Synopsis: In A Tale of Two Topas The choice Bortus and Kylden made to have their child, born female, altered to be male, has come back to haunt them, and presents the crew of the Orville with a dilemma. Do they risk sacrificing the life of a child to maintain political ties to the Moclans?
The episode open with an Indiana Jones-type scenario, with the Orville landing party investigating a pyramid on an planet, the Orville landing party finds a secret, booby-trapped tomb. Inside they find 70,000-year-old artifacts. Note that this is the “B” story. The power and the pathos of the “A” story is a far more provocative story.
The real story starts with Commander Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki) accidentally discovering Topa (Imani Pullum), the child of Moclans Bortus (Peter Macon) and Klyden (Chad L. Coleman), practicing for a Union academy entry command test. Kelly offers to let him shadow her for a few days.
It becomes increasingly evident that Topa isn’t just interested in being an officer on a Union ship. Topa expresses frustration with not knowing any females, especially Moclan females, to seek guidance. He also feels that something is wrong with him. Kelly discerns that this may be a consequence of the sex change Topa was unknowingly put through as a baby. Moclans are only ever supposed to be male. Topa was born female, which is considered to be an aberration on their world.
Topa is clearly depressed. After conversion with him, Isaac believes that Topa is considering suicide. Isaac informs Kelly, who has the uncomfortable task of bringing the issue up with his fathers. When Kelly does, a livid Klyden, refuses to tell Topa the truth about what was done to him/her as a baby. Bortus, on the other hand, is more concerned about Topa’s well being than following Moclan tradition.
The issue of accepting Topa’s sexual identity creates a rift between Bortus and Klyden. Klyden forbids Kelly from saying anything to Topa, but Kelly finds a way around this. She directs Topa to look up recipes for a certain kind of cake. In the list of recipes is a password protected file that Topa can’t open.
Then someone sends the password. Topa finds the complete truth about his/her surgery and physical alterations, deciding finally to revert back to being female. Kelly shows Topa video of a female Moclan who defied their leaders, and proudly remained female. This helps Topa with the decision to assert her true gender identity. Bortus also supports her decision, which has consequences for his marriage.
Unfortunately, because the situation could lead to Moclus severing ties with the Union, Union Fleet personnel are forbidden from performing the gender reassignment. Dr. Claire Finn (Penny Johnson Jerald) offers to resign her commission as a Union officer, so she can perform the surgery. Seeing this, Isaac offers to do the surgery, as he is not technically a member of the Union fleet.
The officers arrange for a vocal concert for the ship, with Bortus as the headliner. This provided distraction from sickbay, where Isaac is to perform the gender reassignment on Topa without witnesses. After fighting off Klyden, who tries to stop the operation, Isaac succeeds in helping Topa.
The officers end up in trouble for allowing the surgery. Fortunately, the Moclans decided to maintain their alliance with the Union, because of the Kaylon threat, so there were no consequences for the officers or crew of the Orville.
Klyden, livid about Topa’s change, tells her “I wish you were never born.” He walks out on his family. Bortus, on the other hand, tells Topas “You are perfect.”
Fortunately, Topa has the support of one father and the crew of the Orville, who invite her to sit in the captain’s chair and give the order to move out to their next mission.
Adrianne Palicki displayed acting chops I never knew she had. She showed more range in this episode than I’ve seen her exhibit ever. Not that I didn’t think she was good before, but she had a lot more to work with in this episode than in most. She tapped into the previously hidden maternal aspect of her character, as well as ably navigated through a diplomatic mine field. Equally moving were the performances of Imani Pullum, who will appear in a recurring role as Topa, and Peter Macon as Bortus. Pullum was especially moving as the tortured child, seamlessly moving from male to female, depressed and suicidal to happy and self assured.
CGI & Effects
This was not an episode heavy on CGI or special effects, but these weren’t necessary, as this was not a Star Wars type story. Often times, special effects and CGI are used to stretch out an episode that doesn’t have a lot of content to the story. This episode was brimming with a moving story.
This doesn’t take away from some of the beautiful imagery in the episode, such as the green bird (or bug) flying over a pyramid on an alien planet. This part of the story didn’t have much to it, but I suspect it will lead to another story.
Topa’s dilemma is similar to that of an intersex child who is assigned to be female and surgically altered at birth, because of uncertain formation of sexual organs. Then they hit puberty and find they are actually male (or female) and struggle with having lived a lie. It can also be about transgender individuals, who are born presenting as one sex, but feel they are actually another. Having to live their lives as one thing, when they feel they are another can be devastating to individuals who have no choice in the matter. Many commit suicide, which was where Topa was headed. There were many points in this episode I had tears in my eyes for her, first for her pain, and finally for her joy.
- CGI & Effects10