Saturday, June 11, 2016

Orphan Black 4.09 - "The Mitigation of Competition"

Look. It’s tacky to gloat.  I know this. But DAMN if I’m not the slightest bit smug about correctly predicting Delphine’s return in the season’s second to last episode.   Lanky bitch lives? Check. Penultimate episode? Check.  Stepping out of the shadows? Check.  Flat-ironed, steely-eyed, and buttoned-up...?  Okay, 0-for-3 on that front.  Girl is rocking soft curls, a wry smile, and some kind of wilderness tank top.  FINE, I can’t be right about everything.


All jokes aside, let’s dissect the few moments we received of notre dame de cheveux, shall we?  One plea I made to the writers last week was related to Cosima and Delphine’s reunion - as Cosima just choppered off to Moreau Island and away from Delphine, I wanted their long-distance reunion to give me shades of Penny and Desmond’s emotional phone call in “The Constant.”  Well, turns out the writers went full LOST in a completely different way, and I am totally okay with that.

I don’t know about you, but I actually feel a pang of nostalgia when someone says something like “IT’S THE ISLAND” as if this little ocean-bound lump of rock and dirt is not only sentient but also a core component of your destiny.  Call me crazy, but I miss that shit.  Enough time has passed to heal my Lost-related frustrations and I JUST WANT TO GO BACK, KATE.  Whatever.  The Island’s got me.

And perhaps, just perhaps, it has Delphine too, in a batshit plot twist that’s so deliriously off-the-wall that I'm beyond excited for it.  Why else would we plant the map with Cosima? Why else would we cut from Rachel’s “Someone’s trying to show me something” to Delphine herself, sitting with a walkie and a notepad, scribbling to the soundtrack of a twee folksy French song?  Why else would she appear to be in some kind of woodland yurt? Every inch of this is bonkers, and I’m loving it.

So the questions are these: what is Delphine doing?  Is she of sound mind?   Is she acting of her own accord, in protection of the clones, or has Neolution got her in their clutches?  Are her messages to Rachel meant as secret information, or are they an SOS?  The wry smile could go either way, depending if you want to read it as a slick “I GOT THIS, NE T’EN FAIS PAS” or a “THIS IS A CREEPY SMILE BECAUSE I AM NOT THE PETITE CHIOT QUE TU TE SOUVIENS.”

Then, finally: to whom does the shoulder hand belong?  We still don’t even know who shot our dear French doctor nine episodes ago, and they’re already springing us with another “Whodunnit?!”   (Although shoulder touches are far less sinister than, well, gunfire.  The dead lesbians of 2016 know this to be true.)  There aren’t many possible characters that could be believably creeping up behind Wilderness Delphine, and honestly there’s only one character that makes any sense - and yet, none at all.

Come with me on this journey, friends: does the hand belong to Dr. Percival Westmoreland himself?  If any cockeyed old scientist could engineer longevity 100 years beyond natural death, it would be a Victorian-era Neolutionist.  This REEKS of immortality bullshit, right?  Racist blowhards totally have the level of entitlement to stick around past their welcome. T hat being said, questions still remain exactly about how and what for, except for the scientific self-congratulatory nature of it all.  At any rate, Cosima’s got his book, and a map, and it would make complete sense that Delphine is with the man himself, on the very same island.

So I don’t even need a Penny-and-Desmond-style phone call, because these bitches are surely on the same land mass, and Orphan Black served up another shade of Lost homage. Morally questionable scientists living on an island?  Pop music reveals set in shadowy outdoor hovels?  An island sending messages?  As Hurley would say: Dude.

The only thing that worries me about Delphine and Cosima’s eventual reunion - aside from that whole coughing-blood situation in the 4.10 preview - is the fact that WILDERNESS stands between them, and the only people at the Island Dream House who could step out and traverse it are a terminally ill woman who has literally spent all season indoors, a terminally ill child with a deformed leg, and a wispy on-in-years British scientist.  WHERE ARE THE OUTDOORSY CLONES WHEN WE NEED THEM.

Actually, the Outdoorsiest Clone was very much needed elsewhere this week.  It turns out Helena’s got a nice setup away from it all, complete with very fashionable furs, an excellent food supply, and a cozy lil’ shelter.  But when Sarah finally checks in and lets slip that that shit’s still going down, Helena puts on her best fox fur hat (not store-bought!) and trundles back into town to protect her sestras.  In particular: Alison and Donnie Hendrick, whom Helena hears about from Felix.  But before we can talk about the very nice save that Helena provides for House Hendrix, we have to puddle-jump to the intersecting storyline: Alison’s.

Last week, I had vague plans to talk about Alison’s relationship with faith and religion, because it seemed very... complicated.  She was portrayed quite purposefully as a Christian, churchgoing woman of faith, yet her conversation with the Reverend seemed to result in frustration and impatience, and a general lack of positive response.   Here’s this character, who is purposefully scripted as religious, but who is also quite morally adrift, as she barrels through storylines committing adultery, manslaughter, and drug trafficking.

What echoes through all of Alison’s endeavors is this idea that she’s putting on a brave face and refuses to address any of the actual messy self that she’s got hiding underneath.  She’s always a study in coexisting and colliding contrasts, right?  Torture with craft supplies.  Absurdity through tragedy.   Pastel suburbia with drugs, sex, and manslaughter.  Alison remains a buttoned-up facade until something pushes her over the edge, and everything she really is - messy, flawed, and imperfect - comes spilling out in a rush.

Alison’s faith could be seen as lining up with this pattern - a self-identification with organized religion for the purpose of a tidy facade and the neat fulfillment of suburban mom and upright citizen.  Is she actually, then, quite faithless?  Has the world burned her, and she’s only using this image for protection?   Hm.  At the end of this thought spiral, I found myself shelving the discussion, largely because I couldn’t exactly make a point about it, and I also didn’t really want to suggest that Alison’s religion was somehow false or invalid.

What’s interesting, though, is that the writers actually created a faith arc for Alison in the following episode, and swung it in the opposite way.  She’s actually having a crisis of self, negotiating the very contrast that has long defined her character.  How can she be a good Christian, and person, when you consider the laundry list of her sins?  Phew.   It’s not an easy question to ask oneself in the mirror, especially for someone like Alison, who cultivates only the most convenient thoughts about herself, in order to preserve her carefully-constructed outer world.   Is she finally breaking down?

But the answer about what lies at the very essence of Alison goes beyond the concept of faith and “goodness.”  Alison Hendrix is fucking tough.  It is not her exterior that is indestructible, but rather her very core.  She is immovable in ways that the others are not: Evil Toby Keith takes one look at her, with her pink fuzzy sweater, and declares, “You’re the tough one in the family, aren’t you?”  Not only that, but Alison immediately proves it, by completely relinquishing her safety for the protection of Sarah Manning and the Clone Club.  Faced with the violation of her body and the threat of her own life, her decision is instantaneous - without any hesitation, she tells Donnie she loves him, and then begins a prayer.  Yes, she’s afraid, but she is strong, as she keeps her eyes open and skyward, and her resolve turns to iron.

How fitting is it, then, that Alison’s savior in that moment is none other than Helena?  Helena, raised in the church, and fighting for a faith that treats her as a human!  Helena, who came onto this show in the archetype of fallen angel, with bloodied scars where wings should go!!  Helena, who is completely diametrical to Alison in their relationship with chaos and control!!!  In this one moment, a line is drawn between Alison and Helena, as women of faith by their own definition, with sins and faults, but a deep fierceness inside of them borne from that burning mix of love and woundedness.   They are both, after all, clones defined by paradox - soft, though savage; tragic, yet funny; good, but... not.

There’s another clone this week who was also largely defined by the negotiation between two polarities: Rachel Duncan, who has similar goals to both Clone Club and BrightBorn, but is ultimately looking out for her own personal power.  The plot presented in “The Mitigation of Competition” was a perfect avenue for Rachel’s actions to read as completely nebulous.  She was often acting against Sarah, even though they were in pursuit of the same goal.  We were made to think that she was also out to expose Evie Cho, but then that she would betray Sarah and Co. through negotiation, only to actually expose Evie Cho, in the end.

The not-twist was an interesting choice for Rachel’s actions, in that it’s set up from the very beginning that Rachel was gunning for Evie Cho, and in the end, that’s what she does.  The doubt that Rachel might do otherwise only crops up when she threatens Kendra at the end of the second act, and then she only verbalizes it in the last moments before we get the final result anyways.  While I love the extended question of Rachel’s true intentions, I wish there had been more time to let our doubt expand a bit.  As it was, Rachel cornered Evie Cho, recorded the defense of euthanasia, and uploaded it to the internet within a span of about a few minutes.  In the same window of time, we pivoted from uncertainty about Rachel’s intentions to the discovery that she had a trick up her sleeve, which we only learn about because Ira tells us.  So for me, there wasn’t enough space and weight around the reveal to really make it the maximum “OH SHIT” moment it could be.

Regardless, something important is said (by Ira) about Rachel’s actions in this hour: “She’s doing what needs to be done.”  When Sarah was unwilling to blur the lines of morality to achieve their goal, Rachel stepped up and did the job.  This statement is definitely true for Rachel, but in this episode it also extends to both Helena, and Alison.  All three women have had a complicated relationship with “good” over the course of the whole series, and “The Mitigation of Competition” finds all three women making the difficult decision to do what is ultimately necessary for her goals - whether the protection of her family, or her own individual purpose. (Ah, the Rachel Division.)

You could argue that this is a larger central theme of the show, this negotiation of boundaries between what is right and what is necessary. You can also argue that each of the women on this show therefore displays this characteristic at various points in the narrative. Siobhán is the queen of doing what must be done at the potential expense of morality (see: last week). Sarah drinks soap and kicks through walls to achieve her ends. Hell, even Beth’s original sacrifice lines up with this pattern. Ultimately, it’s a fantastic thing that each player in this story has an opportunity to embody the gray area of difficult situations with a messy but noble humanity - all women, at that! But in this particular episode, I love that a connection was made between Rachel, Helena, and Alison - three clones who don’t get a lot of shared space, and whose storylines are often rooted in their differentiation from the sisterhood.

