TV Reviews

The Orville’s “Cupid’s Dagger” Plays a Rape Allegory for Laughs

A week after going all stand-alone with an adventure focused on the show’s least utilized characters, Isaac and the Doctor, The Orville returns in “Cupid’s Dagger” to its default setting of focusing on Ed and Kelly. The ship is tasked with its biggest diplomatic mission yet: acting as a mediator between two warring races while awaiting DNA results on an ancient artifact which might determine who has the rightful claim to their planet. Ed and Kelly need to be at the top of their game to contain this potentially combustible situation. So, now would be a really bad time for that blue alien, Darulio, Kelly slept with a year ago to come waltzing back into their life and an even worse time for him to project pheromones which turn our two central characters into love-struck teenagers.

Oh, crap. That’s exactly what happens, isn’t it?

Yep. But it all works out, and now Ed and Kelly are even since he slept with the same guy she did. At least I think that’s point. Actually, I’m not sure what they’re trying to say here. I just know this episode doesn’t seem to realize how creepy it is.

Rob Lowe buried under make-up and prosthetics

What begins as an apparent Star Trek “Naked Time” homage/rip-off (look at those people losing their inhibitions) morphs into something closer to a love spell plot transforming Ed, Kelly and the Doctor into sex slaves who shirk their duties and recklessly pursue the person whose spell they are under (the Doctor being under Yaphit’s spell since he unknowingly absorbed some of Darulio’s pheromones). It’s a problematic turn.

We’re simply supposed to ignore the rather questionable ethics of a blue alien who goes around knowingly infecting others and chalking it up to no big deal since all that happens, in the end, is they have some great sex. He seems to later vaguely realize it’s not as innocent as all that, but his victims more treat the whole thing like some drunken experience they’d rather forget.

Ed’s final interaction with Darulio, after the pheromone infection has worn off, is icy, but Kelly’s isn’t. Instead of “rape” she simply plays the “Does this mean I didn’t cheat on Ed last year under my own free will?” card in a disgustingly hopeful manner. It would be one thing if Darulio somehow didn’t know about his pheromones or at least didn’t know how they’d impact members of another species. Then it’s an understandable mistake. But the dude knew and did nothing to stop it. He could have at least worn gloves or avoided shaking hands. That he robbed people of their consent and essentially raped them is somewhat lost on this episode. Instead, it plays most of it for laughs because Darulio’s sole purpose as a character is simply to advance Ed and Kelly’s relationship by putting them somewhere close to even footing on their breakup.

“Cupid’s Dagger” is the 9th Orville episode, but it is the fourth to primarily concern itself with Ed and Kelly’s messy breakup and uneasy future. Mercifully, this should be it for this storyline. We first learned about it in the pilot then watched the characters remember how much they hated living together when they were forced to cohabitate in that weird zoo then saw Ed eat some humble pie when his new girlfriend almost destroyed them even though he’d been warned by Kelly and wrote her concerns off as jealousy. Now, Ed has learned first hand just how irresistible that darn Darulio is, albeit after first acting hypocritically in forbidding Kelly from actually moving on.

Since the entire show started with Ed and Kelly’s breakup and the inherent conflict in the premise is a divorced couple commanding a ship together, their tension and history together will always pull focus, and understandably so. However, “Cupid’s Dagger” was far more interesting in the brief moment it took to acknowledge Bortus’ ongoing marital difficulties than it was throughout any of its discussion of Ed and Kelly’s past or future. One is a dramatically rich scenario, the other a kind of hackneyed TV show premise, forcing them to concoct a scenario like the two warring aliens in this episode whose conflict is designed to speak to Ed and Kelly’s shared blame and need to learn how to better co-exist.

The ending leaves open the possibility Kelly’s initial affair with Darulio was a pheromone-induced fling, which is upsetting. Kelly has already spent a good chunk of her time on this show apologizing to Ed for the affair, but she’s also made a fair point that he emotionally abandoned her long before she stepped out on him physically. To that end, she’s owned her mistake but refused to take total blame for the situation, forcing Ed to eventually acknowledge his part in all of it. To now say she may not even have been in control when she made that mistake sort of retroactively cheapens her as a character all in service of most likely trying to make her seem more sympathetic, more like an equal victim in the scenario.

But I did say “leaves open.” Lowe plays his final moment as if Darulio knows the true answer to Kelly’s question but prefers to say whatever he thinks will make her feel better. What will make me feel better is The Orville finally moving on from the continuing fallout of Ed and Kelly’s breakup. More than anything, though, just don’t play rape for laughs. You shouldn’t have to be told that.


