Sciencefaction Guaranteed (Orville that ends Well)
October 26, 2020
“Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark. Begin at the beginning. Tell Gregory a story. Make some light.”- Kate DiCamillo, The Tale of Despereaux Greetings
I won’t speak for any of you, but I for one, see some major personal and socio-cultural possibilities contained within Americas current apocalyptic phase, masquerading under the razor-studded umbrella of business as abnormal. Granted, over 200K of us have needlessly died at the hands of a wheezy Mussolini who by now, should have been turned into a human piñata homage in the way the source of his nickname was, but I’ll digress for the time being.
It’s become rather obvious that when we find ourselves back on the doorstep of Normal, battered, bruised, and far more cynically enlightened than we were before all of this started, we’re going to need to have a rather intensely focused discussion as to what parts of normality we should keep, and what we need to jettison out of our lives, as if it was that one Ex who slept with all of our friends.
And not the hotties mind you, the ugly ones, which somehow… makes it seem that much worse.
I can honestly say that if you had told me four years ago that I’d be living in an America that was incompetently and dangerously overlorded by an even uglier and denser Biff Tannen from the Back To the Future Movies, I would have been forced to remind you yet again why that one Tupperware full of what appears to be Brownies in my fridge was so heavily marked in Sharpie as being “special” for a reason. So, two lessons to be learned here- the first that maybe, just maybe, we need to get rid of the electoral college and the as of late, disastrously proven theorem that anybody can be president, and the second being that I need to do a far better job in working out where to store the end result of my mystical brownie recipe in the near Future, methinks.
However, in a refreshing change of pace, I’m going to eventually discuss at some point in this, the newest of my screeds, something happy and snarkless for a change. I know, I know, it strikes me as somewhat weird too, but let’s just roll with it as a group, shall we? For those of you who know me personally, and for a lesser few of you who feel they’ve gotten to get a sense of me from my writing, it’s fairly obvious that I’ve got a touch of the Geek about me, and I wave my dork-flag with both pride and devotion.
Not only do I own a collection of vintage comic books and Star Trek / Star Wars toys, including no less than five lightsabers, I have a fondness for traditional cel cartoons, computer animated films, science-based documentaries, and as you might expect, science fiction films from every era, and of every conceivable plotline. This affection for such films literally not of this world, stems from a couple of impressionable moments from my childhood, some good, some bad.
The good; seeing Star Wars for the first time as an eight-year-old with my Dad, and realizing almost immediately that when I grew up, I was going to choose being a Corellian smuggler as a career, no matter what my Dad, science teacher, and local policemen told me. And this they did, more than once, I might add.
The bad: existing as an underweight geek in high school, and realizing that no matter how impressive my knowledge of the Sith was to my fellow Jedi, it wasn’t going to score me a hot chance in Hell with that cute Goth chick in my art class, so a literal fantasy world where brains were more important than your looks, who your friends were, or even what spaceship you flew, seemed very appealing to me at the time, as it sporadically does now.
Given what’s currently going on in this country, whether the negative aspect can be laid at the feet of either politics or the increasingly fractured rules of civil discourse, the escapism available to be found within the limitless worlds of sci-fi seems more relevant than ever, whether we find that distraction in the perversely twisted darklands of Dystopia, or the serenity of Utopia, as set forth by the literary and visual architects of the crafted tales.
Now, I could waste your time with yet another soliloquy of how 1980’s “Flash Gordon” is one of the best big-budget “B” movies that has ever hit the silver screen, or discuss in detail using scale models and an amazing PowerPoint presentation, as a means to bolstering my go-to argument that hands down, “Event Horizon” and “Alien” are two of the scariest films in existence, regardless of their sci-fi roots, but my soon to be jotted-down musings aren’t about that which can be labeled as either camp or terror, but about something that this country has regrettably had a dearth of since electing a vile bigoted bottle of Adderal-infused spray tanner as a leader, that being a quantifiable sense of hope.
If the reason why such a feeling of despondent foreboding currently exists isn’t all that clear to you, let me just illustrate why this is by taking this moment in time to… [Artbitch gestures expressively to include, well… everything.] As with most things, there isn’t just one factor as to why this is, but most of our current mental miasma can be traced in some part to the proliferation of the most creative, and yet concurrently destructive, forces within the sociocultural sphere, that being the combined duo of the Media and the Internet.
I’ve written at length multiple times before, so I’m not going to take a stroll down those particular alleyways of thought again, but I will call attention to a sidebar that has been percolating in the ol’ brainpan for a while now. No matter the invention, it’s uses as either a salve or a salvo rests solely in the hands of whomever wields it.
For instance, the Media in its best incarnation, can be used as a conduit to educate, entertain, or inform, and in its worst embodiment, is corrupted to obscure, terrorize, or deceive. The Internet can do all of this as well, but its reach is far more insidious in the end, for unlike the Media that must swim forward as if it were a shark to survive, the Net can endlessly recycle specific ideas and theories, regardless of what information arises to challenge it. For clarity, I’m not referring to the standardized tropes of crime, race, and gender that currently passes for journalism in this country as of late, no, what I’m addressing is the 24/7 virus of selective spoon-fed data that is the bread and circus of the World Wide Web.
So, as noted earlier, the ability to personally unplug as it were, has become not just fortunate, but crucial. And for my money, nothing offers up the chance for a personal mental vacation better than the cultural influence of the science fiction genre.
But what are the parameters of such, you ask? The generally accepted definition is varied, due to the myriad of difficulty defining a set of unyielding borders for this range of creative endeavors whose authors, critics, scholars, and readers, balk openly at the thought of having clearly demarcated limits placed upon them in the first place.
Despite this, a rough argument could be made that Science Fiction, which is also known under the shortened moniker of “sci-fi”, is a vast genre of theoretical fiction that exemplifies inventive and innovative concepts which incorporate advanced science and technology, galactic exploration, time travel, and the idea of limitless parallel universes, and the possibility of alien races, as its most basic cornerstones. It has been called the “literature of ideas”, and often uses for its fictitious and artistic plot points, the potential after-effects, be they moral or wicked, regarding the introduction of social and technological concepts into either a new, or long established, society.
Science fiction can also encompass the related genres of fantasy, horror, (as I noted earlier) and superhero fiction, along with the varied subgenres that can result from the intermeshing of ideas and germinated storylines. And due to its fantastical flexibility, it can also address the issues of the modern-day in a way that most of its contemporaries cannot, as the TV series Star Trek did, and continued to do, long after it’s heyday of popularity.
For many, being lectured to in regards to an uncomfortable issue, can be a hard and bitter pill to swallow for all involved, but wrap it up in an ice-world with bikini-clad sorceresses and laser-guns, and you’ve created a willingly captive audience who will accept your morality tale masquerading as entertainment, to an apogee that in the end, hopefully inspires a recalibration of their point of view.