In all, “The Mitigation of Competition” laid out one final mystery hour to wrap up the season-long arc, treated us to some excellent character interaction, and prepped us for some world expansion that will carry us into the next year. With Evie Cho deposed, it looks like our finale episode is going to be a ferryman. We have cures to work on, French exes to find, and new villains to establish. Will Rachel be one of them? Will Evie Cho strike back, or should we anticipate Percival Westmoreland making a crusty corporeal entrance? Most importantly, can someone just go get a Jurassic Park Jeep and take Cosima to Delphine? The Island can’t do everything, you know.


It is truly and astoundingly hilarious just HOW MUCH Rachel and Sarah don’t get along. Okay, yes, Rachel shot Sarah in the brain with a pencil, but I’m pretty sure they were this chemically incompatible long before that. I love all the petulent hanging up and bossing around. Sisters!

Adele leaves, and I still don’t entirely understand what her purpose was, but that’s okay.

The idea of Alison, Helena, and Sarah being triplets is honestly hysterical. Can you imagine raising those three together? It would be a nightmare.

Battle of the bobs: whose haircut more accurately intimates the severity of its wearer, Evie’s or Rachel’s?

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Orphan Black 4.08 - "The Redesign of Natural Objects"

After the darkness, comes the light. With Sarah and Cosima emerging anew from their Dark Nights of the Soul, Orphan Black delivers a little bit of hope: a new plan for the Cure, new allies with the Duncans, and a little bit of retribution in the name of family.


Of course, the darkness isn’t entirely vanquished - actually, this episode deftly mixes the two tones at key points for style, comedy, and tension. Much in the way that Donnie’s arrest was set to a cheerful (non-copyrighted, natch) birthday song last week, there were two scenes in this episode underscored by musical contrast. First, there’s the opening sequence of Donnie’s time in prison, set drearily to an upbeat rendition of “I Fought the Law (And the Law Won).” Then, of course, there’s the pinnacle of the episode, weaving Donnie’s torture with Alison’s rehearsal of “Superstar,” using the contrast to build tension and fear for the outcome.

In fact, tension was BIG in “The Redesign of Natural Objects.” There were two main questions propelling the episode, as well as the audience’s emotional trajectory through the plot. We think we know the answers to these questions, but there’s enough doubt and crafted suspense to make us nervous.  Thankfully, the result still fulfills not only our expectations, but also our hopes.

Question #1: Will Siobhán go full Irish Lady of the Darkness and avenge her mother’s murder at the hand of Martin Duko? Our initial response: probably. Look, Mrs. S. has only been peeling potatoes lately, and while she makes everything look good, a necessary part of her position on this show is the swerve on traditional motherhood. This is the primary caretaker of our main character, and she casually struts around with a thermos of tea and a shot gun. Hell, most of Season 2 directed the audience to question her motives, as it defined her as morally gray and potentially untrustworthy.

But lately? Potatoes, and sadness. So it was time for Mrs. S. to stir things up in the narrative, as we know she is capable, and what better way than to avenge her own mother’s death? And even though we were fairly certain that Siobhán was going to pull the trigger on Duko at some point, for better or for worse, the writers did a fine job extending the drama and getting the most out of a seemingly inevitable situation.

For one, it underscored the key theme of the series: family. As Duko desperately tries to earn Siobhán’s mercy at gunpoint, he tells her that he’s protecting his young niece from threats of danger. It’s about family, he says to the woman who is the true familial nucleus on this show. It’s not Sarah. It’s not Kendall. It’s Siobhán, who is sandwiched neatly in the lineage of the clones - born to the Original, custodian to the orphan in the black. Siobhán Sadler is the hub: the anchor, the caregiver, the protector, and now the avenger, to whom all of Clone Club tethers back. She is just as much Chosen as Sarah Manning, in that she was chosen for Sarah Manning.

Beyond the theme, the narrative also allows Siobhán and Sarah to demonstrate quick wit and manipulation through their counterattack - and let’s face it, these two were due for a win.  Siobhán’s desire for vengeance took her in the path of Duko, where she was able to correctly sniff out his ill intentions and take control of the situation behind the scenes. Good stuff, right?

Of course, this directly intersects with the other main question of the hour: Will Alison betray her clone sisters in favor of her husband? Duko, as anticipated, has successfully orchestrated the situation for ransom - Alison must give up the location of Sarah in order to save Donnie from getting stabbed in the brain. It’s fitting, then, that we actually hear Alison swear in this episode. No scheisse, no holy freakin’ Christmas cake. We get a proper, unfettered, and venomous "SHIT!" out of Mrs. Hendrix - and of course, it’s at church, in front of the Reverend. (More good placement by contrast.)

Like with Mrs. S., we think we know what Alison is going to do. We know that she would never betray her sisters, right? Of course! But there’s enough groundwork laid, in conjunction with a truly impossible situation, that gives enough credibility to the extended suspense of Alison’s choice. When you think about it, Alison has always been the outlier. Hell, the writers have long had difficulty bringing Alison organically into the fold, because she’s marooned in suburbia, or rehab, or a drug smuggling plotline.  It's also easy to forget that she agreed to cooperate with DYAD at the end of Season 1: where Sarah rebelliously stood on her message of “UP YOURS, PROCLONE,” Alison completely complied, and signed her family into protection by the company. Add this to the minor squabbling with Sarah that has carried through a few recent episodes, and you could almost believe that Alison would sell out her sister.

And we’d sympathize, right? The episode so clearly delineated the stakes for Donnie, and by extension, Alison - a baseline of getting beaten, and the threat of being killed. While I was at first worried that Donnie’s stint in prison would feel just as relevant as Mr. Bates’ extended time in Downton Abbey’s Department of Corrections (aka, not), we were quickly meant to feel genuine fear and alarm for Donnie’s fate through the question of Alison’s choice. How is Alison supposed to make that call, between family and family, blood and bond? So it’s a lovely dovetail back into Siobhán’s storyline that these two tension-driving questions work together to resolve themselves, and doubly rewarding that of course Alison turned to Sarah and Siobhán for a way out.  Yes, there's relief that Donnie is okay, but I would say it's an even greater relief that Alison would never turn her back on her sisters' safety.

So, finally, fear and hope land on the side of hope. We also get an added bit of optimism with Cosima’s new plan for a Cure: fertilizing a Leda egg with Castor sperm!  Ira is useful at last!  So Cosima is choppering off to Dr. Moreau’s HGTV Dream House, trading places with Rachel in an actual Clone Swap. Gotta say, Charlotte and Susan are getting the better deal in this trade. (Cosima's absence also sets up more extended drama - if Delphine is in fact recovered, she will not be in town for a heartfelt reunion.  In its stead, I humbly request a heartswelling phone call à la Penny and Desmond's in "The Constant.  Thank you and good day.)

In natural contrast to the new possibilities, there are also a few fears to lead us into the season’s final hours. First, MK is back, and she’s definitely sick (and concealing it). This was a great choice for the writers, to keep the threat of illness tangible - especially with a character like Mika, who we are not monumentally attached to, but who still has our sympathy. It’s also another established way to bring Mika in the collective, and unite her goals with Clone Club’s.  Do we think that Mika will actually tell anyone of her illness, or is the gang gonna find out in the worst way, i.e. when Mika is collapsed in front of her computer screen?

Then, of course, there’s Rachel. Last week, I talked (...a lot) about Rachel receiving The Hero’s Call, by having a vision of a swan through her robot eyeball. This week, Rachel gets walloped with an even more overt Chosen One conceit. Not only does she see the swan again, but her eye also presents her with an owlish old man I can only assume is Percival Westmoreland, the founder of Neolution, in his own time period. As mentioned last episode, Rachel is living in his former room, and her visions seems to be connecting his past with her present. Um, hello! The founder of Neolution is communicating with Rachel through digital hallucination?! If it looks like a swan, and sounds like a swan, as they (kind of) say...

So while Rachel claims she wants to restore Susan Duncan to her rightful place as Queen Neolution, it’s impossible not to wonder if Rachel is making a power play to usurp her mother (who prefers Cosima anyways) and take an increasingly less wobbly stand as the head of movement. Villainy! But we can’t discount the fact that Rachel is also standing up for a cure - while she’s a bit macabre about child-sized coffins, the fact remains that she is taking up the crusade to save her sisters, and Charlotte. So Rachel, who slides through the middle with a Hero’s Call but a Villain’s Plan, has the advantage of the gray area. She is both hope and fear, admiration and disgust, disenfranchised and empowered.

There’s also a question of the symbolism behind the severed swan head that Rachel ends up seeing. Of course, the reason it's swans is the mythological story of Leda and the Swan, wherein a woman named Leda is raped by Zeus disguised in the form of a swan. Leda then lays two eggs - one containing twins, Castor and Pollux, and one containing Helen, the kidnapping of whom causes the Trojan War. There are clearly narrative overlaps with these stories, beyond the names: the concept of Leda’s lack of consent; wars being fought over abduction of an innocent. Considering the myth, a severed swan head calls to mind the theme of vengeance, as acted out by Siobhán in this same episode, or the decapitation of an oppressive but alluring figure - perhaps a metaphor of Rachel’s future bid for the top spot of Neolution. And while she may be a villain once she’s ascended the throne, it’s currently hard to not root for her to succeed, especially in her renewed juxtaposition against Sarah.

So “The Redesign of Natural Objects” delivers some hope to balance out the fear, and propels us towards the season finale, with questions across the board. But even with optimism alive, the hour still gets the full value of its suspense and tension, achieved with some well-constructed sequences of contrast. And, too, Mrs. S. put down the potato peeler and got shit done.


