Saturday, August 13, 2022

The Orville Season 3, Episode 5: A Tale Of Two Topas

This week on The Orville, we get hands down the best episode of the series (so far!), all about Bortus & Klyden's son Topa and his struggles with his true identity.

A Tale Of Two Topas continues the story arc which started all the way back in Season 1's About A Girl. Once again, Season 3 continues the trend of leaning heavily into the show's lore, requiring the audience to be up to date and familiar with the series.

While this is great for longtime fans, I fear that new viewers are gonna be completely lost here— to the point where they may just give up and change the channel. In fact I'm starting to wonder if this constant navel-gazing is such a good idea or not.

Elsewhere, this episode features some absolutely amazing acting, especially by Peter Macon and Chad Coleman. They both delivered incredible performances, which is all the more surprising considering they're both covered in pounds of heavy prosthetic makeup.

Newcomer Imani Pullum's did a stellar job as Topa as well, giving him an aching sadness and vulnerability that practically leaped off the screen. Heck, Adrianne Palicki knocked it out of the park too! Kudos all 'round!

A Tale Of Two Topas was written and directed by Seth MacFarlane, who also penned About A Girl. It's very much like a typical episode of old school Star Trek, as it examines a relevant hot-button issue by wrapping it in sci-fi trappings. 

Even better, MacFarlane managed to tell the story without preaching or moralizing. The script is clearly a metaphor for trans rights, but is framed in such a way that both sides of the topic feel valid. Liberals can claim Topa's confusion proves gender identity is mental, not biological. Conservatives will say the opposite, pointing out that Topa should never have been altered in the first place. Heck, I'm not even sure which side's right!

It's an impressive feat, one which MacFarlane pulled off by simply presenting the issue, looking at all sides and letting the audience make up their own minds about it..

Back when About A Girl first aired, it received near universal praise for tacking the subject of gender identity. There were a handful of vocal critics though, who called it the worst episode of the series (?). One such review said:

"Episode 3, without spoilers, may be one of the most tone-deaf and offensive discussions of gender ever seen on screen, especially in an era when many people have come to embrace the idea that gender is a concept that goes beyond biology to personal identity. The episode is an allegory meant to invoke memories of Star Trek tackling social issues in the 1960s and beyond, but it’s so clueless in its approach that it probably sets back real understanding of the issue to, well, the 1960s."

OK, that one was WAY over the top. But I wonder... was MacFarlane stung by reviews like this, and wrote A Tale Of Two Topas as a do-over, to "fix" the situation? Or was he planning on reverting Topa to her original form all along? We may never know.

Lastly, I'd like to point out something I've noticed this season, regarding Seth MacFarlane. Even though he's the ostensible star of the series, lately he's been stepping back and letting his co-stars shine. Heck, he's barely even in this episode, as the lion's share of the work goes to Macon, Coleman and Palicki. 

Of course his lack of screentime here may be due to the fact that he directed the episode and simply didn't have time to stand in front of the camera. Whatever the reason, it's appreciated!


The Plot:
The Orville's orbiting a deserted planet, where the crew's exploring a large, ancient Hemblicite tomb. Kelly sees Mercer on the surface, diligently tapping away on his space iPad. He sheepishly admits he's writing letters to his daughter Anaya, in case he ever sees her again.

For some reason Charly's on the archaeological team, and leads Mercer and Kelly into the tomb. She warns them there are numerous booby traps inside, and Isaac safely triggers and diffuses them. Inside they see a vast vault full of ancient treasure.

Back on the ship, the crew studies the Hemblicite relics, which date back 70,000 years. Don't worry too much about this subplot, as it turns out it has absolutely nothing to do with anything this week.

Elsewhere, Bortus & Klyden's son Topa is in the Holodeck, er, I mean Environmental Simulator, pretending he's captain of a Moclan ship. He battles a Kaylon fleet, but ultimately destroy his ship.

Just then Kelly enters, and Topa apologizes for going over his scheduled time. She says it's fine, and is impressed he was trying out the Kaylon simulation. He tells her he's practicing because he'd like to take the Union Point exam some day. She says if he's really serious, she'll let him shadow her for a few days to get a sense of what it's like be a Union officer. He happily agrees.

The next day Topa tags along with Kelly on her daily rounds of the ship, as she handles various crew members' problems.

Topa asks why she joined the Union, and she says she likes being a leader and helping others. She asks why he's interested in becoming an officer, and he says he's always felt incomplete, and hopes to discover who he is out among the stars. He then confesses he's never felt happy with himself. Kelly reacts as if stung, as she instantly realizes what's wrong with him.

Later Kelly talks with Mercer and Claire about Topa, saying she thinks he's starting to figure out the truth about his birth. Mercer says maybe it's time to talk with Bortus about it.

That night, Kelly goes to Bortus and Klyden's quarters. She asks if they've told Topa he was born female, and Klyden lashes out, saying of course not. She says maybe they should consider it. Klyden demands that Kelly leave.