  1. Looking forward to someday hearing “Songs in the Key of Bortus”
  2. Classic Orville pop culture reference: that a 25th-century karaoke party would only feature songs from the late 20th century.
  3. How fast were Ed and Kelly walking that Alara couldn’t catch up to them at full sprint after they only had a 15-second start?
  4. My Lord, Rob Lowe is almost unrecognizable under all that make-up.
  5. That random alien was right – they should have elevator music. Can’t believe that never occurred to me in all my years watching the music-less Star Trek turbolifts.
  6. Pretty impressive for a blob to develop enough, um, dexterity to play guitar chords.
  7. Wow. Never expected them to actually show us the Doctor and Yaphit doing, well, whatever it is they were doing.
  8. So many reasons Darulio should have recused himself from the assignment.
  9. Seth MacFarlane has written himself into love scenes or post-coital scenes with Charlize Theron and Rob Lowe this season.
  10. Thank you, random nurse exposition and your explanation for how the ending makes sense.


  1. Yeah, I pretty much agree with everything you said. I’d rate this episode in the bottom 25%

    More than anything else, I just found myself annoyed the whole time at the premise of the pheromone premise.

    Something that creates attraction, I can accept. Something that so affects a person that it can change hatred to adoration and a straight man gay and to cause so much “love” that normally very responsible people will ignore life and death situations was just too much for me.

    Or, at least without the effect of this race being in heat being widely known and probably even regulated.

    If being touched by someone can cause attitude and behavior changes so drastic as to cause a planetary war that would devastate the Union — or on the flips side, cause two men with lifelong hatred of each other to forget all that and then STOP that planetary war, that doesn’t go unnoticed.

    This is a race that has been an active participant in the Union for at least a year, and likely much longer. No way that kind of affect from the pheromone goes unnoticed.

    You’d literally have to quarantine any person from that race when they’re in heat. It would have to be illegal — with severe sentences — for any of that race to have contact with any other race while in heat.

    For the Union to have no record of that is so far beyond comprehension as to make it impossible for me to just go with the story.

    1. At the absolute very least, make the dude wear gloves to limit the possibility of contact. Heck, he should be wearing them voluntarily.

      Would have been interesting to know more about where his species stood in the Union. How well know are they? How many are there? how long have they been around? All those answers would have helped us understand why news of his pheromone condition was a surprise to everyone.

  2. Last week, Bortus just threw out there, “I sing”. And they let it hang.

    So, this week they made it look like were actually going to get to hear him sing and then snatched it away. I suspect it’s now going to be a running gag and we may never get to hear him sing.

    I did love the “You will be SILENT!” bit.

  3. The actions of Darulio should be considered rape — ala Bill Cosby. He drugs people and sleeps with them knowing they have no control over it and thinks it’s no big deal because they had great sex. No harm no foul.

    I wonder if this episode wasn’t partially intended to be a commentary on the rape culture we’re seeing in the news so much nowadays.

    1. The episode’s treatment of consent is all kinds of problematic, especially since it’s played for comedy. The only thing in the episode’s favor in that regard is Ed’s treatment of Darulio at the end. There’s a possible sense that he’s not cool with what Darulio unwittingly did to them and wants nothing to do with him anymore. Or maybe he just wants him gone so he can forget all about it, which would be equally troubling.

      They COULD have used this as a rape commentary, but that would have required taking Darulio’s offense more seriously. Instead, his presence was simply to advance Kelly and Ed’s relationship in a funny way, and in the end all affected parties reacted more like they did some things while drunk they’d like to forget. The episode paid lip service to the creepiness of Darulio’s behavior, but not to the level where I think they totally understood how creepy it was.

  4. BTW, can you imagine the black market (or black ops) uses of this synthesized pheromone?

    Any time the away team is heading into unknown or dangerous situations, they could all get injected with it and if they get captured or otherwise at risk, they just have to touch the other person to have them fall instantly in love with them and apparently do anything they’re told.

  5. True. But all indications from what he HAVE seen is that the race was as common as any other in the Union.

    I’ve found it impossible to enjoy stories where the entire conflict is based on something a character does that is so stupid as to be unbelievable. Such was the case with LaMarr’s episode. What he did to get himself in that mess was something no one allowed on an away mission would ever, ever do. So, I was unable to enjoy the story.

    Same with this episode. I just can’t come up with any believable scenario where this potent an affect is real — or if real, then has gone unnoticed or unregulated.

