TV Episodes Review: “Orphan Black” “The Weight of this Combination” (3.01, 2015), “Transitory Sacrifices of Crisis” (3.02, 2015), and “Formalized, Complex, and Costly” (03.03, 2015)

I don’t have some grand unifying theory of Orphan Black at this point. I wasn’t terribly happy with the first two episodes, but I felt the third was an improvement. I’m separating my comments by storyline groups, because the truth is this show feels very fractured right now. Obviously, there has been some overlap with the main storyline, but the clones seem almost like distanced relatives at this point.

Alison/Donnie

Oddly enough, the crazed, manic, half-sensical, “soccer mom”* weirdness of Alison Hendrix that has often served as this show’s comic relief has shot out of the gate as the most interesting aspect of the show. Donnie gets fired and then Alison decides to buy her drug dealer’s business as he leaves for college in order to replace Donnie’s lost income and provide a voter base for her to run for the school board. It’s a humorously crazy plan from a narcissistic, shallow drug addict who likes to wrap herself in the flag of her children.

*This is a phrase I’ve never understood. Why isn’t it just “suburban mom” or “upper middle class suburban mom?” That’s what it means. What does soccer have to do with that? Does it just seem weird to me because nobody played soccer where I grew up?

And she and Donnie of course begin the plan with a great mix of intelligence and pure stupidity. Selling the drugs under the guise of selling home-made soap is a good plan: soap is easy enough to produce and something this client base can justify bringing home. However, they leave the garage door unlocked and don’t consider the possibility of the kids telling someone where they are, so that the school board opponent just waltzes in.

The comic relief storyline is at least going somewhere and it has been repeatedly entertaining, which is more than we can say for some.

Cosima

Cosima is now going through a sort of existential crisis, asking questions like what happened to the male clone’s soul when he died. This crisis is a ridiculous cliche that smacks of having no atheists around to tell them what’s wrong with it.

People become interested in science via curiosity. I found NASA and spaceflight fascinating because I was interested in aliens. I learned about the limits of the human mind’s ability to reason through reading about conspiracy theories. And that’s not just me, that’s how scientific-minded people often end up in that area. The same happens with religious questions. I was interested in the mind-body problem so I thought about it, read about it, etc. and by the end of high school I was convinced that there is no mind (or “soul”). It would take evidence suggesting a distinction between the two to make me question that, not just an emotional experience.

Cosima is having the existential crisis now that she should have had ten years before, and that makes it seem extraordinarily silly.

Delphine/Dyad

Dyad apparently just has a never-ending bureaucracy that never has any clue what’s going on a step below it. And Delphine really hates Rachel. That’s really all there is here.

Well, and Rachel is actually still scary. That stare she gave the doctor when he was testing her visual recognition was the same terrifying stare that she gave before being attacked, and I think that means she’s not out of this game.

Castor

All of these clones seem like the same guy. Ari Millen plays them all pretty close to the same. However, that does make sense given their background–they were all raised and trained together, by the same people with the same rules. Unlike the female clones, these are clones who are put in such a position that they are likely to end up being very similar people.

The downside is that it makes them less interesting. Yeah, it makes sense that they are so alike, but just having ten of the same character running around is just dull.

They’re really after something that the LEDA clones should be after as well, so there’s also no real sense to the antagonism, even before the discovery that they are siblings. It seems pretty clear that at some point, all the clones are going to be working together to get the original data that the military and Dyad have hidden away.

Helena doesn’t seem to be terribly affected by what CASTOR has done to her so far, still acting like the same crazed borderline psychopath she’s always been, even though she’s held where she cannot act as she would like. One interesting aspect of her that was sort of suggested with the military attempted to test her, though: how would you know if she started to show the same cognitive deterioration that Seth showed? She’s so uncooperative and out-of-control normally that it would be essentially impossible. Also, I do like that she sees through the lie about Sarah having given her up.

Sarah/Felix/Mrs. S/Art/about 700 others

One thing that’s interesting to note is that Felix has really drifted away from being the comic relief he was early in the series. While Alison also always provided comic relief, Felix’s unique way with words and often-surprising reactions always also made for great comedy. Jordan Gavaris’s easy naturalism in the role always also made Felix an appealing character. While Felix is still appealing, he’s become far less funny and far more helpful. He’s been forced to take on much of what used to be Mrs. S’s role, and as is Felix’s wont, he’s doing it with aplomb.

Meanwhile, Art and Sarah are trying to figure out what the CASTOR clones are up to, with Sarah hoping to find some way to retrieve Helena. Sarah finds Mark just a bit too late, stumbling across him just in time to see him killed but not in time to find out what he’s found.

