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On The Orville, an old friend returns

Image: Fox
Image: Fox
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Maybe it’s just that today has been has been so dense with even more news about men who destroy lives just to satisfy their sexual needs, but I don’t know if I was in the mood to watch an episode of The Orville about a man who blithely goes through life causing chaos and death in the wake of his myopic desire to satisfy his urges only to walk away without facing any consequence for his actions. I do know for certain that regardless of the news cycle, I’m never in the mood to see Dr. Claire having sex with a cgi Norm Macdonald slime cocoon. “Cupid’s Dagger” brought the pilot’s worst gag back as an entire episode in a way that seemed like a chance to focus on Ed and Kelly’s relationship, but quickly turns into a Midsummer Night’s Dream comedy of errors.

Victor Garber briefly returns as Admiral Halsey to charge the Orville with brokering a peace treaty between the Navarian and Bruidians, two races feuding over the ownership of a planet. An ancient artifact that possibly contains traces of DNA has been discovered on the contested planet’s surface, and the Union has made enough progress to get the two species to agree that whoever of the two’s DNA is discovered on the pot gets to keep the planet. A small diplomatic group from each race will stay on board the Orville as a forensic archeologist examines the piece. As it turns out, the archeologist tasked with studying the piece is Darulio (an almost recognizable Rob Lowe), the blue-skinned alien with whom Ed caught Kelly cheating on him with in the pilot episode. Ed sputters and grimaces, but ultimately attempts being the bigger man by shaking Darulio’s hand and allowing him to stay on board the ship in order to do his job.

Kelly goes to meet him and sort out her own professional and personal feelings, but things quickly escalate and once again, Ed walks in on the two making love. It’s an interesting scenario. What do two former partners owe each other now that they’re no longer together, but must work side by side? And what are the limits in the pursuit of finding happiness when everyone’s lives are still so closely intertwined? But the more grounded aspects of interpersonal relationships are cast aside when it’s revealed that Darulio is in heat and excreting incredibly powerful pheromones by touch. Powerful enough that Kelly neglected her diplomatic duties to sleep with him, and powerful enough that Ed slides a few places down the Kinsey scale to become obsessed with Darulio as well.

Is Darulio affected by being in heat? He doesn’t behave in an over-the-top, sexually aggressive way, but he also seems singularly unconcerned with any potential consequences of enthralling the ship’s two most important officers in the middle of the extremely delicate mission he was brought aboard to work on. He’s capable of completing his own work on the project, even between impromptu picnics and frequent sex. He sees the Navarian and Bruidian’s deteriorating patience, but it’s only when Ed and Darulio are in bed together and a war is raging outside his window does he realize there may be a consequence to the non-stop rutting. Even then, it’s a question of whether he realizes his indulgence creates problems, or if he’s just worried he may get blown up in the fracas. So he’s either selfish, or blinkered by his own biological imperative for sex. Though, in fairness, neither of those qualities are remotely mutually exclusive.

What’s a zany romp for Ed and Kelly is more disturbing when Dr. Claire and Yaphit both become affected (infected?) by Darulio’s pheromones. Darulio accidentally walked through the blob as it was on its way to make one last-ditch attempt to woo the doctor with flowers and song. Claire’s been dealing with Yaphit’s unwanted propositions for a while and threatens to finally file a complaint against him if he doesn’t knock it off. But by picking up the discarded flowers Yaphit brought, she receives a dose of pheromones carried in his gelatinous body. Later, she shows up at his quarters, all dressed up and ready to consummate her relationship with an ambulatory ball of mucus. The visuals of their scenes together aren’t great -whether it’s Penny Johnson Gerald gamely pretending to soul kiss a computer-generated blob, or shout with ecstasy while buried inside the aforementioned sex cocoon- it’s more how Claire was robbed of her agency and compelled into a relationship she otherwise wouldn’t want. I understand the inherent ridiculousness of their scenes, and after everything was over, she and Ed both agreed they felt “a little weird, but fine.” But it’s just a little difficult right now to find chemically-coerced sex hilarious.

On the positive side, the effort The Orville put into developing its characters really paid off and the best moments of the episode by far are the reactions from the rest of the crew as they try to avert disaster. You can really sympathize with everyone scrambling to keep things from falling apart in the absence of the captain and XO. Alara running through the ship in a mad dash to warn Kelly about Darulio was, in particular, a fantastic scene. And she continued to be invaluable throughout the episode both in her urgency to keep the ship from falling apart and as a sounding board for Kelly’s increasingly unhinged emotions. Everyone on board gamely shifts between friends looking out for each other to crew mates trying to prevent a war. The chemistry of the ensemble cast is taking shape.


All of the chaos and destruction caused by Ed and Kelly when they’re so besotted they’re unable to perform their duties is all in service of one moment of reflection. As Darulio is preparing to leave the ship Kelly asks if he was in heat a year ago when they first had their affair. Darulio shrugs and offers a non-committed answer. She’s hoping that if he answered yes, it would provide an excuse -a tidy little answer to why she cheated on Ed. But as Kelly herself said previously, her infidelity wasn’t the cause of the relationship going bad, it was a symptom. Even if a chemically-enhanced sexual dynamo like Darulio never came along, some other, non-eyebrow ejaculating fellow would. Kelly doesn’t get an easy out from Darulio’s unique physiology, and she and Ed are only left with more questions than answers about what their marriage meant and what their current relationship can (or should) be.

Stray Observations:

  • Last week I incorrectly stated Seth MacFarlane wrote the episode. As many of you pointed out, it was written by Brannon Braga and Andre Bormanis. I apologize for my mistake, and all of my other mistakes that I can’t think of at the moment.
  • I really love a good running gag, which The Orville doesn’t really do, favoring instead one-off jokes. So I enjoyed the escalating elevator music bit. I was hoping the punchline would just be the uncommented-on presence of tinny music playing behind Ed and Kelly as they argued, but Kelly freaking out on the crew member for apparently spending all his time riding the elevator was pretty funny too.
  • Fashion Corner: Regardless of my feelings about the scene, Claire’s golden branch necklace was gorgeous. What about the boots, though? They’re bordering on the gladiator sandal thing that was popular a few years ago, but with a more conventional heel. I’m undecided.
  • “There are a lot of soul mates around here lately.” Alara reacting to Claire’s pronouncement she’s marrying Yaphit.
  • “I think it’s just easier to have words.” A befuddled Gordon trying to answer Ed as his rant about sexual fluidity culminates in asking why a box is even called a box.
  • “This whole ship is on drugs.” John’s likely correct assessment of why everyone aboard the Orville is acting so strange.
  • I liked both of tonight’s alien-of-the-week designs. Especially the bone halo-like structures on the Navarian’s heads.

AV Club contributor, illustrator, insouciant oaf.