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!

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