The Orville #12: Mad Idolatry

"A religion has developed around your first officer!"
IN THIS ONE... The Orville contaminates the culture of a planet that phases in and out of our universe.

REVIEW: As with the previous episode, Mad Idolatry finds a way to do high-concept sci-fi and integrate both a personal story AND jokes into a pretty seamless whole. Of course, I feel like I've seen the high concept before (see Where Someone Has Gone Before), but perhaps the combination of tropes is unique and has several great moments. Essentially, the Orville finds a planet that phases into our universe every 11 days for a short amount of time, but time doesn't move at the same pace in its home universe, so 700 years seem to have passed each time. This gives us the chance to see how cultural contamination works in real time. Compassionate Kelly heals a little girl's forehead and accidentally originates a religion around a Healing Goddess. We visit the world in its Middle Ages (where horrific things are done in her name) and something resembling our time (same, really), and Kelly grows more and more despondent. Naturally, she wants to interfere again and again to fix what she's done, but she only manages to make things worse. Or does she?

Obviously, Kelly here is a stand-in for Jesus, the culture evolving in the same way with popes, witch trials, televangelists, separation of Church and State anxieties, and holy wars. These people look human, and their media looks like ours. They even have their own Perd Hapley. In the Middle Ages, Kelly appeals to the pontiff and gets a good reaction, but he's killed by an underling so that it doesn't jeopardize religion's hold on power. On the next go-round, she's ready to give everything up to make amends and stay on the planet to debunk her own divinity. Cleverly, they send Isaac instead, since his body is immortal and his mind doesn't work the same way ours do. What Kelly will discover 700 years or 11 days later is that societies can grow out of their need for gods, and use reason to advance both technologically and ethically. The visitors at the end make it sound like this GENERALLY happens, but we know from the Krill it's not a done deal. So the ending feels a little pat (and could they not become dangerous in 11 more days, or 22, or 33?), but they are absolutely correct that if Kelly hadn't been there, religion would have found another focus. That's just how societies evolve. Nice effects on the future of the planet too.

Because the ship has to wait around for the planet to reappear, it gives the Ed/Kelly room to breathe. After the revelations of Cupid's Dagger, there's a chance to heal and get away from the constant remarks about Kelly cheating on him. But could forgiveness be a way to patch things up and start over for them? We see how she's still his best friend aboard ship, there for him when he's just lonely (not to say needy). They go on a date and even kiss. But - and I don't think he would have acted all that differently if they weren't on the cusp of being a couple again - he covers for her when she makes her mistake, and (I agree) in a conflict of interest. Except he always has been, and it won't stop just because they're not technically together. Still, it's the adult thing to do. The relationship is inappropriate in a work/military setting. So they advance the relationship without breaking the show, and the problem is exposed through the A-plot.

The jokes are mostly outside the A and B plots (except for the funny bit where Ed mocks an admiral before the connection was cut off and gets into more trouble), but still connect to Ed's loneliness. After his shift, he visits other crew members with varying results. Malloy makes a pun but is already going to bed (which makes him NOT the best friend after all). LaMarr is of course with a woman. Bortus and Klyden make him drink something vile and play an insanely dangerous ball game with him... They land while also doing some character/culture building.

WHERE SOMEONE HAS GONE BEFORE: With its policy against cultural contamination, the Union moves one step closer to Trek's "Prime Directive". Mad Idolatry appears to combine episodes from three Trek stories - TNG's Who Watches the Watchers (a crew member is thought to be a god after healing someone), DS9's Meridian (a planet that phases in and out of reality), and Voyager's "Blink of an Eye" (a planet that moves at a faster relative pace impacted by the ship's presence, with Isaac playing the EMH's part as "immortal" artificial being). With the two visitors at the end of the episode, MacFarlane may in fact be referencing Blink of an Eye, with dialogue about "recompense" featuring in both moments. The Union apparently has access to cloaking technology (at least for shuttles), which was usually denied Federation ships in Star Trek. Picard had to break off a relationship with a subordinate for similar reasons in "Lessons". Brannon Braga directed this episode.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - A solid season finale, which only seems derivative for me because I've seen too much Trek.

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