This week’s entry is going to be a bit shorter than usual because I feel that with all of the action that Discovery packed into “Such Sweet Sorrow,” that post could get a little long. Thus, have my take on Moclan gender equality.
The Orville gets tasked with ferrying a Moclan engineer and his mate to rendezvous with another ship, and Bortus discovers that the couple are smuggling their daughter off of Moclus. Bortus agrees to keep their secret, but he does show the baby to Topa, who has been displaying horrible misogynistic behavior in school, ostensibly to teach him that women are people too. Predictably, Topa tells Klyden who drags him to the captain, and Mercer concludes that the solution to a potential mess is to track down the couple and perform DNA scans to be sure that the child is theirs. The Orville follows them into a nebula where they discover an entire colony populated by Moclan women, including Heveena, the female poet we met back in “About a Girl.” This, predictably, triggers an entire diplomatic kerfluffle because Heveena and her colony ask to be recognized as independent by the Union. The Moclans react rather poorly to this suggestion, so Admiral Halsey splits the proverbial baby by forcing the Moclans to leave the colony alone so long as the colony agrees to cease smuggling female children off of Moclus.
Dealing with the problems of Moclan culture has been a recurring theme this season, and hopefully “Sanctuary” represents a conclusion of sorts to this arc. What we do see is that the Moclans are willing to enforce their social norms with violence. While Captain Mercer and Heveena are off dealing with the Union council, Commander Grayson and Bortus are planetside, shooting the Moclans who attempt to remove the colony’s population by force. The juxtaposition between the two sequences highlights just how difficult life with the Moclans has become. The Moclan ambassador makes it very clear that the Moclans are willing to leave the Union over this issue; they consider the female Moclans criminals. The ambassador even tries to strongarm the Union into letting them punish these women by threatening to take their weapons away, which is no idle threat as the Kaylon and Krill are still threats.
Halsey’s solution is an astute compromise. Neither side truly wins, but as Heveena points out, neither side truly loses either. The colonists are allowed to exist as they are, and Moclus is not dragged into modernity. The real heart of the episode, however, is the very public fight between Bortus and Klyden in the mess hall. Both actors are to be commended because it plays out beautifully. Bortus and Grayson are having drinks, and Klyden walks up to Bortus, immediately exhorting him to come home and mentions a possible move to Moclus. The long-simmering rage that Bortus has been nursing all season rises up, and Bortus proceeds to call out Klyden misogyny, even observing that Klyden did not greet Commander Grayson. It’s a hard moment for Klyden, but it’s one that has been long in coming. The Bortus/Klyden confrontation of course parallels the larger issues—how far should Bortus tolerate Klyden’s misogyny, is Moclan practice compatible with Union culture. Klyden’s refusal to associate with the crew and absorb some of their values mirrors the Moclans’ strict adherence to their traditions. Their struggles therefore personalize the overall struggle by using characters in which the audience has an investment, and it’s a great example of clever writing in the series.
The episode ends with Topa cooperating with the little girl to whom he’d been mean at the beginning of the episode, and it’s meant to be uplifting. I personally want to know what the fall-out will be in Bortus’ marriage.
Stray Thoughts from the Couch:
1. As usual, the Orville has pulled from recognizable pop culture, this time hitting “Nine to Five” as a key element in the story. I can’t help but wonder if this is an issue of establishing that the Orville unlike its spiritual ancestor, TNG, is not pretending to be high brow. Doing so could be an interesting critique on just what constitutes high art or as an indication that the Orville represents a more down-to-earth show. This is not to say that “Nine to Five” isn’t an example of art. I’m not actually commenting on that issue; I merely find its use intriguing. TNG would have tapped Shakespeare’s oeuvre, which in and of itself wasn’t necessarily “high brow” at its time either but has gained a reputation for so being. The Orville looks rather at pieces and films that have not yet attained similar status, and I suspect that the show’s creative team does so deliberately. Either way, putting the lyrics in Heveena’s mouth was an interesting choice.
2. We have another Star Trek alumni party in this episode. Tony Todd plays the Moclan delegate Dojin, and you might recognize him as Kurn. Jonathan Frakes directed the episode, and in keeping with the TNG theme, Marina Sirtis is somewhat underused as the teacher.
3. On other casting high notes, Ted Danson and Victor Garber both reprised their roles, and I’m never not excited to see them.