The Orville

"About a Girl"

3 stars

Air date: 9/21/2017
Written by Seth MacFarlane
Directed by Brannon Braga

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

When Bortus' and Klyden's child is unexpectedly born female (something infinitesimally rare), Bortus asks Dr. Finn to perform a sex change to make the baby male so the child can thus lead a "normal" life as a Moclan. Finn refuses on moral grounds, Bortus appeals to Mercer, who also refuses, thus bringing to full boil a debate of gender identity from the Moclan point of view.

"About a Girl" is the best and most interesting episode of The Orville so far, even while it offers further proof — even more so than the first two episodes — that it's the product of a past generation (1967? 1997?) transplanted to 2017, as if through a time machine. This is, for all intents and purposes, a Star Trek episode from another era — or a spiritual step-heir, or something. Is it a good one? Yes, although maybe not a great one.

This is an allegory, certainly, but there are some clear limitations here. One is that human gender identity is more complicated than simply "male parts" or "female parts." But "About a Girl" does not really seem interested in going beyond the binary of the physiology, perhaps out of a need for storytelling simplicity. As a result, we must take this story purely on the Moclan's terms. Those terms are a bit muddled, because even though the story alleges females to be a once-in-75-year aberration, Klyden (Chad Coleman) reveals to Bortus that he — of all coincidences — was also born female and was surgically altered at birth. And later we meet yet another Moclan woman, a famous reclusive author who everyone assumed was a man, and who is key to the story's endgame.

This, along with the pilot's original description of the Moclan as a "single-gendered species" (which we know now is a lie of omission), had me suspecting we were going to get some sort of revelation that the once-in-75-year story is a sham covering some deep societal secret that there are actually Moclan females born all the time. (I was reminded of the DS9 revelation that Trill symbionts were actually much more compatible with Trill hosts than was generally known.) But that revelation never comes. Perhaps it will someday, because either something else is going on here, or the writing is sloppy. (This is still a young series, so I'm willing to grant them the benefit of the doubt.)

The scene where Bortus has an epiphany and changes his mind when Malloy and LaMarr show him Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer demonstrates the tricky tightrope this series walks (in what's shaping up to be a signature trait) between comedy and drama, sincerity and absurdity. And I must say they pulled it off nicely here. The scene is funny and poignant, even if it's fundamentally silly. That a lifetime of societal indoctrination can be reversed in an hour by watching a children's stop-motion animated TV special flies in the face of common sense, but this speaks to the ostensible value of parable storytelling that The Orville itself wants to occupy. The tone somehow works in its "just go with us on this" nature.

Although Bortus changes his mind, Klyden does not, so the second half of "About a Girl" becomes a courtroom episode on the Moclan homeworld, envisioned with VFX here as a global industrial wasteland. Grayson gets her JAG on (after Mercer declines the role, saying Grayson would be better — and perhaps this is an acknowledgement that MacFarlane knows it's wise deferring to Palicki in the meatier acting roles) and she argues as Bortus' lawyer against Klyden and Moclan society over the decision for child's gender.

I was honestly a little disheartened by the shift to the courtroom at first. It's an arena that has been done to death in Trek and everywhere else (including the end of a lot of bad Adam Sandler comedies, which have ruined it for everyone), and if you're going to do it, you'd better have a fresh take on it. I wouldn't call "About a Girl" a particularly fresh or groundbreaking take, but I would call it a solid and sincere one. (This is MacFarlane's attempt to do his "The Measure of a Man"; I wouldn't put it in that pedigree, but I also would say this is closer to that success than the failure of something like, say, "The Outcast.") The format allows the storytellers to make some relatively thoughtful arguments and analogues, although I'm not sure they're all iron-clad. (Included in this episode are moral comparisons to surgeries to fix birth defects like a cleft palate, and at other points the story also brings circumcision and cultural relativism into the discussion.)

The ending is an interesting resolution presented as bittersweet, in which Bortus loses the court decision. (The last-minute revelation with the female author does not suddenly prompt a sea change in Moclan society, which feels, sadly, realistic.) So the child is surgically made to be male against Bortus' wishes — but Bortus understands that the important thing now is accepting and moving forward with Klyden to lovingly raise his son.

Brannon Braga's direction is solid throughout, making for an earnest and thought-provoking hour that hits some good notes. Orville continues to recalibrate the balance between the comedy and drama, and they are getting closer to finding the right formula. But this episode never transcends its roots. This series seems insistent on reliving past Trekkian glories in a retro style, rather than blazing new trails, and this is the Trekkiest outing yet. But let's also be clear that honoring that tradition is a good thing.

Previous episode: Command Performance
Next episode: If the Stars Should Appear

◄ Season Index

49 comments on this review

Scot
Thu, Sep 21, 2017, 8:50pm (UTC -5)
I have to say that this was a profound episode. I think it demonstrates an inexorable move from the silliness of this show to genuine science fiction. Honestly, this is the best Star Trek episode I've seen in years.
Del_Duio
Thu, Sep 21, 2017, 9:14pm (UTC -5)
Well that was BY FAR the best one yet. I was very into this episode, and the comedy was much more fitting this time around. I have a feeling Jammer will like it too.

Somebody hired an actual writer this time! Some of the critics' reviews point to what (I guess) was that The Rudolph reveal was supper stupid but honestly I could see what Seth was trying to get across and I think it worked very well.

Did anybody else see similarities between the tribunal parts and the Worf / Duras honor episode too? When he asked Ed to essentially be his Chardich I kind of lol'd. They even had an old woman reveal at the end!