After she leaves, Bortus admits Kelly may be right. Klyden dismisses her, saying she's a lowly female who doesn't understand Moclan culture. He says he wishes he'd never found out he was born female, and is intent on sparring Topa the same pain.

The next day Topa tells Kelly that he can't shadow her anymore, as Klyden's forbidden it. Kelly looks stricken as he sadly walks away.

Topa wanders into a Lab, where Charly shows him a holographic reconstruction of a long-dead Hemblicite she created from their ancient DNA. He sees Isaac working, and asks him what it felt like when he deactivated himself a few episodes ago. Isaac says he experienced nothing, and wonders why he's asking. Topa says he was just curious and leaves.

Later on, Isaac goes to Kelly's quarters and reports that Topa was asking questions about suicide.

Worried, Kelly finds Topa in the Mess Hall, and asks if he's OK. He says he's fine, and that he shouldn't be speaking to her. Kelly says whenever she's depressed, she enjoys Kimbok (a type of Moclan cake). She cryptically says there are numerous recipes on file, and he should try one.

Topa goes to his quarters and asks the computer for Kimbok recipes. He then asks if there are any other files labeled "kimbok." The computer displays one called "Kimbok33," but it's password protected. He orders a piece of cake from the synthesizer, and suddenly the password appears on his screen. He enters it, unlocks the Kimbok33 file and reads it.

Bortus and Klyden return home, where Topa demands to know if he was born female. Klyden tries to lie, but Bortus admits it. Klyden then says Topa was born deformed, and they simply had him "corrected." Topa says no medical procedure can change who he is on the inside.

Sometime later Klyden bursts into Kelly's office, accusing her of going behind his back to tell Topa the truth. She says she steered him toward the Kimbok33 file, but didn't give him the password. Klyden accuses her of lying and lunges at her. She slams him against the wall and says she may have overstepped her bounds, but Topa clearly needs help. She then kicks him out of her office.

That night Bortus comes to Kelly's quarters and says Topa's not speaking to him. Kelly apologizes for getting involved, but Bortus says it's not her fault. He says the computer notified him that someone was trying to access the Kimbok33 file, and when he saw it was Topa, HE sent the password to him. He says he doesn't know how to help his son.

The next day Topa asks Kelly if she knew his secret. She admits she did, but says she didn't say anything because she didn't think it was her place. Topa says he wishes he could meet a Moclan female to talk to. Kelly says she can help with that.

Kelly takes Topa to the Environmental Simulator. There, she recreates the Tribunal that decided Topa's fate back in Season 1— including the surprise testimony of Heveena, the famed Moclan writer who was secretly female. Heveena gives her rousing speech, as Topa gazes in wonder and awe. Afterward, Topa visits Claire and proudly declares, "I am female."

Sometime later, Mercer, Kelly and Claire meet with Bortus and Klyden, to discuss what to do about Topa— who wants her procedure reversed. Klyden absolutely refuses to allow it, but Bortus is more open minded, and says it's up to Topa. Klyden threatens to leave Bortus if he approves it.

Mercer and the others then have a conference call with Admiral Howland. She says performing the procedure on Topa would humiliate the Moclans and jeopardize the Union's relationship with them— something they can't afford with the current Kaylon threat. She forbids Claire or any other crew member from operating on Topa onboard a Union vessel.

Bortus and Kelly inform Topa, who says it's not fair. They assure her they'll fight the decision and find a way around it.

Back on the Hemblicite planet, the crew's wrapping up their investigation of the ruins and waiting for a science ship to arrive and take over. Claire feels so strongly about the Topa situation that she offers to resign her commission to perform the procedure. Mercer says that's noble of her, but it would mean the end of her career. Claire says she'll be fine, and wants to do it.

Just then Isaac pipes up and reminds them he's not a Union officer, and could do it instead of Claire— all he has to do is upload the appropriate medical files. Mercer says it could work, but they'd have to be careful about it. He officially orders Isaac not to interfere, and says if he does so, he's doing it all on his own. Isaac says he understands.

The officers come up with a plan to hold a concert in the Shuttlebay, in order to distract the entire crew while Isaac performs the procedure. Bortus then sings a selection of songs, accompanied on the piano by Ty Finn.

Meanwhile in Sickbay, Isaac preps Topa. Just then Klyden bursts in, demanding he stop this abomination. Isaac easily overpowers Klyden and throws him out.

Sometime later, Topa— now female again— wakes and looks at herself in a mirror.

Admiral Howland finds out about the operation, and tears Mercer and Kelly a new one. She says they endangered the entire Union for one person, but fortunately the Moclans decided not to walk, as the Kaylon are a threat to them as well. She warns them not to step out of line ever again, or their careers will be over.

Howland then changes her demeanor and says to give her best wishes to the Moclan girl.

Elsewhere, Klyden makes good on his threat and packs his bags. Topa begs him not to leave, saying she loves him. He hisses, "I wish you were never born" and storms out. Bortus puts his hand on Topa's shoulder and says, "Listen very closely to me. You are perfect."

