The third episode of Fox’s new scifi dramady The Orville caused some controversy in queer circles this week. IndieWire published an opinion piece on how the episode fails to grasp the gender issues it takes on. I had a completely different take.

The following is an excerpt of my contributions to a thread on the LGBT In Technology Slack.

I watched the third Orville episode, and I am extremely impressed. My wife and I were left kind of amazed at how well they handled that

ok, so, obviously this is a super touchy subject for them to do an episode about. The entire thing was clearly an allegory for the controversy of surgeries performed on intersex babies. It felt clear to me that the writers are strongly opposed to the process, since the entire episode paints this “corrective” procedure as being completely the wrong thing.

the entire crew is mortified that they would want to make this change to their baby and fights it all along the way. when Bortus decides to not make the change and you get this conflict between the parents it felt like the episode was touching on the issues surrounding abortion rights where the father wants to keep the child

once the trial kicks off things got very interesting. it reminded me a lot of the TNG episodes surrounding Worf’s family legacy, tho slightly more lighthearted.

the Moclan advocate uses the earth practice of circumcision as an arguing point for why cultural traditions should be honored, really hammering home to the audience just how troublesome that practice is

then they get into disarming sexist attitudes and showing how the moclan attitude of women being inferior is flawed. This climaxes when the captain brings in a moclan woman who he found hiding in the mountains, who then reveals herself to be the author of some great literary works in the Moclan culture

my main complaint was that the episode tried to fit too many cultural issues into one episode and couldn’t really spend enough time exploring them all

as to the opinion the article you linked made, about the show not understanding gender issues, I think one could go either way there.

yes, the episode completely ignores that anatomy does not define ones gender. yet, at the same time, i felt like it was subtly addressing it as well. Klyden, Bortus’ mate who is revealed mid episode to have been born a female, clearly takes on a more feminine role in their relationship and dresses in a softer fashion from the rest of moclan society. I felt like the costume designers were trying to hint that Klyden’s gender identity doesn’t match their anatomy.

it reminded me a lot of the dwarves in Discworld. when the race is first introduced we’re informed that all the race has no secondary sexual characteristics and all dwarves present as males. Pratchett jokes that this leads to awkward moments in their society when two dwarves get intimate for the first time.

As the Discworld series unfolds, one Dwarf in the city watch decides she’s done pretending to be male and starts expressing her feminine side. At first she is ostracized by dwarfish culture for this but gradually over the course of the series other dwarf women start to follow her lead and it causes a total cultural schism that climaxes when the Dwarf King reveals herself to be a Queen.

I felt like this episode was the Moclan equivalent to Cheery Littlebottom taking her stand.

The end of the episode takes the painful path, the court rules that the child should still have the surgery, in spite of the testimony and evidence given. This struck me as a powerful demonstration that society abhors change and will willfully ignore the obvious conclusion in order to preserve the status quo.

Both parents feel defeated, even tho Klyden got what he wanted, because the decision has a toll on their relationship. The procedure is performed and the child is made male, a visible male child used in place of the previous child who was clearly female, showing that this was clearly much more than a simple surgery that was performed. Both men resolve to support the child in whatever “he” becomes, and the episode ends on a very somber note.

I feel like the writers chose this topic specifically because they wanted to demonstrate that they could do a serious episode while still sprinkling in that McFarlane style of comedy.