually played for laughs.
  • Talla’s claim that this must surely be the craziest thing to ever happen on board the ship only to be countered by John and Gordon rattling off everything they’ve been through was great.
  • So was Gordon’s pride in deducing the grisly details of Moclan dating rituals. “Let me guess, then they eat the tooth!”
  • I enjoyed Ed walking off with Kelly’s cookie bouquet.
  • “This is Betty!” “That is not my concern.”

AV Club contributor, illustrator, insouciant oaf.