Later, Claire goes to Isaac's Lab to thank him for what he did. He says he didn't do it for Topa's sake, but to improve his standing among the crew. She admires his honesty and asks him to diner.

Kelly orders Topa to the Bridge. When she arrives, Mercer lets her sit in the captain's chair. The crew reports all systems are ready for departure, and Topa says, "Engage quantum drive.

• Hey look, it's a scene from the upcoming Avatar 2: The Na'vi Go Hollywood sequel that no one asked for!

• The crew discovers an ancient Hemblicite pyramid on a deserted planet and begins investigating it. For some insane reason, Charly of all people heads this scientific excavation. Wait, what?

Why in the name of Spock's Mighty Bowl Cut is SHE in charge of this dig? She's the ship's navigator, for corn's sake! Surely they have actual trained archeologists on board?

Like this guy, for example. Although I don't think he ever gets a name in the episode, it's clear from his green uniform that he's a science officer, and most likely the ship's resident archeologist. I'd be royally pissed if I devoted my life to that field, but then when there was a major find on an alien world they placed freakin' Charly in charge of it!

Obviously the writers were struggling to find a way to feature Charly in this episode, and quickly cooked up this previously unmentioned interest in archeology to give her something to do. They try to cover for this by having her mention it's her hobby. Big deal! My hobby's illustration, but that doesn't mean I should be running the goddamned Louvre!

• Back on the ship, the crew examines a table full of ancient Hemblicite relics. Gordon casually grabs one of the fragile objects and asks what it is. 

Jesus, what is it with this guy? He did the same thing back in Lasting Impressions, when the crew discovered a time capsule from the 2000s. He manhandled a bunch of the priceless four hundred year old relics then too! These incredibly rare items are literally part of history and completely irreplaceable— stop touching them already!

Anyway, Charly tells Gordon, "It's called a jiktal. It's a razor for facial grooming."

How the hell does she know that? This race— and their language— died out 70,000 years ago. Did she discover an ancient magazine in the tomb that featured an ad for the jiktal and what it was used for?

• After checking out the Hemblicite haul, Kelly says she's at the end of a twelve hour shift and is gonna go relax. Holy crap! The command staff works twelve hour days? Maybe the future of The Orville isn't so great after all!

• We then see Topa playing "Moclans Vs Kaylons" in the Holodeck, er, I mean Environmental Simulator, as he pits his virtual ship against a fleet of Spheres. He does pretty well for a kid, but ultimately loses.

The legacy of videogames: Even in a deadly serious 25th Century simulation like this, there's still a "Game Over" screen when you die!

• Topa gets so pissed at losing the simulation that he slams his fists down on the holographic navigation console— causing a shard of glass to become embedded in his palm! 

Just like Star Trek's Holodeck, the Environmental Simulator supposedly has a safety setting that prevents users from actually getting hurt. Apparently Topa must have turned the safties off before entering. Not a good idea, and definitely not something a kid should be able to disable!

• The second I heard Topa speak, I knew exactly what was gonna happen in this episode. He was clearly now being played by a girl, and would end up reverting to her original female form in the third act.

How'd I know that? Because they very obviously lowered his voice electronically to sound like a male. Well, sort of. It was VERY unconvincing, as he sounded more like a robot than an adolescent Moclan. They spent millions on this episode, but then completely dropped the ball with Topa's voice.

How much trouble would it have been to dub actress Imani Pullum's lines with a male actor instead of using a cheap iPhone audio filter on them?

• Topa expresses interest in becoming a Union commander some day, so Kelly lets him shadow her on her daily rounds. As they walk around the ship, they're greeted by this crewman.

Man, wouldn't it be cool to live in a future like this and serve with so many interesting alien species? I wish it wasn't so expensive for them to realize characters like this, as I'd love to see this guy become one of the regulars!

• As part of her duties, Kelly has to deal with Ensign Bolobar, whose Belkarian religion requires him to be naked on the first day of each month.

Welp, there's something I never expected to see on this show— naked alien ass cheeks!

Kelly reaches a compromise with Bolobar by asking him to put on some pants. She missed the better and most obvious solution though— if he can't wear clothes on the first of the month, just give him that day off from now on. Then he could sit naked in his quarters to his heart's content, and no one would have to see his alien peen! Win-win!

• Kelly and Topa pay a visit to Engineering, where they're greeted by the entire staff— including Lt. Turco.

Jenny Turco first appeared in Mad Idolatry, where she was a lowly ensign. She was also clearly in a sexual relationship with John at that time, although they've apparently split up since. I guess the Orville doesn't have rules about officers banging their subordinates? That seems like a bad idea. What's to stop someone from accusing Turco of sleeping with John for a promotion?

Maybe people in the 25th Century are more mature about such things.

• The perpetually cheery Lt. Brosk is there in Engineering as well. I love how everyone just automatically understands his odd language, which seems to be a staple on this show.