  • Listen. We need to talk about Sarah Stubbs. I LOVE Sarah Stubbs. I love that she was introduced as a red herring for a one-off plot point about Sarah Manning’s chase party, and yet she has been brought back, time and again. I love that she is the nicest person on this show, and that Alison actually tries to be a good friend to her. I love that she played Jesus (Christ Superstar), and she totally stole the show with her riffs and runs. I JUST LOVE SARAH STUBBS OKAY.
  • What with Cosima inadvertently offending Scott last week, it was particularly rewarding that she immediately took his conditions about working with Rachel to the negotiating table and stuck with them, no questions or hesitations. Aww.
  • Cosima and Sarah also had some great scenes in this episode, demonstrating further the quiet connection they’ve shared since Season 2. I particularly love that they seem just to get each other, despite not having much in common.  Their interactions always have a lovely sense of peace and warmth... how is it possible that two clones can have more chemistry than others, when they’re all played by the same two people in different permutations?
  • I do want to take a moment to praise the portrayal and performance of Detective Duko in this episode. In the past, he was mostly disturbing in a standard creepy way, through his flattened speech and casual execution of horribly inhuman plans. But this episode fleshed him out into a real human - who is understandable but no less despicable. I love that he was so condescendingly business-like with Alison, and petulant and sarcastic under torture with Siobhán. These layers, added to the reveal of his niece and his D&D knowledge, come together to create a portrait of a man who is evil, yes, but also mundane - a loner nerd who needs an attitude check.
  • In the moments before shooting Duko, a wonderfully heartbreaking expression of pain flashes across Siobhán’s face. In this split second, you get the feeling that killing Martin Duko is not going to help her feel any better about losing her mother. But you also know that she’s still going to do it.  Hopefully we'll see the emotional fallout from this next episode.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Orphan Black 4.07 - "The Antisocialism of Sex"

Despite the fact that last week’s episode skated too closely to emotional torture porn for me, I was still looking forward to this week’s post-trauma outing, since Dark Nights of the Soul are inherently character-heavy, and that is totally my jam as a television viewer. And truly, the hour didn’t disappoint. An in-depth study in grief across the spectrum personalities of Clone Club, “The Antisocialism of Sex” delivered character, catharsis, and fucking phenomenal performances - four of which from Tatiana Maslany alone. I hope they gave her a day off after they filmed this one.


After an ending like last week’s, of course the focus of this episode was largely on the fallout. How are the clones coping? How is Siobhán grieving? What happens now, with Project Leda, Evie Cho, and Susan Duncan? Weirdly, though, the hour begins with Rachel: suddenly freed, still limited in her movement, and tasked with a big-ass flight of stairs to ascend. I guess this is actually an apt allegory for the sisterhood and its own challenges at this juncture - a sisterhood to which, it bears stating, Rachel decidedly does not belong.

It’s fitting, then, that Rachel is the only clone in a position to make a power play (okay, "power play") in the episode. She is still, after all, a proclone, system-raised, and separate from her sisters. With her mother ousted by Evie Cho, Rachel steps up and tries to assert herself... only to be shot down. Not only that, but she’s rebuked on the sole reason of her DNA: “Did you really think Neolution would let a clone take a position of real importance?” Rachel may sport a blond bob and a loathing for her sisters, but she’s still one of them, at the mercy of her own biology. Nature, in this area, will always trump nurture.

Even though Rachel’s bits in this episode are rather unassuming, given the comparative lack of sobbing, punching, and police arrests, it is her storyline that gives us the plot pivot into the season’s final act. Evie Cho lays out the new stakes for the clones: while it’s not necessary for Neolution to go full Helsinki (an extermination effort that took out Mika’s family and friends), all of the self-aware sisters are not safe from its continued efforts to eliminate the remnants of Project Leda. (Krystal Goderitch, therefore, would presumably live on, misguided yet oddly effective as ever.)

We can guess that this pursuit will fill the final hours of the season, but more than that, this story corner also gives us the idea that Rachel Duncan is being... called. Now, if you, as a teenager, weren’t also obsessed with a book comparing Star Wars to the monomyth studied by Joseph Campbell, let me explain: all stories in human history, spanning every time period and culture, share a certain structure - common touchstones along a character’s journey as they are pushed into their true power and purpose. This gave rise to the concept of “the Hero with a Thousand Faces,” which totally has new meaning when applied to the Clone Club.

And, as much as Rachel fights it, she is one of the Thousand Faces. She, too, is a hero, because they have a common goal: she, too, needs a cure - not just for herself, but for Charlotte, whose symptoms aren’t ebbing. And so Rachel, like any hero, receives a call: the moment when a hero is beckoned out of their ordinary world and compelled into the unknown to fulfill a larger goal.

Let’s stop here, for a moment, and jump into another storyline, shall we? Usually, when we talk about the Hero of Orphan Black, there’s one main figure: Sarah Manning. Sarah Manning, however, was never really called. Not exactly. She stumbled, conned, found a family, and started fighting for them. Sarah fell into her circumstances, and has struggled to gain anything resembling an upper hand since the Pilot. This all came to a horrific and tragic low point last week, with the destruction of their research, and the murder of Kendall Malone. And so, Sarah Manning retreats into her shadow self, and tries to refuse the fact that she was ever caught up in this nightmare journey. This is also part of the Hero’s Journey - the Refusal of the Call. Uh-uh. Not me, pal. Pick a different Chosen One and keep moving.

So Sarah tries to drink her reality into oblivion, and pushes away anyone who attempts to tether her in this world of terrors. But the Call persists, as it always does, and Sarah Manning finally, formally, received hers -- and listened. Sarah’s Call is from Beth herself, who appears to her in hallucination throughout the episode, haunting her her until Sarah stops to pay attention. “Bring us together. We need you.” The leadership role that Sarah stumbled into is hers to seize, to accept, in order for her to embody her power and purpose. In order to keep everyone together during this ordeal.

This isn't so unusual, though.  We basically expect Sarah Manning to get a Call, as she’s our primary POV character, and she’s borne the Hero Mantle for much of the series. She’s the glue, as Felix says. But do we expect a Call for Rachel Duncan? On any other show, probably not. But this is Orphan Black, and clone parallels and connections are Lifeblood.

So, two storylines over from Sarah Manning, Rachel Duncan receives her own Call, which also appears to her in a hallucination, as she’s lying on the ground after falling from the stairs. The physical fall is insult to injury - Evie Cho has subsumed Susan Duncan’s work, and removed the Duncans from any possible power. And, from this counterpart low point, Rachel envisions a swan, in an echo of the illustration shown to her from Neolution’s first printed work. Even if the swan is conjured by her robot eye, the Call is still clearly communicated: the leadership role that Rachel was adopted into is hers to take back, to be responsible for, in order for her to assume her power and purpose.

Please allow me to go full capslock on you for a moment: HOW COOL IS IT THAT. I love, love, love that Rachel and Sarah are brought back into parallel, with opposing forces, even though they ultimately have the same goal.  Not only that, but their parallel is devised to embody the central character themes on which this whole show is built: claiming power and purpose, through togetherness.  Developing and positing the clones in conjunction with their own similarities and differences will always be good material, especially when it's directly connected to core themes.

As such, the Orphan Black writers didn't stop there.  Not only were Sarah and Rachel joined in theme and repositioned as foils, but Sarah and Beth were brought to the forefront to facilitate Sarah's call.  What's interesting about their dynamic is that it exists as a paradox, because their connection is that they never coexisted.  The timeline exists as Before Sarah and After Sarah, and the audience holds them distinct in the show's narrative.  Sarah’s connection to Beth is entirely constructed, entirely symbolic, and it’s made even more meaningful when that’s all there is: one instance of locked eyes, crossed paths, and... it's all over.

And yet... and yet... they share so much.  They have the same burden, the same family, the same responsibilities, the same demons, the same path, and the same choices.  So here at the end of trail, back at the beginning, Beth is the one to give Sarah the strength to step forward.

There were many things, big and small, that I loved about Sarah and Beth's spectral interactions in this episode.  Sarah seeing Beth in all the mirrors was a fine conceit, but it was made superb by the match cuts of Sarah and Beth both snorting a line and coming up for air. Of course, this invites the episode’s initial connection between the two, visually linking them, and then allowing the depth of their interaction to come to light in the bridge scene.

You could argue that, in this scene, Sarah is not talking to Beth, but only to a projection of who Sarah perceives Beth to be.  I think this is 100% logical, but I think this idea actually cheapens the moment.  Sarah's Beth hallucinations in Season 3 felt more akin to this construct, because we, as an audience, couldn't verify who Beth really was.  But now?  We've spent time with Beth, and the Beth that appeared to Sarah was the Beth that we got to know this season.  I'll chalk it up to whatever supernatural mojo you want to put forth; for me, that was Beth Childs interacting directly with Sarah Manning, for the first and last time.

The writers, then, get full resonance out of this milestone.  It's Sarah's Call, after all, and the balm that eases her wounded rage and self-hatred.  There was such meaning in every moment, and I found myself fascinated with the way that Beth handled Sarah during their conversation.  The spectrum of emotions that play on Beth's face in the train scene is truly fantastic, and resonant, and heartbreaking.  Beth regards Sarah with love, with pity, with amusement, with longing and loss and compassion and pain.  She teases her, she's stern with her, she's fond yet strict, both warm and cold - it's everything you would expect of a loving yet hard-nosed sister before her final goodbye.  It's definitely the most emotion that we've ever seen from Beth, and this contrast completely fleshes out the tragedy of who she was, and of the connection yet divide between her and Sarah that can never truly be reconciled.

In that this is the culmination of the audience finally allowed to know Beth, beyond what she left behind, the episode’s design spins the Beth-Sarah construct into a new light, which adds another dimension that wasn't there before.  As we originally accepted the story, Sarah rekindled the torch that Beth had found too burdensome to carry. She stepped into Beth’s identity, her life, and her place of leadership in Clone Club - and the question was this: where does Sarah succeed, where Beth failed? What’s so special about Sarah, the Main Character, the Chosen One? Inadvertently, through the narrative construction, the writers posited the idea that Sarah has Something that Beth did not, that would ferry the clones through the end of their journey. Felix even says it: “You’ve got to be stronger than her.”

This season, this episode, we learn that this telling of it isn't exactly true. First of all, Beth never “quit” the investigation because it was too much. She sacrificed herself to bury the investigation and keep her sisters safe. She didn’t see Sarah coming out of the black, and had no intention of passing a torch to anyone. Second, when things hit rock bottom for Sarah, as they did for Beth, Sarah finds herself doing exactly what Beth did - numbing out from reality and hanging her life over the train tracks.

Third of all, the episode wrote in exactly what NEEDS to be different between Sarah and Beth. It doesn’t have anything to do with Sarah’s traits vs. Beth’s traits - because actually, they’re quite similar. As Beth says: there’s more than biology between them. The difference comes from Beth herself, in the form of the Call - Beth’s only failure was disconnection, through bad circumstances and a noble intention. The only thing Sarah can do that Beth could not? Stay. That’s it.