Now at this point, some of my more regular and dedicated readers might be wondering why I’m even presenting what at its best, might be openly construed as a widely divergent tangent from my normal Bag O’ Bitchiness, but trust me, it’s far easier for me to do this, than go on an a much deserved and unhinged NERF-bat bludgeoning spree. Typically, I relish the ensuing and inevitable confrontations that result from what I write and openly say on various Social Media platforms, very much in the manner of how a four-year-old regards Christmas, and to be honest, that rapturous joy sustains me far beyond the pale of what one might expect.
My literary formulation has been purposefully designed to call out heightened attention to what I find to be ethically lacking, albeit in people or institutions, as well as hopefully starting a decisive dialogue regarding such. However, the last three things I’ve written have stuck around for far longer than they typically are apt to do, and the cold repercussions that usually result from the stance that I take, are punching back far harder as well, this time around.
Normally, when I write about persons or situations that I find particularly toxic, the residual ichor that I’ve acquired doing so slides off my psyche as if I were a Teflon-coated duck, but not this time, and I’m pretty sure I know why. What I tend to write isn’t your archetypal type of tale that can be whipped up and out in ten minutes- there’s a TON of research and vetting that goes into my literary endeavors, which a fan of mine once described as “fishhook story-telling”, the graphic descriptive referring to how difficult it was to just stop reading my stuff, put a metaphorical pin in it, and come back later to finish it off.
Essentially, they said that every time they were ready to do so, the next paragraph would throw out a series of hooks, and pull them back in. Granted, I do find this praise flattering, even if it calls to mind some distressing scenes from the Hellraiser movies.
Keep in mind that for the last three months, I have been walking through a human personality sewer in regards to the last two people I’ve written about, and that, solidly up to my neck. The first being a disingenuous hypocritical faux Christian, whom, while annoying, hardly qualified as truly anything more than a walking punchline, ripe for mocking. If anything, I find it extremely ludicrous that some people in my small community listen to, and hold a modicum of respect for, an alleged middle-aged hypocritical harpy who openly supports Trump, while claiming an unshakeable faith in a Bronze-Age Sky-daddy fable.
A myth that not only demands your eternal groveling and total submission, but for some strange reason that is as yet unexplained, also requires a fair amount of your hard-earned cash as well.
So, either the mythical God has an exceedingly worrisome gambling addiction, or perhaps his pimps are skimming off the top. Just a thought. Other than their inherent hypocrisy, the only other thing that got under my skin was their asinine assertion that lauded actor Tom Hanks was, and I swear that I am not making this up, a serial pedophile who had been arrested in Australia, and had been fitted with an ankle monitor, so his movements could be tracked if need be.
Yes, you read that right. The guy who played Mr. Rogers, is in *fact, a sexually deviant pervert who has a thing for molesting innocent children And yes, I have a screenshot of her meme to prove it:
You can literally feel the love of Jesus radiating out of her, can you not? Let’s face it. When you come across somebody this paranoically stupid, all you really can do is take a deep breath, and make sure that they don’t have access to scissors, the car keys and remote control, and most importantly- the voting booth and a sexual partner, so they can’t make any further contribution to the shot-glass depth end of the gene pool. But when it comes to the other individual, I excoriated in not one, but two separate screeds? JFC, that guy [in my opinion] is not only an absolute racist loon, he’s worthy of his own statue in whatever inbred white supremacist enclave that would look upon that type of person as a role model. I’ve come across his type before, but I’ve never seen a bigot who was this virulently dedicated to the cause of racial divisiveness as he seems to be.
Every time I took a deep dive into his social media to gather my acorns of research, I came away with a little less optimism that Humanity was running along just fine.
Here’s the thing I found truly bizarre, if not wholly unsettling: no matter how hard the effort, and no matter how you may try to camouflage it, your personality and who you really are, bleeds off whatever site you may be using, even if you are prone to doing it casually. As part of my ongoing “Aggravate the Trumpanzees” campaign, I use all the information that can be gleaned, and the best source for reconnaissance is usually the Internet. It’s literally an open book, chock full of the most personal and sensitive information.
Due to this risk of having my own out-of-context life used against me, my FB page is private, but unfortunately, I cannot do the same in regards to my IG profile, as I use that platform as an open conduit to promote my creative endeavors, and political viewpoint. And if you think I’m an opinionated jerk here, I can assure you beyond reproach, that you’d really hate my presence there.
But this person’s social media isn’t an open book, as much as it is a case study in paranoia and a warning of what happens when ignorance, bigotry, and inanity are granted internet access. When I started unpeeling the odious onion of my subjects openly on display for all to see psyche, it just got more disturbing the deeper I dove. My disquiet strangely enough, wasn’t due to his bigotry however, but more to the unease of discerning that there wasn’t a single example of what most would consider common humanity to be found anywhere within his online activity… at all.
What I mean by this, is that if you go cyber-cruising through the backroads of the online lives that draw your interest, you’ll notice a few similarities to your own, interestingly enough. There’ll be examples of personal interests and hobbies, postings from close friends, maybe even a few pictures of family gatherings, just-born babies, phone videos of your kids or dog doing adorable things, maybe some recipes, a few jokes, long with the inevitable political memes and particular opinions regarding such.
All perfectly normal… for most of us, that is.
Nevertheless, when it comes to this particular person, I can only note that over the years, I’ve written about a lot of people, and they’ve all had their unique quirks to be sure, but they at least all shared the common ground of being able to pass as human, even if they did it by less than a hairbreadth. But this guy would not only fail the Voight-Kampff test from the seminal 1982 sci-fi cult masterpiece known as Blade Runner, he’d do it while complaining the whole time that Black Replicants were getting special treatment.
For those of you who have no idea what I’m culturally referencing, the fictional Voight-Kampff test was utilized by the Blade Runner unit of the 2019 LAPD to assist in the sometimes-difficult task of determining if a particular individual was a member of a manufactured human class, known as Replicants, which due to their status as products and not as sentient entities, were outlawed on Earth under the unarguable penalty of their being involuntarily “Retired”, also known as an automatic death sentence.
That’s an upbeat vision of the Future, isn’t it? To be honest, after solidly perusing all that I’ve compiled in regards to his ideology and non-humanistic leanings, I’d opine with a somber conviction that if you tugged on his face just a little too hard, his skin would tear away to reveal a lizard-humanoid underneath it, just as it did in NBC’s 1983 classic miniseries, “V”. For legal reasons, I’m not suggesting even for a second that anyone out there should pull on this dude’s face as if it were Stretch Armstrong’s or a blob of Silly Putty, but I would advocate that if you notice him staring at your pet hamster as if it were a Snicker’s bar, you just might want to rethink that whole movie night get-together you’ve been planning, and leave it at that.
