Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis
Science fiction scene.
Image licensed via Adobe Stock

Episode 4: The Orville Writers Try Their Hand at Woke Messaging

No, it doesn’t work. In Season 3, the plot gently falls apart

Episode 4 of The Orville, Season 3, titled “Gently Falling Rain,” starts out strong and then gradually falls apart, in a way that is almost reminiscent of a frog slowly boiling in a pot of water.

For most of the episode, there is only one really glaring plot hole and it’s easy enough to ignore. But then within the last quarter of the show, viewers are pounded with so much idiocy that we barely have time to realize what’s happened.

As the episode opens, the hostile Krill are ready to sign a treaty with the Planetary Union. They’ve been taken to a futuristic Broadway production of Annie — it’s good to know that that little overplayed gem of a production still exists in the future — and the Krill are haunted by the lyric line “The sun will come out tomorrow.”

Apparently, the sun is a sign of doom in their world. I don’t know if this was meant to be a joke but I didn’t laugh.

Despite the Krill’s subsequent unease, the talks for the treaty go smoothly except for one hiccup. The Krill want the Union to sign the treaty on the eve of their election for their planet’s leader. They insist that the election is a sure thing and that the Union’s leaders have nothing to fear from the volatile contender Teleya, who once had a relationship with the Orville’s captain, Ed Mercer. The Union agrees to this arrangement.

This scene introduces the one major plot hole for most of the episode. Anyone who has spent ten minutes studying politics knows that an ambassador is sent to address such matters, particularly if the meeting takes place in a hostile nation’s territory. The reason for this is obvious. It could be a trap. Thus, leaders who show up to sign a treaty meet on neutral ground. That would go double if it’s the night of a potential upheaval in the enemy’s power structure, like an election that features a volatile challenger…

The solution to this problem is easy enough. Sign the treaty either before or after the election. These two parties have been working on the particulars for months, so what’s so bad about waiting one more day? Yet, the President of the Union, as well as the rest of the Union’s leaders — presumably all of them — decide to show up for this signing in person. I suppose, we really need this plot to happen…

This is bad, but it’s forgivable, all things considered. The Orville’s crew is invited to act as transportation and security for this signing — but first we must suffer through some cringe humor involving a robot in a cowboy hat. So, our cast travels to Krill.

Ed and Charly take the Union’s leaders onto the planet, and sure enough, Teleya wins the election under suspicious circumstances. Our heroes, as well as the Union leaders, are thrown into prison to await execution. It’s almost like none of this would’ve happened if they’d sent ambassadors…

The plot progresses as one would expect. Charly gives some superficial advice because she is a character that has been shoehorned into this series and needs something to do. Then Captain Ed is called into the leader’s chambers because Teleya, his ex-girlfriend, wants to speak with him. Now, throughout this episode, I desperately wanted Ed to do something, anything, to move the plot forward. Instead, he stands around, essentially gaping at everything, and lets the plot happen to him. Seth MacFarlane has been reduced to a puppet in his own show.

The conversation with Teleya goes nowhere, and he is sent away to await his execution. But the guards decided to take him to the Krill’s global marketplace, and here is where everything falls apart.

After her redundant conversation with Ed, Teleya calls Kelly, Ed’s co-captain and ex-wife, and commences to taunt her over Ed’s captivity — and tells her to go home. Apparently, this new global leader has time to indulge in some petulant cat fighting while she takes over the world.

Now, returning to Ed, while the guards are guiding him through the market, they are ambushed and killed. Ed’s new captors then take him to a hidden room and show him his child with Teleya, Anaya. These new captors then explain that the original guards had been ordered to take Ed back to his shuttle so he could escape to the Orville.

But here’s the problem: Teleya had just ordered Kelly to fly back to earth. Presumably, she was serious when giving this order, so where was Ed supposed to go? Furthermore, if the guards had been ordered to take Ed back to his shuttle, why were they in the marketplace to begin with? One of the Union leaders has asked about the marketplace earlier in the episode, and the shuttle was shown to have landed nowhere near the marketplace. So what were the guards doing there?

It gets even more confusing. If Teleya had trusted these guards enough to take Ed back to the shuttle in secret, odds are, she would’ve trusted them enough to let them know about the child. Both the child and Ed’s escape would be politically dangerous for her, so both Ed’s new captors — and these new guards — were both part of Teleya’s inner circle. Therefore, there was no point to the new captors killing the guards in the first place. The whole scene regarding the firefight and Ed’s new captivity seems to have been there just to create a sense of intrigue but it made no sense plotwise.

How did we get from here to abortion?

So, after my head had finished spinning from all the stupid, I realized that these new captors wanted Ed to return to Teleya’s chamber and convince her to confess to having the child in the hopes of re-establishing the treaty. Ed does as they suggest. He returns to Teleya and tries to convince her to admit that Anaya is her daughter.

