'The Orville' Season 3 episode 5 revisits the Moclan gender controversy

Isaac pulls an ancient Hemblicite dagger from his head
Isaac demonstrates he's got a knack with a knife in "The Orville" Season 3, episode 5 "A Tale of Two Topas" (Image credit: Hulu)

Warning: Spoilers ahead for "The Orville" season 3, episode 5

We're now officially at the halfway point for the third season of "The Orville" and so far it has not disappointed. We've been treated to some brand new story arcs and we've revisited some old ones, often quite unexpectedly. But this week it's time — as was more or less inevitable at some point this season — to revisit the controversy surrounding the child of Lt. Cmdr. Bortus (Peter Macon) and his mate Klyden (Chad L. Coleman).

As such, the incredible pace of the last few episodes has slowed and given way to the next, intriguing chapter in the life of young Topa (Imani Pullum). This has been an interesting story arc over the previous two seasons.

Related: 'The Orville' Season 3 episode 4 takes its world building to a new level

You may recall, in the Season 1 episode "Command Performance" (S01, E02) we learn that the merry, married Moclan men, Bortus and Klyden, were nurturing an egg. Then in the very next episode, "About a Girl" the egg hatches and they discover that their child is female. In the rare — but not unheard of — instance when this happens within the all-male society, it is Moclan law that the child must undergo a surgical procedure to "correct" this issue and make it male.

Somewhere, on some dusty alien planet, is a biker and trucker's bar that's open from dusk until dawn

Somewhere, on some dusty alien planet, is a biker and trucker's bar that's open from dusk until dawn... (Image credit: Hulu)

Also within this episode, we first learn of Heveena (Rena Owen), a Moclan female who went into hiding and is persuaded to speak in front of a tribunal in defense of allowing the child to make up its own mind. Despite every attempt, the Moclan court rules in favor of the surgical procedure. It's a compelling and beautifully scripted deep dive into this subject and is handled in far more effective manner than the attempts of other shows. Finally in the second season episode "Sanctuary" (S02, E12) a secret colony is discovered where Moclan females flee to in an attempt to avoid persecution from male-driven Moclan law.

After a stirring speech by Heveena — including an interesting interpretation of the lyrics of "Nine to Five" — the Planetary Union decides that the colony will be granted protection, but not sovereignty. This means the 6,000 or so Moclan women are safe, for the time being, but that the secret underground routes that they used to escape Moclus without detection have been compromised. Now Topa is approximately age 13 and is beginning to develop the feeling that something isn't altogether quite right.

Related: 'The Orville' Season 3 Episode 3 scores a perfect 10 from us 

We start this week on another new planet, in the midst of an archeological dig on an ancient Hemblicite burial site. However, this is very much the supporting plot in this week's episode, but it shows further commitment to more world building in "The Orville." There's actually a beautiful touch where Capt Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane) reveals to Cmdr. Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki) that he's been writing letters to his daughter Anaya, that we were introduced to last week, despite the fact that won't be able to read them for many years.

In the Belkarian faith, to wear clothing on the first day of the month is considered offensive to the Spirit Lord

In Belkarian faith, to wear clothing on the first day of the month is considered offensive to the Spirit Lord (Image credit: Hulu)

Meanwhile, back on the Orville, Grayson finds young Topa practicing tactical combat simulations on the holodeck. He says that he's extremely interested in applying to the Planetary Union Academy. Consequently, she takes him under her wing and begins mentoring the Moclan in almost every facet of the ship's functions, from basic diplomacy between alien races all the way to more serious responsibilities in key departments, like engineering.

As their bond develops, Topa confides in Grayson about his feelings of personal uncertainty. Naturally, this puts the Orville's first officer in an awkward position since she obviously knows the truth. Grayson at first attempts a more diplomatic path, consulting with her friend and ship's doctor, Claire Finn (Penny Johnson Jerald) and even both of Topa's parents, Bortus and Klyden. As you might expect, Klyden — who we are reminded was also originally female when…er, she/he was born — is vehemently against any talk of this subject.

Related: 'The Orville' season 3 episode 2 tips its hat to classic sci-fi horror

Topa continues his personal research into the inner workings of the Orville and even confronts Isaac (Mark Jackson) to talk about his recent attempted suicide. As soon as word of this reaches Grayson, she is understandably concerned. She attempts to reassure Topa that he can speak to her anytime about anything, despite the fact that Klyden has forbidden him to spend any more time with her. In that moment, she decides to plant a thought into Topa's mind, suggesting that any time she feels down, or just a little unsure of herself, she has a slice of Kimbok (also known as Moclan Opsadda cake).