So does the crew really understand Brosk, or is there some sort of Trekkian Universal Translator that's interpreting his language for them, and we in the audience just can't hear it?

• As they patrol the ship, Kelly asks Topa why he wants to join the Union. He then shares his secret with her:

Topa: "Ever since I was a young child, I have always felt... incomplete. As if the person I am today is a bookmark. A placeholder, until I discover who I am. I have not found the answer at home, so perhaps it is out among the stars."
Kelly: "You've... felt this way for some time?"
Topa: "I once heard Doctor Finn say that if you wake up in the middle of the night and there is nothing to keep you from falling asleep again, it means you are happy. I think that maybe... I am not happy."
Kelly: "You don't sleep well?"
Topa: "I always feel as if... there is something wrong with me. But I cannot tell what. Lieutenant Malloy says many people my age feel this way. Perhaps it is normal."

Kelly looks so absolutely heartbroken when she realizes that Topa's beginning to sense that he's been altered. Kudos to Adrianne Palicki here for a subtle little bit of acting here.

• By the way, when Topa tells Kelly, "Ever since I was a young child," I couldn't help but think, "You mean last year?"

Somehow this kid grew from an infant to an adolescent in less than three years! I know alien species probably age at different rates, but this is ridiculous!

• Kelly tells Bortus and Klyden that Topa's hurt and struggling. Bortus thinks it may be time to tell him he was born female, but of course Klyden forbids it.

Klyden's meant to be the ostensible villain of this episode, but it's not that simple.

Remember Klyden was born a female, just like Topa was. He was forced to have corrective surgery with no say in the matter, and as such has secretly been miserable his entire life. He even subconsciously admits that when he tells Bortus that "all children are unhappy."

Now he sees his child has the opportunity to have the life he was denied, and everyone around him's all for it. Not only that, but Topa's handling the situation with more grace and maturity than he could ever hope to have.

As a result, he feels he's suffered his entire life for nothing. Is it any wonder he's filled with seething resentment and hate here?

This also explains why he hates females like Kelly so much— which also fuels his own self-loathing.

This all gives his seemingly one-note character an incredible depth and reality. And it actually makes me feel somewhat sorry for Klyden, which is something I never thought I'd say. Well done to the writers here!

• Topa tells Kelly that his father's forbidden him from shadowing her anymore. I love how Kelly didn't have to ask WHICH father he's talking about here, as it was obviously Klyden. 

A visibly angered Kelly then replies, "As much as I hate him... as much as I hate his answer... he's your father." 

Whoops! She slipped a little bit there, but managed to cover... sort of.

• Sometime later Topa visits Charly and the Alien Archeologist in the Lab. This raises an interesting question— can kids on the Orville just wander into any area of the ship whenever they want? That seems like another bad idea. Maybe since Topa was shadowing Kelly, she gave him some sort of limited clearance?

• Charly shows Topa her newest project— using DNA scraped from the Hemblicite artifacts to create a holographic image of what the long-dead race looked like. 

It's cool and all, but again, why the hell is SHE doing this? It wasn't enough that she suddenly switched from navigator to ship's archeologist, now she's a freakin' forensic scientist!

Also, take a look at that alien. Did these people really need to use a razor to shave their faces with a jiktal, like Charly said?

• So what the hell was the point of this whole Hemblicite arc? I kept waiting for it to somehow tie in with Topa's storyline, but it never did. In fact nothing ever came of it at all!

I have to assume it's setup for a plot that'll end up paying off later in the season. If not, then why is any of this here? To give Charly more screentime?

Back when it was announced that the show was moving to Hulu, Seth MacFarlane bragged that the episodes wouldn't be constrained by network runtimes, and could be as long as needed. Is this how he's extending them? By padding them out with superfluous filler like this?

• Topa spots Isaac in the Lab and asks him what it was like to be dead after he committed "suicide." After Topa leaves, Isaac stares after him with what appears to be a look of concern on his blank face.

You can't tell me that Isaac isn't starting to develop actual emotions!

• We've seen in the past that Mercer has two story personal quarters, but apparently Kelly does as well! I'm starting to suspect the inside of the Orville is far bigger than the outside. There's no way all these vast, spacious crew quarters could possibly fit in it.

• In a subtle attempt to point Topa toward his origin, Kelly mentions Kimbok— also known as Moclan Oppsada Cake.

We learned about Oppsada back in Mad Idolatry, when Klyden described it to Mercer:

Klyden: "You are welcome to join us for a glass of Oppsada.
Mercer: "Whatever that is, sounds great. Thanks."
Klyden: "It is aged nine years.The perfect duration for good Oppsada."
Mercer: "Man, if it, uh, looks like this going in, I'm afraid of what it looks like coming out."
Klyden: "Oppsada does not come out. It grows into a parasite within the body. The sensation is intensely pleasurable."

Deliberately drinking a parasitic-infested beverage. Sounds delicious!

So... I guess Oppsada is like rum, and can be both a drink and an ingredient in cake.

