Recap | The Orville S1E12: “Mad Idolatry”

December 10, 2017 (Last updated: December 12, 2017)
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The Orville - Mad Idolatry

The Orville

Episode Title Mad Idolatry
Episode No. 12
Network Fox
Air Date December 7, 2017
Written By Seth MacFarlane

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What happened?

While The Orville begins to explore unknown space, Captain Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane) and Commander Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki) decide to make another go of their relationship.

They encounter a planet which seems to be orbiting not only in space but in time and dimension as well. Nearly 100 years pass on the planet for each day in normal space. When they first land on the planet, Kelly runs into one of the natives and heals a wound. When they return, it seems that she’s been made into a god on that planet. Some horrible things are being done in her name.

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What does all this mean for The Orville?

“Mad Idolatry” presents a severe critique of religion. Kelly’s arrival on the planet sets forth a chain of events that causes the inhabitants to develop an entire belief system around her. She isn’t exactly their Messiah (that will come a bit later), but she’s certainly made out to be their vengeful god. Because she healed a cut on a girl’s forehead, the religious leaders test their people’s faith by slicing their wrists and calling upon the Kelly to heal them. Of course, they all die. The priests (dressed in Catholic robes) use this to control the population. Even when Kelly returns to the planet, seven hundred years after first contact, trying to convince the church that she’s not miraculous. The word doesn’t spread, because they don’t want to lose their influence over the peasants.

This plot is predicated upon Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law, which posits that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Kelly just used technology to heal. Those who have no conception of technology, particularly such advanced machinery, would have no way to process that information. If I used a cell phone in 1492, people might well believe that I was conjuring spirits. It’s well done and accurate in its application of Clarke’s theory.

Star Trek References

This is Star Trek Voyager’s, “Blink of an Eye” mixed with “Who Watches the Watchers” or “The Inner Light” from Star Trek: The Next Generation, but “Mad Idolatry” just doesn’t resonate as potently as Braga and MacFarlane hope. The emotions aren’t there in the same way. Despite the fact that they try desperately to bring us there. As much as I really like The Orville and have enjoyed watching MacFarlane, Palicki, and company, there is no Kate Mulgrew or Daniel Dae Kim, let alone a Patrick Stewart, to sell the pathos of it all.

Furthermore, it paints religion in broad, straw man-ish strokes. Religion is only made up of power-mad, non-thinking, televangelist, murderous, bigoted terrorists. Now, it’s not explicitly said in this way, but the episode doesn’t spend the time to actually explore the nuances of their concept. They just have people come up to the ship in the end and talk about how they’ve elevated reason above all things, shunning their backward beliefs. Now, I’m a humanities and logic teacher, so the importance of reason is not lost on me. They’re missing some premises in their argument. In short, other shows do this much better, with much more nuance and finesse.

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Random Thoughts on Mad Idolatry

I’ve been waiting for Ed and Kelly to try their hands at a relationship again. I’m really disappointed at how this went. It felt like they should do that at the close of the season (their abbreviated season), so it felt half-hearted. I hope they’ll pick it up and really think through the writing in season two.

Keep Watching?

This is the season finale of The Orville! I’ve really enjoyed most of the first season, despite a bit of a lackluster finale. I’m going to go back and recap the first few episodes. Which I didn’t get to do here, and then maybe do a season one recap as a whole. In short, I think that this was a solid first season of a Star Trek-lite show. At times, it’s excellent science fiction, while at other times it’s Family Guy in space. However, if I’m going to keep comparing The Orville to Star Trek, I’ll give it the credit it deserves: for a first season, it never comes close to hitting the low points of unwatchability that The Next Generation or Deep Space Nine do.

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