The Orville Recap: Stigma and Murder Turn “Deflectors” Into a Darker Valentine’s Episode

The Orville Deflectors The Orville, "Deflectors", Cr: Michael Becker/FOX

After a week off, The Orville is back in time for Valentine’s Day, though it’s interesting that they’d choose this episode to come back with – after all, “A Simple Refrain” from two weeks ago was just about the sweetest love story you could imagine for a show like this. Whereas that episode was about the strange, clumsy maneuvers we take to navigate budding new relationships, this week’s “Deflectors” is about relationships that end – whether due to social stigma, fundamental incompatibilities, or in the case of the episode’s A-plot, state-sanctioned bigotry and murder.

The episode begins, as always, in the simulator, where a holographic representation of idyllic 1940s America serves as the setting for a breakup between Kelly (Adrianne Palicki) and ship schoolteacher Cassius (Chris Johnson), he of the fluffy TNG civilian cardigans. The reasons stated are simple – the differences in their careers, and Kelly’s commitment to her job, result in her swiftly calling it off.

Other members of the crew are dealing with more complicated relationship problems – namely Bortus (Peter Macon), who finds himself running into an old flame in a story initially far too reminiscent of last season’s “Cupid’s Dagger”. The ship takes on the Moclan engineer Locar (Kevin Daniels), an ex of Bortus’ who is tasked with improving the ship’s deflectors. His arrival is met with no small amount of jealousy by Bortus’ mate Kylden (Chad L. Coleman), but Bortus asserts that they’re just friends.

However, as new security chief Talla (Jessica Szohr) quickly intuits, Locar may not be into Moclan dudes – or dudes at all, for that matter. For Moclans, heterosexuality isn’t just stigmatized, it’s criminalized, and so Locar has stayed deeply in the closet throughout his career. As the two explore the possibilities of their relationship, however, Locar eventually goes missing, and security tapes reveal that someone came into the simulator and vaporized him. The prime suspect is Klyden, of course, especially as a cleaned-up version of the tape reveals him holding the murder weapon. But despite his deep hatred for Locar’s sexuality, Klyden asserts that he did not kill him. So who did it – if anyone even did?

Much like the TNG episode it very obviously cribs from, “The Outcast”, this episode uses alien sexuality as a thin allegory for homophobia and bigotry based on sexual orientation. The Moclans seem to be the show’s go-to for these kinds of social discussions, especially after season one’s “About a Girl.” For a species made of Worfs with dad bods who fuck, they have a surprising number of social and cultural hangups. For as tone-deaf as “About a Girl” was depending on how you look at it (as a story touching on trans issues, it falters; as a story about forced sex reassignment for children, the allegory is far more workable), “Deflectors”‘ main thematic concerns feel relatively limp and dated. “Love is love” is a well-worn message for shows for decades, especially one with a regular crew member whose entire concept is based around the stability of a socially accepted same-sex marriage.

What helps shore up “Deflectors”‘ weaknesses, however, is that the episode focuses not on Bortus, but newcomer Talla. Szohr has had big shoes to fill ever since Halston Sage left the show early in the season, and “Deflectors” is ostensibly the character’s first real showcase. So far, Talla still feels like the equivalent of copying your friend’s term paper and changing around some of the phrasing to make it not seem like a total carbon copy; she’s Alara, but she’s older, brasher, and more no-nonsense. As a performer, Szohr is still finding her footing in the role; Sage’s shyness felt like part of Alara’s insecurity, whereas Szohr remains a bit wooden despite being portrayed as a confident Tasha Yar type.

Still, “Deflectors” allows her to provide a valuable contrast to the meek, accepting members of the Orville crew: while the rest of the Union crew evoke the ‘live and let live’ approach to different species’ cultural norms, Talla won’t have it in the case of Moclan heterophobia. She calls it like it is, especially to Bortus, who should know damn well how flawed his species’ view of gender and sexuality can be: “I thought you’d be more evolved, especially considering what they did to your daughter,” Whether taking Bortus and Klyden to task, or showing Locar the loveliness of the ship’s 1940s simulator (including the patented Seth MacFarlane golden oldie needledrop of “White Cliffs of Dover”), it’s nice to see someone who isn’t as invested in the niceties of the ship. Utilized well, Talla might well be the shakeup The Orville needs.

By the end of the episode, however, she solves the mystery of Locar’s death: he’s still alive, hiding on the ship after faking his murder in the simulator to avoid going back to Moclus and facing trial for his sexuality. This is where “Deflectors” gets a lot more interestingly gray with its morality – does Talla turn him in to clear Klyden’s name? Or let Locar run free, a fugitive of an unjust system? “If I am condemned, it will be on your conscience,” Locar informs her. Talla makes the hard choice of turning Locar in, but the show thankfully doesn’t run away from the implications of that choice – after freeing Klyden, Talla tearfully informs him that she wants him (and his bigotry) to stay far away from her.

At the end of the day, “Deflectors” is an episode about cultural acceptance, and the extent to which we tolerate intolerance in the name of cultural pluralism. “Our differences go right to the core of our values,” Ed (MacFarlane) says to Kelly at episode’s end. “How long can an alliance with a race like that last?” “We need them,” is all Kelly can cryptically say, which opens up a whole can of worms when it comes to Union membership. There are Moclans who still reckon with the primitive, violent instincts of their species – Bortus still has complicated feelings about Topa’s reassignment, and admits to knowing about Locar’s sexuality and keeping it a secret for his ex’s safety. But how many Bortuses do there need to be to justify the endorsement of a species that forces gender reassignment surgery and (as the episode’s closing montage implies) puts queer people to death? Surely, no number of shield upgrades can be worth it.

Random thoughts:

  • Cassius’ romance with Kelly was never particularly interesting (he was a handsome piece of cardboard lifted a bit too directly from Next Gen‘s boring stable of civilian side characters), but I’d take it any day over the episode’s implication that Ed and Kelly still have feelings for each other. While “wouldn’t it be funny if my first officer was my bitch ex-wife?” was a cornerstone of The Orville‘s shakier beginnings as a more explicitly comedic show, it’s admirably smoothed out into a more character-driven dynamic based on the kind of deep knowledge ex-spouses have for one another. The prospect that the equilibrium Ed and Kelly share as professionals with a history could be shattered for some will-they-won’t-they bullshit is laughable at best.
  • The pretense for bringing Locar onto the ship was particularly weakly rendered, The Orville spending valuable VFX budget on a simulated fight between the ship and Locar’s Moclan cruiser to test the shields. It’s impressively on par with the rest of the show’s effects, but it’s a bit of a low-stakes time waster until we get to the real meat of the conflict.
  • That said, this is the first episode we get to see Moclan ships. They feel a bit too much like a palette-swapped Krill vessel, with its rounded, dark features and light orange highlights instead of green.
  • Alien-That-Talks-Like-A-Bro of the Week: the sentient flower Cassius sneaks into Kelly’s room. Why did he think it would work? Even if it was a pretty flower (it isn’t), it’s a tall, obnoxious douchebag who clearly irritates Kelly. Who is this helping?
  • Dann (Mike Henry) remains The Worst, though I too wouldn’t be able to keep myself from the new engineer’s plate of Orville-frosted cupcakes.
The Orville “Deflectors” Trailer
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