TV Episode Review: “Orphan Black” “Variable and Full of Perturbation” (05.08, 2014)

Tony, the Superfluous Clone

One big piece of news this week: we have another clone, and this one is a transgendered male (To use the show’s phrasing. I am not entirely sure that it’s correct and I apologize if it is not.).

Why did we need another clone? Especially one who is so much like Sarah–so much like her that Felix even comments about it repeatedly? He did give us some information about Paul, information that one presumes is going to be important in the near future, but it seems there are numerous possible sources for that information within the tangled web of characters this show had already introduced. Did we really just have a new character introduced just so we could see Tatiana Maslany don a beard and affect a more-masculine-sounding voice to show she could, to use a phrase I rather dislike, “gender-bend” without as much help as other actors get?

I do not understand the introduction of this character and I hope there is a longer-term plan in the works that will make him more interesting, because right now he just feels like a character who is there just to enhance perception of Maslany’s range, as if she needs it or playing the same character as her lead but with a beard is really different.

Cosima

For much of this season, Cosima has been sort of on the bench, her illness providing the show with what urgency it needs to keep moving forward while she has rather little presence, ceding her time to Helena, Kira’s avenging angel.

However, in the last couple of episodes–and especially this one–she has taken center stage as her illness progresses and everything falls apart around her at the Dyad Institute. She finally tells Scott that the clone he has been studying and so wanted to see is actually her and finally gets to meet the geneticist who started the entire project only to collapse in a seizure just as soon as he arrives. The power struggle at Dyad is over, but Rachel won, which is probably worse for Cosima, as Delphine explains, “Leekie was the lesser of two evils.”

I have had some issues with Evelyne Brochu’s performance in the past, but she has been much better in the last few episodes. Perhaps the issues I was having were the result of her trying to play a character who was conflicted rather than her performance being odd, but I think her scenes with Cosima were well-played, even if they were a bit facile.

Alison

For the first time in years, Alison and Donnie have a bond to share–they’ve both at least sort of killed someone. Alison really just didn’t save Aynsley and Donnie didn’t mean to attack Leekie, but it’s something. And the reaction Kristian Bruun had to her confession was perfect: it was relief, but a completely selfish relief. He didn’t care that she unburdened herself or had done something wrong, he was just happy to feel off the hook.

Sarah, etc.

Ethan Duncan is not the borderline-insane fool he appeared to be earlier. He gives Kira the real guide to what’s going on, hidden inside his copy of The Island of Doctor Moreau. He has a self-possession and self-control in his meeting with Rachel that he seemed to lack earlier. This character has gotten a little more interesting, which is something this show needs right now.

I don’t know if it’s something we’re supposed to think or not, but I wonder about the truthfulness of his claim to Rachel that the clones were intended to be unable to reproduce. With the newfound confidence and strength in this character, I wonder if he actually lied to Rachel. However, I also don’t know what the purpose of such a lie would have been, unless it was simply to keep her from asking him to fix it (in which case it was stupid–she’s going to order him to fix it whether it was by design or not).

Overall Impressions

On the bright side, a couple of actors who had weak moments in the past stood out in this episode, which may bode well for the future of a series that has often had perhaps the greatest television performance of all time surrounded by a supporting cast that just doesn’t belong on the same stage.

However, this episode was not very strong, and continues a downhill trend of this season of the show. Maslany is so good that she often carries the show on her back by sheer force of her performance, and Jordan Gavaris has proven to be a more than capable secondary player as well, but the show is going to have to pull a rabbit out of its hat in the last couple of episodes to make this season live up to the expectations it set with the first couple.

Still, the references to “pawns” suggest to me that Fawcett & co. are telling us to sit tight while they get the pieces in place for the endgame of the season. I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt for now, but they’ve put themselves in a rather dangerous position.

Notes

  • For anybody who wondered why Cosima is my favorite clone: Just a couple of days after I spent half of a movie review talking about alignment in older Dungeons and Dragons systems, she jumps into some sort of RPG/card/board game that other gamer dorks are playing by correcting a misinterpretation of the rules and then saying, “I’m not sure you guys are ready for that.”
  • I hope I’m not the only one who was wishing that they were playing The Cones of Dunshire. If I am, I think I feel bad about it.
  • The Island of Doctor Moreau. Ha!
  • I have a habit of saying, “Thank you” in several languages–I suppose it’s probably some subconscious attempt to prove that I’m much more educated than my occupation would suggest. Once at work, someone once responded to me doing that by asking, “How many languages do you speak?” I said, “Seulement entre toi et moi, one.” After she laughed, I said, “All the French I know is that and, ‘je t’aime.'” So I was rather excited to be able to translate Delphine before Cosima did it for us. Honestly, I was a little annoyed that she heavy-handedly translated by reciprocating.
  • Sarah is concerned about Ethan reading Doctor Moreau to Kira but doesn’t notice that he also tells her, “I’m nobody’s pawn,” a reference that would undoubtedly make no sense to the child. I have a feeling he would not have made a great father to Rachel if that’s how well he understands children.
  • Based on his paintings, Felix thinks Cosima is the sexy one, too.
  • Alison makes good comic relief.
  • Our friend the Polar Bear was not too happy with this week’s episode, either.
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4 thoughts on “TV Episode Review: “Orphan Black” “Variable and Full of Perturbation” (05.08, 2014)

  1. Pingback: Orphan Black “Variable and Full of Perturbation” Review (2×08) | Polar Bears Watch TV

  2. Some thoughts before we get to the newest episode, which I will watch tonight:

    Agreed that the introduction of Tony felt off. I think there is some social value in having a transgendered character who is somewhat assimilated into the world (i.e., not being cast as a sideshow freak), but it was also not done particularly well. The makeup was really bad, and yeah, I’m not sure if there was much of a point of the character to the plot other than…

    One of the good points raised by Caroline Framke after episode three was this:

    Helena’s story is devastating, especially because if it feels so realistic. Women have always, always been reduced to their reproductive value, or more simply, to their bodies. Yes, leaps and bounds have been made in past years, but the default consideration of a woman’s worth is to consider her body. Is it good? Can it be useful, or at least controlled? If so, congratulations, woman—you’re worth something! For these reasons, there’s no doubt in my mind that if human cloning were to become a reality, it would start with a woman.

    http://www.avclub.com/tvclub/orphan-black-mingling-its-own-nature-it-204172

    At least for me, the Tony character brings that to life. We know that Ethan has some “I want to have a little girl daughter” thing going on, which adds a little bit to the creepiness. If we ever got to the point where step 1 was cloning humans, I can’t imagine that “cloning women for sex” would be much later than step 2. Tony seems to represent what went wrong with that plan, which kind of brings the whole point in to focus: Tony was the error, because the goal was to design pretty women that could be controlled.

    That point of “cloning women for sex” was further reinforced when Ethan acknowledged that the women were not meant to reproduce. Once again, in a twisted world, it seems like that would be goal #1. We’ve created sex objects who don’t get pregnant! Eureka!

    The Cosima storyline sucks. But I think that’s just because Cosima’s the hot one. I understand it’s utility as a plot device.

    Agreed that the episode was not very good. TM is still great, and Felix and Mrs. S are strong actors.

    I am hopeful that things will finish up tightly, just because there must be some grand plan. Right now, the stories seem so disconnected – the proletheans, helena, art, the female cop, the dyad, rachel, cal — presumably there was a plan in place, and it will all be revealed at the end of the season?

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