• Topa finds a password protected file called Kimbok33, which contains the truth about his origin. According to the computer, the file's dated "Union Standard 7352417."

I assume Union Standard is the equivalent of Star Trek's stardates. But how do they work? The last four digits could be a year, as the show's set in the 25th Century. Could the last four digits represent the current year? 

Unfortunately no. Old Wounds, the very first episode, took place in 2419, and Topa was born just a couple months later. Ooooh, so close! As of this point, I have no idea how these dates are supposed to work.

• More Runtime Padding! We then see Gordon visiting Sickbay after having a horrible allergic reaction to eating a Baliddian Tart. As far as I can see this is yet another superfluous scene that serves no purpose whatsoever.

Claire then hands Gordon a medical doodad, tells him to run it over his face for three minutes and goes off to chat with Kelly.

I've started noticing that most of Claire's "doctoring" seems to consist solely of shining a blue laser on her patients for a few seconds. Do they even need a doctor for that? Couldn't someone just stand in front of some sort of wall unit that scans them and tells 'em to wave the blue laser over their injury themselves?

• Klyden worries when Topa doesn't show up for their game of Grand Latchkum.

We saw Latchkum once before back in Mad Idolatry, when Bortus and Klyden introduced Mercer to the game. No idea what GRAND Latchkum might be though. Maybe it's played with more than one "egg?" Or on some special field?

• Thanks to the Kimbok33 file, Topa finds out that he was born a female and then physically altered without his consent. This infuriates Klyden, who barges into Kelly's office and threatens her.

Kylden: "My son is in emotional ruin because of you."
Kelly: "I told him to have a slice of Kimbok. That's all I said."
Klyden: "You gave him the password for the trial records!"
Kelly: "No, I didn't."
Klyden: "You are a liar!"
Kelly: "I pointed him in the right direction, yes, but..."
Klyden: "Who are you to decide what is best for my child?"
Kelly: "Somebody has to!"
Klyden: "My son was content!"
Kelly: "Your son was miserable! You wrecked that kid the second you walked into that courtroom, so do not try to pin this bullshit on me!"
Klyden: "I remember when we were in the Kandar system. You were worshiped as a god by the planet's inhabitants. Perhaps you still believe it yourself. Perhaps that is why you chose to play god with my family."
Kelly: "I played god? Klyden, that kid has been crying out for help, and you've been burying your fat head in the sand because the truth doesn't fit in with your backward worldview! Now, I may have overstepped, but somebody needed to start paying attention. Because that child is in trouble!"

I love this exchange because it's so well written, and hits a little too close to home for both of them. Kelly DID overstep her authority by getting involved in Topa's life. And when Klyden brings up the fact that an entire world thought she was a god, you can tell that was a really good shot at her, as she's still stinging from the strife she caused a primitive civilization. 

Kelly's right too though, as Klyden clearly doesn't want to acknowledge Topa's mental state, because he's too concerned about the traditions of his society.

Just really well done writing all around. Kudos!

• Klyden becomes so incensed at Kelly that he lunges at her. She easily dodges his attack and slams him agains the wall. 

OK, I know Kelly's likely had Union space judo training and she's really mad here, but I still have a hard time believing she could pin a three hundred pound tank like Klyden!

• Bortus visits Kelly and tearfully tells her he doesn't know how to help his son Topa. It's a powerful and heartbreaking moment. Especially seeing the typically stoic Bortus break down in anguish at his feelings of utter helplessness. How this show's changed since it began!

Man, Peter Macon and Chad Coleman both absolutely killed it in this episode. If this show doesn't win an Emmy for best acting, then the entire award ceremony should be scrapped!

• Struggling to find his identity, Topa says he wishes he could speak with or even see a Moclan female. Kelly says she has an idea, and uses the Environmental Simulator to recreate the historic trial from About A Girl— which introduced reclusive Moclan female Heveena as well as deciding Topa's fate.

Obviously they didn't go to the trouble and expense of rebuilding the set, digging out the old uniforms, hiring a bunch of Moclan extras and bringing back Rena Owen as Heveena for one five minute scene. 

Instead it appears they took relevant footage from the original episode, reframed it a bit and greenscreened Topa into it.

Note Alara standing there in the background, along with the Season 1 uniforms.

Same thing here— they clearly took a shot from the trial scene and digitally inserted Topa and Kelly into it. This results in Kelly watching her old self— complete with her Season 1 hairstyle! 

It looks like they color graded the shot for this new scene too. Overall they did a great job of integrating the new characters into this old footage. If I didn't know better, I'd think they just shot a courtroom trial for this episode so that Topa could see an example of a Moclan female.

I went through all the courtroom scenes in About A Girl, but couldn't find any exact matches for these two shots. I'm assuming these must be alternate camera angles or unused takes from the original episode.

• When Kelly tells Topa about Heveena, she describes her as, "The writer the Moclans knew as Gondus Elden, before she revealed she was female."

It just now occurred to me that Gondus Elden had two names. Does that go for ALL Moclans? Do Bortus and Klyden both have surnames we don't know about?

