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.  
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