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Wednesday, 20 December 2017

The Orville 1-12: Mad Idolatry (Quick Review)

Episode:12|Writer:Seth MacFarlane|Air Date:07-Dec-2017

Today on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'm writing about The Orville's first season finale: Mad Idolatry. Nice title, I like it.

This is the 8th episode to be written by creator Seth MacFarlane and the 4th to be directed by Brannon Braga, and that seems like a lot seeing that this season only has 12 episodes in it. It should've had 13 but one of them's been held back until next season, presumably so that they weren't stuck with a single episode left over to air after Christmas. The episode's production code is 1LAB13 so I'm guessing this the intended season finale and it's episode 12 that's been moved, but I don't know for sure. Fortunately it doesn't actually matter and no one really cares; it's not a continuity-heavy series.

Beware of SPOILERS beyond this point.

Some season finales feature an epic resolution to the events that have been building up over the last year, others set up a dramatic cliffhanger to lure people back for the next chapter. Mad Idolatry, on the other hand, is pretty much just episode 12. The only hint that it's supposed to come at the end of the season is that it (apparently) wraps up the Ed and Kelly relationship saga, with them finally letting the past go and falling in love again, only to realise that it's actually a really bad idea for the captain of a ship to be dating the first officer. In fact, I'm surprised there aren't rules against it.

The episode starts with Ed so bored and lonely that he's going around everyone's quarters looking for someone who'll have a beer with him, which leads to him drinking parasite mud and getting a blade through the hand after a game of hardcore hot potato with Bortus and Klyden. It's nice to see those two getting on better these days by the way. Miserable and wounded, Ed eventually gives in and calls up his ex, which then leads to an entire civilization suffering centuries of all kinds of nasty things in the name of their goddess Kelly.

Ed and Kelly have typically been two of the more competent people on the ship, but love has always been their kryptonite, with Cupid's Dagger showing how it can make them a liability to the ship. Unfortunately, Cupid's Dagger also hinted that maybe Kelly didn't really cheat on Ed in the teaser to episode 1 and that's enough for them to give their relationship another try here. After one night they're already going into work hungover (which is the kind of behaviour that kept Ed from getting his own ship for a year), which then leads to Kelly doing a real terrible job of keeping her bright blue uniform out of sight of the Bronze Age locals while doing recon. I'm blaming it on the hangover anyway, because I'm not willing to accept her being the biggest fuckup on an away team with Gordon on it.

Kelly spooks a kid who then wounds herself on a rock, which leads to her having to make a choice: she could uphold the rules of the Union, or she could go over and heal the suspiciously human-looking little girl with her advanced technology (of course she heals the girl). To be fair, this seems like about the most minor miracle you could pull on an undeveloped planet, as it's helping out one child in the middle of nowhere; Kelly couldn't have known that a group of locals had crept up behind her, and at least one of them has incredible art skills and a perfect eidetic memory for clothing and faces (I wonder if any of them caught the fact that she yelled "Oh my God!" before running up to help her).

Ed decides to cover for her, neglecting to mention the incident in his report (because he's in love), but when the planet vanishes and then reappears 11 days later they come to realise the magnitude of how much they've both screwed up. Turns out that 700 years have passed for the planet and the descendants of the folks she helped are all Kelly worshippers now. Oops. I get to be smug this week, because I totally called that this was going to be a Prime Directive episode about a religion forming in fast-forward after just three clues: the title, the kid saying 'Kell-lee' after Kelly healed her and ran off, and the planet disappearing back into its dimension. Though to be fair I have seen Next Gen's Who Watches the Watchers and Voyager's Blink of an Eye.

I get the feeling that Seth MacFarlane's seen Who Watches the Watches as well, as when Kelly returns and successfully convinces the Pope that she's just a regular person with a healing gadget, he says the line: "I wish you good journeys, Kelly the traveller," which is almost identical to the line "I wish you good journeys, Picard. Remember my people," from the Trek episode.

Amazingly there's no drama made about members of the crew getting separated and having to get back to the shuttle before they're trapped, and they successfully get on board in time to see the planet disappear again. But then the episode keeps going to show what happens after they did the clever thing to put the society back on track, and the answer is... they changed nothing this time. The Pope was assassinated by his friend before he could share the truth because the church was kind of relying on the fear of Kelly to keep control.

Though it's interesting that the Pope was actually going to go and dismantle his own religion, considering that he was introduced as an asshole on an expensive throne who spends his afternoons sentencing starving children to be taken to the town square and cut for the crime of stealing fruit from the church garden (the idea being that Kelly will come and heal them if she feels they're innocent, despite the fact that she's only healed someone once in 700 years). These folks have used people's faith in Kelly to get themselves a lot of wealth and power, but it seems that the Pope was just as much of a believer as anyone and the cruelty is baked into the system. It's almost like the episode's not very fond of the idea of organised religion; it definitely doesn't dwell on any positives.