• The senior staff meets with Bortus and Klyden to discuss Topa wanting to become female again. Mercer asks Bortus what he thinks about the situation. As he rises, he performs the Picard Manuever!

• When Bortus considers approving Topa's surgery, Klyden tells him, "If you do this I will leave you. I swear it. And I will not even give you the dignity of the sword!"

Kudos to the writers for remembering that Moclan divorce involves killing one's mate! In fact Klyden already tried divorcing him once before by killing him, in Season 2's Primal Urges.

• Somehow the Union Council gets wind of Topa's intent to become female again (maybe Klyden squealed to them?) and Admiral Howland contacts Mercer and forbids the operation. There's a lot of dialogue to sift through here, but bear with me as it's relevant:

Howland: "You should know that this is not something we take lightly. The Union council conferred with the Admiralty for no less than nine hours on the subject. But it is abundantly clear that this would deeply imperil our relationship with the Moclans. With the Krill treaty in ruins and the Kaylon waiting at our doorstep, we just can't take the risk. Therefore, Doctor Finn, it is my unhappy duty to order you not to perform this procedure."
Claire: "What?"
Kelly: "Excuse me, sir. We have checked every legal box. Topa has requested it. Bortus has consented. Everyone involved is within their legal rights."
Howland: "Civil law permits it, you are correct. But you're on a Fleet ship with a Fleet doctor. We can't allow it."
Mercer: "Sir, I understand the danger, but... how the hell much longer are we going to let this go on? I mean, you are basically allowing the Moclans to dictate human rights policy for the Union."
Howland: "I don't want this to drag on any more than you do, Captain. You don't think I hate making this call? But we're desperately trying to save lives here. Without the Moclans, we become utterly vulnerable to the Kaylon. This procedure won't help Topa if she's dead."
Mercer: "Can we speak to Rechik?"
Howland: "Rechik wanted to be in this meeting along with the two other Moclan councilmen. I told him no. Trust me, I'm doing you a favor. This issue is a lightning rod for the Moclans. The trial was a defining moment that, to them, reinforced their cultural foundations. I'm telling you, I have been doing this job a long time. If we defy their custom and invalidate that verdict by allowing a Union medical officer to do this, the Moclans will be humiliated, and trust me, they will walk, and billions could die as a result."
Kelly: "Would the Moclans really want to cut ties and face the Kaylon alone?"
Howland: "Want is irrelevant. They'd have no way to save face if they didn't."
Claire: "Admiral. You have children, don't you?"
Howland: "Yes."
Claire: "If Topa was your child, how would you explain this to her? That we're forcing her to spend the rest of her days living a lie to protect the political status quo?"
Howland: "If Topa wants to leave the ship and have the procedure done elsewhere, we have no jurisdiction."
Bortus: "She would not succeed."
Mercer: "The Moclans would pounce on her without Union protection. She'd be captured and sent to prison in a heartbeat."
Howland: "Captain, I empathize with all of you. Please believe me. But our hands are tied. I'm very sorry."

Welp, the writers did their best to cover all the bases and made a good case for why they can't perform the operation. But I still think it's a stretch that the Moclans would consider withdrawing from the Union over one little kid!

I guess the idea is the Moclans are a race of stubborn, hot-heated males who'd happily cut off their noses to spite their collective faces?

• So why are there no alien Admirals in the Union? They have an extraterrestrial president and senior senator, but so far every admiral we've seen is human. Racist!

• Back on the planet, we see Charly's accidentally slashed her leg while exploring the Hemblicite ruins. A couple things here:

First off, once again Claire waves her blue flashlight at a cut to heal it— which seems like something Charly could have done herself.

Second, what the hell was the point of this scene? Is this more setup for a future episode? Is Charly gonna become infected and possessed by a dead Hemblicite? If not, then once again, why the hell does this shot exist?

• Claire offers to quit the Union in order to perform the reassignment surgery on Topa. Mercer and Kelly remind her that if she does so, her Union career will be over and she'll have to leave the Orville. She says she's fine with that, as she thinks Topa's worth it.

That's very selfless and noble of Claire to sacrifice her career over one little girl. It bothers me greatly though that she doesn't once mention her OWN two kids, and how this monumental decision would affect them! It's almost like she conveniently forgot about them all of a sudden.

• Isaac steps up and says he can perform the operation because he's an emissary, and not an official Union Officer. Hmm. Seems like a reasonable loophole, right?

Wrong! Unfortunately, back in Old Wounds, Mercer introduced Isaac as the ship's Science and Engineering Officer. Whoops!

I guess we could cut them some slack here and say his ranks were honorary ones, but it still seems iffy to me.

• When the others question whether Isaac's skilled enough to perform such a delicate operation, he replies, "I am quite capable. All required medical data is available from the ship's computer. I could upload it to my core memory, along with any additional specifications you may wish to include."

Good on the writers for properly using the term "upload." So many people mistakenly say download instead.

