Brothers and sisters and all other beloveds, we come together the Palm Sunday for our final meditation on Moral Orel, a stop motion animated show originally broadcast on Adult Swim from 2005 through 2008.
Now there is some controversy regarding what order in which to watch the episodes. The production order is different from the order of aired episodes. As we know that we are to show love in all things, let me kindly and compassionately remind you that anyone who holds to the airing order is a damned heathen doomed to eternal suffering.
Now that we have that out of the way, let us begin.
(Moral Orel is available for streaming — in heretical order! — on Hulu. For proper viewing order, see “List of Moral Orel episodes” on Wikipedia.)
This is it. The home stretch. The episodes that reveal all the secrets of the characters, and yet at the same time remind us that the human psyche is turtles all the way down.
To start with, “Help” is one of those episodes that just reconfirms for me that I AM Orel Puppington. When my mother was in high school, a good friend of hers (another high school girl) made sexual advances toward her during a sleepover. This freaked my mother out so much that in revenge she stole that girl’s boyfriend away from her. My mother and that young man, still dating, went to college together. He was an exciting and unpredictable guy who would always find the craziest activities for them to do on a whim and the most risky spots to have sex. Two months into freshman year, he committed suicide. On the rebound, my mother decided to look for the most boring and “safe” guy she could. That man was my father, who at the time was studying to be a minister. Because my father couldn’t bring himself to believe that a loving god would create an eternal hell (eternal being the big sticking point), his own minister told him to pick another career path. So he chose pre-med, which he found he had a natural talent for. Through all this my mother hung out with him as a safety blanket, though when they started “dating” was hard to pin down. My father loved to spend every evening in the school library, and she would sit by him and basically just try not to be too bored. Finally one night over Christmas break of their senior year, she wouldn’t take no for answer and they had sex. They started having sex regularly that semester. He has OCD and could not stop obsessing over the fact that she might get pregnant, so he proposed to her. That’s right, marriage for the sake of lessened anxiety.
That’s not the story of Clay and Bloberta, but it’s exactly the kind of story this show would tell and its similar in a lot of ways. Two people who make life altering choices out of fear and social convention, hoping against hope that god and society and the universe and nature were all just going to make sure things worked out right. Society and religion promises marriage solves a lot of things, and then one day when you realize it doesn’t you spend the rest of your life trying to figure out if you were lied to or if you did something wrong.
When I was working on these pieces, I came upon something I found sort of shocking: the fandom has no sympathy for Clay. Now, I know Clay is a real piece of work. He’s a mess and it’s contagious. But everyone in Moralton is a mess and there are reasons why Clay is a mess. The fandom has no problem demonizing him though and deifying his father. I can see why. The fandom obviously has a lot of love for Orel, and Orel’s experience is that his father is an asshole and his grandfather Arthur is a kindly old man (as seen in “Before Orel”). But Arthur is only a kindly old man because he has grown and changed. In “Passing,” it’s made clear that when Clay was a child, Arthur was a physically and emotionally abusive asshole who blamed his own child for killing the boy’s mother. Oh, that is another I found — apparently the internet has decreed that Clay really is responsible for killing his mother. That is such a sad interpretation of this episode. Children are children. They are going to emote. They are going to do stupid dramatic things when they feel overwhelmed. Clay was upset and did something that was stupid and selfish, but he was A CHILD. His father blaming his mother’s death on him is inexcusable, and him hitting his kid as a way to get out his own frustrations cannot be defended. Clay is as damaged as anyone.
In this and in “Honor,” we get the idea that Clay has a massive oedipal complex. The whole notion of an Oedipal complex is something I’m not particularly fond of. Like “penis envy,” I find it to be one of Freud’s convoluted notions he made up primarily as a way of explaining away the massive amount of child abuse he was uncovering. Rather than believe his patients that so many of them had been sexually abused by their own parents, he began creating theories that explained the stories away as power fantasies (pre-Freudian catalogues of sexual abuse include a number of adult women raping boys. Once Oedipal theory became popular, these accounts dry up for decades). Regardless of whether it exists, there are no testable predictions that result from “Oedipal complex” nor any standardized list of symptoms. I therefore tend to roll my eyes whenever art tries to use it as an explanation for someone’s behavior. There’s also an old belief that a son being too close to his mother is what leads boys to homosexuality, and the way that myth seems to be treated as explaining Clay is also troubling. And so once again we find that the part of the show I’m annoyed with is connected to Miss Censordoll. The fact that she can so easily seduce Clay by acting like his mother is bizarre. No gay man I’ve ever met wants to have sex with his own mother. I mean, sure he was attracted to Bloberta at some point so he’s technically bisexual, but a lot of gay men have been able to drum up a certain amount of infatuation long enough to propagate the species (don’t forget how pressured Clay was into proposing). Clay is primarily depicted as a closeted gay man — but unfortunately written by someone who seems to have a lot of dubious assumptions about what being gay means running around their head.
Ok, so I can definitely understand why of all the weirdos in the show, Clay is the one that it is hardest to forgive. He is by far the one most like my own father. I never had a hunting trip moment with my dad. It took me a long time to find out who he really was. Scratch that. I think, like Orel, it took me a long to admit what I already knew about him. I spent years trying to find ways to honor him, to relate with him, to connect with him. I was told by my spiritual elders that if I wasn’t close with my father, it was my fault. That, just like with god, I must be doing some wrong or hold a secret rebellion in my heart.
When Orel says in the last episode “I just can’t find anything that’s worth honoring about him,” that sums up so much of my adolescent relationship with my father. Like Orel, I tied myself in knots trying to connect with him and make him the “spiritual leader” everyone around me told me he deserved to be. There was so much hurt he didn’t protect me from and everyone said it was my fault for not “honoring” him. It wasn’t an easy thing to forgive.
Regardless of why, Clay and Bloberta are very damaged people who simply cannot let go of each other. The flash forward at the very end of the series, which shows Orel having grown into a presumably healthy person with a family of his own, has a very interesting shot of his family room wall. Clay and Bloberta share a photo. They are grayer and presumably older and seem very unhappy and very much still together. Also on the wall is a cross, which I think is a profound thing to include. It is the show making it clear once and for all that it was never trying to say Christianity is anathema to love. Orel and Christina were able to keep their faith (or find a new one with the same outer name) and still break free from the lies and repression of their childhood.
Moral Orel is a fascinating show. There is a lot here I’ve left out. I could’ve gone into more detail about the times when the show foreshadows itself (like when Clay commits vehicular manslaughter and blames it on Orel) or the way that Doctor Secondopinion’s physical and mental decay stands in contrast to Arthur’s redemption (they were both horrible abusive people at one point). I’ve written these not to be the final say on this incredibly deep series, but to promote and provoke further thought and conversation. What did I miss?
Mountain Goats — “Love, Love, Love” as seen in the episode “Passing”