The Orville: New Horizons Has A Moving Trans Storyline

L-R: Capt. Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane), Topa (Imani Pullum), Cmdr. Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki), Lt. Cmdr. Bortus (Peter Macon), and Lt. Talla Keyali (Jessica Szohr) in The Orville: New Horizons -- “A Tale of Two Topas” - Episode 305. (Photo by: Hulu)

After the initial backlash to The Orville, Seth MacFarlane responds with its strongest trans episodes yet in The Orville: New Horizons.

There are two episodes in particular that follow Topa, a Moclan born female but being raised as male. The first episode is the third season’s fifth episode, “A Tale of Two Topas.” The second episode in this storyline is the season’s eighth episode, “Midnight Blue.” While two episodes remain in the third season, there’s no telling if there will be another Topa-centric episode. We won’t know until Thursday. Imani Pullum guest stars as Topa.

What I can say with 100% certainty is that more people need to act like Cmdr. Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki) in real life. I certainly enjoyed every minute of what I saw in Adrianne Palicki’s performance as Cmdr. Kelly Grayson. Speaking as a transgender woman, she embodies the traits of what an ally should be. On that note, thank you to Seth MacFarlane for directing penning “A Tale of Two Topas.” He heard the backlash to the earlier episode and responded forcefully with one of their best episodes to date. Meanwhile, the eighth episode follows the storyline. While it isn’t the easiest episode to watch because of the violence, look at it as an allegory to what’s happening in America right now. Jon Cassar directs the eighth episode from a script by Brannon Braga & Andre Bormanis.

In “A Tale of Two Topas,” Topa internally knows that something is wrong. It’s as if they knew they were female but needed to be guided in the right direction. Cmdr. Kelly Grayson is one of the crew who points them in the right direction. I also love that Kelly uses the correct pronouns for Topa unlike Klyden (Chad L. Coleman). Klyden, unlike Lt. Cmdr. Bortus (Peter Macon), is very much of the Moclan ways. Bortus believes that Topa should be male because of how their planet looks down upon females. Meanwhile, Bortus gives the okay for Topa to undergo surgery. Capt. Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane) won’t let Dr. Claire Finn (Penny Johnson Jerald) resign her commission so Isaac (Mark Jackson) performs the surgery since Isaac isn’t a Union officer. Klyden ends up leaving both Bortus and Topa.

In “Midnight Blue,” Kelly, Bortus, and Topa travel to Haveena’s female Moclan colony. What we learn during this episode is that Haveena has resumed smuggling female children born on Moclus. She does this in spite of the actions violating an agreement with the Moclan government. Haveena recruits Topa to this cause but the Moclan inspection team ends up kidnapping her and tortures her on a secret Moclan outpost. It’s up to both Kelly and Bortus to rescue her before it is too late. Had they arrived a moment later, Topa would have been dead. Topa refuses medical attention so that the Union council could see what the Moclans are doing. The ramifications are serious: Moclus gets expelled and Klyden returns to join Bortus and Topa. After what the Moclans did to Topa, they both have renounced their citizenship.

In both of these episodes, Kelly Grayson is the strongest ally that one could be. She’s there for Bortus when Topa first approaches him about feeling like something is off. Kelly is the first to refer to Topa with the she/her pronouns. When Topa is going through her first crush, Kelly is there to provide advice and ultimately lets her visit the Moclan colony. And again, Kelly is there when they rescue Topa from her Moclan kidnappers. “A Tale of Two Topas” is one of the finest depictions of the transgender experience on a sci-fi series.

While the violence isn’t easy to watch, think of it as an allegory for the current treatment of transgender people in red states. States that are outright refusing to allow trans athletes in sports. States that want to basically ignore the existence of transgender people. Moclus could basically be Florida or Texas with how Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott are taking away transgender rights. Even though I currently write from a blue state, we’re here and we’re not going anyway! Klyden represents the transphobic parent that comes to realize their harmful beliefs. After hearing what the Moclans did to Topa, he realized their culture’s beliefs are wrong. He shows some real growth as both a character and a parent. It might be allegorical in nature but “Midnight Blue” speaks to the violence facing the trans community.

I also want to say something about Seth MacFarlane here. He is showing that somebody can grow as a person. Look at the episode of Family Guy and his initial response. His initial comments were straight out of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective or The Crying Game. In watching this episode, you can really see MacFarlane’s growth. This also speaks to the importance of Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen and trans representation in general. Both episodes show the realities for the trans community and the importance of trans allies. For that, I’m grateful.

Where The Orville first started out as a Star Trek spoof, The Orville: New Horizons is evolving into something different. It is no longer a spoof but a sci-fi series that can easily rival Star Trek with its scope, scale, and storytelling.

CREATOR: Seth MacFarlane
EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS: Seth MacFarlane, Brannon Braga, David A. Goodman, Jon Cassar, Jason Clark and Howard Griffith
CAST: Seth MacFarlane, Adrianne Palicki, Penny Johnson Jerald, Scott Grimes, Peter Macon, J Lee, Mark Jackson, Chad L. Coleman, Jessica Szohr, and Anne Winters

The Orville: New Horizons streams new episodes on Hulu on Thursdays through August 4, 2022. Starting August 10, all episodes will be available to stream on Disney+. “A Tale of Two Topas” – Grade: 5/5. “Midnight Blue” – Grade: 4/5

Please subscribe to Solzy at the Movies on Substack.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.