This construct does right by Beth, even in the midst of her inherent tragedy, and also does right by Sarah, in that it connects to the character's individual development.  Wild by nature, one foot out the door, Sarah Manning's arc is defined simply by compelling her to stop running.  To honor her relationships, to be a good mother to Kira, to fight for her sisters and accept that she is not a Lone Wolf in the Night.  The Call works on two levels for Sarah - only by fulfilling her character's core growth can she step into her true power and purpose.

When she finally does, officially accepting the torch from Beth, we are renewed. The dawn comes, and Sarah goes to make peace with Siobhán, after harsh words and reopened wounds. I loved that the beat in that scene was not forgiveness. Tatiana Maslany and Maria Doyle Kennedy played that moment perfectly, because it fulfills Beth’s plea and Sarah's arc. No smiles, no relief; not forgiveness, but togetherness. Not everything is okay, but family stays, and that’s enough. Sing it with me!  WHAT A GREAT ARC OUR SARAH MANNING HAS.

Sarah actually gets two more clone comparisons in the episode, after the plot-based Rachel parallel, and the character-based Beth connection. The two additional ties both serve the drama in-episode - with Cosima, in the inherent stakes of their combined spiral at the end of their tether, and with Alison, in contrast of their coping skills. Where Sarah and Cosima spend the episode backsliding into recklessness and self-sabotage, Alison skids hard in the other direction, white-knuckling her life and every minutiae she can actually control in it. Interestingly, she does have one brief breakdown at episode’s beginning - but in private, and as soon as eyes are on her - her husband’s, it's worth noting - she shuts off all vulnerability and goes full Stepford.

Of course, Alison is followed around by pitying but well-intentioned men asking her in very calm - and perhaps condescending - voices if she’s doing okay. She dodges them comedically each time, but the episode does a fantastic echo when Duko appears at her doorstep after Donnie’s arrest and asks her how she’s “holding up.” The payoff, as the third of three insipid inquiries, with the twist element of danger, makes this moment chillingly good. It also reveals to Alison that he knows, even though she’s never met this man, and ramps up the fear to great effect.

In non-clone-related news, Art gets a very satisfying moment to beat the shit out of Duko, tearing down any pretense of unawareness, and surely putting a big target on his own back. Felix comes through big time for both Cosima and Sarah, pulling them back from the brink, as well as taking care of Siobhán in her grief. Kira probably wished she didn’t have the ability to emotionally connect to all the clones, seeing how all of them were devastated and miserable this episode. But no one fared worse than Donnie, who got arrested after storytime at his daughter’s birthday party.

And perhaps the one who fared the best? Off-screen Delphine, who went from reportedly dead to not-actually-dead-but-carted-off, based on the eye-witness account of Detective Goderitch, Manicurist. Alongside the plot shift and the Calls, add this to the end-of-season quests; there’s finally some hope to balance all the fear. We also have the return of MK - who could magically have backup files for all the research... although that seems like a too-swift Ctrl+Z for a situation given this much gravity in the story. Either way, she’s reaching out to Kira, and almost definitely as a friend, considering that she introduces herself as Mika - the name Beth called her.

So the climax ebbs, the sun rises, and the tortured souls make it through the Dark Night. We’ve been pulled through to the other side, and begin the descent into the season’s final hours with ramped-up stakes, renewed sense of purpose, and that Orphan Black Clone Togetherness that binds and grounds this spinning sci-fi thriller. “The Antisocialism of Sex” made the most of these markers through tried-and-true storytelling touchstones, and wields its characters to full emotional effect in an exploration of grief, desperation, and connection. Seriously, can someone get Tatiana Maslany a blanket and a cup of tea? And like, whale sounds or something.


  • In case you were wondering, the four standout performances for me were Sarah, Cosima, Alison, and Beth. The full range of emotional spill that each of these characters required resulted in a damn fine symphony of acting. Throw in Rachel and her restraint by contrast, and it’s even more impressive.
  • BISEXUAL SARAH MANNING!!! That is all.
  • Rachel may be living in a prison, but at least it’s HGTV’s 2016 Dr. Moreau Dream House.
  • Y’know, leave it to the Victorian era to birth Neolution. This kind of humanly grab for complete control like we’re not all sloppy bags of emotions and blood flow is so totally Victorian it’s not even funny.
  • I am SO ready for the Hendrix-Stubbs musical revue.
  • You get the feeling that Alison isn’t arrested alongside Donnie because Duko has specifically arranged it that way, and if the implications of that are not scary as all get-out, I don’t know what is.
  • A lovely moment with Siobhán thanking Art for sticking with them. As we’ve quickly learned, that kind of investment is usually at the cost of your life, so Art continues to remain a champ.
  • And, finally, as much as Felix might resent his perceived sidekick role... it was gratifying to see him being a stalwart and compassionate righthand dude to basically everyone in this episode. Another solid champ.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Orphan Black 4.06 - "The Scandal of Altruism"

Last season, Episode 6 was a Big One. Paul Dierden went out in a blaze of glory, sacrificing himself for the sisterhood, as new villains emerged and the plot spun asunder to carry the momentum to the end of the season. This year, Episode 6 serves a similar purpose, with one key difference: IT’S SAD AS ALL FUCK.


It really is no exaggeration that “The Scandal of Altruism” is perhaps the saddest hour Orphan Black has ever put out into the universe. It’s sadder than Cosima’s lip quiver when she finds out she’s patented property. Sadder than Ethan Duncan killing himself in front of his daughter. Sadder than MK’s plea to Beth not to abandon her. THE EVENTS OF THIS EPISODE ARE DEEPLY UPSETTING AND UNFORTUNATE.

The whole plot centered around a trade - as always, Sarah and Co. are backed in a corner and need to shake hands with enemies to achieve a goal. In this case, it’s removing Sarah’s maggot-bot, and collaborating on a cure for Cosima - at the cost of Kendall’s Leda DNA. Sarah and Cosima make the deal with Susan Duncan and Evie Cho, without consulting Siobhán, and the rest of the episode plays out in extended tension and foreboding lines of dialogue like “This is the wrong play. It’s a risk,” “I don’t know if sharing this [information] is a win,” and “This is what killed Beth.” OH GOOD. I FEEL SO GOOD ABOUT THIS.

And of course, not all trades and deals can realistically work out so well for the Clone Club. The whole premise of the show hinges on the inherent disempowerment of the clones at the hands of corporations and systems that see them as science experiments and not humans. These woman are never really winning, and because the show has dissolved so many threats in DYAD, the Proletheans, and Castor, it has little other option but to rear an ugly head through Neolution.

So this deal goes belly-up, as Kendall Malone is stolen away, Cosima is abducted, and every bit of cure-related research destroyed. Meanwhile, the plot dovetails with the culmination of Beth’s flashback narrative, as we finally learn why she had blood on her hands and what pushed her to suicide. In this way, the show pulls a nice bait-and-switch with the real Big Bad and the executioner of the Plan: not Susan Duncan, not her Castor lover Ira, not even creepy Detective Duko. Instead, it is Evie Cho, who has engineered not only her biology, but also her future.

And it’s this element that makes this episode so much sadder than any other: not only are there aftershocks of tragedy rippling through the end’s events, but the reasons for Evie Cho’s destructive actions are so heartbreakingly unfeeling. True to the show’s villainy themes, it comes down to property. The clones are outdated technology, and need to be eliminated to make way for the new advancements developing at Brightborn. There is no one else on the inside standing in the way of this coup - not Susan Duncan, the maternal observer, not Ethan Duncan, the father who tried to save them, not Aldous Leekie, the paternal watchman, not Delphine Cormier, who loved them all. All of these figures stood guard before the clones and protected them, because they saw them as people. They fell in love with the clones as humans, and were therefore vulnerable to attack by the real villains - the ones who see the clones only as technology, experiment, and property.

So we’re finally at the head of the snake, and the only guard left is Susan Duncan, who, to be fair, had a gun held on her twice this episode.  The soul-emptying sadness is worst when you realize that still more of the clone’s protectors sacrificed their lives, and the very thing they died to prevent happened anyways. Delphine is dead. Kendall is dead. The possibility for a cure is dead. Cosima is left on her knees, alone and dying. Siobhán is left without her mother. And Evie Cho has successfully cut the Leda clones off, and left them to wither and die.

These rock-bottom developments lead to a larger question about the structure of the whole show. This level of narrative self-destruction seems fit for a second-act end out. This is the lowest point. We have an increasing tally on sacrifices for the Clone Club - Beth, Paul, Ethan, Delphine, Kendall - with no more research, no card to play, and a ticking time bomb on Cosima. This is it. The dark night of the soul begins, and I’m curious where this will take us for the end of the season and beyond, especially given how much crying and screaming happens in just the preview for next week.

A few difficult questions must also be asked, through our tears: was this truly necessary? Is it narratively imperative to burn everything to the ground, to give new material for rebuilding? Did Kendall have to die? Could Cosima have a good storyline and substantial screentime without devastating her? Was it absolutely essential to withhold Delphine’s fate until Cosima was already in the dirt and crying?

While everyone’s mileage may vary, I will say this: comparing Kendall’s and Delphine’s exits with Paul’s at this same time last season yields a few key differences. Paul died on his own terms, orchestrating his own plan and sticking his neck out to save Sarah and her sisters. It was a bona fide Hero’s Exit. Can we really say Delphine and Kendall are afforded the same narrative care? Though they chose admirable stoicism when faced with the barrel of a gun, neither of them had any control of their situation, no plan to be in charge of - only a coping strategy in shitty circumstances.

And while their actions are noble, and in service of saving the clone sisters, neither death actually allowed any smidge of breathing room for Clone Club.  We are, of course, at the lowest point.  But by contrast, Paul’s action nearly swiped Coady and Castor’s evildoing from the narrative completely. (Granted, it was the easiest way to cleanly rearrange the storyline that wasn’t working, but the point stands.) Delphine and Kendall, though? They were casualties of a callous pursuit, victims in the firing squad lined up before Leda.  Evie Cho has taken over, and the coup was successful.  The scandal - the punishment - of altruism.

