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.
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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” “Things Which Have Never Yet Been Done” (02.09, 2014)

Bad things happen to the people caught in the crossfire of the clones’ battles with Dyad and the Proletheans. This episode was really the first time we had much of an opportunity to see the effect of the experiments on those other characters, other than Felix–specifically, Gracie, Donnie, and Delphine.

Gracie

Gracie has been caught in an odd situation–she grew up in a bizarre religious cult, watching as her crazy father won a power struggle with a Luddite faction to take control of the cult. He apparently made every woman in the cult have children via artificial insemination with himself as the father. He brought in an unpredictable, violent woman whom he saw as a “miracle” who defied science and set about making her his special project, and the project of the entire cult.

Gracie saw Helena as a rival and an abomination. She saw her as her father’s new favorite and–being a clone–something against her god’s rule. Perhaps fearing that her father had lost his way or simply feeling something like sibling rivalry, she hated Helena and worked to rid herself of Helena’s presence. And then, when she turned against Helena, her father reacted with the same violent control fetish that had consumed him elsewhere. Maybe Gracie thought she was immune before, but after Helena’s arrival, she definitely knew that she could be her father’s victim.

But then, when Helena returned, Gracie was still forced into part of the Helena program, impregnated with Helena’s eggs that had been fertilized by her father. Helena was blissfully unaware of what was happening and the only weapon Gracie still had against her father, and so they suddenly became allies.

Gracie has been an interesting character and well-played by Zoe de Grand Maison. She’s been caught between her fear of her father and her disapproval of what he’s done and caught between fear of Helena and recognition that she is a fellow victim. This episode brought her into sharp relief, and it was a welcome development.

Donnie

Donnie was always a bumbler. At first, he seemed to be a clumsy monitor. Then, it turned out that he was a clueless dupe.

However, now that he has accidentally killed Dr. Leekie, he has found a reserve of toughness and confidence that was never there before. And in the process he has discovered a wife where he may never have known that he had one. He turns away Vic and Angela surprisingly effectively (albeit with an assist from Alison on the former) and finds that Alison, for perhaps the first time ever, is actually attracted to him as a result.

Alison’s life was always mostly facade–it was a middle class suburbia cliche taken to an extreme with absolutely no sign of any personality. Donnie was a big part of that–fat, lazy, unhappy, but too dull-witted and lazy to do anything about it. His emergence as a more colorful and interesting husband (and even someone who was capable of not bumbling something has opened her up to herself.

Delphine

Delphine has always been caught between being a scientist interested in a complex genetic project and her feelings about Cosima–she has repeatedly been forced to serve one at the expense of the other, only to wind up feeling guilty about her choices ever after. I think it would be fair to say that she has tended toward allowing her feelings for Cosima to dominate. Now, though, she is placed in Leekie’s old position only to find herself an unwitting pawn to Rachel’s plans for Kira.

From Sarah’s perspective, Delphine now looks like a Dyad agent who helped perpetuate a terrible plan to steal her daughter. From Cosima’s, she looks like either a fool who fell for Rachel’s plan to use her to get Kira or a liar covering up the fact that she is actually a heartless Dyad agent, and it cannot be easy to tell which is the truth.

Meanwhile, Delphine has attempted to do what would be best not just for Cosima but for all the Dyad-opposed clones, only to have it reduce her trustworthiness in their eyes and help Rachel and Dyad in their quest for Kira. She is now where Donnie was when he first found out about the clones.

Overall, I think this was a stronger episode than the last couple have been. The stories have gotten more compelling and the action has moved forward better. I am not sure that Mark’s character development has made sense, but otherwise the storytelling has remained organic and it has worked.

Notes

  • “Lord and butter, Donnie!” Is that what she said? Did I mishear that? Because that’s weird.
  • Does Donnie actually know that there are 11 clones or was that bluffing Vic?
  • When Delphine first saw the computer, I thought, “Oh, come on, Rachel is far too careful to leave that where Delphine could see it.” I’m glad it turns out that it was Delphine who didn’t understand that, not the writers.
  • I was surprised by Mark–he seemed to be more sold on the plan than he was on Gracie. Honestly, his turning seems rather odd.
  • “I am not afraid of you.”
    “Neither am I.”
    One of you is lying. It’s not Helena. Does anything ever scare Helena? I’m not sure I would want to know about anything that could.
  • “Helena is a miracle, Mark. She defies the laws of science. It is a sign that I cannot ignore!” A sign that you need to be the father of all of these children from all of these women? I don’t think I follow that one. He’s certainly not the first religious leader to say something similar, though.
  • Helena’s looking back at the burning Prolethean home seemed rather out of character. Even the look on her face just didn’t seem like Helena–it looked like Sarah. It’s a small enough moment that it doesn’t matter much, but it was the first moment in this show’s history that Maslany seemed like a different clone than she was playing at the moment.
  • Donnie and Alison provided the comic relief in this episode, so Felix was pushed away from his usual comic moments.
  • Typical Maslany amazingness: That was clearly Rachel dressed as Sarah, and repeating the same establishing shot with Sarah herself immediately thereafter made it even clearer. She moves very differently and the inflections of her voice are completely different.
  • Our friend Polar Bears Watch TV has an excellent review this week, so check that out. Somehow, I forgot to talk about Rachel’s breakdown, but I will echo his sentiments. It was another great moment for Maslany. I get almost bored of saying that.