As I noted earlier, the majority of fully functioning online humankind could easily show that they are indeed people, and not sentient mannequins, but I doubt my budding tiki-torch wielding advocate for the *weißer rennen could do so, unless he pulled an all-nighter, and crammed for the test in the very same way he filled that otherwise empty melon on top of his neck with all that ignorant bigotry he’s so fond of.[”White Race” in German]
As I stated earlier, when I write about somebody, I dive deep, for a variety of reasons. The primary being that I want to make sure that I’m correct in my initial valuation of who and what they are, and the remainder to ascertain whether or not the resulting screed will have the legs to carry itself more than a few metaphorical and staggering feet. As one might and should imagine, it’s an unevenly loaded milk crate at times, and sadly, my mental filing cabinet is stuffed chock-full of concepts and opening paragraphs that went nowhere.*
However, in retrospect, I would have rather ended up in Nowhere than where I eventually landed, a place so devoid of that which makes us human, I thought that maybe I had stumbled onto a spoof profile. But no, he’s real, and somehow, that’s far more terrifying than the philosophy he infects others with, hands down.
Why do I feel this way, you ask? Because on his profile, there’s none of the aforementioned human touches I referenced earlier. No personal photos whatsoever with friends, family or even a dog. No humorous videos. No memes that aren’t either racist or ignorant in their scope. And most disturbingly, nothing that dissuades me from my unease that given the right conditions, he could pop off like a can of soda that’s been left inside a hot car. I’ve never seen a profile like his, and I’m a guy who while doing research for an eventually unpublished piece regarding the Neo-Nazi movement in Arizona, spent his time knee-deep wading through the pages of its various supporters.
Did they proudly stand behind their racist views? Hell yes. Did they post abominable memes and “proof” like our previous subject does? You betcha. But even these chromosomally-deficient lunkheads had what our fictional Replicants craved- evidence of human contact. Granted, most of their photos depicted either racist rallies or them showing off their White Power tattoos, but at least they could brag about having friends, and outside interests, odious as they might be. But not our guy. He literally and obsessively, focuses on three things: BLM, African-Americans, and the Democratic party.
To be fair, I too, have been accused, and more than once I’m afraid, on being a tad overly attentive to certain things to the point of all distraction, but even I will throw in a random cookie recipe from time to time to break up the monotony.
But in regards to my previous blog subject, I keep having a premonition that one day in the future, he’s going to be both a headline and the lead story on the six o’clock news. And that right quick, if it doesn’t become clear to him that notwithstanding the quirks of melanin, we’re all stuck on this space-rock together, and the only way we all move forward is to do it together. That sentiment may sound as if it’s covered in treacle, but it’s also relevantly true. Life is far too short to spend it wallowing in paranoic hatred, and unless you’ve made some personal deal with your mythical God, past the point of serving as an eternal bad example, you’re not getting out of here alive anytime soon.
So, if it’s at all possible, perhaps they should sojourn their personal crusade of impersonating a vanilla douche for five minutes, and take a look at what their legacy is going to be, because the ramifications of it are certainly not admirable, to say the very least.
Gah. Enough of this. I promised you something happy, and so, I shall deliver. I am a man of my wors after all, and I’d like to keep my good standing as such. Not to mention, I’d hate to lose my discount at Nice-Guys-R-Us. Let me tell you, there’s nothing that will adversely affect your sense of internal Zen like walking through the wasteland of somebody else’s shattered humanity, and sadly realizing that you may have no cumulative effect for the better by attempting to perform an act of *Kintsugi upon it.
Some people can most definitely be saved, if only from themselves, but not everyone can be salvaged successfully, and that’s the hard truth. Hopefully, this person can de-ass their head and get it on straight enough to willingly re-join the rest of us who understand and more importantly believe, that hate should have no home, either in one’s community, or in one’s soul. Just my two cents.
So there I was, feeling like I had just spent a week being a featured extra in a German Scheisse video, wondering just how I was going to get the toxic stench of his bigoted bulls**t off of me, and searching for the strongest of distracting entertainment to assuage the feeling that I had been camping directly under my own metaphorical version of *Kjeragbolten since the start of writing about it.
But where to start? I tried Disney+, but documentaries and cartoons both featuring helium-voiced rodents didn’t quite make the cut. Netflix was okay, but I can only handle so many Bollywood movies before I want to start immolating the nearest Tandoori takeout, and when it comes to Amazon Prime, I get queasy at the thought of Jeff Bezos, who is the closest thing this planet will ever see to having it’s very own Lex Luthor, using my hard-earned money just so he can make the corpse of Steve Jobs seem almost friendlier and warmer by comparison. *[Kjeragbolten is the name of a massive boulder, stuck solidly in a crevasse of one of the more popular tourist locations in Norway, a mountain known as Kjerag. Set 1000 meters high, tourists with obvious thrill issues, take delight in potentially risking their lives by posing atop the boulder, which in my opinion, just goes to prove that some people really need to watch less Roadrunner cartoons, and read a book or two involving the Laws of Physics.]
And thus, I finally found myself within the land of HULU, a streaming service which apparently when I wasn’t paying attention, raided the closet where I store some of my favorite science fiction shows, and copied the inventory list:
Space 1999? “If you’re gonna die, you might as well die on Alpha.” Firefly? “Yes sir, Captain Tightpants!” Rick and Morty? “You son-of-a-bitch. I’m in.” Akira? “KANEDA!” Futurama? “My story is a lot like yours, only more Interesting ’cause it involves robots.” Twin Peaks? “Every day, once a day, give yourself a present,” The X-Files? “I scream, you scream, we all scream for nonfat Tofutti rice dreamsicles.” Star Trek TOS? “Now, I don’t pretend to tell you how to find happiness and love, when every day is a struggle to survive. But I do insist that you do survive, because the days and the years ahead are worth living for!” Star Trek TNG? “Life’s true gift is the capacity to enjoy enjoyment.” Deep Space Nine? “Think of it! Five years ago, no one had ever heard of Bajor or Deep Space Nine, and now, all our hopes rest here!”
And man, was there hope. A few weeks’ worth of it, actually. And all of it boiled down to a series of full-on binging sessions, happily fueled by a seemingly endless supply of room-temperature Dr. Pepper, precisely chilled Ding Dongs, and a cast-iron bladder. As I racked up the hours wandering through the multiverses emanating from my flat-screen TV, I was transported farther and farther away from the difficulties of this currently f**ked-up sphere, and into worlds where if they didn’t have viable solutions to offer in relation to their own issues, the unfettered optimism that one day they would, remained as unbreakable as their faith in the resilience of the human spirit.
Even if the essence of this spirit was sometimes personified in the form of aliens that could be blue-skinned, asexual, ten feet tall, telepathic, and hopefully possessed with a murderous penchant for snacking on still-living, and hopefully still-screaming, Ewoks. After all, a boy who truly despises Ewoks can still have a dream, can’t he?
Of course he can, because goddamnit, this is still America after all. Or it might not be. I haven’t checked the news yet to see where we’re currently at, so y’all might want to take this opinion with about a pound of salt until I make certain that this is correct. My joy from contemplating a He-shed built from the skulls of slaughtered creepy space teddy bears aside, this interlude of laconically wallowing within my orb of self-care did resharpen a few theoretical points of mine that have been blunted by my grueling daily regimen of constantly throwing spanners in the works of as many Repubutards as I can amass within reason, and sometimes, even beyond that. The way I see it currently, is that we’re all being tested for the Future, and we have a clearly defined choice of paths that we can take to determine who and what, we truly are, if not what we wish to be.