Also I think this show resembles Voyager a lot more than TNG. Well aside from the exact copy of Picard'a ready room.

In any event, I want to watch the next episode now so they've done something right.
Duvac12
Thu, Sep 21, 2017, 10:03pm (UTC -5)
This one was written by... Seth McFarlane Just like the first two. So they did not actually get an actual writer for it. He does have an adult side too I guess.
J.B.
Thu, Sep 21, 2017, 11:04pm (UTC -5)
This is a toughie. I respect what the episode tried to do but it often seemed silly (Bortus changed his mind over Rudolph? Really?) and was as subtle as a sledgehammer. I think they pulled it together by the end though, with an ending that I wasn't expecting (although maybe I should have).

I'll admit the biggest laugh I've gotten out of the show so far was when it quickly cut to Malloy after Greyson said, "And now, on to your assertion about male intellectual superiority..."

I wish the show stuck with that level of subtle humor instead of trying to force crude jokes that create tonal problems.
Ivanov
Fri, Sep 22, 2017, 12:25am (UTC -5)
Holy shit, this one felt like it could have been an actual Trek episode. 4/4 stars. Bravo Orville. You handled this subject matter much better than "the outcast"
Del_Duio
Fri, Sep 22, 2017, 6:32am (UTC -5)
Ugh, I HATE the Outcast. I can't stand that episode at all.
Darren
Fri, Sep 22, 2017, 8:03am (UTC -5)
As an allegorical story, I have to say this episode was pretty solid. You usually don't want such episodes to be preachy, and nor, even if just for the sake of entertainment, do you want them to present any one side as weak. Here, legitimacy was brought not only to at least three "sides", but to the characters' interactions as well.

Of course from our real-world human point of view--and the majority of the Orville crew--the procedure was quite wrong and out of the question. Yet on a world where it literally takes on average 75 years for just one girl to be born, the Moclans' arguments in favor were--for them and their world--surprising reasonable. But then when you look away from Moclan society versus Human, or Xelayan--to the individual apart from societal connections--you then get the arguable "third" side: this particular person could nonetheless go on to do great things, and be very happy. Rather than attempt to "fit in", this individual could find her own unique and rewarding path. And just in case that argument might've felt too idealistic as opposed to the obvious pragmatic considerations, once the lone Moclan woman turned up and was revealed to be the most revered author in all of Moclan society, well, legitimacy there too was sealed. ("There's more than one way to contribute to society." .... That's a thought well worth holding on to, whether in how we perceive others' lives or even our own perceived failures; how our lives seldom take the shape we wished, tried, or even feel they needed.)

As for the judgement, it actually caught me slightly off guard. Only slightly ... yet off guard nonetheless. After hour upon hour of Star Trek and more, that was pretty good. And nor, for that matter, did it feel as though it were done just to shock, or to be a twist, or whatnot. Rather, it very much came off as an organic part of the story ... and maybe even necessary.

And how Bortus mentioned to both Klyden personally and to crew members that he loved Klyden irregardless of everything going on ... I just love how on this show, the characters really seem to care and have respect and decency for one another. (Yes, Gordon can be a jerk, though even with him, I wouldn't doubt his loyalty.) And in a world where we can practically hate one another just for having different views and ideas about admittedly serious issues and happenings, such respect and decency is really nice to see again.
wolfstar
Fri, Sep 22, 2017, 9:36am (UTC -5)
(Changing my username btw - I was posting as "N" before.)

Oh my god. Genuinely excellent. Gonna have to break out the 3.5 for this one. Was not expecting that after last week's ep with Alana puking and taking tequila shots. Seth Macfarlane should choose to be sincere more often. This ep proves he can totally do it. (And the few gags that were present worked.) All the cast are good, but Peter Macon is excellent. The show deserves a lot of praise for bringing out an episode like this at such an early stage.

Only nitpicks:
- I thought they'd have gone with a more optimistic, classically Trekkian ending; the downer ending is by no means bad, but renders the show a little too similar to The Outcast and Distant Origin as opposed to The Measure Of A Man. The Outcast is excellent and of its time, but a hard watch; 20 years on, I think we can afford to be a little more optimistic and give people some hope
- Bortus's "Rudolph" turnaround didn't really work for me, but fortunately it wasn't dwelled on. I get the idea that him realising that difference could be a virtue rather than a flaw by watching some tacky 20th century cultural artefact would be funny, but it didn't work that well in practice. Perhaps they should have shown him the Eowyn "I am no man!" scene from LOTR (in an ideal world where they could have got the rights to it, haha...)
- dance gag was good but went on about 1 second too long
- the fact the female hermit was also the author was a lucky contrivance, but there have been worse contrivances on Trek plenty of times... I was genuinely stirred

The primary analogous earth issue here isn't either circumcision or transgenderism but whether it's OK to surgically modify an intersex baby to make their genitalia appear unambigiously male or female. This used to be common practice so that children would fit in with society, but it's now increasingly the case that intersex people aren't operated on in infancy unless it's genuinely medically necessary, and are instead left to decide whether or not they want any surgical modifications when they're older. An infant can't consent and has a right to bodily integrity, so the bottom line is that performing medically unnecessary procedures on someone who can't consent just to please the parents or out of cultural practice/societal conformity is ethically unsound. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intersex_medical_interventions

There's a whole area the episode doesn't go into, and that's brain sex. There have been a few cases in the US of boys who were raised as girls after losing their penis in a botched circumcision. But refashioning someone's genitals and raising them as the other sex doesn't make them female (or in the case of this episode, male) - so typically these patients switched back to male (their actual sex) in their teens or twenties. This is where The Outcast was better and more sophisticated (and distressing), because the protagonist in that actually had some kind of mental procedure performed on her to 'neutralize' her gender, perhaps analogous to a lobotomy; here, they just modified the kid's genitals, but that in no way makes it male. This again creates an issue that an optimistic ending (Bortus is allowed to raise the child as female) would have avoided.