Beth’s death, though, it turns out, was perhaps a little different than we thought. From the beginning, it was easily assumed that Beth’s suicide was the result of her investigation, her accidental shooting of Maggie Chen, her addiction, and the sum emotional toll of these weights. “The Scandal of Altruism,” however, posits something slightly different: having reached the end of the rabbit hole at Evie Cho, Beth realizes she only puts her sisters in danger, and her suicide is retrofitted as something of a sacrifice for her family. Evie Cho literally says to her: “You wanna save the people that you love? Use that gun on yourself.” A bit on the nose?  Yes.  Can this new truth co-exist believably with the situation we previously considered true?  And was this a necessary layer to add to a scenario that perhaps didn't need tinkering?

These are all questions worth discussing, that don’t necessarily have one right answer. Overall, for me, the balance of hope and fear wan’t quite right. Literally everything we’ve ever feared to happen happened, as we relived not only Delphine’s death but Beth’s, with Kendall’s to boot. And while Beth’s newly-tread heroism was perhaps an intended ballast, I’m not exactly sold. Moreover, I'm of the opinion that it’s quite laboriously cruel to give Cosima the news about Delphine when she’s just lost any possible hope for her survival. Sure, I love the idea of a narrative Dark Night of the Soul, but the particulars could have been shuffled a bit differently. This erred too much on the side of emotional torture porn.

Though, truthfully, stubbornly, I still don’t think Delphine is dead. A glimmer of hope does exist with Krystal’s reveal that not only did she see Delphine get shot, she saw everything. Which indicates that there’s more to the story, and again, why would they name-drop Delphine so much only to give us information that is neither new nor shifted? DELPHINE VIT ENCORE! When that lanky bitch steps out of the shadows in the penultimate episode of the season, flat-ironed, buttoned-up, and steely-eyed, I will holler a triumphant TOOK YOU LONG ENOUGH and also maybe draw hearts on my screen. However, it is also possible that the camera will pan up a body in a hospital bed and reveal that it is in fact Delphine and she’s got a bot in her face. (I’m just realistically weighing the options here.)

Regardless, it’s fairly evident that we have just witnessed the climax of the season - if not the whole show - and the events for the rest of the season are sure to be chaotic, dramatic, and desperate. Here’s hoping for some happy endings - or at least, to start, some workable new beginnings.


  • The key to the cure may now be in the wormbot that Cosima slyly pocketed in Evie Cho’s office, post-trade. Since it delivered the illness to Sarah as part of gene therapy, I assume it’s the best lead to finding a cure. SCIENCE!
  • Honestly, though, before anything, Cosima needs about ten thousand hugs, also therapy, and maybe some Vitamin D wouldn't hurt either.
  • Was anyone else taken aback by Susan Duncan’s hard left turn into “I love you!” territory towards the clones? Lady faked her death to get away from her own kid and live in happy science heaven - is it really believable to sell her as emotionally invested at this point?  
  • So Beth’s dad was an addict also, presumably? “Tendencies” thinly veils a few options - addiction, homosexuality, mental health issues.
  • Our final shot shows Evie Cho walking into the light at a train station, which feels symbolic but also not exactly clear.  Is it metaphor only, or is this bitch going to the train station to make sure Beth eliminated herself from the picture?
  • I don’t know if anything is quite as emotionally wrecking as Kendall’s final words to Cosima: “Tell Siobhán she’s done right, always. Tell your sisters I’m proud to have been part of them all. Turn around love.” WHO ELSE NEEDS A MOUNTAIN OF TISSUES. For a character who wasn’t exactly deployed to maximum capacity in the narrative, this was a hell of an ending for her.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Orphan Black 4.05 - "Human Raw Material"

Even as Orphan Black evolves, expands, and goes full-tilt body horror, there is one central tenet of this show that will always be a joy to watch: Tatiana Maslany playing every single damn character. It’s often easy to forget, but “Human Raw Material,” in full accordance with its name, delivered a great hour to marvel at the full spectrum of clones and Tat’s ability to embody them all.


Admittedly, the main performance piece to marvel at is Krystal Goderitch, just because she’s so starkly different from the other clones - at least, at first. With her colorful lycras and furs, her done-up hair and nails, and her Valley Girl upspeak, Krystal Goderitch stands so separate from her sisters that her existence alone is part of the comedy. She’s an innocent, completely unaware of her identity, and thus has had the blissful luxury of a happy life. There’s comedy here too - Krystal lives in the same city as a half dozen of her genetic identicals, and she has no idea. She rotates into the main action without any deep understanding of what’s going on, and it’s, well, funny. She thinks she's a whistleblower for illegal stem cell testing in cosmetics, her plan goes haywire, and she ends up getting massaged by Donnie and thrown in Office Jail!  C'mon.  That's funny.

But the innocence isn’t absolute, and neither are the jokes. She knows something is happening around her; she just doesn’t know what. Hell, we first meet Krystal as she falls victim to Rudy and Seth’s violence and general disturbing-ness. So when she does swing into the narrative, ready to throw down and investigate the strange occurences in her life, it’s not just funny and adorable - it’s also badass and a little bit tragic. How awful that Krystal feels it necessary to train up to physically protect herself? How traumatic that she’s confronted with her abductor’s face? And how sad that at episode’s end, she’s whisked away back into the dark, none the wiser?

The real question, of course, is this: how long can Krystal stay Unaware? It’s effective to bring her in when she knows nothing - both dramatically, as a damsel, and comedically, as she escapes danger when it turns out she can hold her own. But the writers have done this thrice now, and I do hope Krystal eventually learns the truth and joins the fold, in some form or another. It’s strange to imagine her as part of the dynamic, yes, but that’s part of the fun of it, d’y’know what I mean?

In this episode, though, Krystal was an effective deploy in conjunction with the other “lead investigator” of the hour: Cosima, who stands opposite Krystal, as an identical who has always been aware. Cosima, the Self-Aware Clone, a scientist embracing the design of nature and honoring the humanity in science. But Cosima’s faith in science is pushed to the edge in this episode, as she witnesses the horrors behind the curtain at BrightBorn: human experiment, DNA editing, trial-and-error without consent.

Narratively, Cosima was the perfect person to meet Susan Duncan and the truth of her scientific directive. Faced with her Maker, Cosima has to deal with more than just the truth of her creation; she has to confront the manipulation of science at the cost of humanity, when she has always held them intertwined, and equally sacrosanct.  This is a violation of Cosima’s worldview, and it’s even more personal when Susan Duncan throws Cosima’s illness into the argument. By withholding Kendall Malone from Topside, Cosima is not making some noble stand on the altar of ethics: she is only signing her death sentence through inaction.

Isn’t this Orphan Black at its best? Cosima, who has easily embraced paradoxes and harmony in chaos, is put in a situation where she must make a unilateral decision: in service of her beliefs, or in service of her health. Layered over this is the inherent mistrust of the system promising results, the power imbalance between clone and maker, and the tension between clones acting for themselves versus their collective. Phew! This is some well-constructed drama here - the stuff of great conflicts, relevant themes, and tough choices - and it’s great to finally see Cosima in the thick of good story again.  Her final scene with Susan Duncan was fantastic.

Of course, it also makes one wonder when - that’s right, I said WHEN - Delphine is going to come back. I half-expected her to round a corner and bump into Cosima at the BrightBorn facility, for reasons I can’t explain. Perhaps it’s deluded hope. But given that Dr. Cormier is name-dropped in this episode, and Cosima goes asking after her in the next... c’mon. How underwhelming that it wouldn’t lead to anything, right? Right. (RIGHT!!!!!)

Backseat to this week’s action were Sarah and Alison, who already had their turn at grifting and answer-seeking in previous episodes. I continue to love the decision to rotate different clones forward into the active push of the narrative, especially to an effect as excellent as Cosima's in this episode, so Sarah and Alison did just fine in the background for me. Besides, we got an extension of their barbed bickering from last week, as Sarah lambasts Alison’s drug dealing and slight neglect of Helena, and Alison serves it right back for Sarah’s... drug dealing... and slight neglect of Helena. Sisters! Foils! Identicals! Aren’t they great.

Of course, Helena’s absence is a bit worrying, as is the possibility that Alison’s connection to Pouchy’s pills could be revealed in a shit-hitting-the-fan kind of manner. Duko clearly Knows Something, because he is a creepy-ass bastard, and his toying with Art was an excellent tension-filled scene to rebut Art’s similar mindgame from last week. The stakes are high for Art now, which brings more intrigue back to Duko, the police office, and Beth’s flashback storyline that is still dangling in the present.

Sarah, meanwhile, literally took the day off and hung out with Kira - but she’s got another kind of family drama brewing when Felix brings his biological sister to the safehouse for dinner. (Awkward family dinner? Yes, but still not as awkward as Rachel’s with Ira and Susan. AND WE DIDN’T EVEN KNOW THE HALF OF IT.) Adele’s incorporation into the plotline finally feels purposeful, and it took two little moments to make it so: the small-scale meltdown behind Sarah’s eyes when she confirmed Adele and Felix’s biological connection, and Siobhán’s terse “Welcome to the family” after Sarah leaves the room. These two little reactions reiterate the hope and fear being set up throughout the episode: Adele is great with Kira, and seems to truly care about Felix... but the service she and Felix used to connect is owned by BrightBorn, and now she knows the location of the safehouse.  Like it or not, she’s an extension of the Clone Club family - by blood, this time, and it’s not Sarah’s.

So more danger is planted, as Orphan Black wraps up its first act and pivots into escalation for the remainder of the season. We have high stakes with Art, Alison, and Sarah, mysteries with MK, Beth, Kira, and Helena, and big decisions for Rachel and Cosima. The season’s first half has done well to assemble these story elements for all its characters, and we even got Krystal Goderitch thrown in to boot! It should be a wild ride to the end.