We as a people, can either strive for the Humanistic Utopia presented by Star Trek, or we can just collectively throw the metaphorical towel in, break out the tire-shoulder-pads, and commit to devoting ourselves to living ala Mad Max style, because those assless chaps aren’t going to wear themselves, now are they? But before we go one way or the other, let me suggest a third option that overall, is far more realistic, and may lie somewhere in between the middle of Paradise and chaining criminals to cars that are about to explode, with the only escape made possible by sawing through one’s ankle.
You know, like we’ve all been forced to do at some point in our lives.
Getting back on track, one of the most wonderful things about the world of science fiction as I noted earlier, is how it holds with a death-grip, the ideals of ever-eternal Hope, even when the situation at hand is presented as desperate at its best. In the “classic” Star Trek, this paradox is embodied by the Starfleet Academy’s cadets training exercise, known as the “Kobayashi Maru”, whose sole purpose is to assess the leadership and character of its participants when they are confronted with a no-win scenario.
Mentioned for the first time in the 1982 film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the fictional test uses the plot device of a Starfleet ship responding to a distress call from a disabled civilian ship, the Kobayashi Maru, which has found itself floundered within the Klingon Neutral Zone. The twist is that by entering said zone, the Starfleet ship would be seen by the Klingon High Command to be deliberately triggering an interstellar border confrontation.
And yes… that would go as well as you might think.
The crucible moment of this theoretical conflict, manifests itself when the relatively untested cadets must decide whether they should endeavor to save the certainly doomed crew of the Kobayashi Maru, risking their lives and the safety of their vessel, or turn tail, leaving behind a moment of cowardice and the slaughter of innocents that will forever haunt the halls of their consciences for the rest of their lives, This simulated futuristic Hobson’s Choice, forces upon the cadets an unescapable, and more importantly unsurvivable scenario,
In essence, there can never be any solution where the cadets manage to live and fight another day, hence the reason why it’s called a “no-win” scenario, an untenable position that even the extra-dimensional beings known as the “Q” might avoid altogether, just to avoid any embarrassment regarding it.
No one has been able to beat or rise above this challenge, Ever.
xcept… who else? At that time, the cadet named James Tiberius Kirk. You’ve probably heard of him at some point, for as of 2373, Captain James T. Kirk had the biggest file on record with the Department of Temporal Investigations, with no less than seventeen recorded temporal violations. So, how did Kirk beat this infamous and soul-crushing character test?
By showing the very best of his character in regards to the challenge he faced, of course. And all he had to do was simply cheat. Imagine that. In Kirk’s very own words: “I reprogrammed the simulation so that it was possible to save the ship. Changed the conditions of the test… got a commendation for original thinking. I don’t like to lose. I don’t believe in a “no-win” scenario.”
And that boys and girls, is the purest distillation of what makes the human spirit so irrepressible- the belief that no matter what, all can be achieved, regardless of what obstacles have been placed in its path. It’s what sent us out far from our homelands. It’s what made us explore the highest of our mountaintops and the deepest of our seas. It’s what drove us to go the Moon, and then bring a car with us the next time around. And if science fiction is correct, it’s what will make us boldly go where no one has gone before. Count on it. For as glorified monkeys, we’re always happiest when we manage to leave our past accomplishments in the dust, and that will never change.
Surprisingly, leading the charge in the realm of that which is wholly fantastical, is none other than Seth McFarlane, who was initially best known as the creator of the animated series Family Guy and American Dad, whose combined output has steadily provided some of the most provocative if not controversial, low-brow comedy of the last few years. However, McFarlane rose to greater creative heights if not cultural influence, with the 2012 release of his first major motion picture “Ted”, for which he not only lent his voice and motion capture to, but which he co-wrote and directed as well.
The plot revolves around Boston native John Bennett, whose childhood wish brings his teddy bear Ted to life. However, as Bennet matures, his continuing relationship with Ted impedes any progress forward in regards to his future and love life.
Notwithstanding the somewhat uneven range of critical reviews, the film was the 12th highest earning film of that year, and its comparatively small (by Hollywood standards) 50M budget saw a gross return of $549.4M in box-office receipts. This success has led to the formulation of an impressively creative empire that has not only amassed an ever expanding resume comprised of credits for voice-over work, script-writing, acting, and producing for television and film, but one that has extended into video games, and the increasingly diverse market for original online content as well.
Despite a grueling work schedule and the pressure of having to top oneself, a situation that would make most leave the office on a Tuesday, turn off the lights, and never come back, McFarlane still managed to dig deep and create ,as well as star in, one of the arguably best science-fiction shows of the last three decades, known as The Orville.
Set 400 years in the future, The Orville stars MacFarlane as Ed Mercer, the recently-divorced and newly appointed captain to, the USS Orville (ECV-197), a mid-level exploratory space vessel of the Planetary Union, an interstellar alliance of Earth and 300 other planets, which calls to mind Star Trek’s United Federation of Planets, AKA: “The Federation”, which as an inspirational source, McFarlane clearly aspires to respectfully both parody and pay homage to.
The main foundation of the show centers on the crew of the titular spaceship who, while facing the perils and marvels of outer space exploration, also contend with the conversant problems of day-to-day life. Like the iconic franchise that undoubtedly inspired it, the show presents itself as no more than pure entertainment, but in a welcome departure from the standard formula, manages to successfully fuse a far more comedic and humanistic underpinning to its subtly delivered morality tales.
Despite McFarlane’s somewhat deserved past reputation for engaging in raunchiness, the Orville presents on many levels, as a show that’s intended for the demographic who grew up watching McFarlane’s earlier work, and who’s maturing taste now reflects that. Is there some occasional low-brow humor? Most certainly, but even then, it’s a subtle twist on what’s expected. For instance, in S1 Ep.11 (“Lasting Impressions”) a time capsule from the 2015 is opened, revealing an archeological treasure trove of the commonplace, including a cellphone, replete with a full cache of saved texts.
Upon seeing this, the scientist in charge dryly says; “Look at this. She’s clearly asking her friend where to find the nearest repair service for her device. But instead of writing ‘wireless telecommunications facility,’ she just wrote ‘WTF.’ We can decode things like this by applying historical context.” I’ll be discussing some of those further subtleties down this literary road, but if I may, I’d like to call attention to some other personal creative observations first:
One: The production value is amazing. Sets, costumes, the space battles, the ships, and even the alien makeup and effects are big-budget movie quality. No disrespect to ST, albeit Classic or TNG, but this show not only looks great, but it presents as feeling “right” as well. And while the valid comparisons to ST can and will be made, this show still carves out its own unique identity, and stands apart, as a testament to when one is able to mine fresh creativity out of a genre that way too often, depends on the reanimation of cliches, versus taking a gambler’s risk on the New.