Regarding the debate in the Command Performance thread about the show being a "Berman-era Trek rehash", I also don't understand why this is controversial as it's what the show is supposed to be - it's a feature, not a bug. "Accusing" The Orville of being a Trek copy with a slightly different tone is like accusing Family Guy of being a Simpsons copy with a slightly different tone - pointless because it's absolutely correct, it's the show's explicit design. It's one for the legal folks to decide (I'm amazed they got away with it too), but it doesn't present a problem for me in terms of the show.
wolfstar
Fri, Sep 22, 2017, 9:47am (UTC -5)
I should add, in terms of recent Trek semi-allegorical bodily rights episodes, this was vastly better than Similitude or Cogenitor. (I know Similitude is beloved by many, but my assessment of it is if anything even more scathing than Jammer's; it doesn't earn any of the emotions it seeks to elicit and there's no honesty in the writing. Cogenitor is somewhat better, but Archer's characterisation and the ending wreck it; there's no ethical through-line, the episode has no considered stance.) Indeed, late Braga/Berman-Trek had a bad occasional habit of doing issue episodes when it didn't know what it wanted to say - you can't do an ethics episode without a considered stance, or you just end up fudging the issue and saying nothing at all in a messy and ultimately unsatisfactory way (ditto Voyager's Repentance on that count, which wants to be a death penalty issue-episode but chickens out and the writing is all over the place.) About A Girl is the best Trekkian issue episode since the somewhat underrated Stigma.
Dobber
Fri, Sep 22, 2017, 1:05pm (UTC -5)
I would point out that we don't know what the procedure involved. It may have also included hormonal modifications or more. Or perhaps female Moclan anatomy is so vestigal that it has no influence beyond genitalia.
bhbor
Fri, Sep 22, 2017, 2:01pm (UTC -5)
^not to mention that Klyden and Bortus were still able to conceive a child despite Klyden's modifications at birth. I suppose Moclan medicine is able to compensate for this so that transgender individuals are able to participate as full biological analogs to naturally born males.

It was an entertaining hour and nice to see the Orville tackle controversial material instead of lowbar dick jokes and fight scenes. Despite this, I still found the commander's use of deposition from various crew members a little less cerebral in its shaky use of context than we would have found in a TNG episode. Some stand out scenes involved the final reveal of the Moclan female as the famed writer of their planet and Bortus explaining how he still loves Klyden and will "try to make it work" despite the crossroads they find themselves at.
Dobber
Fri, Sep 22, 2017, 2:10pm (UTC -5)
I actually shed a few tears when I saw Bortus give the baby the Rudolf plush toy. I wasn't expecting that when I started watching this show.
Stallion
Fri, Sep 22, 2017, 5:10pm (UTC -5)
That wasn't a bad episode. In a good way it made me think about several different Trek episodes. I feel like the music for this episode was straight Voyager and I could be wrong. but did Brannon Braga direct this episode.
Skimmy
Fri, Sep 22, 2017, 5:28pm (UTC -5)
The stars they show in the background in exterior shots and through windows are all twinkling. I just noticed that on Voyager the other day. Now they are doing it here too. Bad science.

So far this show is ok. We'll see how it goes.
navamske
Fri, Sep 22, 2017, 7:10pm (UTC -5)
They have warp -- er, quantum -- engines. They have replicators. They have holodecks. The ship has phasers, or at least "cutting beams." They have shuttles. They have tractor beams. But they don't have transporters? Why would they mimic Star Trek in so many ways but not in this one, especially given that the Star Trek transporter is so iconic?

The joke would work only once, but a character could ask about the transporters and another character could say, "The transporter won't be installed until Tuesday."
Jammer
Fri, Sep 22, 2017, 7:15pm (UTC -5)
I think you can chalk up twinkling stars to "works for better TV," sort of like sound in space.
Jammer
Fri, Sep 22, 2017, 7:17pm (UTC -5)
There's a small part of me that wonders if the lack of a transporter on The Orville is for legal reasons, like that's something that crosses some line. I suppose not, since they could just call it a "teleporter" or something.
Aaron
Sat, Sep 23, 2017, 12:22am (UTC -5)
I wonder if the lack of a transporter is because the transporter itself is too often a 'get out of jail free' card in Trek stories, and so they too often had to come up with convoluted reasons to disable it? By not having one, they don't have to do the tightrope walk in their stories.
Aaron
Sat, Sep 23, 2017, 12:28am (UTC -5)
Also in more general terms,

Jammer, I'm so happy that you're reviewing again. I'm sure this is one of the sites on the Web that I have been visiting the longest. I was definitely here back in the 20th century. I still re-read your old reviews regularly as I re-watch Trek.

I'm happy and cautiously optimistic with Orville. I enjoyed episode 2, and episode 3 was clearly a step up and a bit of a change in tone. I'm looking forward to where it goes from here. I am terrified it will get cancelled and I hope that it has a chance to find its niche.

