“Primal Urges” takes a bold stab at p**n addiction and its impact on our lives and the lives of those around us, but it blunts its point by too quickly moving on from those consequences and wrapping them up in a nice, neat bow.
This recap of The Orville Season 2, Episode 2, “Primal Urges”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
The Orville has taken on an unexpectedly dark subject matter: p**n addiction and its consequences. Here, Bortus (Peter Macon) is using the environmental simulator (holodeck) to cheat on his mate Klyden (Chad L. Coleman) in increasingly cliched ways. And his actions don’t simply threaten his marriage; they jeopardize the ship when he installs an illegal pornographic program in the simulator, which spreads a virus through the ship.
Holo-addiction has long been established in Star Trek, and The Next Generation used it to great effect with Dwight Schultz’s Lt. Reginald Barclay. In Barclay’s case, the holo-addiction was often used for comic relief (see “Hollow Pursuits“) and tinged with melancholy as we sympathized with his plight. However, this Seth MacFarlane-penned episode presents a dark reflection of that addiction, one that fan communities have long discussed and joked about among themselves—that a holodeck would absolutely be used for illicit sexual fantasies. Barclay wasn’t just having a holographic Troi feed him grapes, after all. Quark’s holosuites weren’t just for O’Brien and Bashir to win at the Alamo, after all. All Riker and Minuet did was talk and dance, after all.
The message laid out is generally good and strong. However, the show missteps in a few ways. I think they didn’t need to depict Bortus’ affair after the first or second scene. I actually think it’s more effective without depicting it too much. If it was another character, a single character like Barclay (in The Orville if it was John or Gordon), those scenes could have more easily played for laughs. For example, John (J. Lee) accidentally activates the program while trying to fix a virus, and one of the Moclan simulations starts coming onto him, distracting him from his job. It’s a laugh out loud moment, inhibiting the job from getting done. However, because this involves one of our main characters having an affair and breaking up his marriage, the humor they were going for does not work in the Bortus scenes. It’s just painful.
Moreover, Captain Mercer (Seth MacFarlane) rightly chastises Bortus, “I have never witnessed an officer behave with such carelessness, selfishness, and downright stupidity as you have. As a direct result of your thoughtless actions you almost destroyed this entire ship and all 300 members of her crew.” Properly chastened, Bortus attempts to atone for his actions by resigning, but Mercer compliments him for his valor, which is true enough. However, Mercer just delivered a stern speech about Bortus’ dangerous actions and then wicks away the danger by commending Bortus. I feel this seriously endangers the point. At least restrict him from the Simulator or give him double shifts or something! He endangered everyone! I appreciate, at least, that Bortus and Klyden have it out throughout the episode, especially at the end, making strides toward reconciliation.
The emotional aspects of this episode do work well—Bortus’ dissolving relationship with Klyden is sharply contrasted with a moving moment between the leader of the dying planet and her husband. She selflessly remains on the disintegrating planet while her husband and child evacuate, talking to him about living their lives together out in the stars. Bortus chose to begin abandoning his family for fleeting, false sexual pleasure, while the First Minister’s family breaks apart in an act of desperate preservation.
A few other random thoughts. “Primal Urges” was supposed to be part of last season but was moved to this season for some reason. This also messes with some of the new crew members brought aboard–this should have been the season opener.
Again, amazing effects shots of the ship in orbit of a star that’s incinerating a planet. The Orville creative staff knows that Star Trek: Discovery is their direct competition, and they’re stepping up their game. The destruction of a planet by a Red Giant star was masterfully done, beautifully conceived and executed (sorry for the pun). It’s also a tad sad that Nana Visitor, Major Kira Nerys from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, was supposed to play the First Minister of the people The Orville rescue from the dying world, but her agent forgot to tell her about the gig.
This is certainly not what I expected from the follow-up episode to the season opener, especially as it ignores the two new crew members that we just got. They should have done some small reshoots to get them into the episode. Even just some cheap insert reaction shots would have been great.
All in all, I’m still excited about where the show is going to go, but this feels like a bit of a second, false, start to the season. Let’s pick it up, people!