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Thursday, 16 November 2017

The Orville 1-09: Cupid's Dagger (Quick Review)

Episode:9|Writer:Liz Heldens|Air Date:09-Nov-2017

Today on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'm writing some thoughts down about the ninth episode of The Orville, Cupid's Dagger.

The official synopsis for the episode says:
"The Orville is called to mediate a peace treaty between two warring cultures, but tensions run even higher between Ed and Kelly when a familiar face boards the ship. Meanwhile Yaphit declares his love for Dr. Finn with surprising results."
Or to summarise: "Skip this one". At least that's how I read it. The tension between Ed and Kelly has to be my least favourite part of the series so far, with Yaphit's love for Dr. Finn being a close second place, so I'm already getting ready to call this my least favourite episode so far. I've got all kinds of preconceptions formed. But I suppose I'll have to actually sit and watch it first before I can really list all the reasons I hate it.

This will be one of my quick reviews without the epic screencap recap; just a few opinions, a couple of observations perhaps, and a lot of SPOILERS.

Two things were going through my head while watching Cupid's Dagger: first, who could possibly think it was a good idea to mix up Star Trek's Elaan of Troyius, Next Gen's Lonely Among Us and DS9's Fascination together to form a comedy episode based around the captain and first officer both getting drugged into sex, and second, why the hell was I finding it so funny?

The answer to the first question is presumably writer (and executive producer) Liz Heldens, though the story plays off so much established continuity, turning old jokes into running jokes, that I was shocked to find it wasn't another Seth MacFarlane script. In fact, it calls back to so much from the pilot episode that they could've made this the season finale and it would've made a nice bookend. It's even got a return appearance by Row Lowe as Darulio, and I had zero idea that was him under the blue makeup in the pilot episode. For all its flaws, Orville always brings its A-game when it comes to getting cameos from A-listers.

The episode's about the Orville hosting two rival alien groups while they give an ancient artefact a DNA test to see who gets custody of the planet, with the complication being that it's Ed's archenemy Darulio running the test. The extra complication is that he's in heat and everyone he touches falls in love with him, except for Yaphit who accidentally passes it on to Claire without realising.

I have to admit, the episode didn't exactly go the way I was expecting it to. I mean sure I guessed that the two races had a common ancestor, and I figured out pretty early that Kelly must have been drugged (because she continually said "It's like a drug" over and over), but I'm pretty certain I didn't expect Ed and Kelly to become romantic rivals after they both fall for the guy she cheated on him with! I've seen a few of these 'love potion' sci-fi plots over the years, but I don't think I've seen that particular set up before.

The episode leaves it a mystery for a while whether Darulio is consciously involved in what's happening to Ed, Kelly and Claire, but the answer turns out to be 'yes'. Well okay, he didn't touch Claire, but he deliberately offered to shake Ed and Kelly's hands without wearing gloves or giving them any warning of what would happen. Right after saying 'ending the bloodshed is bigger than the three of us' as well! He thinks it's all a harmless joke, with the only consequence being great sex, and it's only when he's staring at fleets about to wage war outside his window that he actually grows some kind of a conscience and decides to do something. Though his solution turns out to be 'drug the ambassadors too'. I found that Lowe managed to make the guy surprisingly likeable, considering that I also wanted to strangle him, but he reminded me of another colourful character from another series I watched recently: Kilgrave on Jessica Jones. He's a charming guy with zero concerns about casually taking away other people's free will.

This is a light comedy episode that doesn't want to dwell too much on the morality of what's going on, and I was mostly okay with that, but I think it didn't quite go far enough in the end to outright say that what this guy did was pretty fucked up. The characters had clearly lost their agency as the pheromone overrode their judgment, duty, hatred, even their sexuality, and that'd be bad enough even without Darulio taking advantage of them when they couldn't have possibly given consent. It may be socially acceptable to do what he did in his culture, but he's been to Earth before and he knows damn well it's not socially acceptable to others.

Sure the episode shows that the consequences were getting pretty bad, with Ed and Kelly reliving the nightmare that ruined their marriage, spaceships exploding outside due to their negligence, and a woman haunted by having to shoot two men dead last episode threatening Yaphit with a pistol, but I would've been happier if the episode had ended with Darulio being taken away to some utopian sci-fi rehabilitation centre. They could've kept his last scene exactly the same, with Ed and Kelly being reasonably civil to him, but then he holds out his hands to be cuffed before being taken to his shuttle. That's all it needed for me. Because I don't feel like he learned his lesson here and he's just going to do it again to someone else.

But Darulio did manage to undo some of his damage at least... by helping the Orville crew deliberately drug the leaders of both sides to fall in love. It's an ingenious solution, marred slightly by the fact that it's incredibly immoral and it's not going to work. But they do at least acknowledge it's a temporary fix, and it did stop a lot of people from dying in the short term. Plus he did also finish the DNA test and that's got a chance of leading to peace in the long term.

At least taking Ed and Kelly out of action gave Alara and Bortus a chance to take charge and save the day. Though the episode had me worried for a moment when Alara confronted Darulio; it had me dreading a scene of Ed and Kelly both catching her in bed with him. I can't really blame them for making the choice they did, as the stakes had really reached 'oh fuck it, drug them both' levels by that point. Though giving the nurse a commendation for it was maybe a step too far.

But one thing the episode definitely nailed was the alien prosthetics and costumes. It's hard to imagine the two races having a common ancestor, but they definitely shared a skilled makeup team. Other things I liked include: the beautiful space shots, Yaphit trying to use his guitar as a technological super-pheromone substitute, poor confused Gordon trying to defend the concept of labels to a love-struck Ed, the old school sexy soundtrack shifting to horror music when Claire shows up at Yaphit's door in a dress, and the running elevator gag. Also, Bortus doing karaoke.

Bortus actually stepping up to sing is the best moment in all The Orville so far and may never be topped. I was all set to be miserable for an hour, but then this happened and I was instantly in love with the episode. I like how it follows up from a throwaway line in Majority Rule, how he yells for silence when the crowd cheers, how the intro to Celine Dion's My Heart Will Go On comes on, and how he's cut off at the perfect moment... by a call from an actor from Titanic.

Though I was a bit confused about why they had one of those dudes from Space Precinct as the host.

There didn't seem to be much hope for Cupid's Dagger, but right now I'm thinking that this is probably my favourite of the whole run so far, and for an episode that's all about Ed and Kelly's relationship that's pretty incredible. The Star Trek spin-offs never really worked for me when they went full farce like this, because it felt like they were breaking the reality of the show (and they were bad at it), but The Orville was built for this kind of terrain and is perfectly comfortable here. In fact, for maybe the first time so far the comedy feels perfectly integrated into the plot without any of the weird tonal shifts. Plus it ends with the hope that maybe this time Ed will finally quit hassling Kelly over her sleeping with a smurf now, even though she doesn't quite get handed the 'get out of infidelity free' card she would've liked.

The Orville will return with Firestorm. But next on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'll be writing about Discovery's mid-season finale Into the Forest I Go.

Leave a comment if you like, they're always welcome.

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