Also - and I know it's off topic for this thread - but I'm looking forward to checking out Discovery in a couple of days, too. I've been avoiding reading much about it on the Internet. A) Scared of spoilers, and B) too much negativity! Fingers-crossed!!
John Harmon
Sat, Sep 23, 2017, 2:04am (UTC -5)
"Why would they mimic Star Trek in so many ways but not in this one, especially given that the Star Trek transporter is so iconic?"

@navamske you answered your own question. Braga himself has said in interviews that the Transporter is the most iconic piece of Trek tech. There's always been lasers and space ships in sci-fi, but the transporter is so intrinsically Trek that they felt it would have been too far to copy that too.
Dougie
Sat, Sep 23, 2017, 12:19pm (UTC -5)
This series is like walking in to one of those new fangled neck-beard infested bowl places and ordering some hip-named deliverable, only to wonder in the end what actually ended up in your gut.

Anyone have the odds on how many episodes will actually air? I say it won't get past 6, friends say next one is the last.

bhbor
Sat, Sep 23, 2017, 4:46pm (UTC -5)
^the episodes are already made... all 13. 2nd season prospects are dubious but who knows..
OmicronThetaDeltaPhi
Sat, Sep 23, 2017, 5:42pm (UTC -5)
Finally found the time to watch this one.

Very good. And once again, the Orville is tackling an issue that official Star Trek has failed to deal with in over 700 episodes: The issue of correcting "defects" in children who were born different, and the way society shuns those who choose to remain - as the say in the PC world - "special".

As a person for whom this topic is very close to heart personally, I loved the message of this episode. And I think many "disabled" (boy, do I *hate* that word) people would agree that the message here is important.

You know, I absolutely admire the way the Orville isn't afraid to tackle issues that even Star Trek feared to tread. First the animal rights one, and now this. Just wonderful. Kudos to both Seth McFarlane and FOX for doing having the balls to make this brave show.

And on a lighter note... in this episode we learn that a nano-genetic cure for cancer will be invented in 2056. I thought that was really cool.
Rahul
Sat, Sep 23, 2017, 7:25pm (UTC -5)
@OmicronThetaDeltaPhi

The issue of correcting "defects" in children was touched on in DS9's "Doctor Bashir, I presume". Granted, there are so many things that can be touched on regarding this topic and the DS9 episode is pretty different from what this episode sounds like. By the way, I haven't seen this "The Orville" episode as I was turned off after the 1st episode but I just saw your comment and had just seen the DS9 episode that I thought I'd reply to you.
OmicronThetaDeltaPhi
Sat, Sep 23, 2017, 8:28pm (UTC -5)
Rahul, thanks for the attempt, but that DS9 episode didn't really deal with this issue at all. The point of controversy there was the nature of the treatment (genetic engineering) and not the question of whether young Julian should have been treated at all.

The most relevant DS9 episode here, I think, would be "Melora". No babies there, but the question of "defect" vs "difference" is directly addressed by that episode. Unfortunately, that episode completely botched the message by making Melora herself the worst possible example of a handicapped person with an entitlement complex.
Tim Miller
Sun, Sep 24, 2017, 2:23am (UTC -5)
I don't understand why this "Planetary Union" would allow such a misogynistic race to even join them if their fundamental values as a society were so opposed to the ethics and morals of the Union as a whole.
William Matheson
Sun, Sep 24, 2017, 2:55am (UTC -5)
I've been largely gripped by these episodes and I look forward to more. I'd like them to err a little more on the side of looking like a professional crew, at least sometimes. Like when the XO calls to Bortus, "the captain wants you to get your ass up here" - it's not that it's vulgar, it's just that it's out of nowhere. But I have hope that kind of thing will smooth out as the series goes on and they pick their moments wisely.

I laughed a lot watching this episode. Bortus is an excellent straight-man. He's deadpan but also likeable. I'm already more into him than Tuvok.
Rahul
Sun, Sep 24, 2017, 6:23am (UTC -5)
@OmicronThetaDeltaPhi

Only reason I responded to your comment is that I can't agree with your statement: "And once again, the Orville is tackling an issue that official Star Trek has failed to deal with in over 700 episodes: The issue of correcting "defects" in children who were born different"

"Doctor Bashir, I Presume" did deal with the issue of what to do with the "defective" child (Julian) --it just took a different path from "About a Girl". If you recall from DBIP, the whole episode stems from Julian, as a baby, being "defective" and what his unethical dad does. There was some dialogue about what Julian's life could have been like had he not been treated and that it wouldn't necessarily be horrible.

With future episodes of Trek/Orville, it'll be near impossible for them to find an issue that has never been dealt with before - probably best they can hope for is taking a pre-existing theme (in this case how to deal with "defective" kids) and re-interpret it.

So it sounds like that's what this episode did, which is to say it did it's job. And if it makes an impact on somebody, then it did its job well. No 2 Trek/Orville episodes should be the same, obviously.
Sheap
Sun, Sep 24, 2017, 6:40am (UTC -5)
I like this episode, but I feel like it's let down because we know so little about Moclan society and biology. It should have been saved for season 2, or at least do a different Moclan episode first.

I will admit that I didn't like the species being explicitly described as "all male" in episode 1. A true monogender species wouldn't even have words for male and female. But here (or technically, at the end of the last episode) we learn that they really aren't all the same biological sex, although their society is making a hard try to be monogender.

