The Orville #3: About a Girl

"Don't start handing out penises yet, Captain Vorak."
IN THIS ONE... Bortus struggles with the decision to have his daughter's gender reassigned.

REVIEW: What's amazing about this episode is that it evokes several real-world issues without betraying the world it's building and crossing into straight allegory or messaging. With Klyden well and truly joining the cast, The Orville beats Star Trek: Discovery to portraying a same-sex male couple by a few weeks, and does a better job of it overall. Klyden and Bortus work at their marriage through various difficulties (and the events here only cause more in the future), whereas the more skittish Trek is quick to split Stamets and Culber up. We were told there was only one gender in this species (not true), which logically means they are all gay (not true either, but that's a story for another time). So the question of asking Dr. Finn to perform a sex change on the new-born makes sense from the point of view of the Moclans, but to the humans, is abhorrent. It evokes everything from conversion therapy to trans rights struggles, as well as exposes the systemic misogyny of the Moclans. Klyden having been born female and happy to have had the operation done (and yet embarrassed by it to the point he didn't say anything to his mate - who makes a point of restating his unconditional love) adds another wrinkle. On top of that is the Trekkish ethical debate about interfering or respecting a culture different from our own - where's the limit?

Most of the arguments on either side make use of false equivalences, which sounds about right. The obvious comparison is circumcision and they make it. Bortus also brings up the fact we would fix a cleft palate at birth. The crew counters with facile examples like Arana being stronger than any male, but it's LaMarr and Malloy showing him the Rankin-Bass Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer that actually makes him have a change of heart. (Between this and Command Performance, it seems many answers can be found in 20th/21st-Century pop culture. A trope to watch?) Rudolph's difference proved to be THE thing that saves Christmas, you just never know. We take this story for granted, but an alien might come to it with fresh eyes. But Klyden is adamant, and so it's going to go to trial. Kelly does her best in a comedy context, but using non-Moclan males and females to deny innate male superiority is also a false equivalence. She does better by finding an actual female, living in seclusion, the dignified Heveena whose parents hid in the mountains and raised her as female, where she's lived all her life. For the Moclan orthodoxy, this is only more proof that it would be doing Bortus' child a disservice, and no proof at all that females are as useful to society as males. In a fairly well set up shocker, Heveena turns out to be the culture's greatest writer who, like many women in our culture, was using a male nom de plume. And still, the tribunal votes in favor of the gender reassignment, which is deeply realistic even if we've accepted Starfleet officers changing the course of a civilization with the right argument on that other show. The final scene, with Bortus nevertheless lovingly looking at his son Topa, is touching. Despite a gruff, humorless exterior, again and again in this episode, Bortus shows a great capacity for unconditional love.

Now, if you have a stake in one issue or another, you might not think this works, that it confusing things by putting too much into the pot, or that it sends out the wrong message by somehow siding with gender reassignment (even if the Union heroes are deeply set against Moclan law on this). I would say the episode presents the story as it might happen if Moclans were real. Their issues are not our exact issues, and their system behaves in a manner that is consistent for them. You can't just grand-stand and make a belief system fall. It's sad that Topa never gets a choice, but this is what would normally happen. Further, it isn't the end of this story. About a Girl will have consequences down the line, and Moclan attitudes are going to be explained when certain things come to light in the future. It is not the final word on this topic.

While this is a heavier show, it does find humor where it can. Ed and Kelly try to play for time by offering to play board games with the Moclan captain. Malloy has screwed with a western holodeck program so it includes a dance competition. An alien replicates himself a funny pillow. The Destiny's Child bit. There's happily just one divorce joke. Ed's comment about having an anti-bullying law named after him marks the first time I laughed out loud in my rewatch. Yaphet makes his first move on Claire (I kind of can't believe they got away with his rude gesture). A lot of people call each other "dicks", which I think is consistent with the theme of the episode. And our first look at the Moclan homeworld has a slight touch of the ridiculous - I like the giant block of metal that sounds the start and end of the trial - but it's still believable. Here is a highly polluted desert world, where this race of weapons makers tests explosives anywhere they please (though perhaps a mean streak about this challenge to their culture is responsible for scaring the Orville crew with that). It feels no more ridiculous than Qo'noS or Cardassia or Vulcan (to name other worlds that are devoted to a single principle).

WHERE SOMEONE HAS GONE BEFORE: While no one would deny the Moclans are designed to remind you of the Klingons, and their make-up is really close to "Darmok"'s Children of Tama, their attitude towards females recalls the Ferengi's. The crew can bring their families on their exploratory mission, just like in TNG. Officers being called upon to act as advocates for crew members accused of crimes (or being robbed of their rights) is a proud Star Trek tradition that includes such episodes as The measure of a Man, The Drumhead and Rules of Engagement. A glimpse at a routine mission: The Orville prevents as asteroid from smashing into a planet, a plot device first seen in The Paradise Syndrome. Brannon Braga directed this episode.

REWATCHABILITY: High - Invites discussion on gender roles, gender identity, and parents' responsibilities to their children without force-feeding any answers. Wait, isn't The Orville a silly comedy show?


Michael May said...

This is where I fell in love.

Awesome review, as always.


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