And then it gets even more bizarre. This second conversation devolves into a discussion of abortion. Ed asks why Teleya even had the child if she was ashamed of her. Teleya says something to the effect of “I’m not a monster like your people.” Then she simultaneously complains about the harsh punishment her planet inflicts on those who commit abortions.

She takes Ed to a demonstration of this “harsh punishment.” I was expecting a beheading. Instead, a holographic image of the child is projected at the parents who committed the abortion. The child tells them he would’ve loved them and asks them why they killed him.

It may be psychological torment, sure. But the Krill are a warlike race, and a person who believes abortion is wrong usually considers it murder. The usual punishment for murder — particularly if you are a race of war-like aliens who feast on the blood of your enemies in honor of your pagan god — would be death of some sort. This seemed like a bland punishment by the standards of the Krill.

It’s easy to guess why the plot took this odd turn. The writers wanted to shoehorn a political narrative into their story, but they forgot the nature of the characters they are portraying. Teleya wants to bring entire races to the brink of extinction. Death means little to these people. By their standards, “cruel” would be a prolonged disembowelment, not a hologram.

Ed might be disgusted by the hologram but the only reason Teleya would be bothered is because of the obvious truth that she would be seeing her child. But then her race doesn’t value life. So, why would that bother her? Why would she consider it cruel? It’s easy to guess why a human would. And if a human’s reasons ring true for this alien, despite her war-like culture, then we are right back to square one with regards to the political debate itself. Nothing has been added to the conversation.

What the confused and chaotic plot developments are really about

To put it plainly, this plot development was a complaint on the part of the writers about certain U.S. states that require a woman to see an ultrasound of her child before going through with an abortion. I trust you have your own opinions on the matter, but when it comes to writing, the point of introducing any such topic is to bring various views into consideration. That’s why Star Trek and so many other shows used surrogates to represent different opinions. Yes, they often had a bias and would introduce straw men into the debates, but in general, a full conversation occurred.

Here, we are shown a policy, told that it is terrible, and before anyone has a chance to say anything, forced to move on to the next scene. But showing us something, then telling us how we are supposed to feel about it — by characters who have no business feeling that way in the first place — is a poor tactic even by propaganda standards. By and large, whatever opinion the viewer has to start with will only be more entrenched. Plus, the viewer will be annoyed at being taken out of the story and forced to listen to what amounts to a political diatribe. The main reason we watch shows like The Orville is to escape such matters for a time.

There are ways to address such topics, and most involve surrogates and open-ended questions in which the viewer can participate. That’s what the surrogates and the open-ended questions are for. Let viewers take a side or answer the questions for themselves. Writers who want to tell audience members what to think should write editorials — or at least, write a better script than this one.

The stupid continues. Ed and the Union leaders are about to be executed, but Kelly sends Dr. Finn and LaMarr onto the planet, disguised as Krill. They shoot up the palace… sort of. There were all of five guards there… on the capitol building of the entire planet. One would think the Krill would have better security, especially when they know that the Union is on its way to rescue its entire leadership. But oh well.

Finn and LaMarr save everyone, and Charly flies them away from the capital — where they dodge a bunch of ships during a space fight that is taking place over the planet — and lands them safely on the Orville.

The show ends with Ed missing his daughter, and with the cast lamenting the loss of the treaty. Teleya is last seen watching her little girl through a Krill security screen.

Stumping vs storytelling

This was a bad one. The episode showed promise at the beginning, but it quickly became apparent that the writers were more interested in preaching than in telling a coherent story. The plot holes widened to the point that it became almost impossible to track what was going on.

Word of advice to the writers. If you can’t fix your plot, what makes you think people are going to take your political opinions seriously? Tell a good story. Then we might hear what you have to say.

Here’s my take on Episode 3: The Orville crew sails into hallucinations from deathless beings Gary Varner: The ETs’ Big Message is: Ignore such labels as man, husband, captain, explorer because they are all irrelevant. Embrace loss of individuality and sculpt the cosmos! The surprise is not that the hostile alien proclaims this message but that crew does not even — unlike what might happen in Star Trek — want to discuss it.

Gary Varner

Gary Varner is the Assistant to the Managing and Associate Directors at the Center for Science & Culture in Seattle, Washington. He is a Science Fiction and Fantasy enthusiast with a bachelor’s degree in Theater Arts, and he spends his time working with his fellows at Discovery Institute and raising his daughter who he suspects will one day be president of the United States. For more reviews as well as serial novels, go to www.garypaulvarner.com to read more.

Episode 4: The Orville Writers Try Their Hand at Woke Messaging