But we know that Moclans can reproduce when both partners are male. So what, biologically speaking, are Moclan females for? Do they serve some reproductive purpose that doesn't come up in the present-day environment? Maybe female Moclans produce children more efficiently in harsh environments but less efficiently in the wealthy industrial present? That could explain why the society shifted toward all-male reproduction, eventually creating a taboo against female reproduction, then going so far as to effectively ban women to enforce the taboo. Maybe they even genetically engineered themselves to not produce any female children. Problems with the genetic engineering would explain why female Moclans tend to run in families, as they seem to.

What I do know is that they should have taken a minute to have Bortus or maybe Isaac explain it instead of me having to try to guess. We'd learn more about the society - maybe they have a good reason for it that makes humans passing judgment into simple prejudice, or maybe they're just a society where ordinary sexism got way out of control. Since we don't know, there's no way to tell whether the right decision was made. Cut the useless scene where they put Malloy on the stand to make room for it. Put it toward the end so we don't short-circuit our thought process too soon.

While I'm on the topic, I wasn't too impressed with Alara's turn on the stand either. Having her crush the metal cube is clearly meant to echo the scene in "The Measure of a Man" where Data bends the metal bar, but it fails because they are trying to make the opposite point. In that episode it was used *by the adversary* to illustrate Data's fundamentally different nature - here it's supposed to be used to show that women aren't inferior to men, but the reality is that they are physically weaker, and Alara is only so strong because she's a member of a super-strong species. As Picard says, there are species that have extreme strength, but it doesn't matter. Physical strength just isn't an appropriate criterion here and the right approach is to point that out - not go find an unusually physically strong woman.

This doesn't apply to the boxing scene, which is used to try to show Bortus specifically that he might be harboring sexist beliefs. Also, it doesn't convince him, probably for exactly the reasons I gave.

Another scene rang false for me. Ed says that there are laws that support or even require him to deny this procedure. Does the Union really have laws that human customs always take precedence over alien ones, even for those aliens themselves? Then this Union is far less enlightened than the Federation and is really quite colonial. It makes me wonder how they could even recruit a crew that seems to be half aliens. I can handle the doctor refusing to perform the procedure, but not them trying to prevent the Moclans from performing the procedure themselves. The tribunal should have come from the debate between Bortus and Klyden, not something Bortus had to do to keep Ed and the Moclan captain from shooting at each other.

Overall, this episode did give me things to think about, which was nice. I liked that the episode wasn't wrapped up neatly and that it didn't devolve into a pointless space battle. But it smacked of the TOS "We know best because we're the Americans! I mean humans!" attitude. Ed acknowledges this in his conversation with Kelly - but it doesn't really change anything.

Between the colonial attitude and the lack of background on why the Moclans are the way they are, I certainly can't justify a 3.5 star rating here, but I don't think the episode was problematic enough to go down to two stars. 2.5 or 3, depending on what else we learn in the future.

Here are a few other conclusions I can draw:
* Their sex-reassignment surgery is far more thorough than ours.
* They seem to have some of the social problems that arise when too many humans of the same gender live together, but not all of them.
* Moclan females have breasts even though Moclans lay eggs, so they don't appear to be either mammals or reptiles.
* There seem to be specific female names, so the Moclans' transition to a single gender couldn't be more than a few centuries ago.
* The Union doesn't seem all that united. They probably shouldn't even call the Orville a Union ship, but rather a Terran ship.
Sheap
Sun, Sep 24, 2017, 6:57am (UTC -5)
To give an example of the sort of thing I'm thinking of for why the Moclans might be right to go all-male, consider the Asari from Mass Effect (a true single gender species). They prefer to mate with non-Asari, because the offspring of a pairing of two Asari sometimes turn out to be vampires. Maybe there is a similar problem with the offspring of heterosexual Moclan couples (but which might have had advantages in the past).
OmicronThetaDeltaPhi
Sun, Sep 24, 2017, 7:18am (UTC -5)
@Sheap

"Here it's supposed to be used to show that women aren't inferior to men, but the reality is that they are physically weaker, and Alara is only so strong because she's a member of a super-strong species."

I think the point here is that even though women are *on average* weaker than men, the individual differences are so great that in renders such gross generalizations meaningless.

Even here on earth, a fit woman would be stronger than a male couch potato.

At least, that was my own take on this.

"The Union doesn't seem all that united. They probably shouldn't even call the Orville a Union ship, but rather a Terran ship."

It is certainly less "united" than the UFP.

The Union reminds me a bit of the present day UN: It's an organization with lots of lofty ideals, but in the end the members pretty much do what ever they want. The Union seems to be a little more formal an alliance, but not by much.

And I don't see any contradiction between this and the Orville being "a Union ship". Space is a natural place to have joint ventures of this sort, and we already see this kind of international cooperation today with the ISS and SpaceX. And people tend to require a higher standard of themselves in space: Out there we are no longer Americans or Europeans or Asians or whatever... We are all representatives of the human race.

Alexandrea
Sun, Sep 24, 2017, 10:41am (UTC -5)
The episode trumps itself up to deal with issues in the Trekkian tradition, but it emphatically does not. For anyone who works with issues of sex changes at birth, gender identity, circumcision, or other questions fumbled by the episode, it varies between poorly handled and outright offensive. The episode clearly wants to follow in the tradition of TNG's "The Outcast," but its politics are ten steps backwards from a 25-year-old hour of television.

