5 Point Discussions – The Orville Episode 7: “Majority Rule”

by Sage Ashford

The Orville

The team go on a mission to recover some anthropologists on a planet much like Earth, but what happens when one of their crew members’ winds up breaking one of the planet’s most important rules?  Remember, if you like this article and 5 Point Discussions, be sure to share it on social media like Facebook and Twitter.  But whether you like it or not, if you have a comment be sure to hit me up @SageShinigami on Twitter!

1. If you were wondering how the series would get away with telling stories about 21st century Earth from the modern perspective, this week’s episode goes into detail on exactly how that might be possible. Described as “Parallel Species Development”, it seems to occur not only often enough for Isaac to have information on it within his data banks, but none of the members are really caught off-guard by it. The universe is large, and statistically, it’s likely that some planets develop in exactly the same way, right down to its dominant lifeform.

This episode also goes into greater detail on how their advanced order deals with other planets: they do their best to play by the rules as much as possible, and leave tiny footprints with respect to how they affect the world they land on. It’s obviously meant to be consistent with Star Trek, the only other major science-fiction series that explores alien worlds like this, though it would have been nice if The Orville had been bold enough as a series to be the first series to tell the story of WHY advanced species shouldn’t tamper with the development of others.

2. “Majority Rule” feels like the first time the Orville has been able to tackle a topic that has relevance to society specifically as it stands today. In order to find a pair of anthropologists that haven’t sent any reports in, the team lands on a planet that looks and seems like our era’s Earth, but with one vast difference: everything is based on a series of YouTube-like upvotes and downvotes. Literally everything from scientific studies to the citizens of the planet themselves are all subject to the court of public opinion.

It’s commentary on a society that has long believed that because something is popular it’s “correct” or “good” instead of adhering to the facts, something our world is constantly in danger of. The whole episode is littered with mentions of how this affects the wider society–people with downvotes below 500,000 are denied service in certain restaurants, while numbers below one million result in…far worse circumstances. The combination of a giant chatroom known as the “Master Feed” and social media on their world has placed people under constant surveillance from “little brother”, where a simple youtube video can lead to you gaining hundreds of thousands of downvotes all at once, which essentially forces most people to remain on their best behavior at all times.

If your number dips below a million (as it did for one of our crewmates this episode), then you wind up being arrested, and forced to do an apology tour, visiting all sorts of talk shows in order to try and convince people that you’re not as bad as people think. It’s reminiscent of when a famous person acts like a jerk in public while drunk or high, and then if they have to release an album or a film they spend a month or two doing press tours to convince the public they’re human and made a mistake. The whole thing’s a very sobering take on how we treat most people who haven’t really broken the law, just spent some time acting like a jerk–something we’re all guilty of.

What really drives it home, though, is the fact that upvotes are seemingly meaningless, reflecting how in the real world no one ever remembers how much good you did, only the bad things, the mistakes. In the episode we even meet a woman who completely turned her life around and became a decent person, but since the downvotes were permanent, so was her lower status in society.

3. They sneak this into the episode, but the planet they visit works off a capitalist culture, which is a concept that’s so foreign to most of the crew they frequently forget how money even works. Eventually someone’s going to catch that and get super pissed by it, but I thought it was a nice little jab at how an advanced society would eventually slip into post-scarcity and wouldn’t need something as horrible as money.

4. The core conflict this episode comes when J. Lee’s character, John LaMarr, is asking for details on Lt. Alara’s sex life, discovering that she dumped her last boyfriend for being too “grindy” when it came to dancing. Attempting to learn a bit more, he begins to grind on a statue in the middle of a public area, drawing massive amounts of attention to himself and eventually causing people to record him and vote on his actions, immediately garnering him a million downvotes and forcing him to do an “apology tour”.

The Orville really does get better with every single episode it’s put out thus far. One of the things I love is how casual the crew of The Orville is, but there’s no denying that there’s an air of unprofessionalism there that really shouldn’t be present. I just figured they’d write it all off as comedy and no one would ever notice, but Lt. LaMarr’s unprofessionalism is exactly what causes the entire episode’s conflict. He was told to keep a low profile on the planet, but specifically goes against it, and thus deserves exactly the trouble he got himself into. Just like how Gordon acting so suspiciously eventually tipped off the Krill priest last episode, once again the crew’s buffoonery has (fortunately) led to consequences that were otherwise unnecessary.

Better still though, when Ed tries to talk the Planetary Union into allowing them to go down and save them, they get denied by a Union Admiral, played by legendary actor Ron Canada. Now I’m not saying I want their casual behavior to go away, but it would be great if they started to learn and became a better, stronger crew because of their actions here.

5. There might be a bit of ethnocentrism here but…I honestly can’t blame the crew for all for looking down on Sargas 4’s awful way of life. It’s bad enough to judge people based on a popularity contest, but they even judge their health standards and scientific studies the same way—it’s a miracle this planet managed to make it as long as it has. They get help from one of the locals in order to save John, and in doing so show her that there can be a different way, but honestly I’m still baffled they aren’t all dead because the public voted paint chips to be delicious or something equally stupid.

It’s even worse when you consider that falling below ten million downvotes gets your brain made “compliant”, and you become lobotomized. How many great, critical thinkers has this society silenced because their ideas weren’t popular because they were ahead of their time?  For that matter, how can writers and directors create art?  Surely they would become downvoted into being compliant after only a few years of fame and eventually pissing enough people off?

Still, at least this episode can be everyone’s defense the next time someone says, “Well, the rest of the world likes it, so it HAS to be good right?”

The Orville airs on FOX and is available for streaming on Hulu.