Man, it took me a minute to hit the Hulu play button for The Orville’s “Majority Rule.” It’s not that I have soured on the show. It’s more, well, there’s a lot going on in pop culture right now (Stranger Things 2 just dropped!). Stopping to check in on Seth MacFarlane’s little Star Trek cosplay show hardly seems like appointment television. But shut my mouth because “Majority Rule” was a clever, if at times overly obvious bit of sci-fi social commentary. It also happened to lift from the best.
What happens?: While on a covert away mission to an Earth-like planet to locate two missing Union anthropologists, LaMarr inadvertently becomes an enemy of the state after a video of him playfully humping a statue of a national icon goes viral.
Wait. Did you just say “humping a statue”?: Yeeeeaaaahhhh, he was teasing Alara after she claimed to have dumped a boyfriend because she didn’t like how he danced.
What does any of this have to do with Black Mirror?: Huh?
You referenced Black Mirror in the title of this review. Remember?: Oh, right. Right, right, right. So, everyone on this 21st century Earth-like planet is required to wear badges displaying their lifelong total of up (indicated by a green arrow) and down (indicated by a red arrow) votes. Reaching a certain threshold of downvotes automatically triggers arrest, incarceration, and possibly lobotomy.The cleverness here is the notion of combining a standard Star Trek plot (away team members accidentally run afoul of local customs, conflict, and speeches about ethics ensue) with modern anxieties over the impact of social media on our lives. The derivation, though, is Black Mirror already did the up/down vote commentary, and because Charlie Brooker > Seth MacFarlane they did a better version of it:
Black Mirror’s “Nosedive”:
Typical MacFarlane. Always ripping someone off. If it’s not The Simpsons, it’s Black Mirror, amiright?: Yeah. Maybe. I dunno. To be fair, “Majority Rule” actually does something a little different with it, adding the notion of a society which has abandoned a standard legal system in favor of rule by majority opinion (see what they did there?). LaMarr isn’t assigned a lawyer because they don’t even know the meaning of the word “lawyer.” Instead, they have glorified press agents who guide their clients through apology tours where TV viewers, hosts, and live studio audiences get to judge whether the criminal sounds genuinely sincere.
Did “Nosedive” do anything like that?: Not really. On top of that, “Majority Rule” branches out to include an ethical speech (I told you one would ensue) about representative versus absolute democracy, and ends with salvation-via-fake-news.
Salvation by what now?: The crew is forbidden from interceding directly on the planet, leaving the members of the away team to search for answers on their own while Ed and the bridge crew strategize back on the Orville. The plan they come up with is, basically, let’s kidnap a twentysomething (Scream: The TV Series‘s Giorgia Whigham) and ask her to explain social media to us. Based on her advice, they flood the planet with fake news about LaMarr (i.e., he was a chunky kid, he’s a military veteran, has a dog named Checkers), which turns the tide of opinion just enough to stave off the lobotomy and allow him to walk free. The episodes ends with LaMarr freed and safe back on the Orville. The outer space millennial they enlisted for help returns to her life newly motivated to try be a better person in a social media-dependent society. The doctor told her that her society could do better and she takes that to heart.
Of course, the show means us. We are the ones who can do better: Better than The Orville? I mean, probably. I keep hearing Star Trek: Discovery got a LOT better after that pilot.
No. You know what I mean. “Majority Rule” clearly ends by pointing its finger squarely back at the audience and shouts, “That’s a bad, society. Bad! Be better!”: When you put it that way, it kind of diminishes what the episode was going for, but, yeah, in a nutshell, that’s the whole point of it. As sci-fi allegories go, it was a fairly effective hour of television, Black Mirror similarities and all.
Now, on to Stranger Things.
THE NOTES AND NITPICKS
- The Breakfast Show is such a bland, yet entirely perfect title for a morning show. I wonder if in hour two of The Breakfast Show they have female hosts who get increasingly tipsy off mimosas, and in hour three Megyn Kelly does whatever because, shit, they signed her to that big contract.
- “With all the different planets in the galaxy, you’re bound to have some cases of parallel species development” – Is that a real theory? Or just MacFarlane’s nod toward the number of Star Trek planets which kind of look like Earth slightly rearranged?.
- Orville signature pop culture weirdness: A “manwich” reference, “unemployed back-up dancers,” crop-tops, American Idol.
- Stunned MacFarlane didn’t make a Blossom joke about Alara’s hat.
- Suddenly dying to hear Bortus sing.
- So, Kelly was only allowed to accompany LaMarr to provide moral support? Fully expected a mid-episode twist where she jumped in to help during one of his TV appearances and either made it better or far worse somehow.
- Imagine living in a society where random people constantly walk up and poke you in the chest. So much for respecting your personal space. No thank you.
- Would have been hilarious if LaMarr’s last-second reprieve was nullified by the scientists he insults responding by downvoting him.
What did you think of “Majority Rule”? How did you feel about their first attempt at a “normal human from our present boards the Enterprise and has her mind blown” Star Trek plot? Let me know in the comments.