The Most Realistic Sci-Fi Ending

Created by Seth McFarlane, The Orville is heavily inspired by Star Trek, especially The Next Generation. Sold primarily as a comedy, it was intended to be a serious show from the beginning.

About a Girl

The third episode of The Orville, About a Girl, opens with the crew being introduced to the child of Bortus and Klyden. They react as anyone does to a newborn, with one unusual note. They bring up that she is a girl. This is a rare occurrence for Moclans, an all-male species. A female Moclan is born once every 75 years.

Later Bortus goes to see Dr. Claire Finn in sick bay and asks her to make his new daughter “conform”. When she asks what he means, he explains that he wants her to perform a sex change operation. “There is no way in Hell I’m doing that!”, she exclaims.

Bortus, determined to have his daughter conform goes to Captain Mercer and asks him to force the doctor. A shocked Mercer points out that they are on a Union ship and must conform to Union ethics and laws. Bortus compares a Moclan being female to a human with a cleft palate, and accuses Mercer of not respecting other cultures. Ultimately, Mercer flatly denies the request and dismisses Bortus.

Still determined, Bortus contacts the Moclan homeworld, and they send out a ship to rendezvous with the Orville and take the girl. Mercer, furious that Bortus went behind his back, takes it upon himself to convince Bortus the error of their ways. After getting drunk with two of his crewmates and watching Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Bortus realises a “deformity” could turn out to be an advantage, and decides he should give his daughter a chance to decide for herself.

He tells Klyden who is aghast at the suggestion. This is the moment reveals that he was also born female. He only found out when he came aboard the Orville and saw a non-Moclan doctor for the first time.

The Moclan ship arrives and demands to take the daughter. Bortus demands a tribunal to determine the fate of his daughter, and the Moclans reluctantly agree. Commander Kelly Grayson agrees to represent Bortus during the trial.

The trial goes ahead, with Grayson making some poor arguments in Bortus’ defense. While he watches the tribunal go poorly for Bortus, Mercer realises something. He asks the crew to scan the planet for something, and they find what he is looking for.

Nearing the end of the tribunal Mercer walks in with an adult female Moclan. The other Moclans tell her she has had a worthless life, hiding in the shadows. She quotes Gondus Elden, one of the most famous Moclan philosophers, in response. When they ask her how insulted he would feel at her bastardising his words, she reveals that she is Gondus Elden.

We all know how this goes from here. We’ve seen it a million times before. The heroes have shown the Moclans the error of their ways, that female Moclans can not only live meaningful lives, but contribute to society in ways others can’t. They gather together in the court one last time, and the council gives their verdict.

They do not find sufficient cause not to alter the sex of the child.


This episode has its problems. I skipped over the unimportant stuff in the above summary, but it is littered with comedy and jokes that don’t fit the tone of the episode. A couple of Mercer’s lines seem wildly inappropriate given the context of the scenes he delivers them. McFarlane and Braga wrote the core story first then added the comedy elements later, and it definitely shows.

The trans allegory is a bit flawed. It’s not quite a 1:1 with the problems modern day transsexuals face, given that the Moclans are an all-male species. The forced sex change is a particularly unique problem here, given that it’s the parents wanting to assign a birth gender via the operation. Still, there are definite comparisons. Should a child be assigned gender at birth? Shouldn’t they be allowed to make that choice when they get older and understand themselves better?

Earlier parts of the episode highlight many of the arguments on both sides, them being different cultures, allowing the child to choose, unnecessary surgeries on children, sexism, and so on. They’re great arguments that get the viewers and the characters to think, but there is never any real resolution given to any of these arguments.

The tribunal, in particular, doesn’t have any well defined arguments. It pales into insignificance when compared to Measure of a Man. The arguments Kelly makes are easily defended, notably because none of the arguments are general enough to apply to Moclan culture. I might be being unfair on this point, though. Before the tribunal they make a point that Kelly has limited experience with alien law, so her arguments being weak might be on purpose.

I also think that finding Gondus Elden could have been handled better. Perhaps some foreshadowing so we know who he is (or rather she, after we later learn her true identity). Instead it feels like a deus ex machina. At least until we hear the verdict.

So it’s not a perfect episode. But it’s the first episode to show us what The Orville was trying to be. What it could be. Later episodes will follow up on this theme, and do it a lot better.

But the thing that makes this episode great, at least to me, isn’t the trans allegory. It’s that it manages to break the most unrealistic trope in science fiction.

The Trope

Our heroes travel to another planet, alternate reality, other land, or some other place. They find a society that is suffering due to corrupt leaders. They have to figure out who the leaders are, what they are doing, and how they are doing it. Eventually they expose what is happening to the citizens of that world, dimension, or place, and the society decides to reform. Our heroes move on to their next adventure, satisfied that they have saved the day, and everyone lives happily ever after.

This is pure fantasy because, as we all eventually learn, people and societies don’t work that way. There is overwhelming evidence right now that climate change is destroying the planet, and yet our governments are slow to act, if at all. And even when the world is literally on fire, a large number of people still claim that it isn’t real.

When a core belief is ingrained in someone, it can be all but impossible to convince them that it isn’t true. Even with solid, provable facts and evidence, they will not budge in their conviction. This holds true for all of us, including myself. I’m not claiming to be some enlightened super being immune to normal human behaviour.

This extends to societies, which in some ways has been exacerbated by the invention of the internet. Bad and incorrect ideas spread just as well as the truth, and this can lead to whole societies holding some core beliefs that can be not only wrong, but actively damaging. And this cannot be fixed by having a single heroic figure coming in and exposing how they are being harmed.

This is why I love About a Girl. It has it’s problems as I talked about earlier, but it was the first time I saw the characters actually fail to save a society in a realistic way. The Moclans have been doing this for centuries, converting all females to male. It’s hinted at in this episode, but in later episodes it is revealed that females are born more frequently that the Moclan government lets on.

Despite this revelation, the Moclans still hold on to their customs and beliefs, leading to a heart breaking ending where we are taught that you can’t change society in a day. Later the Moclans will hold onto this belief up to the point that they end up leaving the Union and starting a war with them.

This isn’t the first time this has been done in science fiction, and it won’t be the last. In Lower Decks, it is shown that despite Kirk saving the society from a malicious AI, they went back to allowing it to rule again. Rick and Morty makes a joke about it when a planet goes straight back to purging after they save the society. There are probably several other examples out there.

About a Girl, to me, is the episode that defines The Orville going forward. It shows that it can deal with heavy topics and, while it may not be perfect, can subvert expectations in a way that makes perfect sense.

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