The third episode of “The Orville,” the first to air on Thursday night, delved into a favorite “Star Trek” theme of ethical conundrums based on alien cultural norms as opposed to universal standards. The episode also triggered the folks at io9 who concluded that Seth Macfarlane, the show’s creator and star, is guilty of a Thought Crime. Some spoilers follow.

The ethical dilemma

The show starts off when Borrus, a member of an alien species called the Moclans that is entirely male, requests that his newly hatched child undergo a sexual reassignment procedure as it has what his species thinks is a rare genetic defect. The baby was born female.

Dr. Finn, the ship’s chief medical officer, refused to do the procedure as it would be unethical according to her culture. Captain Mercer and First Officer Grayson concur to the point of objecting to the baby being transferred to a Moclan ship to do the procedure.

The series embarks on a back and forth discussion of what may be objected to and what must be tolerated in alien cultures. An obvious deformity such as a “third foot” should be corrected as a matter of course. Female infanticide, on the other hand, should be opposed. Strangely, MacFarlane does not mention an instance in Earth culture, female genital mutilation that is practiced by some Islamic cultures but has been universally condemned as a human rights violation.

The resolution of the conundrum is not very satisfactory to the viewer.

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The episode runs like one of the more earnest “Star Trek: The Next Generation” ones like the one that discussed whether Commander Data was a person or a machine.

The thought crime

One aspect of the show that has i09 headed for the fainting couch is that MacFarlane seems to regard gender as being determined by anatomy and chromosomes, the traditional way that we judge who is a boy and who is a girl. Apparently the purveyor of “Family Guy” and “American Dad” is stuck in the past, according to the left-leaning popular culture webzine. He apparently has not gotten the memo that gender is self-determined, that anyone can be a boy or girl depending on preference, sometimes switching from one to the other at whim. There do not seem to be any transgendered people in the future of “The Orville.”

MacFarlane likes to be provocative, albeit usually to his more conservative critics. Now he has a chance to send his leftist viewers into a fury. One imagines a piece of dialogue. “It’s hard to believe that just a few centuries ago we humans used to use the Moclan procedure on people who were confused about their gender identity.” “Yeah, thank God we discovered medication that fixed that and stopped butchering people just because of a psychological disorder.” MacFarlane would never do it, but it would be a lot of fun if he did.