DISCLAIMER: This recap of The Orville: New Horizons episode “A Tale of Two Topas” has spoilers. Prepare to engage quantum drive, and proceed at your peril.
Welcome back, crew members of the USS Orville! If you don’t believe “A Tale of Two Topas” is one of the most moving, impactful pieces of science fiction, then you might be a Kaylon. The Orville always tackles challenging subject matter with tact and aplomb, and this episode is no exception. “A Tale of Two Topas” addresses the importance of consent, bodily autonomy and how everyone deserves the chance to live authentically as themselves.
Adrianne Palicki, Peter Macon, Chad L. Coleman and Imani Pullum deliver powerhouse performances with so much tenderness and heart. Hats off to Coleman in particular, who takes an oppositional stance in this outing and still imbues the stubborn, narrow-minded Klyden with heartstring-tugging sadness as one who merely doesn’t know any better beyond what Moclus taught him.
Ready to delve into “A Tale of Two Topas”? Let’s get to it.
We open with the USS Orville crew participating in the excavation of a mysterious tomb. Cmdr. Kelly Grayson (Palicki) notices Capt. Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane) scribbling notes in a datapad. He reveals he’s essentially leaving a journal for his daughter Anaya.
Ensign Charly Burke (Anne Winters) and Lt. Cmdr. Talla Keyali (Jessica Szohr) usher Mercer and Grayson into the catacombs, revealing they’re close to accessing the treasures within, but there’s a barrier. Thankfully, Isaac (Mark Jackson) takes one for the team and subjects himself to the Indiana Jones-esque booby trap guarding the tomb’s entrance.
Next, Isaac leads the crew into a massive room chock full of priceless artifacts. While on the Orville, we learn about the Hemblicite Empire, a civilization akin to ancient Egypt that fell 50,000 years ago. Like the Egyptians, the Hemblicites buried their greatest treasures with their rulers.
Climbing the Union Ladder
Meanwhile, Topa (Pullum) partakes in a simulated battle with the Kaylons. Topa sits in the captain’s chair, doling out orders assuredly to an all-Moclan crew. Unfortunately, the Kaylons destroy Topa’s vessel.
Then, Grayson enters the simulator for a session, taken aback to find Topa there. She learns about Topa’s desire to become a Union officer, hence the simulated space battle training. Grayson volunteers to assist Topa in studying for the Union Point entrance exam.
Later, Topa shadows Grayson while she oversees the daily operations aboard the ship, from having an awkward conversation with a Belkarian officer regarding his lack of adherence to the uniform protocol to granting Lt. Cmdr. John LaMarr (J Lee) clearance for a power allocation.
Topa asks Grayson why she joined the Union. When Grayson inquires the same of Topa, the latter reveals an internal identity crisis, from early childhood to the present. Topa has never felt comfortable physically, and we, as an audience, know why that is — the surgical alteration performed on Topa as a child.
An Identity Crisis
Grayson approaches Mercer and Dr. Claire Finn (Penny Johnson Jerald) for advice. While Grayson doesn’t feel it’s her place to reveal what happened to Topa, she feels they can’t deny Topa’s emotional turmoil. Mercer believes it’s time to chat with Bortus.
So, Grayson sits with Lt. Cmdr. Bortus (Macon) and Klyden (Coleman) for dinner. She broaches the subject, knowing it’s inappropriate to address in Moclan culture. Klyden vehemently objects while Bortus is willing to listen intently. Grayson expresses her concerns about Topa’s emotional well-being. Klyden orders her to leave, claiming she “overstayed” her welcome.
After she departs, Bortus and Klyden argue about whether they should disclose Topa’s operation or leave their child in the dark. Klyden, born female, advocates for ignorance, claiming that it’ll save Topa emotional distress down the line. However, Bortus believes they should be honest with their kid.
Later, Topa enters Grayson’s office, and Grayson notes Topa’s tardiness for their training session. Topa informs her that Klyden won’t allow them to train together anymore. Topa must shadow Mercer to study for the entrance exam. While Topa respects Mercer, Grayson and Topa share a deeper connection.
Topa asks Isaac in engineering to describe what “deactivation” felt like and whether he was unhappy with the crew reviving him. Isaac reports this interaction to Grayson, noting Topa’s unhappiness and potential suicidal ideation.
Grayson approaches Topa in the dining quarters and reveals her self-care regimen whenever she doubts herself — a slice of Kimbok cake. She encourages Topa to explore the various styles of Kimbok the food synthesizers can offer.
Later, Topa searches the database for Kimbok, finding 41 variations of the Moclan delicacy. However, Topa also discovers a coded file with the same designation. After failing to gain access, a password inexplicably flashes across the screen, which Topa uses to open the said file.
While Grayson asks Dr. Finn if subtly dropping that Kimbok hint to Topa was an overstep, Klyden tells Bortus that Topa missed a Grand Latchkum. Bortus and Klyden find Topa sitting in their quarters. Topa confronts the pair regarding a life-changing discovery. After asking why they withheld the surgical alteration, Klyden tries to deny it ever happened. Bortus reveals they didn’t feel it was necessary to disclose it to Topa.
Topa, rightfully enraged, scolds the duo for lying while Klyden storms out.
