But more on that in a moment.
ORPHAN BLACK 3.01 - “THE WEIGHT OF THIS COMBINATION”
It’s clear from the first moments of “The Weight of this Combination” that we are staring down a different kind of animal than led the previous two seasons. Where the first two Orphan Black premieres share a similar tone and structure, the third kickoff burns at a different pace, with new elements at play and at stake. Where Seasons 1 and 2 both begin with a cataclysmic event that spins the world into a desperate chase, Season 3 rotates slowly on its own axis, requiring its characters to stand still and endure as they embark on a mental long game. Ruse, tension, and fear all mark the hour, instead of shock, acceleration, and pursuit.
With things momentarily settled in agitation, “The Weight of this Combination” wisely invests in two different ventures: 1) wishful thinking, and 2) anticipation. We see the first immediately, through Helena’s fantasy baby shower, perhaps possible if only she weren’t boxed up by the military. It’s heart-breakingly earnest, with Helena as the glowing recipient of fond smiles and thoughtful presents. In this happy place, she can live peaceably with her Sestras, and Kira, and Brother Sestra, as she awaits the newest member of their family. No Thomas, no Henry, no DYAD. Wouldn’t it be nice, indeed.
But alas, this ideal is impeded by an unfortunate reality, and when you go seeking heartbreak in the premiere, you find more incidents of real life splintering fantasy. The truth that Mrs. S. gave Helena to the military finds Sarah quickly, and Siobhán can do little but stand guiltily on her wartime decision while Sarah bruisingly casts her out of “her people.” To Siobhán, Sarah is choosing an extremist who tried to kill her over the woman who raised her and protected her, and it seems as though the family these two created is disintegrating as a result of the onslaught of circumstance. A happy possibility thwarted by reality.
The next sighting of painful truth comes with Delphine and Cosima’s break-up. If you’re looking for one ultimate single moment of heartbreak in this episode, look no further than Cosima's devastatingly vulnerable “I love you,” a half-hearted protest that she knows is not enough. The irony of Cosima and Delphine’s love story is the fact that it’s so unlikely, in such unlikely circumstances, but this element that brought them together is also going to tear them apart. Like Mrs. S., Delphine is being pushed out of the Clone Circle, because they are not clones. They cannot truly be allies, not because they’re not clones, but because of what being a clone means. It’s no accident that Cosima also offers up a quiet “I love you” to Alison and Sarah, and is actually reciprocated.
In these elements of insidious reality, we begin to see slow shifts and stage-settings for what might come. Anticipation laces through the hour, and is echoed in the structure of tension and suspense. The first half of the episode awaits Ferdinand, the cleaner, and the second half awaits his realization that Delphine is tricking him by imposing Sarah as Rachel and Alison as Sarah. We learn that two glimmer-eyed Boy Clones are skidding along a mission of violence and chaos, and we learn that Topside is also working on taking out the remaining Leda clones. We get a hint of some kind of rage trigger for the Castor Clones, perhaps a side effect in the same vein as Leda’s issues stemming from the eugenic infertility. And we even get a hint of a hint at Kira’s possible magical properties, perhaps linking her miraculous survival of being hit by a car in S1 with the dream retrieval of Cosima from death’s door. (Am I reaching here? Weigh in.)
But perhaps the most interesting anticipation comes in the shift with Delphine. With her newly straightened hair and ambiguous morals, Delphine skyrockets onto the scene as a Major Player of Season 3. It’s swift, it’s sudden, and it’s terrifying.
This change is even more drastic when I consider the fact that I personally have never felt compelled to delve into the character, simply because her existence on the show could be summed up as a well-meaning soft-heart who loves science and Cosima and is thus very bad at being a monitor and/or double agent. I actually want to take a moment to bring in one of the few things I’ve put down about Delphine, from last season’s premiere review:
…it bears stating that Sarah’s enemies affiliate with a tribe, whereas her allies are all individuals. It’s more apparent than ever in the “Nature Under Constraint and Vexed.” [... ] The help that Art, Paul, and Delphine provide to the clones relies on the idea that they’re betraying the organization to which they belong by acting of their own individual accord. [They] know the clones as humans, largely because they share human relationships with them. Art sees a partner, Paul and Delphine see lovers, Helena sees a sister. Like Delphine said: they’re invested. The humanity afforded the clones directly correlates with the help these people provide, which fosters the idea that they are thinking free of - and acting against - their embedded tribe.
