TV Episode Review: “Orphan Black” “Ipsa Scienta Potestas Et” (02.05, 2014)

Orphan Black is a rather ludicrous show. It’s about clones, for crying out loud. The clones were created by a shadowy, insanely powerful multinational corporation called the Dyad that is now hunting them. They are also being hunted by a shadowy group of religious nuts called the Proletheans. Within the Dyad, there is a never-ending power struggle between the head scientist and another executive–who happens to be yet another clone. Within the Proletheans, there is a power struggle between those who consider the clones abominations and those who consider them miraculous. Everyone around the clones (except for Felix, apparently) is part of the conspiracy to watch and keep track of them.

So, the show is often treading a fine line where it may pass over from ludicrousness into ridiculousness. And often, the only thing that keeps it from careening over that edge is the power of Tatiana Maslany’s performances to make the clones into such real people that there is something relatable at the center of the show no matter how far out it goes.

In “Ipsa Scienta Potestas Et,” we can see those cracks more than we usually do–the Proletheans have always been nuts, but literally sewing Gracie’s mouth shut as punishment for doing something (They don’t know what, really.) that ended up allowing Helena to escape is at best bordering on ridiculous. (Or were they punishing her for not being willing to tell them what she did? Sewing her mouth shut for that seems like a completely backwards punishment, doesn’t it?) And then the creepy Mark, whom Henrik treats as a son and who was so obsessed with Helena, suddenly has some sort of romantic interest in Gracie. Perhaps he’s actually just turned on by having women who are being held prisoner, but I doubt that’s where it’s headed–I think it’s more likely that it was just supposed to be a surprising bit of weirdness from an already-weird character.

Then, to top all that off, Gracie’s mother threatens her by saying that if they cannot retrieve Helena, “You will carry the child yourself.” So, apparently they were using Helena as just a surrogate–using an already-fertilized egg of whatever parentage they are wanting to produce. Which raises another question: Why do they want Helena for this duty? I really don’t know what the answer is or even have a guess beyond, “She was there and could work.”

However, for all that the Proletheans are seemingly vaulting over the cliff into ridiculous territory, the often-borderline Helena has become more believably human than ever before. Her mixture of psychopathy and childishness has always been strange, creepy, and understandable, but I don’t know that it’s ever been as effective and believable as it is when Sarah is talking her down from killing Helena. She has a child’s loyalty to her family, even to the point that she accepts what Sarah says about Felix, calling him “brother-sestra.” She’s willing to kill Sarah because she represents a problem and she knows only one way to fix problems–kill them. She’s willing to kill Paul because she knows that Sarah has been “involved” with him in the past and doesn’t understand that is was a brief, unimportant, sexually-based relationship and so she can only see Paul’s entering into another such relationship as “unfaithful.”

Helena explains to Art, “When I was seven, the nun said I had devils inside me. They locked me in the cellar. She gave me darkness. So, I give her darkness.” Art, ever the cop, pays no attention to the pain behind Helena’s psychopathy, and instead only listens when she starts giving him bits of possibly useful information. Even when she asks, “How does this help my sestra?” and gestures at the handcuffs, he doesn’t even bother to answer, let alone to acknowledge that Helena may not be as evil as he thinks, since she does care about helping Sarah.

I’ve been saying that Felix had to be taken out of the equation somehow, because a friend like that just doesn’t stay around in a paranoid thriller, and here he finally got taken away, albeit temporarily, with the Dyad setting him up to be found guilty of a murder. One has to wonder how long he will still be around.

The big news this week was finding out that the original genome that created the clones was destroyed in the lab explosion. As a result, the Dyad lost the genetic sequences that made the clones able to survive, resulting in the illness issues that have plagued them ever since. The Project LEDA picture that Sarah has been holding onto has always seemed like it wasn’t as important as Sarah thought, but now it suddenly does matter more, since these people would be the only link to that genome.

Overall, this episode worked really well whenever we weren’t with the Proletheans, but they seemed a bit over-the-top at this point.

