Captain’s Log: Month 1 of The Orville

In Old Wounds (S1E1), we are introduced to the cast of characters who will demonstrate universal themes of the human condition: take 1 part person(s), 1 part close quarters, and fold in an external threat and let’s see what rises. The pilot episode therefore introduces the same dynamic as Gene Roddenberry’s original series, Jaws (1975), 90% of zombie films since George A. Romero created The Night of the Living Dead (1968), and all alien encounters including The Twilight Zone original The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street (1960). One external threat introduced was infidelity and divorce. For CDC statistics related to divorce, click here.

The concerns of aging come to mind when we learn of the time ray, especially as we watch the death of the crew member who is tossed into it. The ray’s effects can be seen as a metaphor for the very television show we are watching. By its decisions to parallel the Star Trek universe and its narrative structure, The Orville is fundamentally asking whether an old style of television (it should be noted, the producers have demonstrated affection for classic space TV, i.e. Cosmos) can be useful and successful today. At the end of the episode, we learn that [spoiler alert] aging can be constructive when the time ray grows a mighty tree and destroys the enemy ship. This leads us to wonder if the space opera, as originally envisioned by Roddenberry fifty-one years ago and now reimagined by the producers, can be framed in Erikson’s stage of generativity vs stagnation.

In Command Performance (S1, E2), we are introduced to Eda’s parents, [spoiler alert] albeit via a hologram simulation. As Ed and Kelly prepare to heed a distress signal, Ed’s mother discloses her son’s “gastrointestinal issues.” It is at this time that Ed tells Kelly that his mother despises her.

The scene poses the question whether Ed is depressed. He reassures his parents, crew, and millions of viewers that there’s nothing wrong with him. Taking his report at face value, one potential reason for his GI distress may be Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). The “colon” in the original acronym for the signs and symptoms of MDD (SIG: E CAPS) stood to remind that the condition may manifest through GI complaints. As a result of his parents’ disgust for Kelly, Ed’s ex-wife packs cannabis brownies prior to boarding the distressed ship raising the question if she too is experiencing anxiety and depression.

In About a Girl (S1, E3), issues related to gender identity are juxtaposed with cultural (Moclan) diversity. Introducing the mental disorder named Gender Dysphoria, this conflict is resolved when Bortus (Moclan) accepts the teachings of a Christian holiday (told through Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, 1964). While religion and spirituality are often synonymous with social (of biopsychosocial) antecedents of behavior, this episode ingeniously separates them into two opposing factors.

As the title If the Stars Should Appear (S1E4) suggests, the plot focuses on the religion of a people and in doing so, continues the narrative of the previous episode. However, close inspection reveals that just before and immediately following the role of religion of the ship-meets-ecosystem, there are two observations worth considering. First, Kelly identifies ice cream as “comfort food,” further evidence that she may be depressed (also referenced in the previous episode). In the final scene, the symbolism of the retractable roof highlights the importance of the diurnal day-night variation as a protective factor (similar to religion/spirituality) of mental disorders such as depression.

Warp Speed Hits

Old Wounds (S1, E1)

One thing that bears watching is if our helmsman, Gordon, may be afflicted with Alcohol Use Disorder. Gordon perhaps fulfilled a DSM criterion by having put himself in a physically hazardous situation while drinking.

Command Performance (S1, E2)

Cannabis sativa (cannabis) is an annual herbaceous plant with many compounds. Each part of cannabis such as marijuana and hemp is harvested differently depending on its intended use. Marijuana contains delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the most psychoactive component (mind-altering “high”) of cannabis. Hemp is used to produce cannabidiol (CBD) which is not psychoactive.

For those keeping score at home, the number of episodes we’ve now had with Gordon not showing signs of alcoholism (Alcohol use Disorder) is: 1.

About a Girl (S1, E3)

Yaphit feigns illness in order to get to see Dr. Finn (external incentive). Yaphit therefore demonstrates the defining quality of malingering.

Lt. Gordon Malloy reveals that his father was an alcoholic (Alcohol Use Disorder), “[leaving a child with 2 drunk dudes] reminds me of my dad” (minute :24). A first-degree relative with Alcohol Use Disorder confers biological risk (biopsychosocial) to develop the disorder.

If the Stars Should Appear (S1, E4)

In this episode, the role of religion is tackled. This relates to the importance of inquiring about religion and spirituality in a routine psychiatric assessment.

Anthony Tobia, MD, Daniel Weiner, MD, Copyright © 2017 Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. All rights reserved.

Posted in Behaviorville.