Let's begin with a throwaway scene separate from the episode's primary issues. Yafit the blob-alien has faked illness three times in order to hit on the ship's doctor. When she confronts him on it, he insists she go out with him, and on her refusal, he protrudes a phallic shape and tells her there's more where that came from. She shoos him out of her office.

Overt sexual harassment on a Union starship is evidently no big deal. "Hey, it's just comedy!" you might protest. First, it's not very good comedy. Second, MacFarlane is claiming to create aspirational science fiction, a future where humanity has progressed beyond what we are today. Today, we have protections against workplace harassment. If our brighter future is one where we're expected to laugh it off, count me out.

This principle applies to the way the episode (and so far the series in general) handles all of its issues. The Orville's failure to move beyond sex as a physical binary shows that the writers are not attuned to dialogues in 2017, or even the 1990s, to say nothing of presenting a more enlightened future than the present day. Since Moclan males can lay eggs, what it means to "be female" becomes even more absurd--evidently it means to look and sound like what we expect from a woman.

Is the show making a point about infant circumcision? Not really, considering the practice is used as an example of something the Union is fine with.

Is it engaging in meaningful dialogue about infant sex "correction" operations for intersex children? Hardly, since the writers clearly did no research and treat the operations as if they can be performed with no risk to the child or long-term health consequences for them as adults, as if making a baby "male" or "female" is a straightforward endeavor.

The only point the show can claim to be making is that being a woman is not a disability. The episode preens as if this is some kind of progressive point, but it is not. TNG in the 80s would not have stooped to presenting such a theme as a message; it took the point in principle for granted (even though it took some time for us to have a woman captain in practice). The Orville revels in its nostalgia, but it is not acceptable for its politics to represent a regression from decades past.

MacFarlane's brand of crass comedy isn't just a tonal mismatch with sincere sci-fi. His particular choices fundamentally undermine any attempts to aspirational science fiction the show might have.
Other Chris
Sun, Sep 24, 2017, 1:46pm (UTC -5)
Thanks for the heads up, Alexandrea. I've been gauging reaction to see if this is worth following, but I'm glad to not have bothered past the first episode.
James
Mon, Sep 25, 2017, 6:30am (UTC -5)
This episode is not about women, and it's even less about sending a message that "being a woman is not a disability". It's about challenging cultural norms and preconceptions, whatever they may be. The rigidity of the Moclans' societal norms is something that can readily be applied to almost any aspect of our own, and most of us who have felt excluded or under pressure from their culture to not be different, should be able to relate to Bortus' point of view and his struggle in the episode.

I have to say, these reviews are rather harsh on the series so far. This episode attempts to deal with the ethical consequences of something rarely looked at on Trek, and yet it gets the same score as a boring and meaningless retread of Star Trek VI in Voyager's "Flashback", and the same as the totally meaningless and flawed Star Trek Into Darkness. Maybe I have different standards, but for me it's ambition that counts for most. Orville is starting to show that it's trying to be more than just throwaway entertainment - something that Star Trek has been for far too long.
Paul
Mon, Sep 25, 2017, 10:44am (UTC -5)
@Alexandrea:

Oh, I am sure that there are laws against workplace sexual harrassment - she just chose to laugh it off. I am quite sure that if he were to continue, she would take steps. It is her choice how the situation should be handled in this case. After all, she can make decision on her own, right?

I am not sure why you bring up the gender binary. That was not the focus of the show, it wasn't even mentioned. The point was, is it okay to perform operations on infants? Also, the Gender Binary is by no means outdated. 98% of people or more identify as the same gender as their biological sex. Other "genders" have no reproductive purpose, so it is fair to say that the human species is composed of only two genders with a few exceptions.

And regarding male circumcision: Yes, the Union is fine with it, but why? In the same way it should be fine with the Moclans changing the gender of a female - as they apparently have no reproductive purpose whatsoever (if they are even capable of that), but seem just like a genetic vestige from the time before they became monogender. Granted, we know almost nothing about their biology or society, so this is conjecture, and i wish they'd shown more of that before tackling this issue. So they don't answer the question if male circumcision is right or wrong, but they bring it up and make people think, instead of preaching to them.

Oh, and regarding sex-change operations and long time consequences: In the series, the procedure seems to be perfected by the Moclans, and human medicine has advanced as well, so I would assume that there were fewer complications. So rather than a lack of research, this is a hypothetical case where there are no medical reasons not to do it, just ethical ones. In that way they focus on the important question.
OmicronThetaDeltaPhi
Mon, Sep 25, 2017, 4:37pm (UTC -5)
"I have to say, these reviews are rather harsh on the series so far. This episode attempts to deal with the ethical consequences of something rarely looked at on Trek, and yet it gets the same score as a boring and meaningless retread of Star Trek VI in Voyager's "Flashback", and the same as the totally meaningless and flawed Star Trek Into Darkness."

Well, I think a 3-star rating is pretty good. After all, it's just 1 star shy of a perfect rating.

Why anybody would give STiD 3 stars is beyond my comprehension, but this doesn't have anything to do with the Orville or the Jammer's review of this episode.

As for this episode: it was profound and original, but it also had quite a few flaws. The arguments in the courtroom really left much to be desired (which is mind-boggling given that we already have a perfect example of how do these things right with "Measure of a Man"), and they could have done much *much* more with the premise.