  • Sarah and Kira painting together is a nice callover to Rachel and Charlotte painting together in the last episodes. Save that little girl, you silk-satined maniac!
  • Susan Duncan, like her adoptive daughter, also stares icily out of top floor windows. So this is a nurture trait, then.
  • Donnie’s POV reveal of Krystal was truly hilarious: fantastic framing, excellent comedic performances, well-placed against an emotional moment... that beat is wonderfully funny every time I watch.
  • Great tension building with the cross-cutting between Cosima’s snooping and Sarah’s interrogation of Adele. Little moments like Adele and Kira singing the GeneConnexion jingle were sweet add-ins in their contrast.
  • Actually, this episode was quite well-woven in the details! Did anyone catch the delivery nurse badmouth Dr. Moffatt about ditching them to go get a smoothie? Lo, previously, when Cosima was trying to get on the elevator to snoop, the doctor passing through mentioned he was off to get a smoothie. A nice little easter egg!
  • So Kira’s emotionally connected to all the clones? It’s too important not to mention, but we’re just gonna have to see where this one goes...
  • Part of me kind of wants a talk show with Cosima and Susan Duncan called “Poolside Chatz with Your Maker.” Most of me does not want a poolside show with Susan Duncan and Ira.
  • But actually, imagine a jazzercise kickboxing video hosted by Alison and Krystal. IMAGINE IT. So much colorful lycra. So much toothy self-assuredness.  Probably some squabbling.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Orphan Black 4.04 - "From Instinct to Rational Control"

Last week, I groused a bit about the slower pace of Orphan Black’s fourth season, what with the third episode’s lack of character involvement, the constipation of answers, and low-simmer stakes. This week, however, things got moving! Oh, yeah. Here’s some good stuff.


MOVEMENT truly was the name of the game in “From Instinct to Rational Control.” Unified with the common goal of getting the wormbot out of Sarah’s face, the clones were mobilized on multiple fronts of investigation: Cosima in the lab, Alison and Co. at the fertility clinic, and Sarah tracking down MK. Things were learned! Things were done! Progress was made, as a team!

Alison, of course, was the big step-up, as Sarah and Cosima are no strangers to hands-on answer-seeking. For me, this was a welcome development, simply because Alison has historically been a difficult character to incorporate. Marooned in Bailey Downs, she’s always had a degree of separation from the main events, and her own storylines with murder, drugs, and politics have often been a sidecar only affected by clone-centric shenanigans. Each season, we've had an Alison-centric Outing that acts like a time-out, where everything goes screwball-sideways with torture and clone-swap under the gleam of suburban social politics.

While there may yet be an official turn on the Alison Hendrix Tragibsurdity Carousal this season, “From Instinct to Rational Control” easily serves as an episode that showcases Alison’s place in the group, with more subtlety and relevance than its predecessors. On a coffee date with Sarah Stubbs, Alison is confronted by Trina, the formerly-preggo Neolutionist who knew Beth, and is now mistaking Alison for Beth. Alison handled it like a total champ, snapping a photo of Trina, and sending it to Sarah (Manning, not Stubbs), who recognizes her and instructs Alison to investigate. I loved that Sarah snaps a little at Alison to pull her weight, because it’s so in-character for their dynamic, and frankly we can forgive Sarah because she has a maggot in her face.

This moment of rankle is also excusable simply because Alison does pull her weight, bringing together Donnie and Felix to pose as prospective parents investigating Lifespring Fertility in the footsteps of Beth, who had been there before she died. Not only does Alison successfully assemble fake IDs and COLOR-CODED INFORMATION PACKETS for the mission, she corners a newly-pregnant friend into giving her a fertility treatment to name-drop: Brightborn. While Alison may not have the conning and coping skills that Sarah does, she is still smart as shit and a good liar to boot. It was fantastic to see these on display incorporated into the main storyline for once, and the Sarah-Alison parallels call back to Season 1, when they were the original clone foils. At the time, with a low headcount in Clone Club, they were set up as completely opposite - yet similarly willing to have each other’s backs. Since the addition of half a dozen more sisters, they’ve had little opportunity to interact in that vein, and it was lovely to see a hint of it again.

“From Instinct to Rational Control” moved things forward with worm answers, too, in a much-needed development. Cosima and Scott discover that the maggot-bots are basically a gene therapy delivery system, and could be altering Sarah’s DNA. Science people probably know what that means, but mostly I’m agog at the fact that Leekie’s post-mortem mouth maggot is glow-in-the-dark. Cosima Herter, you’ve truly outdone yourself.

Other answers came in the form of MK’s backstory, and the explanation of what exactly happened at "Helsinki."  Turns out MK, née Veera Suominen, is a Finnish clone who escaped a Topside “clean-up” of a group of clones and their families. While MK got out with just burns, her best friend Niki, another Leda clone, was killed. This, naturally, leads to MK’s revenge fantasy falling into her lap when she realizes that Ferdinand Chevalier, the executioner of the purge, is in contact with Sarah.

I was honestly astonished to get so much information about MK and Helsinki in this episode, but it served the hour well. First: it opened up more questions, as all good answers do. Why were the clones exterminated? Were they all living together as part of a study? How exactly did MK escape? Who else did she lose? Did Susan Duncan pull the trigger on the decision, and how does Rachel fit into this puzzle? All excellent questions to spawn.

Beyond the new crop of mysteries, this development gave us a setpiece of suspense the likes of which we haven’t seen since Helena had Rachel in the crosshairs of a gun and Sarah stepped in front of it. MK’s revenge fantasy allowed for a huge in-episode build of tension in conjunction with the backstory, and also rotated her into a more developed and gray-area character.

Looking at MK’s dynamic with Beth, it was fairly easy to draw a parallel between her and Helena, given Helena’s history with Sarah. The similarities continued in “From Instinct to Rational Control,” with MK demonstrating obsessive tendencies, skills beyond her emotional maturity, and the instincts of a wounded child.  Even better still, the narrative is using MK to fill a role that Helena once held: that of a clone who’s not exactly 100% Team Clone Club.

Initially, the great thing about Helena’s introduction was that she was sympathetic to the audience but a complete threat, and antagonistic of our main clones. Reigned by chaos, there was no telling what Helena would do, and to whom. How quickly do we forget, for example, that Helena murdered her own birth mother. (Rest in peace, Amelia. Sorry the show didn’t do more with you.)

Basically, clones that are not squarely with Sarah & Co. are inherently more interesting because of the divided loyalty - yes, they are Leda clones, but will they act in the interest of their sisters?  Since the show's beginning, we've only gotten Helena and Rachel (differentiated as bottle blondes, natch) to wear this mantle.  But after three seasons, Helena’s at the dinner table now, and Rachel is locked away in Castle Neolution.  MK stepping into this role is welcome.  As MK flees, she has both the sympathy and fear of the audience. She is a wild card - no longer trusting Sarah, and carrying $3.7 million to fuck shit up. What is her long game? Is she going to hide, or will she fight?

Of course, we are still waiting on the other Antagonist Clone Out to Sea: Rachel Duncan. Her scenes remain heavy with anticipation, and also sometimes just heavy with content that doesn’t seem to matter yet. Even so, she has been tasked with a Decision: does she let Charlotte’s illness run its course for full study, or does she step in and try to save her from the deterioration of her life? Obviously, we’re all hoping for the latter, but Rachel is currently leaning towards the former, in a classic Rachel case of holding to the party line. But I would wager that the writers are building to a shift, since Rachel, with all her childhood baggage, is basically looking at her younger self and leaving her to die. She also needs to stick it to her mom, who has basically lied to her and treated her like shit her whole life.  So!  This could be another spilling-over of Duncan feelings we’ve been waiting for... but we’ve got to earn it. I’m good with that. Who doesn't love a good payoff?

That’s the good thing about “From Instinct to Rational Control,” though: payoff seems imminent, as the wheels started spinning in new directions, with all the clones pushing forward individually and for the good of the group. These principles keep Orphan Black at its full potential: sisterhood, movement, progress, decisions, mystery, tension, and obstacle. Good stuff!


  • I hate to be the one who keeps making Lost references, but was anyone else reminded of Desmond in the hatch during MK’s pre-credits intro sequence? All those close-ups of a mundane routine in a larger mystery were totally reminiscent. Except Desmond made smoothies, not bombs. MK’s hardcore.
  • I really love Sarah Stubbs, okay. I love that this show had the gall to give a supporting character the same name as their main character, and yes, it was originally used for a plot point, but they keep bringing Sarah Stubbs back and I’m overjoyed every time. It’s lovely to see her and Alison actually be friends.
  • It’s also always welcome to have Felix in the Hendrix sphere! Great detail to have Felix offering his help with a little bit of exasperation about Sarah snapping at Alison, given his frustration with Sarah lately.
  • This episode really gets the most out of its rotting flesh dissection, with not one but TWO disgusting match-cuts to otherwise pleasurable moments - food, and sex.  
  • Ferdinand is such a welcome piece in this narrative, because he’s a total slimeball, but also highly entertaining in his own loathsome way. He’s completely expendable, yet also valuable - and predictable only in his love of frittatas.
  • This is the second episode in a row to end with a beat of terror about eugenics, so we definitely know where this season is heading.  Drop the first letter off "Brightborn" and you're in the realm of a scary-ass directive... because if there's one thing this season needed more of, it's full-body shudders!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Orphan Black 4.03 - "The Stigmata of Progress"

I confess: I have officially reached the point in Season 4 where all my reactions to Orphan Black are just questions. This show has spiraled so much, contorting towards and away from characters, spinning new yarns, and reviving old ones. I can barely keep track anymore, and watching an episode now only yields a series of questions. What’s going on with Kira, unsettling child with obvious yet undefined powers? What happened with Beth and MK that we don’t know about? Why is Rachel dressed like she’s the face of Celine Dion’s new Pirate Loungewear collection?

Rachel Duncan is obsessed with neither Sarah Manning nor white silk pajamas, thank you very much.
It’s just too much to try and answer.


Questions can be great. In fact, it’s essential for any story to set up questions that lead the audience. Questions from Season 1 of Orphan Black, for example: Who is killing the clones? Who is Alison’s monitor? Is Cosima going to be okay? Are Paul and Delphine good or bad? What is Kira’s deal? Questions mean mysteries, and almost always audience engagement.

Similarly, there are some good questions in Season 4.  Namely: what is the function of the robot worm embedded in Sarah’s face? How did Beth and MK meet, and what exactly unraveled Beth during her investigation? What is the true intent of Neolution and its disciples, like Detective Duko? And seriously, what, in the name of creepy fictional children everywhere, is Kira’s deal?

