Trektember: About a Girl | The Orville

Trektember: About a Girl | The Orville

The third episode of The Orville is, in many ways, a microcosm of both the flaws and strengths of the program (at least early on). Let’s begin with a plot rundown, which will be easy as there is not much plot to this episode, but rather some loosely connected scenes and set pieces that vaguely form a narrative:
At the end of the previous episode, the ship’s second officer, Bortus, and his mate Klyden (both males, as they are members of the all-male Moclan race) birthed a baby which turned out to be female. This episode begins with this event and with Bortus’ request for the ship’s doctor to give the baby girl a sex change procedure. When she refuses, a chain of events begins where the various human (and Xelayan) crew members constantly disapprove and judge the two Moclans for their beliefs.
After two crew members finally convince Bortus that his daughter would be better off with her differences left intact (amusingly enough by showing him the classic “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” special by Rankin/Bass), he joins in the effort to prevent the surgery; but Klyden insists, revealing that he was also born female (a ridiculous contrivance given that this was an aberration purported to occur among the entire species once every 75 years…and yet here it’s happened twice, in two generations, within the same family). The couple is now divided, and the baby is brought to Moclus for trial over whether or not to require this procedure.
The trial seems to be focused on whether or not being female is an illness (prompting my girlfriend and I to nickname this world “Planet Gamergate”). Eventually and conveniently, the Orville crew searches for, and finds, a hermit woman and convinces her to come and testify; since, in a contrivance to end all contrivances, she happens to be their planet’s greatest writer (worldwide acclaim and near-religious devotion within the writer’s lifetime…how awful must their literature have been before her writings were published?). In possibly the only strong moment of the episode, however, the jury still decides that the girl will be made a boy, and Bortus decides to forgive Klyden and love his son just as he was prepared to love his daughter, ending an extremely weak, confused episode on a surprisingly emotional and sincere note.
This is an episode about gender identity. Given that, you would expect this to be a smug, leftist diatribe on gender fluidity, a hot topic at the time of its initial airing. I wish that were the case. At least that would be a topic. Fittingly, given the subject of the conflict in the episode, “About a Girl” really has no identity to speak of. What begins as a discussion on cultural mores, gender identity and medical ethics turns quickly into a ‘girl power’ screed, which then shifts abruptly into a parental rights argument and courtroom drama, but then reverts back to a clichéd ‘girls can do anything’ rant before finally ending with a sincere character moment.
Even more disappointing than the lack of focus, however, is the smug tone of the episode. It’s no secret that the The Orville is basically a Star Trek offshoot, copying its formula and tone so tightly that it was said to be more Trek than Star Trek: Discovery (this is an opinion that I, personally, share). It has many of the strengths of Trek, such as likeable characters, high production values and a good balance between fantastic, strange new worlds and grounded, familiar and relatable situations.
However, this episode largely demonstrates the failings of the show, which it also borrows from Trek; particularly the early years of The Next Generation. In fact, this episode brings to mind two specific, awful episodes of TNG; the bland, preachy “The Outcast” (single-gender world with an aberrant female being forced to conform medically) and the abysmal (and my personal pick for absolute worst TNG episode) “Up the Long Ladder” (random events lead to random events with ridiculously inconsistent themes and contradictory messages).
It carries all the smug self-assurance of “The Outcast,” with the crew never once considering that the Moclans might know what’s best for their own people and instead constantly judging them, ironically, for not being open-minded. Apparently it’s awful to conform to a misogynistic society’s demands, but constantly hounding your friend to do what everyone else thinks he ought to do is the height of morality/comedy, for instance. “Up the Long Ladder’s” lack of focus, with whole scenes doing nothing to move the story along and constantly changing what the episode seems to want to say, is also prevalent in “About a Girl”.
The real shame here is the lost opportunity. This was an interesting premise with a lot of potential. When Bortus was introduced in the pilot episode as being from an “all-male” species, I feared then that they would do exactly what this episode demonstrated: they come from a planet where they just plumb don’t like them girl-types! Guess it’s time to edumacate ‘em in how they oughten to run their world, I reckon!
The fact that Moclans refer to themselves as ‘male’ implies (as does the occasional female throwback birth) that they were once a typical, bi-gendered species. I was hoping to hear some interesting world-building about how this people could have come to be: Perhaps a severe, incurable genetic plague struck them, with immunity being bound to the Moclan equivalent of the y-chromosome. And as the generations continued, maybe more and more women were dying off and the race was reaching a crisis point of existence. In desperation, Moclan society might have encouraged, and eventually mandated, that all females remain unmated and specialized for breeding, available for procreation and only procreation. This would, over time, reduce the women to uneducated, second-class citizens while the immune men turned to homosexuality for coupling and marriage since it was now criminal to monopolize one of the precious few, necessary females. As another crisis point neared with the female population continuing to dwindle, Moclan science could have found the means for males to reproduce with other males via specialized biotechnology (which would be the ‘egg’ Bortus laid in the second episode). By this time, females would have long since degenerated from being partners and role models to mere chattel and, now that they were no longer necessary for even the one thing they’d once been required for, died off unremarked-upon by a society that seemed unconcerned. As this new society thrived, no longer separating love from procreation, the memory of females would begin to be conflated with weakness, vulnerability, stuntedness and irrelevancy, which would be the society Bortus and Klyden represent.
Or, you know, we could just…have them hate girls because, um, cooties?
Though misinterpretations would disagree, and popular misconceptions would scoff, the Bible actually teaches a great respect for women; they’re used in God’s plan regularly and repeatedly, and never dismissed as irrelevant. Respect and honor are part of God’s plan for interactions between men and women; depending on your theological leaning, this can take the form of complementarianism (each gender has equal worth but unique roles and giftings that support one another) to egalitarianism (each gender is equal in both role and worth), but in either case, God commands that women are due a great honor; something they are not afforded on Moclus.
In the end, despite some strong moments (mostly with Peter Macon’s portrayal of Bortus), this episode was a flop. Amusingly enough, given the strong left-wing leanings of both show creator Seth McFarlane and show’s inspiration Gene Roddenberry, this episode’s lack of focus makes it almost right-wing at times. In an age where left-leaning parents allow their twelve-year olds to have sex changes, when even disagreeing with whatever new gender identity crisis has just been invented is treated as tantamount to cross-burning, this episode plays the most mournful music, displays the saddest expressions, for when the decision to have a sex change is upheld and the most noble character, to judge by the episode’s tone, is the one whose parents refused to alter her, feeling it would be “an offense to nature”. Just another example of this episode’s lack of focus.
I’m sure Topa will feature regularly in the episodes to follow, but unless they mention his birth-gender, you won’t miss anything skipping out on “About a Girl”. That being said, I hope we have more holodeck adventures with the cowboys who have dance-offs at high noon!
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Trektember is an annual series about Star Trek; this year, we’re examining the first seasons of Star Trek: Discovery and The Orville. For more information on this series, click here; or, to read every article from the beginning, click here!

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