So 3 stars, I think, is an entirely reasonable rating here.
James
Mon, Sep 25, 2017, 10:45pm (UTC -5)
I actually agree with the 3 star rating. It's just that the "flaws" mentioned concerning unoriginality and reliance on a previous era have been present in many very highly regarded ST episodes, which existed almost purely for the fanservice. Never transcending roots wasn't a problem in Trials and Tribble-ations, was it?
SlackerInc
Tue, Sep 26, 2017, 1:53am (UTC -5)
I was disappointed by the doctor's answer to the circumcision question.

@Jammer: "There's a small part of me that wonders if the lack of a transporter on The Orville is for legal reasons, like that's something that crosses some line. I suppose not, since they could just call it a 'teleporter' or something."

This is exactly what I have been thinking, and I do still believe it.  I think they have set this aside as their legal ace in the hole: "How can it be a carbon copy of Star Trek without 'beam me up'?"  After all, lots of sci-fi shows have featured FTL travel, shuttles, etc.; but I can't think of any others that used transporters, not within a "Federation/Union" type framework.

In this vein, I'm a little surprised that they have what are essentially replicators (did you see when that one couple got a giant diamond?  LOL).  But maybe the legal team told McFarlane "you can have either replicators or transporters, but not both", and this is what he picked.

@Cosmic, you still watching?  Curious if your upward trajectory in appreciation has continued.

Unfortunately, it appears the move to Thursdays was pretty damaging, as the audience numbers for this episode were a significant dropoff from the first two.  And that was going against repeats for competition.  I await next week's numbers with some significant trepidation.

@James: "I have to say, these reviews are rather harsh on the series so far. This episode attempts to deal with the ethical consequences of something rarely looked at on Trek, and yet it gets the same score as a boring and meaningless retread of Star Trek VI in Voyager's 'Flashback', and the same as the totally meaningless and flawed Star Trek Into Darkness."

Great point.  Either side (the tough reviews of this show, or the cushiony reviews of the episodes/movies you mentioned) can be defended on its own; but together it stretches credulity to the breaking point.
OmicronThetaDeltaPhi
Tue, Sep 26, 2017, 7:27am (UTC -5)
@SlackerInc regarding tha lack of the transporter:

I think the idea of it just being a legal trick is a bit cynical.

The transporter is easily the most rediculous and unrealistic peace of Treknology. It's also a huge can of worms in a story-telling sense.

So really, when you think of "creating an inspired-by-Trek independent sci fi universe", ditching the transporter should be the first thing you do.

BTW even the alien "molecular transport" tech of the previous episode is not as magical a tech as a transporter. It seems to be site-to-site only.


TK
Tue, Sep 26, 2017, 2:53pm (UTC -5)
Well...they made a filler TNG episode- warts and all.

I honestly don't know what to make of that accomplishment. Insofar as even bad TNG was reasonably watchable 25 years ago, it's a win- but it's also not 25 years ago. The explicit replication of TNG replicating 'Twelve Angry Men' felt like it was suffering from repetitive Xeroxing- the after school special quality of carefully sanitizing some timely headline and having the ship's high school debate champion make an abbreviated case sagged for me, and neglected all the sharper points that a keen litigator would have made. Yes, I'm all for bringing talk about intersex children to this slice of the mainstream (assuming it's not there already, this many years after the publication of 'Middlesex') but eating your vegetables does not a series make.

What does it actually mean to be a Moclan female (or male?) Bortus, producing a costly egg that is related to his mate, clearly isn't 'male' in the sense that a biologist would consider the term- the Moclans are clearly simultaneous hermaphrodites. Are they this way naturally, and being 'female' represents a loss of function mutation? Were they engineered this way, as an terminal act of misogyny by a culture obsessed with male martial virtues? How is a Moclan female actually different? What can or can't they do (and appeals to the gendered capacities of *wholly different species* is not of much utility, as the Moclan attorney points out)?

All those shortcomings distinguished poor Trek courtoom stories from more successful outings- and this felt distinctly like the former, and I'm puzzled in any case that such a literal and inconsistent plot device was what they strove to emulate.

And I still find I'm choking on the tone. I figured this was going to be Galaxy Quest- The Series, and use the avowedly comedic framework to lovingly highlight some of the ways that the setting was absurd, while still buying into its hopeful nature. That didn't materialize, and instead we got some intimations that it would be Star Trek, but with more obviously imperfect people, which would have been fine too- Captain Picard presumably burped, farted, and got stood up by dates like everyone else. Now, it seems that it just consists of 'ha! We used a colloquialism', which....seems thin.
SlackerInc
Tue, Sep 26, 2017, 9:24pm (UTC -5)
@TK, although I liked it better than you did, I feel your review deserves recognition for how well written and well argued it was. Are you yourself a litigator?
Steven
Wed, Sep 27, 2017, 11:31am (UTC -5)
The first twenty minutes of that episode were very interesting, but I thought it was odd how it suddenly turned from a rare genetic defect thing into a "why do you hate women?" thing, especially since the Moclans seemed nothing but respectful to the women of other species before this.

It just sort of muddled the message of the episode for me, and I think they'd've been better off either sticking with just the sexism aspect or just the genetic defect aspect alone. I don't think the two sides really fit well together.
John Lemon
Thu, Sep 28, 2017, 3:34am (UTC -5)
I really disliked this episode, not because of the message it was trying to send, but the setting it used sending it. Most of my points are already mentioned by others here, but I feel like I need to do little venting myself.

Firstly the whole female Moclan thing. We have been shown that 2 "males" of their species can procreate so where does that leave the "female"? This by itself already removes any kind of female - male meaning from the start as they are clearly not different sexes, but more like different racial variants of the same species.