An amazing behind-the-scenes shot from producer Tom Costantino, shows the complexity of this scene

An amazing behind-the-scenes shot from producer Tom Costantino, shows the complexity of this scene (Image credit: Tom Costantino/Hulu)

With this now planted in Topa's mind, he returns to his quarters and searches the Planetary Union database for all entries regarding Kimbok. Lo and behold, he finds a file called "Kimbok33," but it requires a security clearance code to open. Not being able to really progress any further, Topa trudges over to the food synthesizer and requests a slice of actual Kimbok cake. He's hardly had time to properly chew his first mouthful when the computer terminal he was just using pings and there, up on the screen, is the security password for the file. So, naturally he starts reading.

His learning of this file is only discovered when he misses a scheduled game of Grand Latchkum. Bordus and Klyden find him, in their quarters, intensely reading the file, which details the incidents surrounding his birth and the surgical procedure he had no choice in undergoing. Needless to say, when Topa confronts both his parents and it's an emotional scene. Bordus is considerably more rational than Klyden, who has now more or less become the Lee J. Cobb character from "12 Angry Men." Outraged, he confronts Grayson, who he believes gave his son both the file and the password, but as we discover, it was in fact Bortus who gave Topa the password.

Related: 'The Orville' season 3 premiere shows this sci-fi series is a tour de force

Grayson recreates the emotional testimony from Heveena seen in "About a Girl" (S01, E03) on the holodeck so that Topa can see the great lady herself. This is actually a triumph in production, since executive producer Tom Costantino used original footage from that episode, blended it with brand new footage reshot specifically for this installment with the same cast members, worked a little wizard-like magic with the VFX guys and ultimately created a mind-blowing reconstruction that allows Topa to wander through the holo-simulation. (Tom Costantino shares some of the details about the production of this on Twitter.)

He's the Moclan of a Thousand Smiles and joining Bordus this evening, on piano, is young Ty Finn

He's the Moclan of a Million Smiles and joining Bordus this evening, on piano, is the talented Ty Finn (Image credit: Hulu)

Topa decides he wants the procedure reversed. Bortus declares that he will support that decision, while Klyden does not. And now the Planetary Union gets dragged into the argument. In short, no officer or enlisted crewmember is permitted to perform the surgery, since that would damage the already fragile relationship between the Union and Moclas. Dr Finn is ready to resign in order to help Topa, but Isaac, God bless him, comes up with a solution. He is not an official member of the crew, technically he is still an envoy for the Kaylons.

The final part of the plan has Seth MacFarlane written all over it; to prevent anyone from having any kind of mishap for a couple of hours and thus witnessing Isaac performing the procedure in sick bay, Bortus will perform a number of classic covers from his Greatest Hits album in the hanger bay. The concert is a huge success, with every member of the Orville in attendance. And aside from a minor altercation with Klyden, everything works out fine.

Related: Inside That Spectacular Space Battle in Season Two of 'The Orville'

The episode draws to a close with Klyden packing his bags to leave (surprised neither of them plunged a dagger into the other's chest, as is the Moclan custom), Mercer and Grayson getting a severe reprimand from Planetary Union HQ and finally and most importantly, young Topas makes a surprisingly speedy recovery and regains her self-confidence. She even gets to sit in the captain's chair and order the helm to engage the quantum drive. Moreover, Dr Finn looks to be patching up her relationship with Isaac. Aww.

We'd love to see some technical specs on the Orville, particularly on the non-traditional propulsion drive

We'd love to see some technical specs on the Orville, particularly on the non-traditional propulsion drive (Image credit: Hulu)

We've mentioned a couple of times recently how "The Orville" is continuing to develop its world building and we wonder if we'll get to see more of Earth's history from within "The Orville" universe. All we know really is that "the planet of the 21st century and earlier was frequently referred to as Old Earth." According to Mercer, way back in Season 1, by 2015, Earth stood at the brink of a major climate disaster that humanity actively attempted to ignore. But there must have been a first contact situation in order for the Planetary Union to form. Hopefully we might get to see a little of that in the second half of this season, or possibly Season 4. A fourth season is not official yet, but we suspect given how good this season has been, it would be absurd to not order another one.

Rating: 7/10

The first and second seasons of "The Orville" are available to watch on and Disney Plus in most countries, and packages in the US start at $6.99 per month. New episodes of season 3 will drop every Thursday. Viewers in Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan and the UK can watch on Disney Plus with accessibility coming soon for Japan and South Korea. Viewers in Latin American can watch on Star Plus.

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Scott Snowden

When Scott's application to the NASA astronaut training program was turned down, he was naturally upset...as any 6-year-old boy would be. He chose instead to write as much as he possibly could about science, technology and space exploration. He graduated from The University of Coventry and received his training on Fleet Street in London. He still hopes to be the first journalist in space.