Notes

  • “There’s no reason we shouldn’t have awesome socks.” I’m totally with Cal on this. Awesome socks are one of the great luxuries in life.
  • “Why can’t Scott come and work with us on the really sensitive shit?” “Because we would have to kill his family.” That may be Delphine’s best moment on the show to date.
  • I think I’ve heard the Shitgoblins play before. I think I have a friend who played guitar with them.
  • Please tell me I’m not the only one who immediately responded to the presence of the sardines by saying, “Well, Art is an idiot. She will get out of the cuffs with those.”
  • Credit to Art, he is every bit as patient with Helena as he is claiming to be.
  • Credit away from Art, “I’m going to make me a grilled cheese sandwich.” Bad grammar and grilled cheese–two black stereotypes in one sentence, just in case you hadn’t noticed that he’s black.
  • Why must gay men in TV/movies always have horrible taste in music? Tears for Fears had its good moments (“Shout”), but “Head over Heels” was not one of them.
  • I can’t be the only one who thought the cop should be even more suspicious of Cal when Kira appeared with a gas mask, can I? We Breaking Bad fans know what someone in an RV wearing a gas mask in the middle of nowhere is going to look like to police . . .
  • The TV-Watching Polar Bears have an excellent take on this episode this week again as well, so give that a look.
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Movie Review: “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (Anthony Russo/Joe Russo, USA 2014)

Sometimes, it’s good to watch films like this one so that you remember to appreciate those that try, even if they fail. The Monuments Men (George Clooney, USA/Germany 2014) was awful, but at least it was actually trying to be a real movie. As lame as it may have been and as low as its sights may have been, Oculus (Mike Flanagan, USA 2014) at least had sights on being a good genre film. Divergent (Neil Burger, USA 2014) may have been mostly an homage to hot teenagers, but . . . okay so that one wasn’t really trying either.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is not a film. It doesn’t have a point or really even a plot. It has a character (though only one) that it’s using to sell the future films Avengers: Age of Ultron, Captain America 3 (title apparently not yet revealed), and Iron Man 73 (title estimated by me). It’s just using the star appeal of its title character to draw people in to tell them, “Hey, we’re going to do some cool stuff in those other movies!” (And I’m betting they don’t deliver on that promise.)

First, just to get it out of the way, I will note the one really good thing about this film: It’s not a cartoon. Big budget action movies like this are usually so overloaded with CGI that they are indistinguishable from Pixar’s work, but this one keeps the CGI under control much more than most. It’s certainly not CGI-less and frankly there is still more of it than there should be, but the Russos deserve some credit for trying to keep things practical. As a result, the actual picture quality of the film is exquisite–they have the money to make everything look good and don’t waste it on CGI, so it actually looks amazing (and yes it looks much better than any similar films that are coming out). Otherwise, the Russos and cinematographer Trent Opaloch don’t do much to make the film stand out visually, showing no command of color, lighting, or other elements or any ability to think outside the conventional box, but I would forgive that for the increased practicality, really.

The plot is a convoluted mess that makes it nearly impossible for the film to make a point. It falls into a typical trap for longer, bigger-budget films–it tries to make half a dozen points at once and so doesn’t make any of them. It tries to make the point that you have to trust some people in order to have their strength behind you when you need it (which is already a rather convoluted and specific point), the point that your past is never gone, the point that selflessness is always preferable to selfishness, and of course the point that freedom and security are often diametrically opposed forces. The S.H.I.E.L.D./Hydra storyline is about freedom and security. The interaction between Fury and Captain America is about trust. The Winter Soldier subplot is about the ability to escape the past. And so, the film ends up not making a single one of these points but rather using them as themes. Themes like that are fine for longer works, but not for films–films don’t have the time to use themes–they have to make points.

The political overtones of the film are probably what the filmmakers would say that want us to pay attention to, and casting Three Days of the Condor (Sydney Pollack, USA 1975) star Robert Redford is a signal that they were considering the types of political thrillers that have often been his stock and trade, perhaps even specifically paranoid thrillers. However, they dilute it so much with the other plot elements that it’s impossible to give them any credit for that oversimplified political point. And along the way, they keep mentioning other Marvel superheroes who are in currently-active film series like Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, shoehorning them into the dialogue for no reason other than to make some people in the audience think, “Man, I can’t wait for the next Iron Man movie.” How can you really be trying to make a point when you’re doing that once every three scenes? That’s what makes this film a commercial rather than a real film.

