The Orville #7: Majority Rule

"Government by American Idol."
IN THIS ONE... The Orville encounters an absolute, unstructured democracy.

REVIEW: The Orville does Black Mirror, specifically the one with Bryce Dallas Howard getting downvotes until she is destitute and violent ("Nosedive"), though the idea also turned up earlier as Meow Meow Beans in the show Community, and later as Citizen Points in actual Chinese society (disturbing). With little in the way of juvenile humor (aside from John's criminal statue grinding), and yet still written by Seth MacFarlane, Majority Rule seems to say the show's tone is finally settling down. This is fine dystopian satire, and like its television precursors, does a good job of dissecting what's happening to our culture thanks to social media. Opinion is valued over fact (and indeed, overturns fact). Outrage rules the day. And ultimately, the Orville uses fake news and Isaac as a one-man troll farm to influence opinion. With the talk show circuit LaMarr is forced to go on for his "apology tour", we see just how rigged the system is, with pundits essentially influencing opinion so that this "democracy" is laughable. And of course, it starts with a barista downvoting someone without knowing the context of their case. That's us, or the most thoughtless among us, in a nutshell. At least their system of justice is swift, right?

I haven't decided if I like the parallel development in this episode. Sure, the fashions are slightly different, the names, etc., but man is it ever close to 21st-Century Los Angeles (because that's what it is). It could have used a slightly alien element  other than the badges (which made it feel like a late-era Sliders episode). Maybe just a different sky, you know? Details. (Speaking of design details, I just noticed a model of the Wright Flyer on Ed's desk, so that's a fun link to the ship's name.) Musically, the episode amusingly sounds like reality TV, with insistently dramatic chords as lethal numbers go up. John's incipient lobotomy session is right out of the Hell's Kitchen playbook, which makes a lot of sense. There's also so fun to be had with the kind things dumped on the planetary Twitter feed, at Lycella's suggestion.

Let's talk about Lycella since she is the main guest star (along with Steven Culp, who has fun being a non-lawyer) and the episode starts and ends on her. She's not particularly sympathetic at first, being a product of a society we find repellent (look in the black mirror, fools), and once she's discovered Alara's an alien and they bring her aboard, she still maintains her culture's ingrained valued of true democracy. To their credit, the Orville crew aren't TOO condescending (aside from their final advice, which could come off as trite). But at that point, her wide-eyed wonder at the Orville (and helping John) ingratiated us to her. I'm not sure the final scene works though. What it's trying to say is that it's important to disconnect from the media stream of constant opinion (I myself have been trying to curtail my own "doom-scrolling"). What is ACTUALLY says by having Lycella turn the TV off is not to vote. The better ending would be to have her give the latest defendant the benefit of the doubt with an upvote (reverse of the first scene), or better yet, actually get invested enough to research the case and vote in an educated way (but that's not very televisual).

A couple notes on other featured characters before we go... I find the show very hard on Alara. Everybody discusses her love life and gives her unwanted input (which kind of fits the theme, though it feels accidental), and there's something just as accidentally upsetting about the Captain telling her to do something about her nose. Kelly as LaMarr's +1 should have had more to do that run coms with the ship and roll her eyes at the situation. Claire, however, proves you can find things to do for the ship's doctor (something TNG struggled with), here making her friends with the missing anthropologist, have her own question for medical answers, etc. I like her more and more.

Parallel development was responsible for several Star Trek, especially in the Original Series, including those in Miri, Patterns of Force, and Bread and Circuses. Anthropologists getting in trouble, forcing the crew to bring a local aboard echoes the events of Who Watches the Watchers, while a crew member breaking a law they didn't know and facing harsh punishment is right out of Justice. Dagger of the Mind also featured a lobotomy machine. The DS9 episode »Tribunal has O'Brien in a position similar to LaMarr's, with an absurd justice system and a lawyer who isn't a lawyer trying to make him admit his guilt. Steven Culp, here LaMarr's publicity agent Willks, played MACO Major Hayes on the third season of Enterprise.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - So I've seen this premise before, but as a step towards the Orville being less silly and doing satire, I think it's a good effort.


Tony Laplume said...

See, having never seen an episode of Black Mirror, I took this as Orville‘s best allegorical episode (that had nothing to do with Topa), and as such its best stab at being Star Trek in general.


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