Secondly the whole premise of them showing how females can be as strong and intelligent as males by using different species is by itself a ridiculous notion. In humans the difference is very small and individual differences are often bigger, but in nature we have for example in arachnids females that are 100x larger than their male counter parts. On mammals, spotted hyena females are larger and stronger than males and do in fact completely dominate them, on the other hand in baboons the males is on average twice the size of female. Sexual dimorphism is very different in different species so everyone just assuming that Moclans are exactly like humans even though they had no records of any "female" of adult age when the whole trial started.

Again, I'm not saying that the message here was bad, but the setting just did not fit for it.
Paul Allen
Sat, Sep 30, 2017, 4:51pm (UTC -5)
Fantastic episode.

intro2001
Sun, Oct 1, 2017, 1:04am (UTC -5)
Yeah, this show is getting OK now:
High-concept sci-fi, decent cast chemistry, humour that justifies the show having humour:
Seth: "You can hang out on our ship for a while....We have board games, we have Monopoly..."
Agents of Shield gal: "You can be the car"
I'm A Survivor lyrics recited:
Bortus: "Those are powerful words - who wrote them?"
Cap'n Seth: "Like 15 different people"
A nice mix of high adventure and light-hearted moments - Rock on
William
Sat, Oct 14, 2017, 9:06am (UTC -5)
This episode really marks the first strong step towards being a proper successor to 90's Trek. The humour is still very present, and the scene with the blob and the doctor is very out of place, but the subject matter is far more serious and is delved into in more depth.

There are really two topics being addressed in this episode. The first is a direct parallel being made to sexual assignment surgery on intersex children. This is a topic that is rarely mentioned in any form of media, but is very real. The show takes a strong stance against such procedures, but also is willing to address the fact that it is not an easy decision for the parents and is not necessarily an indication that the parents don't love their child.

The other topic is dealt with via allegory. Humans are sexual dimorphic, but the imperfections of genetics means that there are variations in biology between the two standard genders. Rather than attempt to delve into the depths of this topic, The Orville simplifies the issue by using a single gender species with a single variation that can occasionally occur. The discussion uses the language of male/female gender to raise the question of whether being born outside the norm is a defect or not. Would she have social standing? Would she be able to find a romantic partner? What are the psychological and social repercussions of being biologically isolated? It's not a perfect examination of the topic by any means, but raising this topic in a language that is accessible to people that may not have any exposure to transgender people is important.

Oh, and on the random "Trek never did it" aside: I think it's awesome that we have a same sex couple raising a child, and that is treated as so normal that its never even commented on. And one of the men in the relationship is transgender.
Kira Nerys
Sun, Oct 15, 2017, 2:31am (UTC -5)
Well, I just started watching Orville and devoured the first three episodes in one sitting...whereas I can still barely make it through a single episode of Discovery. Maybe it's just my taste, but this fact alone testifies as to which of the two I enjoy more :)

Sure, Orville is a bit goofy and some of the jokes are really immature, but what I like about it is that it is sincere and has heart. I find its fusion of self-aware jabs at common Trek tropes with earnest attempts at dramatic storytelling really interesting, and I think this is something that has a lot of potential - they just need to downplay the silly jokes and introduce more fresh story ideas (as opposed to rehashes of themes from TNG).

I really liked ˝About a Girl˝, as it was a brave and decent attempt at introducing deeper issues into the series. Sure, there's still a lot of work to be done, but I still find that this episode had more depth than all of the episodes of Discovery so far. Discovery tries so hard to be deep by being all dark and angsty, but it all comes off as very superficial to me. ˝Dark˝ does not necessarily equal ˝deep˝ and ˝interesting˝ - too often, it's just an easy and cheap way of trying to make your stories appear more profound than they actually are.

Thumbs up for Orville so far, looking forward to seeing more!
Dave in MN
Fri, Oct 20, 2017, 9:57am (UTC -5)
This is the episode that made me realize I was becoming a huge fan. Man, I've missed philosophical sci-fi without the easy answers!

(I was posting as Dave in NC, but I moved back to my home state).
CPUFP
Sun, Oct 22, 2017, 6:12pm (UTC -5)
Overall a pretty good episode. I liked how they handled the topic of "correctional" sex assignment at birth, even calling in question earth practices like correcting a cleft pallate or circumcision (btw, I sincerely hope that circumcision as a cultural practice will be long gone by the 25th century).

The ending was solid - cultural customs aren't changed by one sudden revelation, but with the famous author outing herself as a woman, we can at least hope that Moclan society will gradually change, and it was heartwarming to see Bortus und Klyden reconcile and look forward to providing for their child's future.

So far, Bortus' arc has been the most interesting part of the show for me, and I like that, even though their culture is presented as problematic, the Moclans are still shown as people with believable individual motivations. In that regard, The Orville is more Trekkian than Discovery's portrayal of the Klingons as being characterized by nothing but violence and fear.

The only part that didn't work for me (apart from the terrible humor, which I hope will be dropped as the series continues) was the courtroom scene. If female Moclans are so rare and are usually changed into males at birth, why do the Moclans have such a clear concept of women being physically and intellectually inferior to men? If the Moclans procreate within one sex only, how come they even have a concept of a male-female binary sexuality? And why does no-one call bullshit when Grayson tries to prove the capabilities of Moclan women by referring to other species from different planets? The answer to these questions is, of course, that this is all just an allegory, but if McFarlane intends to do some worldbuilding with this show, then he should at least give this world some consistency.

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