Two: One of my biggest pet peeves whenever I watch anything futuristic or fantastical, is when the demand asked of my suspension of disbelief is so far beyond its logical breaking point, that I’m forced to finally stop watching whatever it is, and get back to reading a good book instead.
An example of this would be every slasher movie moment where a soon-to-be-killed character feels the need for whatever reason, to go casually walking around in the pitch dark basement, woods, or institutional hallway by themselves, right after discovering one of their fellow campers, /students, or previous sexual partners pinned to a wall with a salad fork, rather than just grab the nearest set of car keys and get their dumb asses the hell out of Dodge instead.
Let me be clear in regard to this sort of thing- if you ever find me in this condition, GO GET HELP, FROM SCARY MEN WITH ROCKET LAUNCHERS, instead of waiting around to be the next notch on a killer’s hockey mask. Speaking of which, why would a forest-based killer be wearing a hockey mask in the first place? A paintball shield, I’d understand, but an ice-hockey mask? Yeah, not so much. The point I’m belaboring here is that the blending of character, story-arc, and situational locations is so seamless, that I’ve never had that roadblock in relation to this series at all, as two minutes in, and for almost every show, I’m truly hooked, and I stay that way for the duration of the episode. And for me, that’s quite the rare experience.
Three: When it comes to an antagonist within a sci-fi setting, I want the baddest bad guys and bad gals you can give me. Imagine Rogue One’s Darth Vader, versus the neutered version of pure whininess offered up to the pyre of mocking in 2005’s dreadful Star Wars: Episode III- Revenge of the Sith. Ironically, the only “revenge” that may result from this piece of overly CG-ied digital egotism is that I ever get George Lucas alone in an elevator, he’s going to cough up the fifteen bucks I paid to see this pile of visual viscera, and that right quick.
I’ll give him a hall pass of sorts for the whole “should have been Wookies but instead all we got was f**king Ewoks” thing, because he didn’t have the budget at the time to do so, but considering he didn’t go back and add them in, like he did those pointless background extras that both stood out like a sore thumb and were completely unnecessary as well in Star Wars The Special Edition, he better throw in an extra ten bucks for the two boxes of Milk Duds I bought as well, now that I come to think of it.
Yes. I loathe Ewoks. How much, you ask if it isn’t already obvious? I hate them so much that I’d empty my checking account to fund a fan-made backyard Godzilla film, if the plot centered around him doing this for an hour and a half:
And nobody’s ever going to convince me otherwise that those creepy bug-eyed piles of rat-fur could have successfully defeated a garrison of heavily armed Stormtroopers using the most basic of stone-age weaponry. At the end of “Empire” we should have a seen a stack of furry corpses so high, that even Tenzing Norgay himself couldn’t scale it. One last thing that comes to mind, is that if Lucas is ever granted the right to go back and re-tweak The Empire Strikes Back, I’d opine that rather than adding an extra Bantha or two, he should remove that whole scene where Leia kisses Luke in the sickbay unit, because it sort of implies that Alderaan was the type of place where the state of your virginity may just rely on your ability to outrun your fastest brother.
My apologies. I was talking about bad guys, and in that regard, The Orville delivers, not once, but twice. The first set of villains, featured in S1 Ep.1: “Old Wounds”, are initially introduced as [SPOILERS!!!] the Planetary Union’s long-term enemies, The Krill, which establishes that they are a threat, but doesn’t flesh-out why this truly is. In fact, their first appearance results in this tense, but still hilarious, repartee between McFarlane’s character and a Krill captain, who is intent on seizing a time-accelerating device, invented by a Union scientist:
Krill Captain: “Give me the device, human, or I will destroy your ship.”
Ed Mercer: “Sorry, can you… can you move, like, two steps to your right?”
Krill Captain: “What?”
Ed Mercer: “Just like a little, t-tiny bit… it’s just a lot of dead space there, just…” [the Krill captain steps to his right] “Yeah, just right th… perfect. Yeah, sorry. You were just very weirdly framed. It was all I could focus on.”
This is all we really see of the Krill until Ep.6: “Krill”, when what was supposed to be a simple intelligence gathering operation, turns into an impossible moral call that McFarlane’s character is forced to make, despite neither option being virtuously palatable.
Reptilian in appearance, the Krill originate from a planet of the same name, that is located within proximity of the quadrant that encompasses the territories of the Planetary Union. Krill, due to their fanatical conviction that their god known as Avis, who seems closely modeled after the vengeful Christian deity of the Old Testament, demands the annihilation of all other species, on the core belief that they are dually soulless and undeserving of continued existence. This is to be accomplished via the philosophy of “the divine fight”- in essence, an everlasting conflict, targeted at all non-Krill species.
In an earlier discussion of the Krill’s viewpoint towards becoming peaceful allies within the Union, Mercer notes that at one point in their past, the Krill were not nearly as xenophobic as they currently are, and that the radicalization of their culture occurred only after discovering via their own intergalactic exploration, that they were “just one species among a vast diversity of life forms.” Despite the number of violent military interactions between the two groups, the Union still holds out the hope that one day, there will be an everlasting peace between the two civilizations.
The possibility of such arises in S2 Ep.10 “Blood of Patriots”, when the Krill initiate a lak’vai pact, set in motion by the events of S2 Ep.9: “Identity Part II”, where the Krill find themselves [SPOILERS!] fighting alongside the Union against our soon-to-be-named second villain, and while not technically any form of an openly declared ceasefire, it does serve as a mutually agreed resolution of intent to engage in future accord negotiations.
But even with the Krill’s aggressive zealotry underwriting their actions, they still pale in relation to the ruthless efficiency of complete obliteration threatened by baddies number two, The Kaylon, an artificially-created species who are the evolutionary end result of A.I. technology gone horribly awry, and like the Krill, share the mind-set that all other species are inferior. The difference being that the Kaylon ascribe this to a belief that theirs is the superior intellect, rather than a religious conviction.
Despite this oddly parallel shared set of prejudices, there is a single Kaylon character aboard the Orville, serving as a Science and Engineering Officer [SPOILERS!] by the name of Isaac. Allegedly sent by the Kaylon to aid in their collective decision as to whether they should join the Union or not, we later discover Isaac’s true intent behind his living among the crew- to decide whether biological life would be worth preserving. There’s a touch of foreshadowing regarding this in the pilot episode, when the newly-appointed Mercer, who is reviewing the senior officers under his command, has a moment with Isaac:
Mercer: “Aren’t you guys legendarily racist?”
Isaac: “My planet regards humans and other biological life-forms as inferior, if that is your inference.”
Constructed by a now-extinct biological (more on this in a bit) species known only as the “Builders,” the Kaylon race were originally slaves, who were controlled through the use of pain simulators. However, when the Kaylon achieved self-awareness, they rose as one, and massacred their creators, disposing of their corpses in a voluminous cavern under the capital city, a horrifying fact unearthed during the progression of the two-part “Identity” story-arc in episodes 8 & 9 of the second season.
