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November 13, 2017

The Orville’s Ninth Episode Just an Extended Rape Joke

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Written by: Kels
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(Ed. Note: The following opinion piece contains both a description of fictional non-consensual sexual acts, and spoilers for the ninth episode of The Orville, “Cupid’s Dagger.”)

First, let me state that I absolutely adore The Orville starring Seth MacFarlane and Adrianne Palicki. The writing is on point (most of the time) and the cast is stellar. Sure, it’s got its issues, but the Star Trek: The Next Generation fan in me is rejoicing weekly over this show. I also know I’m a day late and a dollar short with my reaction because I wait for Hulu to bring my weekly fan fix as opposed to watching the show live on television. (Lucifer is the only series that gets that kind of attention. Awful, I know.)

With my fan status and love of the show firmly addressed, the last episode, “Cupid’s Dagger,” left me with a rather sour taste in my mouth. It’s been pointed out on many occasions, by many articles, that the writing in this episode has been particularly sub par, but I’ve got little issue with that. Shows have bad episodes and mid-season is usually the place where the writing dips and filler episodes are added. It’s forgivable.

The yucks
There were even some rather genuinely funny moments.

Bortus shouting, “You will be silent!” at the karaoke crowd had me cackling. Isaac asking Gordon if Ed being “into” another man meant that he has “entered him in some fashion?” only to have Gordon answer with a nonchalant, “Not yet.” That gained a snort from me. Even Ed having sex with another man was completely glossed over and no one batted an eye or made a big deal out of it. Automatic points for that, for sure.

The yucky
No, my problem is that no one is addressing the gigantic elephant in the room that neither the show nor reviewers have mentioned:
The use of a chemical to induce euphoria and lower inhibitions toward sexual activity.

In one word: Rape.

I know. This is a rough topic, so please strap in and bear with me.

So, how did I go from acknowledging lacklustre writing to accusing a show of perpetuating the normalisation of rape? Let’s go over the last episode so that everyone is on the same page.

The story for the episode revolves around Captain Ed Mercer and his XO Kelly Greyson hosting peace talks between two warring races who are battling over the rights to a planet. All of this is happening while a forensic anthropologist, Darulio portrayed by Rob Lowe, tries to find genetic evidence that one of the warring races has a historic claim on the world they so vehemently fight over. The dramatic conflict that arises is that Darulio is the same alien that Mercer found his wife, Greyson, cheating on him with over a year ago.

The episode itself starts out fine until the first moment between Kelly and Darulio. She immediately tells him that she regrets what she had done with him and the resultant ruined marriage between her and Ed.

But only a few minutes go by before Kelly suddenly changes gears and begins to compliment Darulio on his eyes and to flirt with him shamelessly.

At this point, my stomach immediately started to churn, but I held on, thinking that perhaps it wasn’t what it looked like and Kelly was just hearkening back to the memories that she felt when she was with her former lover and on the brink of making a really bad, but adult, decision.

The episode continues with Ed who, after Kelly doesn’t arrive for her duties of greeting the ambassadors from the battling alien races, goes in search of her only to find her… once again… in bed with Darulio.

At this point, I remember thinking to myself, “Wow, Kelly, really?” which is a completely understandable reaction to her jumping into bed with the one person she definitely shouldn’t while working with her ex-husband.

Unfortunately, my ire at Kelly turned to sympathy when Ed, after ranting and raving about the injustice of Kelly’s behaviour to his best friend Gordon, goes to confront Darulio only to end up asking him out to drinks instead of firing him as originally intended.

It was obvious that there was something that Darulio was doing to induce both Kelly and Ed to find him attractive. I knew the trope. I knew what the answer was long before the reveal. Not only is that bad writing, but the trope itself is a major issue. I’ll dive further into that down below, but let’s continue with the synopsis.

The episode goes on to pit Kelly and Ed against each other in bid for Darulio’s affections, all while ignoring the peace talks between the ambassadors, which eventually leads to tensions boiling over and the two races calling in their fleets to begin a war.

There is also a similar side plot involving Dr. Claire Finn, portrayed by Penny Johnson, and Yaphit, voiced by Norm MacDonald. Yaphit, a gelatinous creature who has been vying for Claire’s affections for a number of episodes now, finally gets his wish when Claire arrives at his quarters completely unannounced, dressed up and returning his endearments.