• In order to distract the crew long enough for Isaac to perform Topa's operation, Bortus volunteers to perform a concert in the Shuttlebay.

As Mercer makes the ship-wide announcement, we see a group of crewmembers listening in the Shuttlebay. Sigh... Once again, that goddamned Pteradon fighter's parked right smack in the middle of the doorway— where any incoming shuttle will run into it! We see it, guys! We know it's a thing by now! You can stop showing it to us every week.

• Talla then receives a list of RSVPs from the crew, reserving their seats for the recital.

The second I saw this shot, I wondered if they used the names of the production crew for the list. I did a little digging, and that's exactly what they did! B. Fayette is Brandon Fayette, the digital effects supervisor, J Macias is Jorge Macias, a visual effects artist, and A Rothstein is Adam Rothstein, another effects artist. They inserted a few obviously alien names too.

Note that Yaphit's reserved a seat as well!

• We then see a huge parade of people all heading down to Bortus' concert. Several things here:

It's clear we're supposed to believe that the ENTIRE crew piled into the Shuttlebay. But if that's true, then who's minding the store? Surely EVERYONE can't just up and leave their posts for an hour or two. Someone's gotta stay behind to run the ship.

We then get a shot of the makeshift concert hall in the Shuttlebay. Note that there are two sections consisting of ten rows of nine seats. That only adds up to 180 people. Supposedly there are 300 people onboard. Either 120 of them didn't show, or the producers want us to think all 300 were here and hoped some jackanape like me didn't start counting chairs.

One last thing about the audience before I move on— when Talla received the crew reservations, they picked the seats they wanted. Several of them reserved a place in Row 10. As we can see here, there are indeed ten rows of seats available! Well done!

• Hey, Marcus is actually in this episode! Unfortunately he doesn't have a single line and we only see this very fleeing glimpse of him behind Claire.

• Bortus then takes the stage and performs a selection of songs for the crew. Lots to talk about here:

First off, I'm VERY surprised we actually got to hear Bortus sing this week. Way back in Cupid's Dagger he almost sang during Karaoke Night, but was cut off at the last second by a call from Admiral Halsey. 

I thought for sure this would become a running joke on the show, as he'd constantly be interrupted every time he opened his mouth to sing. And if he ever did actually do it, I imagined he'd have a comedically high pitched angelic voice that was totally incongruous to his character. 

Instead he just has Peter Macon's regular singing voice. He's a decent vocalist, but... I gotta say I was a little disappointed that they ruined a perfectly good joke as we finally got to hear him.

Secondly, the two songs we hear him sing are Nature Boy (originally sung by Nat King Cole) and You'll Never Walk Alone (made famous by the Jerry Lewis telethons). Both are particularly apt for this episode.

The Nature Boy lyrics are: 

There was a boy
A very strange enchanted boy
They say he wandered very far, very far
Over land and sea
A little shy
And sad of eye
But very wise was he
And then one day
A magic day he passed my way
And while we spoken of many things
Fools and kings
This he said to me
The greatest thing you'll ever learn
Is just to love and be loved in return
The greatest thing you'll ever learn
Is just to love and be loved in return

The You'll Never Walk Alone lyrics:

Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you'll never walk alone
You'll never walk alone

As I said, both are perfect choices, as they thoroughly capture Topa's situation.. I'm assuming MacFarlane— who's a big musical guy— was responsible for picking these two songs. Well done!

Third, I love Bortus' little clasped hands singing gesture, as it looks like something a child would do at a recital.

Lastly, Ty plays a Steinway piano. I wonder if it was replicated, or if the Steinway company is still in business in the 25th Century?

• We then get a series of shots of empty corridors and departments, reinforcing the notion that the ENTIRE crew is supposed to be in the Shuttlebay. I don't have anything interesting to say about these images— I'm including them here because they're clean plates to use as wallpaper or for Photoshopping yourself into the scenes.

Here's a standard corridor.

The spiral staircase. You don't see a lot of those on sci-fi spaceships!

The Mess Hall.

The Armory.

And Engineering.

• Klyden bursts into Sickbay to try to stop the procedure, but he's stopped by Isaac, who tells him, "I surmise your capacity to reason has been compromised by your cultural indoctrination. This is to be expected. Please depart."

Man, this just isn't Klyden's week. First he's physically bested by a lowly human female, then he gets tossed out of Sickbay by a Kaylon! I guess he can at least make the excuse that Isaac's far stronger than him.

• After the procedure, Topa inspects herself in a mirror and is pleased by what she sees. Kudos to The Orville's makeup department, for the subtle way they altered Topa's prosthetic makeup after the operation (on the right). She's obviously the same person, but her features are now softer and more feminine. Well done!

• I was wondering if "Topa" is a gender-neutral name (like "Pat" or "Leslie" on Earth), since she doesn't change it after her procedure. But then I realized she likely couldn't pick another one, as there probably aren't any feminine Moclan names!