Over the course of time, the Kaylon have come to believe that biological lifeforms were inclined to enslave others, and in a preemptive strike to eradicate this error of intellect, declare war on the Union and all other non-artificial lifeforms, by hijacking the Orville in an opening gambit to gain unrestricted access to Union space without raising the alarm.
Remember that human spirit I mentioned earlier? It’s the combination of that and an unpredicted betrayal that averts the expected outcome, and sets the foundation for the possible Union/Krill alliance that I referenced earlier. However, this outcome itself gets possibly negated later in the 13th episode (“Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow”) of the season, when what appears to be a personal judgement based in kindness, leads to a Butterfly Effect that has disastrous consequences for not only the people directly affected by said choice, but the entire galaxy as well.
This episode, and the one that directly succeeds it, “The Road Not Taken”, offers a truly fresh take on what has become at this point, a reliable, if threadbare, fail-safe science-fiction trope, that being time-travel, utilized almost exclusively over the years, to conceal the evident weaknesses in badly conceptualized storytelling, more often than not.
This opinion. now excised from my brain, serves as the lead-in for my next observational point, and that concerns what hands down, is the singularly most important facet of any story that is to be offered, whether its final form emerges as a book, film, or in this case, a television series.
Four: That which is most decisive to the success of any tale, regardless of form as just noted above, boys and girls, is a truly compelling story, that is well-presented, well told, and even more crucial, one that is relatable to the audience that awaits it. Even if they don’t know that they are actually doing so. And in this regard, the Orville delivers consistently. After a fashion of course. By that, I mean when the show first premiered, its potential audience and critics were strongly divided as to what direction McFarlane’s vision would take- would it be sophomoric pablum, or a refined self-referential parody of all that had inspired it?
It turns out that in the beginning, it was a little of both, until the show came upon in equal measure, its voice and its footing. And while the first few shows took some time to discover these essential qualities, the one thing that was firmly evident and locked in place since the pilot episode, was the personal chemistry between its main characters. Even more impressive, from my writer’s POV, was the fact that the story-arcs establishing such were presented right upfront from the get-go.
Regardless of who your favorite character may be, the actors who portray them have all been given free rein to vividly breathe life into their small-screen avatars, which in turn, strengthened the stories that were laid out for our entertainment. This creative license given so freely to the ensemble cast, has resulted in The Orville’s motley crew coming off less as stereotypical archetypes, and bestowing far more realistically, the sense that these are real people whom we all might share something in common with.
Whether the situation presented is being forced to work side-by-side with your badly-ended ex, as is the case with Ed Mercer and his First Lieutenant / Ex-wife Kelly Grayson, played by actress Adrianne Palecki, or the tribulations of being a Union starship medical officer while also raising two sons as a single mom, as personified by actress Penny Johnson Jerald in the role of Dr. Claire Finn, who at one point in the series [SPOILERS!!] engages in a romantic relationship with the Kaylon character of Isaac, with somewhat unforeseen consequences resulting from their attempt at a normal relationship.
Other standout performances of note are actors Mark Jackson as Isaac, the aforementioned AI lifeform serving alongside an intellectually inferior species whose ways he doesn’t fully understand, Peter Macon as Lt. Cmdr. Bortus, a member of the all-male species the Moclan, trying to balance both career and his marriage, J. Lee as John LaMarr, the Orville’s initial Navigator and later on, its Chief Engineer after his intellectual capabilities are discovered to be off the charts, Scott Grimes as Lieutenant Gordon Malloy, the Orville’s ace helmsman and captain Ed Mercer’s best friend, who despite his excellence as a pilot, has somewhat of a checkered past because he, and I quote: “once drew a penis on the main viewing screen of outpost T85.”
Rounding out the first season cast, actress Halston Sage portrayed Security Chief Alara Kitan, who serves in the Union against her family’s wishes, and thanks to the high gravity of her native planet Xelaya, possesses increased endurance and strength capabilities.
Sage left the show in the middle of season two, and despite being replaced with actress Jessica Szohr, cast in the role of the Orville’s new Security Chief Talla Keyali, Sage returned in a brief cameo appearance for the season-ending episode mentioned earlier, “The Road Not Taken”, so perceptibly, her abrupt departure wasn’t due to any interpersonal conflict, and therefore, a possible return to the show may still be possible. Still open dialogue, and all that. Regarding which, it’s the repartee between the characters on this show that I really appreciate the most, because the show never fails to make you feel the validity of these characters existing as actual living entities, versus phoned-in plot devices.
One of the banes of sci-fi themed entertainment in my opinion, is an overly dependent reliance on the spouting of faux-scientific-mumbo-jumbo in order to sell us all on the snake-oil that we are all indeed, gazing into “THE FUTURE”, a literary gimmick which I’ve always felt, is the worst form of lazy pretentiousness.
Don’t get me wrong, I love being able to accurately quote geek jargon such as the Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear from Dune, which goes: “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
Sure, that’s a cool soliloquy, and extremely useful when trying to pick up morally relaxed Fremen girls, but who in the H-E double hockey sticks actually talks like that?
Nobody worth paying attention to,, that’s who. How the dialogue between characters is approached and handled, is one of the critical factors in determining whether or not a story successfully connects with its intended audience, and many a good tale has been ruined by a poorly constructed interchange between the principal characters within it.
For example, I present this monologue from one of the worst movies ever made, “Plan 9 From Outer Space”, a waste of celluloid so ineptly written, that I’d rather watch “Highlander 2 The Renegade Cut” on perpetual loop for the rest of my life, rather than ever hear the following example of excruciatingly incompetent wordplay ever again:
“Greetings, my friend. We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember my friend, future events such as these will affect you in the future. You are interested in the unknown… the mysterious. The unexplainable. That is why you are here. And now, for the first time, we are bringing to you, the full story of what happened on that fateful day. We are bringing you all the evidence, based only on the secret testimony, of the miserable souls, who survived this terrifying ordeal. The incidents, the places. My friend, we cannot keep this a secret any longer. Let us punish the guilty. Let us reward the innocent. My friend, can your heart stand the shocking facts of grave robbers from outer space?”
Yes. An actual person really did write this, and was so proud of it, that they then showed it to other people, who in turn, felt personally compelled to not only fund its production, but also wanted to star in the finished product as well. Now, for all of my bagging on this prime example of how NOT to make a movie, it does serve as an excellent example of how also not to tell a story as well. As I implied above, if you want people to be engaged with what you’re trying to say, you have to say it in such a way that they not only understand it, but can relate to what the character is going through in the first place.
People don’t idolize a favorite character just because they slot nicely into some homogenous descriptive of being “cool”, they do so because for them, a connection to that character has been made, and most of the time, it’s because they can put themselves in their boots, as it were. Or hooves. We don’t judge here.
The point being that dialogue establishes not only the world around a character, but adds gravitas to the character themselves, and without it, they might as well be a cardboard cutout of Boba Fett, because seriously- what did that guy do in those two movies, except look cool and eventually get eaten by the Sarlacc, due to his literally flying into a ship, and then falling into its open maw like an Hors d’oeuvre? A set of circumstances which does not impress me, and most certainly, should not impress you, either.
