CW: talk of sexual abuse
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 WEEK’S TEXT
Jumping around before, during, and after the camping trip, the episodes this week flesh out the inner lives of several members of the Moralton community, especially the inner lives of the women in ways this show has never done before. Our narrative attachment to Orel has been weakening, but in these episodes it is completely severed so that we more fully see characters as they are not just as Orel sees them. Orel, meanwhile, has an existential crisis when being grounded from church makes him reconsider what kind of identity he has apart from god and church.
I’m so glad that season 3 begins by finally telling us about Bloberta. While we’ve begun to get a look into the men and boys of Moralton (and of course will continue to do so even more), the women of Moralton have still been mostly props and gags. Sure, we are supposed to be annoyed at Clay for how he treats Bloberta – but the focus is still on Clay. Bloberta’s inner world is barely touched on until this season. Her motivations and stresses are finally explored in this “Numb” and “Help.” There are so many little visual clues to Bloberta’s frustration, like the fact that she sleeps with a closed fist. And it’s not just a joke that Bloberta doesn’t openly use traditional sex toys. In “God’s Chef,” Clay said using exciting equipment during sex is a sin. Sex is something to be made as small a part of life as possible. By analogy, personal fulfillment of any kind is something to be ashamed of and to be minimized. One’s own happiness is to be found in the corners and spare moments of a life of service, especially if you are a woman, rather than being a priority.
I can’t not give a shout out to “Grounded.” Along with the movie premiere episode (in which we find out Orel sees his dad as a scary beast, even if he claims it’s a puppy), this is perhaps the most unfettered look into Orel’s subconscious.
“Innocence” lambasts the formulaic nature of the first two seasons, with the pastor explicitly citing the formula of Orel asks for help and misinterprets it as being a tremendous problem. It shows how alone Orel is now.
And speaking of alone, now we come to “Alone.” The proverbial final nail in the coffin, word is that this was the episode that made Adult Swim decide the show was just so depressing to continue. It’s considered to be a really amazing episode.
I like two thirds of it.
I think the Nurse Bendy part is amazing. As a survivor of sexual abuse, her life and her coping mechanisms resonate closely both with mine and other survivors I’ve known. The strangeness of her life is not downplayed, but it’s not mocked as absurd or in any way judged. She’s living through a private hell that no one else knows about. Throughout the series, we’ve been encouraged to see Nurse Bendy as the stereotypical dumb blond nurse. Alone shows us we don’t know what people are going through, and how they cope might seem strange to us but it works for them.
The Miss Sculptham segment is similarly about private and confused suffering that no one else can understand. The fact that she had to give herself an abortion highlights how the isolation is heightened in a conservative town like Moralton. She’s confused about her own psychology in dealing with her rape. She left the door unlocked specifically hoping the rapist would come by. And she is confused about the physical pleasure she had during the experience. It’s a deeply complicated and not at all unrealistic depiction of how rape survivors sometimes feel. It also connects back to Courtship in suggesting that when we find ourselves without any healthy relationships, we begin to be drawn to unhealthy ones.
The Miss Censordoll segment though is a real swing and a miss for me. I liked her as a “One Million Moms” type crusader who ended up getting caught in her own culture war trap. I’m not as fond of her as some budding supervillain (which is where the show would’ve taken her according to interviews). I’m also not super-hot on the way the show depicts psychological cause and effect. I think it does a really good job reminding us that people are the way they are for a reason. But here and later with Clay and Bloberta, that reason is too often “because mothers mess up their kids.” I mean, sure they do, but it comes off a little too simplistic and “Freud Freshman Seminar” for me.
Just for the Nurse Bendy stuff though, the episode deserves to go down in history for its sensitive and sympathetic depiction of a psychologically damaged individual.
(this isn’t the original footage but it’s not a bad pairing of lyrics and audio)
I like “Grounded,” but honestly I’m not sure I totally get it. I think it is about Orel recognizing on a subconscious level how his only identity is tied into religion, but beyond that I’m not sure what is going on there. Thoughts?