After 1400 years, the planet has reached an early 21st century Earth level of development, with all of the fun arguments and conflicts over religion that we're all having now. Kelly's so guilty over this that she wants to stay to fix things properly this time, undeterred by the fact that her first attempt to help them started a religion and her second got a man killed. Though it's Isaac who ultimately stays behind for 700 years and honestly at this point I wouldn't have been shocked if the planet was a post-nuclear wasteland by the time it reemerged. The Orville's had a good mix of happy and bittersweet endings by this point so it could've easily gone very bad for them.

Instead two people who look like they've wandered out of an episode of classic Battlestar Galactica beam onboard to assure the crew that all the folks down on the planet have finally put Kelly worship behind them now. But it wasn't Isaac who put them on the path towards enlightenment and ultra-strength fabric whitener, they just figured it out themselves... like the ancestors of the crew did. In retrospect, the fact that the aliens acted just like humanity at every step of their development should've been a clue that they'd catch up to Union technologically and socially. In the end, they were always going to eventually move past superstition and start making their own miracles.

The visitors are even kind enough to forgive Kelly for the thousands of their ancestors left hanging in town squares with their arms cut, as they're wise enough to know that all cultures develop religions along the way and if Kelly's healing trick hadn't gone viral it would've just been something else. The crew of the Orville would've had to interfere a whole lot more to get a civilization to skip a natural phase in their development. (My theory is that Kelly's religion became so dominant because it was an evolution of a pre-existing religion about the sky flashing and the stars going funny every 700 years... also she looks like Adrianne Palicki).

It's interesting that the aliens are still universe hopping at the end, as they're already more advanced than the Union. If they keep jumping ahead 700 years every 11 days, then by this time next year they'll be 23,000 years ahead! The watched are now very much the ones watching the watchers.

So the crew are off the hook, kind of, and they even get to keep their jobs somehow! But it's become obvious to Ed that getting back together with Kelly just leads to crisis on a global scale (and worse, a letter of reprimand in his permanent file), and their B-plot ends with her deciding to choose the Orville over him. We got a bittersweet ending after all... though not for me, as I'm happy we're apparently moving on now. The Ed and Kelly relationship has been the main thread running through the season, set up in the very first scene in the pilot, and throughout my interest in it has been hovering roughly around zero the whole time. It was clearly added to entertain people who aren't me, and I hope those fans found it satisfying almost as much as I hope the writers are finally done with it now.

The A-plot made up for it though, with its ethical dilemmas and goofy hats. It's always nice to see the crew trying to solve a problem, especially when it takes them territory just a little beyond where Star Trek has explored. The thing about the Prime Directive in Trek, is that we mostly have to take Starfleet's word on it that meddling with another culture is bad, even if you're doing it with the best intentions (well there was that historian who ended up creating a Nazi planet in the Original Series, but he was an idiot). In fact, the heroes broke it on several occasions and that was generally portrayed as being the right thing to do. So it's great that this episode shows the characters continually breaking the rules to do the decent human thing and then fast-forwards 700 years to reveal how all their good intentions have backfired. With their advanced technology and knowledge, even a single crew member could impact a whole society to a degree. But they're not clever enough to predict the ripples they'll cause when they figuratively throw a stone into the lake, and it's not their lake, so that's why they shouldn't do it. Or maybe the moral of the story is that they should try to do the right thing in the moment, as the effect of Kelly's meddling turns out to be much less than they think it is. Either way, it seems pretty clear that you should always always make sure that you've ended your video call before mocking your boss in a stupid voice.

Overall, Mad Idolatry isn't a laugh riot, it spends forever with Ed and Kelly on the ship and it really rushes through the events on the planet, but I thought it was very... alright. Much better than DS9's disappearing planet story, Meridian. Once again Team MacFarlane have failed to make a terrible episode. I'm a bit concerned though about Isaac being unchanged after centuries years of hanging around with people like us though. Unless they find a switch in his head to turn on his 'character development subroutine' it seems he ain't going to grow much as a character over the series. He could've at least turned up wearing a glowing white hat or something. I'm also distressed with all the palm cutting going on (mostly because it seems like a terrible place to have a cut), though it did amuse me when Ed learned his first painful lesson of the episode while playing latchcomb. Also good is Lt. Cmdr. John LaMarr showing off his new rank in the opening credits; I'm glad they didn't leave that until season 2. Plus I still like the episode title.

Coming up next on Sci-Fi Adventures: The Orville season 1 review!

I realise there's a risk you might influence this world's primitive culture and inadvertently start a religion that worships you in some horrific way, but you should leave a comment anyway.

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