But Season 4 is also inadvertently spurring questions perhaps unintentionally, about the direction and focus on the show: this is how we’re dealing with the Castor clones now, with the addition of Ira?  Where did Marian Bowles go?  How much can we believably keep the police at bay after two manslaughterers shacked up with a trained assassin? Is Art back at work or still on probation? Why are we paying attention to Felix’s birth sister? Have they mentioned Helsinki already? Am I supposed to know what that is?

There are so few takeways from “The Stigmata of Progress,” excepting an enduring lineup of questions. So let’s look a few.

1. The clones may have telepathic powers??? It’s unclear how exactly Helena knew the names of Alison’s campaign team - even Alison herself shruggingly attributes it to Helena’s killer instincts (literally). But the post-show chat raises the question of telepathy, given the way the scene was directed and edited. This is certainly not outside the realm of possibility, what with the show’s willingness to step into science fiction and familial connection. Honestly, I have no idea.  If it is true, I'm mostly just amused that the two sisters to first demonstrate it could not be more different from one another. I’m pretty sure the only way Helena and Alison could successfully communicate is telepathically.

2. Why are we paying attention to Felix’s sister??? I truly don’t know. Similar to the Delphine mystery, I can't sniff out what the writer's intentions are with this storyline.  Of course we think she might be suspicious, but she’s probably not, and why are we even exploring this anyways? Yes, it’s completely understandable for Felix to find his birth family, and also understandable that he feels taken for granted in his sidekick role Chez Clone Club. But also, this show is about Clone Club, so any stories not directly dealing with the clones and their mysteries are better off on the cutting room floor.  Felix is, in fact, a sidekick.

3. What happened to Marian Bowles? And Shay? And Krystal Goderich? With our return to Season 1 mysteries, some of the characters who played big roles in Season 2 and 3 have gone missing from the narrative - even ones who connect to current stories, or were involved in cliffhangers from last season. From the looks of the previews, we’ll be in touch with Krystal again soon, to which I say: GOOD.

It is tricky, though, to sell this return to Season 1 mysteries as intentional and well-developed. Without tight storytelling, more questions creep in: is this too close to retcon? Will the audience buy that MK stayed in hiding for so long? Is it believable that no one has just directly asked about some of the long-burning mysteries and complicated alliances? Orphan Black walks a careful edge, trying to keep air in their premises. But honestly? This show does best when it’s threatening to careen off the tracks.

So far, though, we’ve got a slow-burn season happening - for better or worse. In Season 1, the writers put Sarah Manning in a corner and forced her to kick her way through walls. In nearly every scene, the thing the audience feared happening always happened, and the characters had to adapt or fall back. The pace was fast, the stakes high. But this season isn’t moving so far, and, fitting to its title, “The Stigmata of Progress” showed that plainly. Rachel’s locked up, Cosima’s stuck underground, Helena, Alison, and Donnie are playing house, MK’s hiding, and Sarah’s just walking around Toronto. While everyone’s at home, the only sense of urgency comes solely from the ticking time bomb in Sarah’s face.

Of course, it’s difficult to keep the story tight and purposeful when it’s sprawled in different directions, with so many characters. (A factoid that further boggles the mind: more than any previous season, Season 4 has the most scenes with multiple clones. Imagine if they were separated!) Objectively, it’s a massive challenge to maintain the stakes and urgency of a plot-heavy serial four seasons in. But so far, Season 4 is asking a lot of questions, both good and middling, and we’re hopefully plodding towards answers.


  • Rachel’s dinner with Susan Duncan and Ira truly is the worst possible family dinner imaginable. Susan and Rachel’s dynamic is textually fascinating, but I’m waiting anxiously for it to bubble over and erupt the way it did with Ethan. Also: free Rachel Duncan.
  • I love noticing little personality traits cropping up in Charlotte that remind me of the other clones. She was pretty scrappy and precocious this episode, calling to mind both Sarah and Cosima.
  • Art has a framed photo of his parents on their wedding day above his TV. I love Art.
  • Art also played mind games with Detective Duko to let him know he knows. I love Art.
  • Felix’s wistful monologue about his mother was lovely, but again: what is the point??? I want Jordan Gavaris to have great material, but surely there’s a better way...?
  • The brief Sarah/Helena interaction was lovely and heartbreaking, even in those few sentences. “I don’t want them to grow up like me.” “Rub that belly for me.”
  • Big love for Auntie Cosima paying attention to Kira and offering to do a science experiment with her when she’s been feeling left out of the loop.
  • Speaking of clones and kids, I’m digging this bond they’re setting up between Charlotte and Rachel. When Rachel jailbreaks, she better take that kid with her.  

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Orphan Black 4.02 - "Transgressive Border Crossing"

With Orphan Black’s flashback premiere throwing forward to Sarah Manning at episode’s end, there was no telling whether the ensuing episodes would devote any more time to Beth’s last case and her final days. Connecting characters were set up to cross into present-day - MK, the cheek cutters, and Detective Duko - so theoretically “The Collapse of Nature” could be the only hour in the past, as we push forward with Sarah on the run.

But “Transgressive Border Crossing” does indeed return to a modified flashback format, as we truly spend more time “back at the beginning of all this shit.”


The success of “Transgressive Border Crossing” lies in the fact that it isn’t just flashback, but rather a synthesized connection between past and present. The two timelines are merging, as MK bridges the gap between Beth and Sarah, and Art and Sarah uncover new mysteries through Beth’s surveillance.

Here’s what we learn: Beth has an encounter with Detective Duko at her apartment, where they both speak with dangerous candor from under thinly-veiled poker face. It seems clear that he knows Beth’s identity as a Leda Clone, given his reaction to her suggesting that the story of her life is at the end of her investigation. So, when Beth later puts a blond wig on her head and a gun in her purse, it’s difficult to avoid any conclusion that doesn’t involve her killing Duko. After all, as Art says, Beth can’t let anything go.

But when she returns with blood on her hands, she tells MK they’re done, and she needs to drop the investigation. Stubborn-as-hell Beth, backing off? It only seems logical that Beth found something out during this encounter, especially when you add the fact that we all expect that she killed Duko. Maybe she didn’t even kill Duko; maybe he’ll show up in present-day, in the Sarah storyline, or Rachel’s. Regardless: there has to be something else.

Whatever it is, it also has to be enough to push Beth completely over the edge, as we realize in her last scene with MK that she is wearing the burgundy dress and tightly-wound bun of our first encounter, on the train tracks. The slow recognition of that outfit, followed by the immediate understanding - and dread - of what was coming was phenomenally executed, and capped beautifully with MK’s vulnerable pleading for Beth to stay. There are few more heartbreaking sentences in the English language than “Please don’t leave me; I need you” - and even fewer when they’re not heeded, to tragic result.

Embedded in MK’s present-day conversation with Sarah, this section of the episode finally humanized MK into a fully-fledged character and Leda Clone to Care About. Between the close-ups on her face as she talks to Sarah in the laundromat, and the way she talked to Beth the last time she saw her, MK is now officialy initiated into Clone Club empathy. Not only that, but her dynamic with Beth called to mind another sisterly relationship on the show: that of Helena, with Sarah.

Sure, Beth and MK were not mirror-twins in utero, à la Meathead and Sestra, but the way they interact has shades of similarity. Beth and Sarah both occupy protective Older Sister role, while MK and Helena are both childlike and emotionally stunted, behaving lovingly towards the sisters who treat them with respect. This echo is yet another element of loss in Beth’s suicide, and I hope the writers spend time allowing MK to open up to Sarah in Beth's place. Given that Sarah immediately echoed Beth’s choice to call MK Mika, sensing that it meant something to her, this path seems likely, and should be rewarding.

Of course, Helena’s going to be tracking down Sarah, to share the important news that she is having twin babies with her boyfriend-husband Donnie Hendrix. Helena’s stories have recently skewed towards comedic, so it was nice to see the emotional turn this one eventually took, rewarding Helena’s relationships with Sarah, motherhood, and weirdly enough, Donnie himself.

It’s these last two that might stir up trouble, though, as Helena inadvertently disrupts Alison’s household, patience, and emotional landscape. I find it interesting that the show chose to show Alison struggling with uncomfortable feelings of jealousy towards her sister(s) that can have children. On the one hand, it’s totally understandable, especially for someone like Alison who doesn’t cope well with dashed expectations and perceived failure of self. At the same time, I wish the scene had been written differently, in a way that reminds the audience that Alison does have kids. She and Donnie have always been portrayed as the suburban mom-and-dad archetypes, and we forget too easily that they are actually parents.

Orphan Black’s writers have perhaps painted themselves into a corner on this issue, crossing their messages inadvertently through plot points. This has been, since the beginning, a show about found family. Sure, the family mostly comprises genetic identicals, but there’s an element of reward in that these separated sisters did, in fact, have to find each other. More than that, this nucleus has amassed a group of people unrelated by blood who serve - choose to serve - wholly and completely as mothers, daughters, brothers, sons, sisters, and in-laws. We don’t have to look far to see that in this episode, with Mrs. S. serving as Cosima’s shoulder-to-cry-on and stand-in mom.

But also… last season’s reveal about Kendall Malone and Siobhán pulled a Once Upon a Time, and now everyone’s a blood relative in a tangled-up genetic lineage. The writers even shine a light on that in this episode, as Felix feels like he’s an outsider and reveals that he’s been searching for his own birth family. And in the same hour, Alison’s kids go unmentioned and unshown as she expresses pain over not being able to have children.  This coincidence of events paints a portrait, however unintentional, that there's more validity and value in raising children by birth, and identifying families by blood.

Ultimately, Felix and Alison’s character motivations are completely understandable, but I do wish the narrative provided the validation that adopted children are, in fact, and irrevocably, enough for the families they are adopted into - especially for Alison’s kids, who are not white, and seldom talked about. Now that we’re on a show with an encompassing bloodline, found family narratives require extra reinforcement, especially when it’s been a core construct from Day 1.