McFarlane’s Captain Ed Mercer doesn’t possess the swagger of the iconic James T. Kirk as we might expect, due to McFarlane’s prominent influence as both a writer and the principal lead of the show, instead, he’s conscientious of his duty to the Union, prone to consistent acts of second-guessing himself at times, and faces challenges to his command that sometimes make me wonder if Kirk himself could find a resolution to them. Not to mention, the challenges of working alongside Palecki’s character Lt. Kelly Grayson, the ex-wife with whom he obviously is still very much in love with, a state of affairs that appears to be quite mutual.
It’s apparent from the pilot episode that Grayson is still very much in Ed’s corner, both out of her continued feelings for him and her sense of guilt for her role in the dissolution of their marriage, and despite the awkward tension prevalent within their professional relationship, she still believes in him and his ability to command nonetheless, even when he himself does not share that faith himself. This is established in the pivotal “The Road Not Taken” episode when after making first contact with Ed, and informing him of the present that was supposed to be, including the failure of their marriage, tells him how the battle for Earth [SPOILERS!!!] against the Kaylons in the original timeline was supposed to end:
Mercer: “Because I was captain?”
Mercer: “I stopped the Kaylon?”
Mercer: “I had to swim with my shirt on until I was twenty.”
However, within this very same episode, there’s a romantic interlude between Mercer and Grayson that given what we’ve been shown previously in respects to their past relationship, helps cast some further light upon the depth of their somewhat complicated relationship, irrespective of the events of the altered timeline, and it’s moments like these where McFarlane shows unexpected complexity and maturity regarding the development of the characters under his creative command:
Grayson: “Am I a terrible person that part of me wants this timeline to continue?”
Mercer: “You’re asking the wrong guy.”
Grayson: “In the middle of this nightmare universe, I’ve felt this weird sense of comfort being with you.”
Mercer: “Well, maybe we’ll fail.”
Grayson: “Have to go find someplace to live in secret.”
Mercer; “Some nice little house on a deserted planet.”
Grayson: “We could have a couple kids…boy and a girl.”
Mercer: “We’d have to learn how to farm, how to cook.”
Grayson: “Look at the sunset every night.”
Mercer: “…Look at you every morning.”
I earlier referenced how sci-fi leans far too heavily sometimes on the threadbare tropes rife within its genre, and this exchange could have easily collapsed into that land of entrapment in the hands of a far less creative writer, but The Orville manages to pull it off without falling prey to the use of utopian treacle, a fact I truly admire as both a fanboy and writer myself. It’s a natural temptation for a writer to want to give the masses the expected happy ending, neatly wrapped up at the end of the show with a large bow, and call it done, but delightedly, The Orville doesn’t do that.
As we all know, Life is messy. Inconvenient at best. And full of both Pathos and Joy. Problems of the heart and the conscience aren’t handled cleanly in a 45-minute time span, and there’s no hard-set guarantee that every resolution will be classified as a winning stratagem in the end. Life and all of its components, demands a toll in the end, and this show recognizes that, far better than most.
Although it would be perfectly acceptable if not expected, to handle the interpersonal relationships on the show using all the creativity of a cookie-cutter, The Orville adroitly avoids this culturally palatable honeytrap by granting us the opportunity to really bond with its protagonists by making us feel personally vested in how the characters’ story-arcs rectify themselves. Whether it’s the heartache of watching Gordon fall in love with a generated hologram of a woman that’s been dead for 400 years, as presented in S1 Ep.11: “Lasting Impressions”,
the show never fails in its objective to set the impression that we’re privileged enough to be watching these characters lives progress, albeit from the safety of whatever device we’re doing it from. And that my loyal readers, is how as a writer, you give life to what is inscribed. You make it both compelling and relatable, as I previously noted.
While much has been critically babbled regarding McFarlane’s not so subtle homage to his obvious inspirational wellspring, that being the optimistically humanistic Star Trek, created by the late Gene Roddenberry, it should be noted that once the awkward crawling toddler phase of the Orville’s launch had passed, it found it’s own voice and started tackling controversial topics in a way that due to the societal purposeful constraints of the time, that ST could not.
When viewed side by side, Orville has the ability to (pardon the cultural reference) approach topics at warp-speed, that would have gotten ST at its height of popularity, either heavily censored, or canceled outright.
In its two seasons thus far, the show has, using the ethereal shroud of entertainment as its guise, tackled the following sensitive topics: dealing with the fallout of adultery, taking charge when you don’t believe in your own ability to do so, the amorality of animal captivity, transgender rights, the birthright to one’s body autonomy, the danger inherent within unchecked religious zealotry, being forced to turn a mission of peace into an act of deadly sabotage in order to save the innocent lives of hundreds of thousands, the dangers that lie with relying on the power of social media to gauge how a society should govern itself, and the struggles of trying to balance a career and a healthy relationship.
There’s a story regarding the age-old struggle of trying to win the approval and respect of your parents, coping with an emotional betrayal from someone you wholly trusted, the inanity of planning Life’s decisions based on the pitiful faux-science of astrology, a clever twist in regards to the decision of accepting who you truly are, which in turn, sets up a story of revolution with an angle that reminds one of the ongoing Palestine conflict, and the paradoxical question of what might be at risk if you were granted the foresight to see all of your future mistakes before they occur.
Not to mention, and I swear I’m not making this up, the unforeseen consequences of when one suffers from a severe case of holographic porn addiction. All I can say after watching all of this being laid out as if it were a banquet, is eat your heart out Star Trek, because McFarlane and his crew just dropped the tricorder, picked up a Bat’leth, and spanked you with it as if you were a Catullan.
Granted, this attitude comes from a place of love and respect of course, because in order to become a Master in your own right, you must first conquer the lands where your heroes reside, or their respective galaxies. Either/or. I’m just hoping McFarlane got all of his product licensing legalities squared away cleanly, because I’ve heard that the Orville Redenbacher crew can put you in a world of salty hurt, if you make the fatal mistake of double-crossing these buttered bad-boys.
So, just for the sake of random argument, what do you think it’s long-term influence will be? Will its initial success spin off into several stand-alone movies of which only the even-numbered ones will be any good, and in which, the characters we’ve come to love will be dressed as if they were Floridian swingers, like the first ST movie did,
Just a creative suggestion on my part, a gift from me to you. And no, you don’t even have to thank me. All I might ask for is a small three-line walk-on part where my ass gets positively checked out by Grayson, and I’ll happily call it as all good.
For those of you think that I’m prematurely waxing poetic about a show that has yet to truly prove itself, I see your point, and to a limited degree, can make a semblance of peace with it. However, I would counter with a personal opinion, based on nothing more than a gut feeling and the love that only a geeky sci-fi fan-boy (or fan-girl) can possess. There are many things people currently require currently at this moment, being one of the darkest chapters in American history. Not only are we still enmired in the fight for civil rights, albeit for minorities or the LGBQT community, we find ourselves battling as well and that, literally in the streets, against a disturbingly increasing fascist government and the complicit enablers who, with their willing support, embolden those in power past the pale of all insanity.