A Stormy Confrontation
Klyden confronts Grayson, laying the blame on her shoulders. Now Topa knows about being born female and, like Klyden, will have to live with that information forever. The argument between the two escalates, with Klyden attempting to strike Grayson. Grayson quickly restrains him, threatening that if he tries to attack her again, she’ll remove his arm and mount it on her wall. Cmdr. Kelly Grayson is a bona fide badass, and don’t you forget it!
Next, Bortus chats with Grayson after revealing that Topa refuses to talk to him. Grayson apologizes for getting involved, but Bortus informs her that he sent Topa the password to the coded file. Bortus tearfully admits he didn’t want to conceal this from Topa any longer, so he gave his child the ammunition needed to learn the truth. God, this is such a powerful performance from Peter Macon. I’m in tears.
Later, we learn Topa is chatting with Dr. Finn, so Grayson attempts to lend a hand. Topa feels at a loss, unsure of the next step. Topa’s never met a female Moclan before, so Grayson unlocks the simulation from the Moclan trial in Season 1, wherein Heveena (Rena Owen) delivers a moving speech in support of allowing Topa to live as a female. Topa watches, captivated, with eyes full of tears.
Then, Grayson meets with Mercer, Dr. Finn, Bortus and Klyden to brainstorm a solution to Topa’s unhappiness. Grayson, Mercer and Dr. Finn propose they undo the procedure performed on Topa as a baby. This reversal will allow Topa to live as her true self.
Expectedly, Klyden objects while Bortus gives his consent for Dr. Finn to perform the procedure. Mercer states that despite Topa’s age, only one parent needs to offer support. That said, there’s another issue at hand.
Mercer, Grayson, Dr. Finn and Bortus chat with Admiral Howland (Andi Chapman), who reveals a ton of red tape to overcome for such a procedure. Yes, it defies Moclan custom despite it being legal.
If the team goes through with this, it could jeopardize relations with Moclus and lead to their withdrawal from the Union, making everyone more vulnerable to Kaylon (and Krill) attacks. Plus, the Union relies on Moclus for weapons distribution. Between a rock and a hard place, right?
Admiral Howland denies the Orville’s request for the procedure, especially since Dr. Finn is a Union officer. Bortus and Grayson break the news to a distraught Topa, who’s tired of governing bodies playing god with her body. Amen to that, sister. We all want bodily autonomy.
A Helpful Offer
So, while the team continues their work at the Hemblicite tomb, Dr. Finn proposes she resign from the Union so that she can perform the reversal on Topa. Grayson and Mercer object, citing that this makes her a sitting duck for the Moclans and will ruin the professional career she’s spent decades cultivating. Thankfully, Isaac steps in with a better plan. He can do the procedure on Topa, so long as Dr. Finn offers a few pointers.
Mercer and Grayson cover their tracks by stating they “disagree” with this offer while ensuring that a ship-wide event keeps crew members from entering the sick bay during the surgery.
Meanwhile, Bortus finally performs on stage in front of his peers, with Ty Finn (Kai Di’Nilo Wener), Dr. Finn’s son, accompanying him on the piano. We get to hear Bortus sing, y’all! Bortus stands with his hands clasped in front of him as if in a choir, and it’s hysterical.
With the vessel empty, Isaac ushers Topa into the sick bay, but before Topa can remove any clothing, Klyden tries to prevent the procedure from commencing. Isaac bars Klyden from taking his daughter and boots him out.
In an incredibly moving scene, Bortus sings “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Carousel. We see Topa wake after the procedure as she walks about the sick bay. She gazes at herself in the mirror and grins. Cue the tears (again).
Getting the Heat
Later, the USS Newton arrives to finish excavating and transporting the Hemblicite artifacts. Admiral Howland confronts Mercer and Grayson regarding the procedure, chastising them for flagrantly disobeying a command from a superior officer.
However, the Moclans will not withdraw from the Union, now feeling emboldened in their quest to overpower the Kaylon since Isaac performed the procedure. Mercer and Grayson claim they didn’t know Isaac would do such a thing.
Before departing, Howland asks them to pass along her congratulations to the “Moclan girl.” Something tells me the admiral secretly supports what they did. Meanwhile, Bortus and Topa watch while Klyden packs his belongings. He threatened to leave Bortus if Topa gets the procedure, so he’s keeping his word. He tells Topa he wishes she was never born.
After Klyden leaves, Bortus turns to his daughter, reassuring Topa that she’s perfect. Ugh. More tears.
Dr. Finn learns why Isaac suggested performing the reversal on Topa — he wanted the crew to like him again. See, even robots have feelings! She asks Isaac out on a date. Perhaps they can try the dating thing again.
Grayson calls Topa onto the bridge while she enjoys a piece of Kimbok. Mercer offers his chair to her, allowing Topa to captain the crew as they fly away. Bortus and Grayson watch with swelling pride as Topa, beaming, orders Lt. Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes) to “engage quantum drive.”
“A Tale of Two Topas” is unequivocally one of the best episodes of this show and deserves a spot in the annals of sci-fi television. It’s poignant, heartfelt and uplifting. Topa finally gets to be herself, and I couldn’t be happier. Plus, this outing deepens my love for Bortus, which I didn’t think was possible.
Do you believe we’ll see Klyden again? Will Topa become a commander someday like Kelly Grayson? Will this move eventually cause the Moclans to turn their backs on the Union? Join me while I continue recapping The Orville: New Horizons, only on Geek Girl Authority.
The Orville: New Horizons drops new episodes every Thursday on Hulu.