“Transgressive Border Crossing” did mention another now-missing member of the Clone Club’s extended family: Delphine Cormier, who was last seen by the audience in a parking garage. Oh yeah - and mysteriously shot. In-universe, Cosima is suspended in uncertainty, knowing nothing except that Delphine disappeared. While the showrunners have intimated that Delphine is in fact dead (complete with some tone-deaf commentary), I am holding out hope. Because, frankly, if she’s dead, this is not great storytelling. Let’s lay it out:

  1. If she’s dead and we just find out later, it’s a terrible choice. Why drag it out?
  2. If she’s dead, the best possible scenario is that we find out later because she did something important the night of her death. Obfuscating Delphine’s death can only be a successful strategy if it is also obfuscating new information or a plot twist.
  3. Worst case scenario if she’s alive: the Neolutionists have seized her and done some experimental body-altering shit against her will. The New Rachel goes the way of the Old Rachel, as it were, and Delphine could become a rescue mission.
  4. Best case scenario, point-blank: she’s alive, laying low, and scheming - and the writers are just building natural suspense. After all, the Orphan Black showrunners talked about Helena like she was dead for months, only to show that she was alive and well, and now that bitch is having babies! I have hope. As Mrs. S. said: “It’s a war. Anything can happen.”


  • Episode MVP obviously belongs to Mrs. S., who fiercely burned down their Iceland haven looking all badass yet snuggly in her fair isle sweater. Bonus points for calling Cosima “chicken” and being emotional support.
  • Anybody else notice that Sarah’s styling her hair like Mrs. S. now? Cuuuuute.
  • “You alright with this?” “No, but it’s where we’re at.” What a nice bit of dialogue.
  • Just to make the body horror of the season even more traumatizing, Sarah now has a MAGGOT ROBOT IN HER MOUTH. OH GREAT. I DON’T MIND HAVING NIGHTMARES, THANKS, ORPHAN BLACK.
  • As if we didn’t need just one ticking clock on a clone’s health, we still have Cosima struggling in the background, and now Kendall has leukemia that everyone can look forward to.
  • Consider me curious about how the pregnant lady fits into Beth’s mystery. Any chance she was carrying a Leda clone? Or was the visit to Beth’s house just part of the premiere investigation about her boyfriend?

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Orphan Black 4.01: "The Collapse of Nature"

Since the first shocking moments of Orphan Black’s pilot, one mystery in particular has always captivated the audience: who exactly is Beth Childs?  Her demise is the inciting incident for the whole show, and the unknowns and loose ends of her existence propel much of the drama in the first season.  But as the show has sprawled further and further, the woman at the center has largely remained a question mark - until now.


Yes, finally, Orphan Black devoted an episode to Beth Childs’ backstory, choosing to focus on the events leading up to the accidental murder of Maggie Chen - the fallout from which serves as a challenge for Sarah to deal with in the first season. As a result, everything in “The Collapse of Nature” is familiar yet new, as we look at old events with fresh eyes and new information.

That’s the key, of course, to pulling off a flashback hour: information. What does the audience already know, and what do we need to tell them? How can we take past events and inject stakes and obstacles to engage the audience, instead of propping up old news without any new questions?

This particular type of quandary reminds me of another rabbit-hole science fiction show: yep, Lost, which relied exclusively on the flashback (and flashforward) as a narrative device. But Lost faced issues of pace and payoff, especially when negotiating how to dole out information and when. With Orphan Black firmly reestablishing itself as a science fiction show in this premiere, the comparisons don’t stop there. We have a similar beast - a serialized sci-fi mystery with humanity at its core to anchor the sprawling world expansion.

In general, “The Collapse of Nature” does well with pace and payoff - although it takes some time to ramp up to its best material.  The first two-thirds of the episode are part-and-parcel procedural, with its lead cop burned out and drugged up on the job.  Of course, Orphan Black is anything but typical, and we’re quickly reminded that this is also science fiction, and body horror.  Olivier Duval is a human in this universe who existed and also had a tail that he apparently liked to accessorize. JUST IN CASE YOU FORGOT.

Along these lines, the episode used these kinds of callbacks to fill their first two-thirds: we are treated to a carousel of characters we haven’t seen in awhile, like Olivier, and Paul, and Leekie, and Angie, Raj, Astrid, and Lieutenant Hardcastle.  We get to see Beth on the phone with Alison and Cosima, and a surprise chance encounter with Felix, when he was momentarily arrested for solicitation and public urination.

All of these were fun to witness, especially for a long-time viewer (my personal faves were Raj and Angie) but part of me wishes there were more meaning in these old faces.  First of all, most of them are dead now, which cast an eerie pall over the proceedings.  (It also gives Art, who has survived most of these people, a well-deserved present-day weariness.)  But beyond that, the Neolution mystery that connects to Sarah’s current storyline was planted retroactively in newly-devised characters like MK, Roxie and Frank, and Detective Duko.  It would have been massively cool to pull a familiar character into new relevance, instead of show-ponying them for novelty’s sake.  At the same time, I totally get that it would also be massively difficult to pull that off, given the fact that most of them are dead now, and and a lot of time has passed.  And truly, I don’t wish to believe that Raj is anything but a lil crumbcake of an IT guy with earnestly misplaced crushes.

So really, we look to characters we know a little better for an emotional anchor in this ghostly flashback.  Beth, right? She’s our POV character. But even she is something of a stranger to us, as she floats through her own narrative barely engaged. That’s totally the point, though, and it still gives us the episode’s most powerful moments - in the final third of the hour, when the narrative transcends procedural and delivers us the character piece that's always underpinned this story.

Beth spends most of “The Collapse of Nature” struggling to connect, and being wholly unable to. She is being suffocated by everything unsaid - the emerging mysteries of her identity, her disintegrating relationship with Paul, and her own burgeoning secrets.  So she fights to connect - she refuses to wear a mask, she begs to be seen, to be looked at - but she’s fighting a battle beyond her being. She’s already slipping out of her own life, fading from everyone around her. And even though she’s surrounded by people throughout the episode, there’s a degree of superficiality to all of her interactions. There are only two moments of genuine connection that Beth is granted: with Art, and with MK.

Structurally and narratively, the love scene with Art is the dam-breaking moment of relief before everything truly falls apart for Beth. Yes, it precedes her fatal encounter with Maggie Chen, but it also falls after Paul’s refusal to acknowledge Beth.  When Beth escapes to Arts, she is still seeking - and ultimately given - someone who truly sees her, even without knowing everything about her.  A relationship - a love - that transcends truth, in its many forms.  Art understands who Beth is, fundamentally, despite the complications he can't pinpoint, and is trying dearly to hold onto her as she’s slipping away.

Last season, Sarah assumed that Art was in love with Beth because he was the one Beth called after shooting Maggie Chen.  At the time, without context, that choice didn’t feel particularly informed or original.  It seemed like an easy excuse to keep Art involved with the clone mystery, when we didn’t really need one at that point.  But now?  Now, with context and chemistry, it’s so much more nuanced and complicated than “Art was in love with Beth.”  Their relationship finally has the texture it’s deserved since the beginning, and the idea that it was likely unresolved when Beth committed suicide is truly heartbreaking.  Can any romance on this show catch a break?

Of course, this is a show that prioritizes clone sisterhood above all else, and the last moment we get with Beth is on MK’s couch, Beth’s eyes slipping shut and MK offering comfort - in person this time. “The Collapse of Nature” kept Beth from interacting face-to-face with her genetic identicals - Alison and Cosima on the phone, MK by video chat - and only in the end is she allowed a moment of rest in the refuge of a sister. Knowing the kind of sister-family the show has assembled for Sarah in Beth’s stead, it’s not hard to conclude that Beth might have stood more of a chance with the clone club support system Sarah has had the opportunity to inherit and foster.

But this is history that has already come to pass, and so “The Collapse of Nature” has no choice but to push Beth believably over the edge with Maggie Chen’s murder.   In the final moments of Beth at her own crime scene, it’s difficult not to think of our last glimpse of her on the train tracks in the pilot.  The dead-eyed stare she gives Art from beyond his conversation is eerily reminiscent of the look she gives Sarah before she ends it all, at the beginning.

And with that, we’re back to the present day and Sarah Manning, as the mysteries continue.  I’m left wondering: is the premiere the best episode for a flashback episode? I wager that, much like with Lost, this decision will have little consequence in the future when you’re bingewatching. You can just jump from 3.10 to 4.01 without a yearlong memory fade. But now? It feels a little slow to grease the wheels and get them grinding, especially when we’re not nested in the present. I almost wonder if the OB gang could’ve done a present-timeline premiere, set up a bunch of mysteries - including MK and the cheek cutters, and then placed the flashback immediately after.

Regardless, I’m certainly primed now, and ready to hit the ground running. The Neolutionists are chasing Sarah, and we certainly have more to explore with systems and the individual, nature and nurture, and chance and design.  I also found myself missing the latter Clones - Rachel, Helena, and Krystal, so I’m looking forward to checking in with them.  Armed with information from the past and a few villains to carry into the present, this season is refreshed and ready to go.


  • Add Beth to the company of Rachel and Alison as Clones Who Can’t Cope.  All three have trouble bending and not breaking, as they rely on self-destructive tendencies to numb out and suppress negative emotions.  Meanwhile, Sarah, Helena, and Cosima all embody or embrace chaos, and can deal with the loss of control.
  • Will the mystery of Maggie Chen go even further?  Was she in that alley for a reason?  We know she was involved with DYAD and the Proletheans, but did she have a connection to Neolutionists also?
  • Another tragedy of Beth: she skirted so close to so many mainplayers in her investigation, but was (presumably) never able to learn the whole truth before her death.
  • There’s material for more flashbacks here, since we still don’t have the block of time between Maggie Chen’s death and Beth’s suicide. There’s also the question of Beth’s life before things started unraveling.  I want to know the earliest beginnings of all the clones, frankly, as well as how Beth first started her investigation and met with Cosima and Alison.
  • No Delphine? Even despite her early ties to Leekie and Neolution? Honestly, there was a curly-haired extra with her back to the camera in the Leekie/Beth scenes, and I was half-expecting the woman to turn and be - GASP - Delphine. And it wasn’t even the right hair color. In any case: sigh.
  • Paul was the worst monitor ever. Like, honestly. HE WAS REALLY BAD AT PRETENDING TO BE BETH’S BOYFRIEND. No wonder Beth was ready to claw her face off out of frustration. Or, y’know, shoot him. (Yikes.)
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