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Group of female robots close to each others cyborg army concept 3d rendering
Group of female robots heads close to each others cyborg army concept 3d rendering

Is It Technically Genocide If We Kill a Planetful of Robots?

Orville Season 3, Episode 9, features an EMP-like device that could wipe out the robotic Kaylon

This is the best episode of the third season, but there was still plenty to question about the ethical underpinnings. The first scene shows the Krill’s Supreme Chancellor, Teleya, forming an alliance with the Moclans, who have just been ousted from the Union. This doesn’t make any sense. The Moclans hate women. Teleya is a woman.

Now, the writers do take the time to address this discrepancy, but it’s a superficial attempt, and therefore, not enough to convince the viewer that this alliance could really happen. Stop and consider who the Moclans are: They don’t just have a bias against women. They hate women. So much so that they turn every child on their planet into a man. There is no universe where this race of fanatics would ally with a planet which not only has women but is led by one, and they certainly would never ally with this race if the woman in charge demanded to share power with them, which Teleya does.

Furthermore, there is no real reason for the Moclans to join forces with the Krill in the first place. From their perspective, the only thing an alliance would accomplish is antagonizing the Union when the Union is already at war with the Kaylon, which are artificial life forms. Such an alliance could only serve to start a war on two fronts. And there’s no reason for the Krill to join forces with the Moclans either. The Krill are an elitist society which has not only refused to join the Union but has tried to kill Unin leaders simply because Krill consider their own race to be superior. Their god has told them as much, so their isolationism is motivated by their religion. But despite an entire season’s worth of setup which tells the audience that there is no way an alliance between these two races is possible, the writers assume that a single scene between two egotistical leaders, where one congratulates the other on his lack of scruples, is enough to convince us all that this turn of events is justified. Did I mention that this is the best episode in the season?

The alliance wasn’t forged as a result of previous decisions, as the writers would have us believe. No. They wrote it this way because they wanted the bad guys on one side and the good guys on the other, even though the partnerships made no sense based on the history. We’re about to have our final battle for the season, and the plot needs to happen.

Our next scene takes us back to the Orville where Charly and Isaac have put their differences aside and worked together to create a doomsday device for the Kaylon. Now, the function of this device didn’t make a whole lot of sense, and it was also unclear how Charly’s ability to see in four dimensions served to make the creation of this weapon possible. But the device’s basic function is to lock onto the signal, the link, shared by all the Kaylon and send a pulse through that frequency like an EMP attack. Why this would cause the Kaylon — and their ships — to explode rather than just shut down (the usual outcome) is not explained.

The Union is overjoyed by the invention of this device, and the Orville and Union leaders come together to discuss what they should do next. Ed persuades the Union leadership to offer a peace agreement to the Kaylon. He believes that completely annihilating them without offering terms would be wrong because killing this race which has threatened to kill them would be genocide… even though they are robots.

You may recall that iconic scene from Star Trek where Admiral Picard has hidden his face in the palm of his hand while he sits behind his desk.

That pretty much describes how I felt. We are presented with an opportunity to create a lively debate about the nature of these robot beings. Are they sentient or not? But the show absolutely refuses to address the question, even now, when the subject would be particularly relevant. It’s as if the writer of this crazy script is Geppetto screaming that wooden Pinocchio is a real boy — and you’ll believe it or else! We are told later in the episode that there was a lively debate among the Union officials but we never see it. Could it be that the galactic leaders, who have some measure of sense, are telling the others that the Kaylon are essentially vacuum cleaners gone mad, and the Union had better use the RMP-like device before they kill everyone?

No! Absolutely not! This is an allegory about prejudice, by golly! We have to search the human heart and explore the ramifications of hate! The fact that this race of robots might not be living beings at all and couldn’t even qualify as the Tin Man without his heart, doesn’t seem to occur to them as a story concept. They want you to know that hate is bad, and genocide is even worse.

But, we are given to understand, genocide is not immoral! No, sir! That might imply a Being higher than the Union, and we can’t have that. It’s bad because it’s against Union regulations, and the Union can’t be hypocrites. If so, I don’t know which Union regulation forbids the sin of hypocrisy, but I’m sure it’s somewhere.

Anyway, the Union decides to offer a peace deal because they figure the Kaylon are logical beings. Since they are so obviously outgunned, they’ll reason that the best thing to do is surrender. To be fair, that isn’t a poor conclusion to draw as long as the Kaylon don’t find the device’s weakness.

But one foul leader decides this decree cannot stand, so he takes the device to the Moclans and the Krill, knowing that they will not hesitate to use the weapon to destroy the Kaylon. Granted, this guy kills a couple people to take the device, so he isn’t a good guy. But it’s not a bad strategy to give this weapon to the new Krill–Moclan alliance. They can’t use it against anybody but the Kaylon, so once the deed is done, they can’t do anything else with the device.

It’s a relatively solid plan as far as betrayals go, but he’s a turncoat and thus as dangerous to his new allies as to the old ones. So Teleya blows up his ship the second he leaves. That seemed a little obvious to me, but oh well… We’ll continue the review next Sci-Fi Saturday.

Here are my thoughts on Episode 8: The Orville 3 8: The writers finally figured out moral ambiguity. Is it right to endanger the lives of many to save one? The Orville crew must confront that in the case of the Moclan girl Topa. The Dolly Parton avatar advises, “If you do the right thing in the here and now, the future has a way of taking care of itself.”

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.

Is It Technically Genocide If We Kill a Planetful of Robots?