Mrs. S’s emotional shutdown is proving to be a minor hindrance, but Sarah keeps finding ways around it or getting just enough from her to continue forward, which makes it all the more emotionally powerful: she cannot even force her way into helping Felix, Sarah, et al. She’s alone and there really isn’t anything she can do.

Notes

  • Did Donnie say “saltwater pool?” I’ve never heard of a saltwater pool and the existence of one seems very weird.
  • I still laugh and think, “It’s Mr. Big Dick!” the first time we see Paul in any episode.
  • Chekhov’s cough from Cosima. Chekhov’s footlocker in Gracie’s hotel room.
  • Why did Mark not even bother to read what was in the footlocker? He really didn’t even consider the possibility of there being a clue somewhere in that paper? I have a feeling someone whose name may rhyme with Quarah might decide to read those later and find something.

TV Episode Review: “Orphan Black” “By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried” (02.10, 2014))

After a messy and increasingly dull middle portion of its second season, Orphan Black finally regained its footing for its penultimate episode and this finale, but it also left us in an odd place for the future.

Dyad and the Proletheans appear to be threats no longer (or at least severely diminished threats–each has lost its leader, apparently, though it seems a little weird to think that Rachel is dead from that.), but instead we’ve got the military and its project CASTOR. While there would be no reason to care about this parallel project initially, we are then shown that Mrs. S and Paul apparently gave them Helena in order to get Marian Bowles on their side to get Sarah, Cosima, and Kira out. Cosima is extremely sick, but she also has the key for Duncan’s synthetic sequences, in The Island of Dr. Moreau.

The episode begins with an interesting non-chronological sequence (something this show rarely does) showing Sarah fighting with Mrs. S and eventually admitting that she knows Mrs. S always has Kira’s best interests at heart while Felix falls apart with guilt in the foreground and then Sarah’s eventual surrender to Dyad. He didn’t have time to realize it wasn’t Sarah, so his guilt is clearly misplaced, but he of course cannot forgive himself for not realizing that it wasn’t Sarah. Jordan Gavaris plays this scene wonderfully, making the typically lighthearted Felix absolutely heartbreaking for a moment.

Meanwhile, Delphine does what she can to help Cosima as she’s being removed from her post, leaving Cosima and Scott trying to get Sarah and Kira out of Dyad from within while Mrs. S and Felix try from without. For all that this series has been a paranoid thriller, we get some real attempted teamwork in this finale, and nobody even needed Helena’s unpredictable violence to bail them out this time.

Ethan Duncan’s suicide was one of the most effective scenes in Orphan Black‘s history, marred only a little by the difficulty I had in believing that Dyad/Rachel would allow him to use his own teabags. Not only was it a powerful moment for Duncan, committing suicide rather than allowing the experiment to continue and apparently also in recognition of what has happened to the woman who was once his daughter, but Rachel’s screaming, “You can’t leave me again!” is a powerful reminder that, for all the coldness in Rachel, she has had a horrible, pain-filled life with no family. She doesn’t remember having loving parents even though she did, perhaps because she needed to bury that memory to hide all the scar tissue that her upbringing in Dyad would have put over it.

Overall, I feel like the second season of Orphan Black was much like the first–it was far from perfect, but it was generally good and sometimes brilliant. And, even in its worst moments, Tatiana Maslany could carry the show. I’m not sure about the future, but two seasons of being good is enough to buy some benefit of the doubt.

Notes

  • It was so obvious what was coming when Kira asked Cosima to read her a story that I actually laughed.
  • I wonder if it was an intentional pun to mention Felix by the first syllable just after Cosima was talking about “The Golden Ratio,” which is also called phi, which is pronounced the same in Greek or in the US even though it is pronounced with a long i sound in much of the world. (It’s also a number often used in pseudoscience and given undeserved significance.)
  • I hope I’m not the only one who didn’t remember that Helena had not met Cosima and/or Alison yet.
  • When I saw US military showing up, I thought, “Hey, Mr. Big Dick!” Felix, the gift that keeps on giving.
  • Until we saw them trading Helena, I just kept thinking of the finale of the brilliant Jekyll, a bit of silly nonsense tacked on to the end of what was otherwise one of my all-time favorite television experiences. (If you haven’t watched Jekyll, watch it now. It’s on Netflix instant. It’s amazing. You will have a better, richer life for it.) And then thinking about it, I realized that there are actually more than passing similarities between that show and this one, which may explain some of why I get frustrated with this show. Jekyll had a very different format that made its focus easier and had an in-his-prime Steven Moffat writing, so it had advantages, but it also did much of what Orphan Black does much better.
  • I’m confused about the Nitrogen. I have no idea what that meant.
  • Does any of Felix’s music actually make sense together? I know I have weirdly eclectic musical tastes (I wrote a football article once where the sections were named for songs on my iPod. The songs were by Oasis, Dido, Amanda Palmer, Elton John, and Alice Cooper. I don’t think a lot of people can turn on their iPod right now and find those artists.), but even I think the range of his music seems a little extreme. However, the idea that he listens to vinyl is so perfectly Felix.
  • Also be sure to check out the Polar Bears Watch TV take–the last one of the season!