Acting-wise, this film generally gets by though it requires little of its actors. Chris Evans deserves special credit, because he really gives a depth of feeling to his character that the script frankly never gives him. There is a sense of weight and loss to his face in a number of scenes that we would not get were it not for his performance, and he deserves credit for not just doing that but doing it with real depth and subtlety. Scarlett Johansson, Robert Redford, and Samuel L. Jackson (Whose name in real life should probably be Nick Fury, right?), the film’s official Overqualified Real Actors, are an oddly mixed bag. Jackson is surprisingly restrained in a role that could have easily been campy to the extreme in his hands. Johansson, for someone as smart and confident as she professes to be, spends an awful lot of the film cocking her head like a confused dog and looking around in wonder, though the oddness of her physicality actually makes her character seem more interesting than she otherwise is. Redford, meanwhile, is an absolute mess–he’s wooden and emotionless, like a man going through the motions repeating lines he does not want. Nobody else really stands out, though I did enjoy briefly seeing/hearing the Dream Lord. (And yes, that’s who he is to me. He may have been Dobby first, but that’s one of the best Doctor Who episodes ever.)

A word should go to Henry Jackman’s score. It may have been a little overly conventional at points, but overall it heightened the dramatics exactly as it should have throughout. It deserved a better film. And if Alan Silvestri’s theme from the first film that appears in the credits is any indication, it is a vast improvement over that earlier film.

Overall, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is not just a commercial for other films, but a pretty poor one. It’s too busy selling things to make its point, and so it completely falls apart in spite of an excellent score and lead performance.

Notes

  • In the first fight, TWS seems to be at least equal in strength to CA. In the second, CA is suddenly much stronger (though also ridiculously stupid, since he leaves the gun sitting right next to TWS). At least have some consistency in your stupid rules, guys.
  • “The first rule of being on the run: walk, don’t run.” No, the first rule is don’t spend the whole time with really sexy girls with bright hair–they draw attention. Raise your hand if you think you would be in a mall anywhere and not notice Scarlett Johansson. I bet we’ve got a crowd of full pockets.
  • Yeah, Macs, bitches!
  • If you’re being inconspicuous, shouldn’t you ditch the shield? But he has it when they get to the New Jersey base.
  • “Air conditioning is fully operational.” Nick Fury’s car has a sense of humor, right? It’s not really answering him, right? It’s much funnier if the car has a sense of humor.
  • I’m sorry but a shield is a stupid weapon. It was in 1941. It hasn’t gotten better.
  • It seems pretty obvious that Bucky basically got an evil version of the treatment that made Steve into Captain America. Steve really got screwed on coolness, though–Bucky gets a cool robotic arm; he gets a stupid shield.
  • I didn’t watch the first film. Is there a 10% of the brain myth mention in it? I have a bad feeling that there is. (As I recall, Captain America is supposed to be supremely intelligent as well, not just an essentially perfect physical specimen. Wikipedia seems to agree with my memory.)

Thoughts on the Previews: May 16, 2014

A very negative review of the two-and-a-half-hour commercial for Avengers: Age of Ultron that goes by the title Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Anthony Russo/Joe Russo, USA 2014) will be coming later on. The previews were mostly ones I had seen before, but I’ll try doing this again anyway.

X-Men: Days of Future Past (Bryan Singer, USA/UK 2014)

  • I’ve seen this trailer every time I have gone and I haven’t really had anything to say about it, but it is actually an impressive trailer. I’m still not going to watch it, but, hey, whoever made the trailer deserves credit.
  • I still remember when Bryan Singer was a real director.

Blended (Frank Coraci, USA 2014)

  • The only funny thing in this trailer is someone trying to claim that Drew Barrymore is “hot.”
  • I’m not at all surprised that there is nothing intentionally funny in this trailer.
  • Did they try to get every single relationship comedy cliche possible into one movie?

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Jonathan Liebesman, USA 2014)

  • Nickelodeon Movies? Uh-oh.
  • From producer Michael Bay? Even worse.
  • Are they really trying to make a TMNT movie and be serious? Do they not know that the turtles were invented as a spoof??!!!
  • I have never once seen Megan Fox in a movie. I still won’t.

Guardians of the Galaxy (James Gunn, USA 2014)

  • I still enjoy this trailer.
  • Chris Pratt is just magnetic, seriously. It’s just an unfair advantage to be that charismatic.
  • I paid specific attention: There is no evidence of the event involving Karen Gillan that shall not be mentioned on this blog in this trailer.