TV Episode Revew: “Orphan Black” “Knowledge of Causes, and Secret Motion of Things” (02.07, 2014)

Tatiana Maslany is 28 years old (born about five months after me). Her film/television acting career began before she even graduated from high school, when she worked on the series 2030 C.E., appearing in six episodes. Before Orphan Black debuted, I saw her in the excellent and far-too-little-seen Diary of the Dead (George Romero, USA 2007) and heard her in Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg, USA/UK/Canada 2007). She’s certainly not elderly now, but sometimes I’m still struck with the thought, “Did we actually not notice the best actor in the world all that time? Did I watch the best actor alive commit suicide after being overcome with guilt for killing zombies and just not even notice her?”

Watch the way she plays Sarah impersonating Alison. Clearly, since Maslany actually plays Alison, she can just become Alison. Not only does she not do that, but she plays an insulting, weak impersonation of Alison that reveals how little Sarah thinks of her. Sarah’s feelings about Alison’s arrogance and vapidity come through loud and clear as she affects Alison’s higher speaking voice and stick-literally-up-her-rear posture. When Sarah pretended Cosima, she didn’t really bother to impersonate her but just dressed up as her, and Maslany’s abilities were evident in just how clearly it was not Cosima. However, it’s even more complex what she does here, and the amount that Sarah’s “performance” reveals about her relationship with and opinion of Alison is a clear testament to her abilities.

When Breaking Bad was still airing, I felt like Bryan Cranston’s performance as Walter White was essentially unsurpassable. Even prime Al Pacino playing Sonny Wortzik in Dog Day Afternoon (Sidney Lumet, USA 1975) didn’t have the depth and detail that Cranston had (The much higher number of hours Cranston had to play the character is obviously part of the reason for that, however.), which is as high praise as I can give to an acting performance. Tatiana Maslany in Orphan Black is even better. Yeah, sometimes it’s a bit overly showy, having her playing so many parts and doing the clone-bending a few times, but that’s like criticizing Jimi Hendrix for spending too long soloing: when you’ve got a talent like that, use it.

As a show, Orphan Black has gotten a bit stale and repetitive, and Donnie’s arrival next to Leekie is a fantastic example. The car following Leekie is first shown heavy-handedly, making sure that we know that someone is tailing him. Then, it creepily drives up slowly and stops. Leekie looks and sees who it is, but they hide the person’s identity from us. It’s a fairly drawn-out sequence meant to ratchet up the tension, and there is a point to that type of tension, but we know the entire sequence is coming as soon as we see the car initially, which reduces the tension. We’ve seen this show reveal “surprises” in a similar fashion so often that we are habituated to the techniques. Paradoxically, the reveal that Donnie is the one who has come after Leekie is unsurprising because of those very techniques. Now, his accidental shooting of Leekie was a legitimate surprise (and pretty funny), which suggests that this show may still have some tricks up its sleeve, but this is a few episodes in a row where the show rather lacked the momentum it once had.

That said, we got a conclusion to the Rachel v. Leekie battle, with Rachel the unsurprising victor, and we discovered that Donnie was even more hapless and foolish than we had realized. Yeah, he’s Alison’s monitor, but he really doesn’t know what’s going on or what he’s doing. And only when Alison tells him, “You’ve ruined our marriage. And you’re too stupid to know what for!” does it seem to don on him that his monitoring has not only irrevocably damaged a relationship with Alison that he does really seem to want but has damaged Alison, turning her into the rehabbing drunk he knows.

Meanwhile, Cosima continues to play reminder that the clones have some sort of illness in order to give the show some urgency that it otherwise lacks. She is stuck in a horrible situation, discovering that Kira’s DNA is what has led to the most promising treatment she has yet received, but her illness is serious enough to push her forward no matter what. Cosima is likely to be more prominent and important to the show’s future, but right now she’s only a notch above filler.

Overall, Orphan Black is on a downhill trend, but there is oddly more getting resolved and brought up than it feels like. She show’s breakneck pace is one of its strengths, but it’s also something of a weakness, because it makes the revelations feel less important when they keep occurring. Maybe the show needs to slow down a bit, but it certainly has a ways to go before it becomes bad, so maybe they shouldn’t be trying to improve things.

Notes

  • “I can see where she gets it.” The connection between Sarah and Mrs. S is spelled out again.
  • Kids who pull out their own loose teeth are creepy.
  • I love that Felix comes up with a stupid plan that shouldn’t work but it may accidentally work better he could have imagined–Vic may now be seen as off the wagon, which would do plenty.
  • Be sure to check out the Polar Bears review this week as well.
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4 thoughts on “TV Episode Revew: “Orphan Black” “Knowledge of Causes, and Secret Motion of Things” (02.07, 2014)

  1. Good review. Maslany is ridiculously good and alone makes the show worth watching.

    I’m thinking she could impersonate Leekie and nobody would know he was dead for at least a few years. #GreatScottIveCreatedLifeItself

  2. A well-written review, good job.

    Though I’d agree the use of the same cinematic techniques gets a bit predictable, I’d argue that the plot developments in this episode still kept a good deal of momentum flowing. Dr. Leekie went from powerful DYAD director (well, as far as Rachel would allow) to fearing for his life and going on the run in the course of a single scene. His death was similarly a huge moment, although it seemed fairly inevitable after the big reveal – in my mind the question was always how he was going to die, rather than if at all.

    I also really liked how Donnie was revealed to be an unwitting pawn, and the kind of role reversal with Alison in that he now feels guilty and ashamed, which to me made a welcome change in their story arc. Donnie’s has always been belittling to her in their relationship, whilst being annoyingly ignorant himself, but this all changed in this episode which, for me, added to the momentum slightly.

    Whilst the other story arcs didn’t do as much for plot development, they still made for great TV, especially Rachel’s reconciliation with Ethan and the whole rehab scene with Vic, as you point out. It was also pleasing to see Cosima’s arc gather pace, which seemed to be slowing over the past few episodes.

    Overall, though, I’d mostly agree with you. The pacing of the show IS slowing, but the show’s often so good I don’t really notice it. At least, not enough to consider it going significantly downhill.

    • Thanks for visiting and commenting!

      I was a little more down on this episode in the moment than I am after a little time. I am much more down on the following episode.

      I agree that I liked the reveal of Donnie as an unwitting pawn, which I probably should have mentioned. It also made much more sense of how inept he has always been as a monitor.

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