Welcome and welcome back, dearly beloved. If anyone is here for the first time, please raise your hand so the rest of you can turn around and stare you. Thank you. Today we will be continuing our Lent season journey through the 2005-2008 Adult Swim series “Moral Orel.” This week, we are finishing our journey through season 2 — specifically “School Pageant” through “Nature.” In its infinite wisdom, all episodes are available on Hulu. When there is a question about viewing order, we follow the Correct Doctrine of production order as listed here.
THIS WEEKS TEXT
Orel gets his big break in a delightfully heretical number called “I Hate You Jesus.” Then, after a brief sojourn into the prostitution business, Orel shows off yet another creative talent by making a movie. Then Orel goes hunting with his dad and things are never the same.
I wouldn’t recommend it, but if you really want to cheat and get right to the heart of the show, starting with these episodes isn’t entirely a bad idea. “Orel’s Movie Premiere” serves as a decent if disjointed recap of the episodes up to this point and puts to bed what until that point had been the show’s formula: Orel hears something about god, misinterprets it (or does he?), taking biblical literalism to its natural conclusion leads to wackiness, Orel is punished not for being harmful to anyone but because control over all things must be re-established. After this episode, the community’s ability to control Orel dissipates as he recognizes the contradictions in his life, family, and beliefs. It also foreshadows where the show is going to go. While Orel sees nothing unusual about his relationship with his father – and that’s very realistic, kids usually do just take their relationship with their parents as typical no matter how abnormal it really is – warning signs abound. The audience even begins to wonder aloud is Clay is molesting Orel. Of course the fact that he is physically abusing Orel is just common knowledge, but no one has a problem with that. Despite Orel explaining his depiction of his dad as loyal and kind, it’s clear that Orel sees his dad as giant and scary. Orel can’t bring himself to say this directly, so he says it indirectly through his art/play.
Which leads us to “Nature.”
this is it. The big one. The linchpin of the entire series. The sea change by which the entire show is now defined. There are two Moral Orels: the show before Nature and the show after it. But Nature isn’t a restart, it’s a connector between two phases. That which has come before is not discarded. In fact, later episodes show how crucial those silly little adventures that came before actually were to where the characters end up.
Going back into Nature, it was hard for me to remember which plot points where in this episode and which plot points are only revealed later. The entire last season is built around exploring the events of “Nature,” including flashbacks and flashforwards. The last season is much less linear than previous ones and the events of these episodes remain the locii.
Orel and his dad go camping. Orel is not happy at the idea of killing things. His dad takes this poorly. His dad gets drunk and ends up shooting Orel in the leg, which he blames Orel for. Orel stands up to his dad for the first time ever and (we’ll learn in later episodes) from this point on no longer thinks of his dad as someone worth listening to. They go home and Orel asks his mom why she married dad. She can’t give a straight answer. Orel says dad becomes a different person when he drinks. His mom, in an iconic line, counters that is when dad actually shows his true nature.
So yeah. Orel’s entire understanding of his father changes in a single weekend. Or so it seems. Really, that weekend wouldn’t have been the life altering moment if it hadn’t been preceded by Orel’s entire life up to that point, and it’s clear he spends a long long time after that moment still working it out.
I never had a “hunting trip moment” with my own father. I’m not sure I would’ve let myself. Orel is a smart kid and wants to be liked, but ultimately he is kind of a loner. Even way back in episode one, he gets advice from the town but it is no accident that he comes up with wildly different conclusions as everyone else about what to do with shared information. For as steeped as he is in Christianity conformity, he remains his own person. As motivated as he is to assimilate any new evidence into his pre-existing framework, he never lets himself just give up and ignore evidence completely. Which is why this weekend is going to bother him so much for a long time. He simply refuses to ignore contradictions. The truth will set you free, but only if you can follow it long enough to get through all the confusion.
If you were to make a map of which episodes connected to which, Nature would be the big nexus that ties the entire series together. It’s also perhaps the darkest moment of the show (other episodes deal with dark themes, but very little happens on screen as dark as Clay shooting his own son and then blaming it on him. And Clay bright/blight monologue is one of the most intense speeches this side of The 25th Hour (“why do you quit working on me?”). His hatred of women for how they insist on him having sex with them is all kinds of messed up and yet enlightening. He expected marriage to fix him and hates Bloberta for that promise being broken. He really seems to hate God, though he can’t bring himself to quite face that. But really, ultimately, he hates himself and can’t love anyone else as long as he does.
What was your take-away the very first time you watched “Nature?” Did you like it or did you wonder if you had fallen asleep while on drugs? It certainly plays out like a “lost episode creepypasta” except this was a thing that actually aired.