The Orville 3 8: The Writers Finally Figured Out Moral Ambiguity
Is it right to endanger the lives of many to save one? The Orville crew must confront that in the case of the Moclan girl Topa
Judging by my mixed emotions regarding Episode 8 from Season 3, I’d say the writers did fairly well with tackling a morally ambiguous story. There are still problems, but nothing that damages the story. For once, the writers do not scream their opinions at the audience. They even chose two likable characters to act as surrogates for the opposing points of view.
As the story opens, Topa wants to meet Heveena, the female Moclan who defended her in court when she was a baby and tried to prevent the all-male (by preference) race from turning her into a boy. Heveena was unable to convince the Moclans to spare Topa, but the young girl later learned the truth and was restored to her original state. Her father Bortus is understandably hesitant about the meeting, but Captain Kelly allows the girl to join the crew dealing with the Moclans.
Topa meets Heveena and the two get along well. However, Heveena has spent the last few years in an all-female colony because she revealed herself to the Moclans. She is herself trapped but has secretly been organizing smuggling operations to bring other female Moclans to the colony before they are transformed into men. She tells Topa what she’s been doing and asks the young girl to act as a messenger between her and a spy on Moclus, which would speed up smuggling operations on the planet. Topa agrees, but is, of course, captured by some male Moclans who were sent to make sure the female colony was obeying a Union treaty.
These men are aware of Heveena’s actions, but do not know the name of the spy she is using to smuggle the girls from their homes. Since Heveena has asked Topa to participate in her covert activities, they assume that she knows the name of the spy and some of the various codes used by Heveena’s operation.
The plotting here is really the weakest part of the episode. How the men knew what Heveena was doing, how they heard Heveena and Topa’s conversation, and why they hadn’t dealt with Heveena sooner, under the circumstances, all remain unanswered questions. The details are important because they reflect on the extent to which Heveena is morally culpable for endangering the girl.
If she knew that the mission was risky, why did she put the girl in danger, which — we are given to understand — is her crime. It would have been a fair argument, had these details been established. But if Heveena really thought that relaying the messages would be a mundane task — say for example, all Topa had to do was receive a code and send it to Moclus from her bedroom on the Orville — then the information would help to justify Heveena’s rationale. But this lack of information is forgivable because it’s the result of a trade-off writers must sometimes make regarding point of view.
It would make little sense to switch to the Moclan soldiers’ perspective for one scene, which would be necessary in order to establish the extent of their knowledge and account for the way that they managed to stumble across Topa and Heveena without being spotted by the rest of the colony. I would’ve preferred the answers to these questions to come out later in the episode when Heveena tells Captain Ed Mercer the situation. But the writers chose to leave the extent of the soldiers’ knowledge and their location when Topa and Heveena spoke open-ended. It is not great, but it is an understandable choice.
Personally, I’d blame Kelly more than anyone. She allowed Topa to join her and Bortus on the mission to the colony. She knew seeing the girl would perturb the Moclan soldiers, and it was possible they might try to harm the girl out of spite. She should’ve known better. But to be fair, Kelly does acknowledge her error, so I can’t fault the writers for the character’s blunder.
Kelly and Bortus rush off to find Topa; then Captain Ed Mercer realizes that something is wrong and speaks with Heveena. After some prodding, Heveena tells Ed that she had asked Topa to relay messages to her spy and that she believes this is the reason Topa is in trouble. And here is where the show presents its moral dilemma: Ed is angry with Heveena for endangering Topa. Again, this argument would’ve had more merit if the writers had done a better job establishing the situation. Ed wants her to confess her actions to the Union so they can justify launching a search for Topa in Moclan territory.
It’s a difficult choice. On the one hand, it’s like Harriet Tubman confessing to the existence of the Underground Railroad in order save a single child, hoping the Union will defend her cause. On the other hand, the idea of trading one life for a collective good is a dangerous road. And it’s always possible that the choice is a false one. Why can’t Ed go in search of Topa himself? He has more equipment than Kelly and Bortus and stands a much better chance of finding the girl and rendering aid.
Heveena wrestles with the decision, and the following scene was at once the best and the worst part of the episode. It turns out that Heveena is a big fan of Dolly Parton. So, Ed creates a simulation featuring Dolly Parton in the hopes of persuading her. It is good scene, taken in isolation, because Dolly Parton is a fine performer. Both Dolly and Heveena do a wonderful job. It was a breath of fresh air. To put it bluntly, some of this cast struggles when it comes to acting. But the fact that Dolly Parton is a hologram completely undermines her sincerity. It’s clear that Ed is manipulating the situation, and Heveena knows it. The writers tried to explain this detail away, but I didn’t buy it.
In the end, Heveena confesses to the Union, and the Moclans huff and puff about it. But unbeknownst to them, Kelly and Bortus have already rescued Topa and they bring her to the meeting. The delegation sees the girl’s wounds for themselves and unanimously vote to expel the Moclans from the Union.
Dolly Parton’s final message to Heveena during their scene was, “If you do the right thing in the here and now, the future has a way of taking care of itself.” It was the first piece of advice this show has provided that didn’t twist my stomach into knots. And in Heveena’s case, it turns out to be true. Her colony is placed under Union protection, and presumably, she’ll be able to continue her smuggling operation.
Of course, the problem with the line is that it does show the writer’s hand. Evidently, the writers thought Heveena should take her chances with the Union. But I’ll give the show credit for not bashing me over the head with its opinion, only strongly insinuating it. Once again, I appeal to the incredibly low bar I’ve set for this show.
Oh! Also, Klyden comes back. I don’t know what it is about that actor, but every time he’s on screen, the actors around him come to life. Not really a writing critique, but the man’s talent impresses me.
Of all the episodes we’ve reviewed thus far, this is the only one I’d wholeheartedly recommend.