    In fact, you’d think the leaders of his own planet would recognize how dangerous it is to others when their people are in heat and that they’d realize other planets would react harshly if any of their people were harmed while under the influence of the pheromone– and would thus impose strict rules about Retepsian’s interactions with off worlders when in heat. For self preservation, they couldn’t allow their pheromones to cause planetary wars or make a world leader cheat on his wife, for example.

      1. Hah! So well said.

        My biggest frustration with the The Orville is that it does a LOT of things right and it really could be GREAT if they just made a few (major) tweaks.

        But when all I can think of when I watch it is how great it COULD be ruins my enjoyment of what IS.

  6. Thank you all for honestly and rationally discussing the issues regarding plot holes and the outright ignoring that what occurred in this episode was rape. Most reviews and comments on YouTube regarding this episode were either purposefully oblivious to this fact or bent over backwards to deny or down play that what went on in this episode was rape.

    1. I’ve seen other reviews which praised the episode as being fun and light and some which addressed the quiet progressiveness of a Star Trek analog like this casually allowing its captain (or any character) have what is more or less a homosexual encounter. There was something about this episode, though, which creeped me out with each passing minute. I didn’t immediately know what it was, though, until I realized this was basically a rape allegory.

      By the end, I was thinking back to old Buffy or Angel or other genre show episodes which have done love spell plots and wondering why The Orville’s version was so much more disturbing. I know they didn’t do a literal love spell here, but it played out kind of like one. Those plots only really work, if they do at all, when it backfires on the person casting the spell, or when no one’s even aware it has happened and then you have Trek episodes where the entire crew starts acting strange and the one oddly unaffected member has to figure it out.

      The Orville didn’t do that, though. It played a loss of consent scenario for laughs as well as the dramatic continuation of the Ed/Kelly romance. They acknowledged the ickiness of the scenario, but not to the extent you got the impression they truly understood the full implications of the storyline.

  7. The is one more thing in this that I’m surprised you didn’t mention- once it’s realized what is happening the crew of the Orville willfully not only use the pheromones but actually supercharge them and dose the ambassadors from the warring race. No accident there and definitely no consent.

    1. He did mention that there would likely be consequences when the effects wore off between the two aliens.

      But, I’m of a mind to give that usage a pass given how many lives it saves.

    2. To be fair to the crew, there is a war breaking out right in front of them, and they had to stop it. But you’re right about it being another no consent issue. I guess I didn’t address it because I was more distracted by how illogical it was. They even say that the effects will wear off but hope the memory of having loved one another will keep the two leaders from diving back to conflict. I actually think the opposite would happen. Once they realized they’d been drugged and duped the war would either be back on or they’d separately come gunning for The Orville. Plus, if they do somehow end up marrying each other before the effect wears off imagine the impossibly messy breakup they’ll have.

      I think the episode kinda, sorta, maybe has a hint of the ickiness of its own plot. Alara seems deeply displeased with Darulio when she first discovers what he’s caused. Ed can’t bring himself to confront Darulio at the end. So he begrudgingly thanks him for his role in preventing civil war (a civil war he also kind of helped bring about) before coldly asking him to go. But even that is unclear. Is he upset with Darulio or simply unsure of how to be around him after their time together? Neither scenario is the response he should have. Plus, as you stated, everyone is still willful and even almost gleeful about weaponizing Darulio’s pheromones, kind of like, “Look at this cool thing we just did. Yay for science!” They prevented a war, which is an objectively good thing, but the episode as a whole clearly doesn’t fully get the implications of its sci-fi plot.

  8. so in the end the two waring groups now have a new enemy to fight, the union who sanctioned the mind control of two of their leaders who most likely based on what we saw in the episode will also result in them having sex, aka rape, good times

  9. Anyone else notice the use of Bobby Goldsboro (artist behind the infinitely creepy song “Honey”) as the music in the elevator? The song was “The Straight Life,” BTW, which features the repeated lyric “leaving the straight life behind.” 😐

    P.S.: Uncomfortably, I have the feeling that only Mr. MacFarlane, the music director, and myself actually picked up on this. (Most sane people aren’t as deeply familiar with Mr. Goldsboro’s tacky oeuvre as I am.)

    1. “Anyone else notice the use of Bobby Goldsboro (artist behind the infinitely creepy song “Honey”) as the music in the elevator? The song was “The Straight Life,” BTW, which features the repeated lyric “leaving the straight life behind.””

      Nice touch on their part, but, no, I didn’t notice that. In fact, this is the first I’ve even heard of Bobby Goldsboro. [Leaves to look up “Honey”] Ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwww.

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