The single word that might describe "Midnight Blue" best is "satisfying." This is nearly 90 minutes of political drama and personal angst that puts its characters and institutions through all manners of hell and hardship and emerges on the other side with something that makes us want to pump our fists, even as it employs no shortage of outrage, ugliness, and contrivance to get there. This is a personal and political melodrama that doesn't hesitate to manipulate us or the characters in its grand plan of getting to its destination. It is not subtle about what it does. Indeed, it's about as subtle as a sledgehammer. But in being bold and decisive, it finally tackles the problem with the Moclans and their status in the Union head-on, and does so without flinching.
The story takes us back to the independent female Moclan colony (see "Sanctuary") led by Haveena (Rena Owen), where a team from Moclus is to meet the Orville away team to conduct an inspection to ensure the sanctuary is abiding by the terms of their agreement with the Moclan government. Topa, who is being mentored by Grayson, accompanies Grayson and Bortus as an observer; she hopes to meet Haveena (who is her hero) and witness how other Moclan females live. The episode bides its time getting to the point, but that works here because it allows the story to provide some texture around life in the sanctuary as seen through Topa's eyes.
It's here where we see Haveena's dedication to her cause allows her to use the greater good as cover for a desperate and manipulative play on Topa as an impressionable adolescent who is in no position to say no to such a request from this particular person. She secretly recruits Topa into her Underground Railroad-like network, hoping her position on a Union ship will allow her to communicate with her secret contacts on Moclus. This is not only in violation of the sanctuary's agreement but also something likely to put a young child in grave danger.
Later, Topa ventures off the settlement and is captured by the Moclan inspectors and taken off the planet. (There are some odd, unexplained plot elements here: Did the Moclans arrange for the mysterious blue "Luminite" to lure her away? Because this is clearly more than just coincidental. And, for that matter, how did they even know Topa was being recruited by Haveena? Because they seem very sure she absolutely has crucial information almost immediately after Haveena has had just one conversation with her.) Bortus and Grayson, after learning Topa is missing, desperately go chasing after her, but find that their shuttle's communications have been sabotaged. They're able to follow the Moclan shuttle to a nearby uninhabited planet where the Moclans have a black ops interrogation facility that's holding Topa, but they're unable to contact the Orville.
Meanwhile, Mercer, who is left totally in the dark after these fast-moving events, questions Haveena in her role in all this. Haveena reluctantly comes clean, but doesn't intend to endanger her underground contacts on Moclus by going on the record to the Union officials who might be able to force the Moclan government to acknowledge Topa's kidnapping. In Haveena's eyes, Topa is an unfortunate casualty of the cause. It's to the episode's credit that it allows Haveena to occupy this amoral place of desperation, acting on a greater good that is not above individual exploitation. Mercer's coercive ploy to get Haveena to cooperate is to play the Dolly Parton card, and he has her go into the holographic simulator where Parton performs "Try" as a way of pressuring Haveena into realizing the error of her ways. This is one of those purely Orvillian moments, and your mileage may vary, but for me it was a little too precious.
Topa is put into an interrogation room with a creepy, one-eyed Moclan who is all business and has questions he expects Topa to answer. (Who are the contacts on Moclus, and what are the encryption codes for their communications?) It's here where the show tightens the vice grip, effectively if manipulatively, by cutting between scenes where poor Topa is tortured for information while Bortus and Grayson land their shuttle and attempt to infiltrate the facility from what must be a good mile away. Meanwhile, Haveena testifies before the Union council and admits to the underground network in the hopes the Moclan government will be forthcoming about their role in kidnapping Topa and show some mercy. No such luck; they simply use Haveena's admission to grandstand as political victims, while denying they have any sort of interrogation operation at all.
The scene where Malloy, who is supposed to keep his mouth shut but just can't do it, tears into the hypocrisy of the Moclan government is a moment that will have you nodding in agreement even as you hold your breath as to how this whole diplomatic fiasco will play out. Meanwhile, Mercer's role in all this is compelling to watch. It's a particularly good showcase for MacFarlane as he tries to get everyone to do the right thing to fix this mess, while making it very clear where he stands at all points along the way — but while also not overplaying his rather limited hand. It's a tricky tightrope to walk. You can see how he agrees with Malloy even as he desperately wants him to stop talking.
The shoot-em-up action (both within the interrogation facility and the now-seemingly-weekly moment where the show turns into Star Wars with a high-speed shuttle chase) is fairly obligatory and standard, but is elevated by the heightened stakes. The rescue of Topa is of course successful, but only after she's been tortured and handed over key information to her captor. Bortus has a moment of vengeance clearly inspired by Worf's killing of Duras in "Reunion," where he savagely beats the interrogator and blinds him with his own torture device. It's one of those nasty moments you're tempted to approve of for all the wrong — or maybe right — reasons.
The showdown on the Union floor is also powerful and satisfying, because it finally publicly reveals the Moclans — and the Union — for who they truly are. No longer can the Moclans hide behind cultural relativism; evidence of their brutality against Topa is enough to finally make the Union say "enough" and expel the Moclans from the organization, despite what this may mean in terms of the defensive posture in the face of the Kaylon threat. (That the Union makes this decision regardless of the strategic fallout is commendable. That the Kaylon threat still feels largely theoretical because of how indirectly it has been dealt with all season as a plotline is perhaps still a significant problem.)
In perhaps the most genuinely moving character turn of events, Klyden finally sees the light and returns to make right by his daughter and family, apologizing for all the terrible things he said to her in "A Tale of Two Topas." Like with the Union's vote to expel Moclus, Klyden's change of heart demonstrates how extreme situations make it impossible to ignore ugly truths and instead allow people to finally reassess what they actually stand for. Klyden even invites Grayson to sit with the family for dinner, which really got me, given how previously impossible that would've seemed.
Is there a world where the Union doesn't stand up for justice because realpolitik rules the day and the need for Molcan weapons against the Kaylon is the more pragmatic solution? Absolutely. Is there a world where a lifetime of bigotry doesn't melt away for Klyden regardless of what atrocities happened to his daughter? Sure. But "Midnight Blue" shows a reasonable world where the moral high ground can rule the day, and is all the more satisfying for it. It does this while shaking up the series' political bedrock yet again, and finally dealing with the Moclans in a decisive way that has been brewing for most of the series' run.
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