Saturday, June 13, 2015

Orphan Black 3.08 - "Ruthless in Purpose, and Insidious in Method"

The structure of Orphan Black’s third season is, fittingly, a story of two halves - a first and a second, paired together to complete a whole. Where the first half was Castor, the second half has been Leda - perhaps too literally, as the focus shift from one to the other has only served to highlight the audience’s greater investment in our lady clones than their (creepy-ass) brothers.

As such, the second half of Season 3 has delivered three great episodes in a row. 3.06 accelerated quickly and explosively, 3.07 featured all the Leda clones in an Alison-centric ‘burbscape, and 3.08 combines the the best elements of its two predecessors and spins a fantastic hour grounded in characters and relationships we care about, with the quick twists and turns of a classic OB outing. For me, it easily dethrones 3.06 as the best episode of the season thus far.


A major reason this episode works well is the continued focus on the Leda clones - not just on the sisterhood as a whole, but equally distributed on its individual members, and the relationships they have with each other. Every clone is deployed in this episode, and they co-exist in the same space in a way that makes the world feel more intimate, instead of spiraling out of control. Even as the show reveals yet another layer of power by episode’s end, we, as an audience, still feel tight to the core group of clones under pressure from outside forces.

Yes, the group is as together as ever. Helena and Gracie move in with Alison to help with the soap front, Cosima and Sarah devise a plan to reclaim Duncan’s code, and Felix and Sarah carry out morally grey errands at the behest of Rachel - who’s with everyone, until she isn’t. All three of these aspects are wonderful choices, for different reasons.

First, it’s lovely to see Alison’s previous declaration of “mother hen” being taken seriously in an effort to move these characters around in believable ways. Alison graciously bringing Helena and Gracie under House Hendrix also allows her story sphere more relevant screentime, by sheer force of numbers. Not only that, but it allows Helena the opportunity to demonstrate her mom skills, simultaneously letting us actually see the Hendrix kids, a clamor I may as well tattoo on my forehead. Cherry on top: it’s a comedy goldmine.

Cosima and Sarah also have a sweet Skype conversation, in a fond callback to their main communication of seasons past. This scene was a lovely way to deploy some exposition and outline Clone Club’s intentions for the situation, and the writers sweeten it with Cosima opening up a bit to Sarah about her relationship with Shay. Later, these two are the brains behind the plan to trick Delphine and Rachel into getting Duncan’s book back. Altogether, this dynamic is one of my unexpected favorites - while relationships like Sarah and Felix and Sarah and Helena are more outwardly meaningful, the interactions between Sarah and Cosima are quietly poignant. They’ve grown to love each other at a distance, with mutual admiration for both the traits they share and the traits that distinguish them. Some of my favorite scenes in the second season belong to Cosima and Sarah interacting (the phone call in “To Hound Nature in Her Wanderings,” and their conversation in “By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried” both come to mind). It’s always nice to see their dynamic deployed in another quiet moment of unity, and even used to position them as two strategic brains of the operation.

Sarah and Felix’s task in the episode also provided a lot of material, refracting into a spectrum of well-developed threads and choices. On a base level, it’s lovely to give Felix something to do, especially when it involves the trappings of a Sarah con - deceit, theft, identity swap. It’s also fundamentally delightful to see these characters play different versions of themselves, reiterating the same face in a range of dynamics. With this notion, “Ruthless in Purpose, and Insidious in Method” gives us a glorious gift: we meet a new clone, and she interacts not only with Felix, but also Delphine.

Krystal Goderich is perhaps the episode’s greatest success, simply because of the redirect that happens with limited screen time. Here is a character purposefully introduced as a somewhat vapid Leda clone - she works in a nail salon, talks with a Valley-ish affectation, and spills her scandals to anyone who will listen. She is designed to be poked fun of, a study in contrast - this woman has the same DNA as Sarah the Grifter, Cosima the Scientist, Alison the Mom, Rachel the Ice Queen, and Helena the Feral Assassin. What a world! Krystal is little more than a show pony to emphasize the power of nurture over nature.

But in less than seven minutes of relevant screentime, the OB writers pivot Krystal Goderich, and make her perhaps the most sympathetic character this series has ever developed. Not only is she actually smart, but she’s confused, and alone, and destined for a life of disappointment without understanding. She’s fully aware of her bizarre life, but unable to identify what exactly is conspiring around her. Not only this, but she has no idea that her DNA has fated her to fall victim to Rachel’s growling bid to leave the country and assume a new identity. And despite these horrible things in her life, she’s rationalized everything with a tragically optimistic motto: You can’t crush the human spirit. Um, how is this not the most heartbreaking character? The writers do a beautiful job not only dimensionalizing Krystal, but also affirming her through Felix’s fond encouragement for her, and his revulsion at doing something so horrible to a good person in order to appease Rachel, of all people.

Maybe the Mexican cantina owner can swoop in and save Krystal Goderich from her fate. ¿Por favor? La Camarera: ¡Salvando a las clones Leda, una a la vez!

Beyond the character work, “Ruthless in Purpose, and Insidious in Method” employed a classic Orphan Black plot structure: the world spins madly underfoot as Sarah & Co. make difficult decisions trying to keep their power when it’s under direct threat of DYAD. It’s difficult to go wrong with this outline, although I have to imagine it’s probably challenging to reiterate it in fresh ways. That being said, this episode used the structure to great effect. The stakes were both comedic and horrific at once, even more so than Alison’s disturbed suburbia. Through Rudy’s threat to Scott’s cat, OB created a really low-level danger that actually operated in a huge, frightening way. I was screechingly terrified for poor Scott and his cat in that moment, even through the slight absurdity of the situation. The fact that we have a clear, consolidated villain in Rudy and Coady is also welcome, and the focus helps immensely.

The levels of manipulation also worked well in the episode. For one, it was interesting to see Rachel squirm through the hour as both an unempowered victim, and a powerful woman who still holds all the cards - and uses that to her advantage. Rachel’s place this season has been nothing short of fascinating in that she has been both heartbreaking and fearsome, not a shadow of who she was but of the security she was privileged with. She is still the same coiled snake, ready to strike at anyone who gets too close. The fact that she is in many ways trapped by her own body is a tragic manifestation of her own emotional restrictions and her discomfort with a lack of personal power.

The manipulation of the hour also brought us another layer of DYAD to fear - Dr. Nealon, and whoever the hell oversaw Rachel’s surgery at episode’s end. This is certainly welcome, from a plot standpoint, but I’m more concerned with the third result of manipulation: the scene with Cosima and Delphine. These two are playing a fucked-up game of chicken that is unfortunately quite grounded in real feelings. It’s more and more evident that their circumstances are destroying their relationship, slowly, certainly, and incontrovertibly. The show has done such a good job believably breaking them apart, without it feeling like an unmotivated romantic obstacle as story fodder for an ultimate endgame.

Cosima and Delphine have very real issues, and at the same time, very real love. That Cosima confessed her near-death experience as a way to distract Delphine from her plan is a perfect embodiment of their complicated relationship. The core sentiment is nothing less than true, and perhaps the most romantic thing any human could say to another - and yet circumstances conspire to wield that moment in complete deceit. The question with these two is always this: is their situation insidious enough to nullify their true feelings? Can they survive the amount of mistrust that’s permanently wearing against their relationship? Or are they doomed to their consequences, where their power imbalance will tear them apart?

Thankfully, Cosima lives another week to perhaps answer these questions in future. But, we have much before us in the last two episodes. Rachel is now in a coma, Shay is perhaps a Castor mole (for some reason), and the team is little closer to breaking Duncan’s code, which is not only encoded, but also in RIDDLE FORM. Goddammit, Duncan. I don’t know why I expected anything different.

Regardless - after three solid episodes in a row, and with a homecoming field trip to London in front of us, I am altogether excited for the last two episodes of Season 3. Though it was slow going at the beginning, the Leda half of this Janus season has turned towards great character work, plot development, and unique expansions of the world we’re in.


  • “Identical twins are so creepy,” says Krystal. Tell me about it, Delphine thinks. One time I totally made out with my girlfriend’s genetical identical and that was really weird. And this coming from someone who enjoys lovers!
  • Donnie continues to be an unsung hero used perfectly in relation to Alison. “I may be a bitch, but I’m Alison’s bitch!” Bless you, Mr. Hendrix.
  • “How are you gonna know without me?” Cosima and Delphine’s relationship flirts with toxicity again through this vaguely threatening imposition of Delphine’s power in Cosima’s life. I mean, we’re pretty sure you mean DYAD, Delphine, not you… but… this just reiterates Cosima’s restricted access to treatment and knowledge in a totally unsettling, fuck-you-Delphine kind of way.
  • Half an episode later it’s impossible not to feel all fluttery and emotional about their kiss. FINE, Orphan Black. You win!
  • Scott’s cat is named Denise. Internet, I love animals with very human names.
  • Speaking of, shout out to Josh Vokey, who plays Scott. He’s already done a great job playing small but impacting moments as a tertiary character, but this episode cemented some fine work as he becomes more integral to the story, as well as Cosima and Rachel.
  • Gracie wears Alison’s checked pajamas from the house party in Season 1. Hopefully no one told her Alison tortured Donnie in them.

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