• Admiral Howland then comes aboard and screams at Mercer and Kelly for allowing the procedure and jeopardizing the Union.

First of all, Admiral HOWLand is right! What an amazingly apt moniker. Who named this character, Charles Dickens?

Second, the Admiral needs a tailor, stat! For some reason her uniform is very ill-fitting, making her look strangely unkempt and dumpy. Maybe she had to travel a really long way to shriek at Mercer and didn't have time to freshen up first.

Lastly, Howland unexpectedly shows her compassionate side when she tells them to give Topa her regards. It was a nice way to humanize her character a bit.

• True to his word, once Klyden sees Topa had the procedure he starts packing his bags. We all knew he'd leave Bortus some day, but I didn't think it'd be over this!

Bortus then tries talking sense into Klyden:

Bortus: "Have you no room in your heart for tolerance? What inner fulfillment are you enjoying from this devotion to tradition that is so potent it drives you from your family?"

Goddamn, that is one amazing line! I wish I'd written it!

• As Klyden walks out, he hisses to Topa, "I wish you were never born." 

Yikes! That had to hurt. Sadly, I bet a lot of trans kids have heard that from one or both of their parents.

Once again, Chad Coleman absolutely kills it here. He perfectly plays Klyden as an irredeemable villain, but gives him just a microscopic touch of tragedy— which surely isn't easy to do. As a result we end up feeling pity for Klyden as much as we hate him.

I wonder... does this mean Klyden's gone forever? Or is this the start of a big redemption arc for the character?

• In the final scene, Kelly calls Topa to the Bridge. Once there, Mercer lets her sit in the "big chair" and take the ship to quantum— over the strains of You'll Never Walk Alone.

It's an amazingly emotional scene that's both sad and hopeful at the same time, and if you didn't get at least a tiny bit teary-eyed, you're already dead.

That said, I can't help but feel they botched the scene a bit. As filmed, Kelly contacts Topa and says, "We're about to leave orbit. I was wondering if you'd like to sit in the command chair for departure." Topa then walks onto the Bridge, where she sees the crew beaming at her and Mercer tells her to sit in his chair.

WHY? Why telegraph the final shot like that and ruin its impact? They should have had Kelly just tell Topa to report to the Bridge— but keep quiet as to why. THEN she'd walk onto the Bridge and be surprised by Mercer offering her the Captain's chair and telling her to take the ship out. 

That would have been ten times better in my opinion, and just as emotional. 

This Week's Incongruous 21st Century (And Earlier!) References:
Really only one I noticed this week. When Kelly takes Topa with her on her rounds, Yaphit says, "Good one, Commander. Hey, I just want you to know we always enjoy your visits down here." Kelly then tells Topa, "Just for your own education, that's called ass kissing."

Apparently sucking up to one's boss to get ahead is still a thing in the 25th Century.

I suppose the crew enjoying 500 year old songs would probably count as well!

This Week's Star Trek Swipes:
Not a lot of them here, thankfully. 

The only episode I can think of that comes remotely close would be TNG's The Outcast. In that story, the crew encountered the J'naii— a single gender species (sounds familiar!). A J'naii named Soren took a liking to Commander Riker, and realized they were experiencing female thoughts and tendencies. Of course this wasn't allowed in their society, so Soren was forced to undergo corrective conditioning and make them gender neutral again.

The only other thing I noticed was when Isaac used this hi-tech medical contraption to perform the reassignment surgery on Topa.

Doctor McCoy had a nearly identical device all the way back in The Original Series.

As did Doctor Crusher on TNG. Various models showed up on DS9 and Voyager as well.

I'm assuming there's supposed to be robotic surgery equipment inside these boxes, as well as plasma, anesthetics and other life support material. They also help hide the grisly surgical procedure from the camera too!

This Week's Best Lines:
(Bortus and Klyden discuss Kelly's meddling in Topa's situation.)
Bortus: "She could be correct."
Klyden: "She is a female! With no understanding of our culture!"
Bortus: "If Topa is struggling..."
Klyden: "If he is struggling, it is insignificant compared to the struggle he would face if he were to learn the truth!"
Bortus: "It occurs to me... that in all the time we have been together, I have never once known you to be uncertain. Of anything. Tell me, what is it like to be so wise?"
Klyden: "You are mocking me."
Bortus: "You invite it!"

Klyden: "Topa may never be happy. But unhappiness is better than despair."

(Klyden attempts to stop Topa's operation.)
Klyden: "Get out of my way, Kaylon."
Isaac: "I am afraid that will not be possible. I will not permit you to disrupt the procedure."
Klyden: "I forbid you to do this! You will destroy him!"
Isaac: "That is inaccurate. He will be altered physically, but he will remain a fully functioning biological organism."
Klyden: "He will be a monstrosity!"
Isaac: "That is also inaccurate."

Claire: "You know, you did a good thing, Isaac."
Isaac: "I am aware of that."
Claire: "Topa is very grateful. Maybe that means something to you?"
Isaac: "It does not."
Claire: "Of course."

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