TV Episode Review: “Orphan Black” “Governed by Sound Reason and True Religion” (02.02)

Recently, I wrote a rambling little post about the death of the paranoid thriller. Until this week’s episode, I didn’t realize that I had completely forgotten a current example of a paranoid thriller in Orphan Black. I think the show has been headed down the path to being a paranoid thriller since the start, but this episode really clinched it.

The strongest defining aspects of the genre were always the solitariness of the hero and the paranoia that resulted from that solitariness. The hero always had everything she trusted or believed in stripped away, step by step–even when the hero retreated into her past life, friends and family would turn out to be either part or tools of the conspiracy. Three Days of the Condor (Sydney Pollack, USA 1975) killed off Condor’s unit, then isolated him from his home, then used an old friend as bait to lure him into a conspiratorial trap, so that in the end the only person he felt could trust was a total stranger he had found at random and ended up kidnapping. (It should be noted that he actually could trust one other person, but he did not know it.)

As we have watched, the same thing has been happening to Sarah Manning in this series–her support system is slowly being taken away, step by step. The only people she thinks she can trust now are Felix and Cosima, and I don’t think she’s entirely sold on Cosima. Her trust in Mrs. S, to the extent that she ever had it, was already gone as soon as she saw that picture back in season one, and Mrs. S turning against people who had turned on her wasn’t going to fix that. She knew that, and when her “old network” failed she finally understood what Sarah has been up against–quite seriously her against the world.

The big question that brings to mind is: What of Felix, the one trustworthy person Sarah has? Since he and Sarah were outside the Dyad’s influence for their childhood, there is logical reason to believe that he is safe, but paranoid thrillers don’t tend to let the trusted best friend stay trusted–that friend is either turned or eliminated one way or another. I suspect Felix has a bad end coming.

Of course, the big news last week was that Helena was back, and now she’s unsurprisingly getting better, back in the hands of the Proletheans, who seem to be undergoing some internal strife that ends with a hole in the head of the particularly luddite Prolethean who has been watching her for years.

Sarah has always really been our lead character, but this episode was the first time in a while that it really felt like Alison and Cosima were in separate, unrelated plot threads. Cosima is full of sarcastic zingers as she finally gets to her lab with Delphine–I’ve never loved her more–but is thrown for a loop when she finally meets Rachel Duncan and finds out that she is another clone. Alison has finally figured out that her husband is actually her monitor and seemingly gained a new friend in the “plus-sized” Sarah Stubbs, but she has no idea what to do about her newfound knowledge.

The title and the ending sequence highlight one of the show’s themes–the conflict between science and religion. As the paranoid thriller elements close in around Sarah, I suspect that this theme will become more central to the story than the themes of trust and alienation that have dominated early on this season.

Overall, I really liked this episode, particularly the last ten minutes or so. As much as I’ve enjoyed the show, I really feel like this is the first time I’ve had a really good handle on it–the way I felt about Breaking Bad for nearly its entire run.

Also be sure to check out our Polar Bear friend’s review again this week. He is definitely faster getting these up than I am.

Notes

  • I’m pretty sure Cosima’s dress is either awesome or absolutely hideous, but I’m not sure which.
  • That grin about Sarah having stolen Leekie’s pass was great.
  • I had missed Maria Doyle Kennedy. As incredible as Tatiana Maslany is, much of the other acting in this show is rather hit and miss, and she’s a hit.
  • Felix has sometimes careened between cartoon character territory and reality (Even in this episode, that painting scene was just silly.), but I think Jordan Gavaris has really stepped up his game this season.
  • They need to be careful about having Kira on screen much–Skyler Wexler is a typical kid actor, which is not praise.
  • “So, you’re gay?” “My sexuality is not the most interesting thing about me.” Cosima is just awesome.
  • “Aynsley wore a scarf in the kitchen!” I love that he doesn’t even bother to say, “She knew the risks!” and yet the point is so clear.

Update: I’ve added a poll about Cosima’s dress. I am only including the two options, because that’s way funnier than including more nuance for a poll this stupid.