Of course, OB is still playing with the idea of loyalty, particularly with Delphine and Paul. Does loyalty to Cosima mean heeding her verbalized wishes, or does it mean turning over blood samples to DYAD because they’re the ones who can save her? The cast and writers have been very clear that Delphine’s feelings for Cosima are genuine (mercifully side-stepping the evil/manipulating/doomed lesbians trope) and so what’s interesting is how Delphine processes these feelings and how that manifests in her choices. This particular decision clearly indicates that she still has some faith to her tribe, in spirit if not motive. Delphine is not being blackmailed, unlike Paul, and therefore her lingering loyalty to DYAD and Leekie speaks more of her faith in science than anything else. Ironically, this characteristic that’s “betraying” Cosima is probably also what connects her to Cosima. Even more ironically, Delphine’s approach thus far in S2 is very reminiscent of S1 Cosima: she knows she’s being played, but she still plays, through some faith in the system and her own power. She believes she can use her affiliation with DYAD as an advantage. But this is group vs. individual, and it’s difficult to be optimistic about that in this universe. It seems inevitable that Delphine’s conflation of science with a group of scientists is going to burn her this season.
Damn!!! In last season’s premiere, it seemed inevitable that Alison, Rachel, and Delphine would experience harsh breakdowns because of an inability to cope with messy entanglements. Alison and Rachel have already experienced theirs, but Delphine…? Season 3 may be her time. The shift from Being Played to Major Player is huge, and it happens quickly. How much time has passed from 2.10 to 3.01 - a week? In this time, Delphine swiftly ascends the cold throne of DYAD, straightens her hair, and assumes the role of Rachel. “We all have our part to play,” she tells Cosima, and we can safely infer that Delphine believes this is hers, and the only option for her.
The fact that this realization and transformation is offscreen is a damn shame, because watching Delphine learn to inhabit the skin of Rachel Duncan would not be unlike watching Sarah Manning learn to inhabit the skin of Beth Childs, an iconic montage in the original Pilot. (Sarah’s makeover into Rachel is a half-callback, certainly welcome but not weighty. You’re damn right.) Delphine begins to straighten her hair, and dress differently - more structured, more crisp, more severe. But more than the look, Delphine has the walk. Who has two thumbs, speaks unlimited French, and made Rachel Duncan cry today? Au revoir, chiot.
There’s another detail of note that embodies Delphine’s shift - in 2.01, she stands apart from her organization because she sees the clones as individuals. Cosima, and her sisters. However, by 3.01, as The New Rachel, she must see them all as equal. They are a group, and for the purpose of self-preservation and larger goal, Cosima can no longer be unique upon Delphine. These are their parts. It is also Delphine’s part to ask Rachel’s doctor to prioritize Leda as a project over the individuality of its components. Delphine’s perspective has forcibly shifted, from individual to group, as she steps into power in the only place it exists in this narrative - with the group.
The fundamental question here is this: can Delphine sustain this level of armor? Can a woman who tripped and fell in her own feelings for a test subject really separate her heart and her reality? What is she capable of, and will it be the thing that finally breaks her - an inevitability set up one season ago? She can barely contain her sobs until Cosima retreats into Felix’s apartment, and while Cosima is certainly a soft spot, it’s still a glimmer of weakness in Delphine’s sleek facade. The holograph flickers, and we see reality underneath. And because this image is clearly adopted, it begs the final question of this shift: how will this change her? Will we lose another ideal happiness to the cold clutch of circumstance? The answer, standing at the start of the season, points drearily to yes.
And we were worried about boy clones. Although. We probably should be worried about Boy Clones because two of them are picking people off and exercising naked, and neither of these threats can be ignored. Regardless, The New Rachel Delphine was the surprise magnet of the episode, and this transformation is poised to be a fascinating and complex time bomb throughout the season.
In all, “The Weight of this Combination” keeps its hand steady as it tasks our clones with new challenges and dangers, surrounding them with fresh enemies and an ever-shifting circle of allies. Even though this premiere breaks pattern, it still holds promise, as the first gulp of a breath-held season filled with difficult choices, unavoidable circumstances, and the inevitable interplay between reality and what we want.
- Guess Alison and Donnie are gonna take out a School Trustee this season. I really hope they just mean metaphorically. #littleHendrixThings
- "I don't want to participate in any more Secret Shit," says Scott. "I see your point," Cosima nods. "But what about THIS Secret Shit?"
- I want to know what kind of store Bubbles is. I MUST know.