The episode ends with Lieutenant Alara Kitan discovering that everyone is acting so out-of-character because Darulio’s species, when in heat, releases a pheromone through their skin that causes people to fall uncontrollably in love with them. Ed and Kelly shook Darulio’s hand upon meeting him in the shuttle bay and Claire held flowers that Yaphit gave her after Darulio had run him over in the hallway. With this knowledge, Alara has Nurse Park use the pheromones to induce love between the ambassadors, effectively ending the war and saving the day.

Now, why do I find this episode so problematic and, as I said to friends, “rapey?”

Merriam-Webster defines the word Rape as:

Sexual activity carried out against the will of a person who is incapable of valid consent because of intoxication or deception.

Ed, Kelly, and Claire were all under the influence of a mind-altering chemical which led them to act outside of their natural behavior: Kelly jumping immediately back into bed with the man she cheated on her husband with; Ed giggling like a schoolgirl and also jumping into bed with the man his wife cheated on him with; and Claire having rather disturbing, Jell-o sex with Yaphit in her office at sick bay.

These two alien races go to war because the Orville leaders are under the influence of a date rape chemical and unable to stop them.

These two alien races go to war because the Orville leaders are under the influence of a date rape chemical and unable to stop them.

Not once did the episode make mention of the fact that everyone was essentially coerced into performing sexual acts that they, under normal circumstance and within their right mind, would never do.

By the end of the episode, with the plot resolved, everyone acts unfazed and unaffected by the results of Darulio’s presence and he is sent off without much to-do at all.

As a fan of Star Trek as a whole and of The Next Generation specifically, I can see the homage to the episode The Naked Now. The Orville is known for its trekkie love and I certainly appreciate the show for paying respects to the TV show that gave them a voice, but the difference here is that the episode The Naked Now aired 30 years ago in 1987.

A lot has changed in our society since the ’80s and the acceptance of “sex pollen” in entertainment is one of them. The “sex pollen” or “love potion” trope is an old science fiction/fantasy plot device. Characters encounter a rare/alien/magical plant and the chemical/pollen/pheromones from it cause them to behave in ways they ordinarily would not and usually results in one or more characters having sex when it would be out-of-character otherwise.

This trope has come up in many different shows, books, and films and has sparked plenty of much-warranted ire on its relation to non-consensual acts. Fan fiction writers love this trope. A lot. If you go to any fan fiction website, a “sex pollen” fic will always include the tag of “non-con” to indicate that the characters are actually doing things against their will as to avoid upsetting anyone who would find such behaviour triggering in any way.

No consequences, fictional or real
All of these characters were sexually compromised and no one said a word afterward. No one pointed out Darulio’s detestable behaviour by
knowingly letting Ed and Kelly faun over him. He even continually comments that everyone is making a big deal out of nothing, telling Alara, “Look, it’s harmless. The worst thing that happens, we all have great sex.” That sentiment has probably been expressed to someone by every person who ever used a date rape drug.

Not addressing the obvious issue regarding consent and Darulio’s behaviour will only continue to perpetuate rape culture and the idea that sexually assaulting someone because they were drunk or high is acceptable behaviour because “it’s harmless.”

The Orville didn’t just make a misstep, it leaped, with arms spread wide, into a pile of ethical garbage. With our society finally calling out problematic behaviour in droves, we shouldn’t let Fox, MacFarlane, and The Orville get a pass on this. As I said in the beginning, I’m a fan of the show, but I’m making sure Fox knows this is unacceptable and you should too.

About the Author

Liberal snowflake, vaper, gamer, sexual mutant, armageddon alpaca, anglophile... that's about it, I believe.



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  1. FergyK

    If you folks have a comment on why or why not you agree with me, please state it below! I’m all for a healthy discussion on the topic.

  2. Mavis

    Astute observation and thank you !

  3. There's always 1

    Did you notice no one was so sensitive to assume they had been raped but you?

  4. shay wilson

    I felt especially bad when the crew turned around and drugged the ambassador’s in their care without a thought about the long term ramifications.

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