"Primal Urges" is an episode in need of a good script doctor. Maybe Dr. Finn should add "script doctor" to her resume. After all, she adds "marriage counselor" to it here (where apparently an MD and a psychology PhD fall under one umbrella), in an episode that bounces around like a haphazard mess. This is an ambitious episode prone to frequent tonal and narrative whiplash, and boy does it not work.
In it, Bortus suffers from holographic porn addiction, which has negative consequences for his marriage to Klyden. Bortus lies about what he's doing (claiming to work long hours when he's really in the EV simulator), they haven't had sex for a very long time, and they argue frequently in terse shouts. It's exactly like if you took two Klingon dudes and gave them dialogue from some sort of self-help video about a failing marriage. The dialogue itself is banal and clichéd; it's the fact that it's happening between two Moclan tough guys in Worf-like laconic deadpan that's supposed to give it an ironic twist. That is something, I suppose. It is not enough.
We get several iterations of the same sequence. (If you wanted to see several versions of the kind of porn scenarios Bortus is into, you won't be disappointed. These are frequently played for laughs in ways that eventually feel like they're at odds with the episode's desire to be About Something ostensibly serious.) The repetition is required to justify the shocking scene where a frustrated Klyden stabs Bortus in the chest as he sleeps, which is the Moclan way of declaring (not asking for) a divorce. Bortus miraculously survives, and the attempted murder is reluctantly swept under the rug by Ed because of internal cultural vacuums or whatever, and because Bortus won't press charges. I couldn't help but wonder how the Union has no understanding of Moclan culture or their dire divorce proceedings when they have a Moclan family on their ship. (For that matter, what did Klyden think would happen to him and his son after killing Bortus?)
It's about here we get Claire's role as marriage counselor. This happens because Klyden suddenly decides the marriage is worth saving, which strikes me as an odd change of heart considering he just tried to murder his partner — something which, had it been successful, would've been, you know, kinda permanent. Oh well. If Klyden's second thoughts make it seem like his first thoughts weren't very well thought through — well, such is the case for this episode. But here we at least get to the heart of the matter, which is that Bortus has lost all interest in his marriage because he hasn't been able to forgive Klyden for forcing their son Topa to undergo gender reassignment in "About a Girl." This idea shows potential for real character analysis, but the episode immediately drops it because "Primal Urges" has no sustained focus on the things that actually matter.
Instead, we have a subplot involving a star going supernova that's about to incinerate a planet, which the crew belatedly discovers has the last 75 people of a dying civilization living beneath its surface. The crew must figure out the technobabble solution to rescue these people before time expires. There are some very impressive visual effects in this subplot, as well as some hard choices, but overall it plays like one of those forced jeopardy premises tacked onto a fifth-season TNG episode — especially once the Orville itself is imperiled by a computer virus that starts disabling the ship's systems.
About that virus. It gets into the ship's computer because Bortus needs to upgrade his erotic material and seeks out another crew member on the down-low (performed by a massive, ugly CGI creation who speaks in dude-bro subtitles) to create a special program that provides sight gags in the background for the rest of the episode's race-against-the-clock premise. If you've ever used a company-issued computer, you'll know that external media connections can be blocked automatically by system policies. The Orville could use IT security from four centuries in its past. But there I go nitpicking.
"Primal Urges" was originally intended to air as episode 12 of season one before last-minute adjustments to Fox's December 2017 schedule shelved it for more than a year. If the intention was to hold a weak episode, they picked the right one. This tries to do way too many things and winds up doing few of them well. Porn addiction is a reasonable topic, sure. But "Primal Urges" mistakes showing images of something over and over (mostly on comic terms) for depth or meaning about that thing. And it filters a contemporary human problem through an alien character for reasons that aren't clear, considering the alien himself is still so loosely defined.
Possibly the best moment of the episode comes when Bortus explains his sexual proclivities in terms of a hunger that, once salved, leaves only emptiness. At the end of this speech, Isaac says, "It is prudent that you are in therapy." It's a glib laugh line, and I suppose I admit to chuckling, but it's indicative of this story's tendency to pull away after skimming the surface rather than dealing in a meaningful way with the issues it puts forward. Bortus deserves better, and so does the audience.
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