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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TV Episode Review: “Orphan Black” “Nature Under Constraint and Vexed” (02.01, 2014)

Lots of people have played multiple characters in one project (whether film or television). Usually, the hair, makeup, and costuming do most of the work. What makes Tatiana Maslany so amazing is that she isn’t content to leave it to those external factors to separate her characters. When Sarah walks into the Dyad party pretending to be Cosima, it’s obvious that it’s Sarah and not Cosima, even with the hair and costume matching Cosima and even without the slightly heavy-handed trick of having her peek over the glasses that would restrict Sarah’s vision. Her bearing is different. The way she moves her eyes is different. Her stance when she walks is different. Most actors would need the peering over the glasses to tell us that it was Sarah, but with Maslany that little trick was so unnecessary as to be rather annoying.

It’s instructive to compare this series’s narrative structure to that of Breaking Bad. Breaking Bad was the greatest series in history, and what it did best was to build tension. It built tension by standing still–repeatedly leaving us desperate to know the next step in the saga of Heisenberg but making us wait for it. Orphan Black is similarly tense, but it builds its tension in a completely different way–by relentlessly moving forward and doing it on a clear path through the twisting wilderness that it inhabits.

The plot of this series is a complex mass of weirdness. There is a batch of many clones created and owned by a shadowy, bizarre company. Some of the clones have had mental stability issues. Some of them seem to be failing physically. A shadowy religious organization is hunting them.

However, the narrative of the series is rather simple: We follow Sarah Manning, one of the clones, as she discovers all of this information after seeing another clone, Beth, commit suicide by jumping in front of a train. The series doesn’t have the flashbacks and flash-forwards that Breaking Bad had and rarely gives us anything of a sidetrack, instead just following Sarah through every scene. It’s a clever technique that simplifies what could otherwise be a dizzyingly complex story and helps us to keep track of the various identities Maslany is playing, though her performance does that enough on its own.

In this episode, we jump right back into the story where we left it at the end of season one. Sarah, having discovered her daughter missing and the house where she was being kept ransacked, starts searching for anyone who may be able to help as she moves forward, ducking into a dumpy diner only to be accosted by armed men whom she assumes were sent by Rachel. She narrowly escapes them and decides to get a gun and somehow go after Rachel, without a plan about how to accomplish it. Eventually, she succeeds only to discover that Rachel didn’t actually kidnap her daughter–instead, it appears that she was kidnapped by the radical religious group that has been hunting down the clones. Rachel just used her worry as bait to get Sarah there.

It’s a tense, taught episode that clearly and succinctly continues the story while interestingly revealing almost nothing. The entire episode really existed only to tell Sarah that Dyad didn’t have Kira, and yet watching her jump through the hoops to discover that fact was actually the point, and that’s what makes this more action-oriented series so different from Breaking Bad and so compelling in its own way (well, besides Tatiana Maslany).

Notes

  • Am I the only person who was bothered by this? A sexy woman walks into cheap, crappy, deserted diner all wet and bedraggled and this big guy behind the counter doesn’t charge her for her tea, and she’s just totally okay with that and not creeped out at all. That just seemed like a sexual assault waiting to happen. I know Sarah is definitely tough enough not to be scared, but to be as calm and accepting of the free tea as she was seemed a little weird to me.
  • I still can’t decide how I feel about Matt Frewer’s performance as the nefarious Dr. Leekie. That weird over-broad smile and high-pitched voice are so bizarre and unnatural that, while they logically make sense for Leekie, they still just strike me very oddly. Evelyne Brochu is less extreme but similarly confusing to me.
  • Does anyone else think, “Hey, it’s Mr. Big Dick” every time Paul is on screen? And does anyone else find Dylan Bruce so wooden that you wish Paul would just go away somehow?
  • Cosima is still my favorite clone.