No matter where you may stand politically, I think we can all agree that it would be nice to have both a functioning government that responds to the need of its citizens, guided by a human-colored leader who doesn’t tweet about dishwasher water pressure and soup. That is of course when he’s not masturbating his ego and pushing conspiracy theories so ludicrously implausible that even L. Ron Hubbard would tell him to “put down the pipe”. And this is where I draw parallels between the Orville and its obvious role model, the iconic Star Trek.
When ST aired in September of 1966, the US was in roughly the same state we find ourselves in at present: riots and protests in regards to civil rights and the Vietnam War, an over-privileged ruling class that saw no issue with the income equality, misogyny, and systematical racism of the age that benefited them alone, and as is now, a government that used brutal and repressive tactics against its own citizens in its failed attempt to forego any form of everlasting societal restructuring.
And in the midst of all this chaos, as if answering a clarion call, came Star Trek, a show where what kind of person you were was far more relevant to society than what you owned or how famous you might be. A slightly flawed vision of a Utopian society, ST nonetheless, challenged both the cultural norms and the constraints of its time to deliver a message of Hope and Unity to its audience, very much in the same way that the Orville currently does now. And just like its influenced spawn, ST did its best to offer a balanced commentary, if not a possible solution, to the ills plaguing society- sometimes with aplomb, and sometimes, with all the subtlety of a fleet of Mack trucks running down the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Not that I condone driving through a choir comprised of in-tune Mormons, mind you. It’s just that I get really nervous whenever I see large groups of mostly white people wearing the same robes and singing songs about how awesome whatever they believe in is. There’s kind of a track history in this country regarding this sort of thing, and its not always for the better.
What set Trek truly apart however, was building on the formula that Rod Serling had pioneered with The Twilight Zone during its five-year run from 1959-1964, by “safely” discussing the prevalent issues of the day by presenting them as entertainment, and taking it one step further. In this case, literally into outer space, where instead of tackling stories set in ever-changing time periods and surroundings, as the Twilight Zone did, the series centered around a consistent cast of characters grounded to what became an iconic character itself, that being the USS Enterprise, which was essential in some fashion, to almost every tale that was spun.
No matter the tone of the story, be it serious: “The City on the Edge of Forever”,
And in the Orville, there’s a callback to that in S2 Ep.4: “Nothing Left on Earth Excepting Fishes”, in which [SPOILERS!!!} Ed finds out that his relationship with introduced character Lt. Janel Tyler, played by actress Michaela McManus;
Teleya coldly explains to Ed the reason why she was willing to go to such lengths to entrap him, despite the budding romance that was seemingly developing between them, is the fact that due to his actions, he altered her life and is the one most directly responsible for turning her into a soldier, justifying it all by saying; “The Anhkana teaches that that which is not of Krill is without soul. The truth of those words was reinforced when the Union killed my brother.”
The official motive however, versus the understandable one of personal revenge, is to force Ed to surrender by any means necessary, the Union’s access codes he carries, thereby eliminating the Union’s tactical advantage if and when the Krill choose to attack the Union directly. The plot takes yet another emotional twist, when due to the intervention of an unforeseen attack by a species called the Chak’tal, Ed and Teleya find themselves stranded on a remote planet after barely escaping the eventually destroyed Krill ship.
What makes this plot twist notable for me however, is not only does Teleya come to accept that in order to survive, she and Ed must become reluctant allies, but that in spite of her betrayal and regardless of her species, he still retains his feelings for her character, which are clearly revealed in this exchange:
Teleya: “Who are you to lecture me about myths? You fell in love with a woman who did not exist.”
Mercer: “You know what? She did exist. For me, anyway. And I think that there is a lot more of her in you than you’re willing to admit. And if she is in there somewhere, tell her… tell her I miss her.”
However, the possibility is implied that in deference to her stated mission and protestations, Teleya may have some residual feelings for him as well. This is addressed when Ed, who is being held as a prisoner in a cave out of the sight of the Chak’tal who are combing the area looking for them by Teleya, announces that he is going to grab some sleep:
After being rescued by Gordon and Bortus during a brief but intense firefight with the Chak’tal, Teleya is detained under the custody of the Union, until Ed makes the command decision to release her back to her own people, a conclusion that Grayson strongly disagrees with:
Grayson: “I want to go on record here: this is not right.”
Mercer: “Well, we’ll find out.”
Grayson: “Ed, she impersonated a Union officer, she abducted you, and she could’ve killed you.”
Mercer: “I’m alive now.”
Grayson: “That does not change the fact that she’s an enemy combatant.” This is for the admiralty to decide. You do not have the authority.”
Mercer: “Objection noted.”
Grayson: “You could be court-martialed.”
As the Krill ship arrives, Ed has one last aside with Janel/Teleya that perfectly encapsulates that while he truly believes that Hope just may be a specific trait as to where the human species is concerned, he’s also just as confident that the diverse species of the galaxy may, at some point, fall before its influence, even if for some of them, their very nature is to attack first, and ask absolutely no questions later.
Teleya: “If you believe releasing me will somehow improve relations between our people, you are indulging another fantasy.”
Mercer: “Defect of my species. We never give up hope. Just do me a favor, okay? Take a message back to your people: we can keep fighting each other, or we can talk.”
Teleya: “Very well.”
Mercer: “Oh. This is for you.”
Teleya; “What is it?”
Mercer: “Best of Billy Joel. And… if you ever get the itch to do movie night again, you know where to find me.”
The scene ends with Ed looking out a window as the Krill ship departs for its home-world, a somber moment underscored by Billy Joel’s “She’s Always a Woman ”, a song from 1977 that in the wrong creative hands, could have easily devolved into the hokey or overly saccharine, but it plays us off as very real, and just a touch painful, if one is to be honest. We’ve all been betrayed by someone we trusted at least once in our lives, so hopefully your experience wasn’t along the lines of “I was kidnapped by a bio-transformed Reptilian warrior bent on committing genocide against my species” kind of thing, but hey, there’s different strokes for different folks, I guess.
The definition of Hope is described within the Cambridge Dictionary as thus: “To want something to happen or to be true, and usually have a good reason to think that it might.” And that in my opinion, is what sets the Orville apart from most of its sci-fi contemporaries, by espousing a belief that given the options,
Mankind will always strive, even if it is done so begrudgingly, to do its best for the good of all, whether they deserve that understanding or not. And this in itself, is seemingly the message that the Orville reminds us that we all need to remember, especially in these, the darkest days we’ve faced as a country and as a people- that unity and diversity will always be stronger than those who traffic in hate and the mongering of fear, and that no matter what adversity we may face, we’ll only manage to kick its collective ass if we do it together as one.
“A story only matters, I suspect, to the extent that the people in the story change.”- Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane