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.)

Friday, April 8, 2016

Orphan Black Season 4 Sneak Peek

Egads!  BBC America has treated us all to the first four minutes of Orphan Black's Season 4 opener one week before it's set to air.  Mark those calendars for April 14th at 10 pm, and behold:

Of course, the world twists madly on, around Sarah, and Rachel, and Alison, and Cosima, and Helena, and - well, you get the idea.  But we're given time with some new characters as well as familiar faces in this Season 4 sneak peek.  Let's round them up.
  • New Clone Alert!  We meet M.K., who serves as our eyes and ears for new information.  Except it's not new new information.  Nah, this is actually old news, because we are in a pre-pilot flashback!  (More on that in a moment.)  M.K. wears a mask for the most of the clip, and of course, that mask looks like a sheep.  Clone imagery, check!  The question, of course, is if M.K. herself knows that she's a clone.  Where exactly are we on this investigation?  
  • The answer to that question might be revealed through Beth Childs, who also makes an appearance in the sneak peek.  She's still alive, and in contact with M.K., presumably on her quest to uncover the mysteries of DYAD and her genetic identity.  M.K. sends Beth GPS coordinates, Beth numbs out with medication, and goes to meet her in the dead of night.  We don't know exactly how long she is for this world, but it seems we've already begun the process of "losing it, clinically."
  • Of course, when Beth storms out, she leaves behind her monitor - nice to see you again, Paul!  He's as poker-faced and intense as ever, under the thin guise of caring partner.  Knowing that these two are dead now - as well as the dysfunction of their relationship - makes their whole interaction here more than a little unsettling.
  • Then there's the mystery of what M.K. actually sees, in the forest: two paramedics burying a body, not in a hurry enough to not stop and make out a little bit.  There's no real evidence that this couple killed the person they're burying, but the Hendrix-esque Murder Couple vibe they give off doesn't really paint them innocent.
So, naturally, Orphan Black kicks off raising questions!  Who is M.K.?  When are we?  Who is in the body bag, and who's burying it?  Where are Alison, and Cosima, and Mrs. S in this pre-Sarah timeline?  With the reveal of Trojan Horse Neolutionists from last season's finale, it only makes sense to rewind and look at past events with new information, and new eyes.  The exploration of Beth's backstory and pre-pilot events is definitely worthwhile, and helps this show stay grounded in its sci-fi spiral.  Onward and upward, Season 4!
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