Orphan Black Review: 'Transitory Sacrifices of Crisis'

Sunday, 26 April 2015 - 12:20PM
Orphan Black
Sunday, 26 April 2015 - 12:20PM
Orphan Black Review: 'Transitory Sacrifices of Crisis'
< >
After the fast-paced powerhouse of a premiere last week, Orphan Black slowed down quite a bit for its second episode. It wasn't nearly as exciting or cohesive, but it was a perfectly solid installment and served as a perfectly respectable necessarily evil in order that successfully set up the rest of the season. Some of the plotlines were more successful than others, but Project Castor continued to build suspense and intrigue, and Team Hendrix is back in the biggest and best way, which may make up for all of the episode's flaws.

Project Castor

While many had their reservations about adding new clones to the mix, as there's a risk of overcrowding, the Project Castor clones have not disappointed thus far. Ari Millen has some impossibly big shoes to fill working alongside Tatiana Maslany, but he's acquitting himself gracefully. And from a writing perspective, the dynamic between the Castor clones is becoming more complex and compelling. Not only is there a possible cyborg/programming aspect to their biology, as evidenced by Seth's technical "glitching," but there is a genuine brotherly love underneath all of the Machiavellian ruthlessness. Trying to "share" a woman against her will and saying a tender goodbye after a point-blank execution might not be the healthiest ways to express that love, but it's there all the same.

But most importantly, and just as we predicted, Project Castor is becoming a fascinating exploration of the societal constructs surrounding gender. Where women are dehumanized when they're reduced to specific body parts, men are dehumanized when they're forced to subsume their individual identities to a collective that views them as very much expendable. Women are valued for their ability to serve as baby incubators, men for their ability to die for a cause. Helena was waterboarded until it was revealed that she was pregnant, and Seth was unceremoniously shot like an injured racehorse once he was revealed to be a defective soldier. The Project Castor clones have been effectively set up as this season's major villains, but they can be viewed as victims just as much as Project Leda.

Team Hendrix

Alison and Donnie's subplot has become my favorite part of the show. Of all of Tatiana Maslany's performances, her turn as Alison has always come closest to convincing me that it's an entirely different person. And the fact that the writers are finally taking full advantage of Kristian Bruul's comedic timing doesn't hurt, not to mention that diabolical suburban politics is hilarious in itself; it's like watching Desperate Housewives at its best with a nifty clone twist. 

But therein also lies the problem: it feels like an entirely different show. Not only is the tone radically different and the stakes wildly lower, but thus far their subplot has not been connected to the overarching plot at all. With all the crises involving Sarah, Kira, Helena, etc, the lack of interaction between Alison and her sister clones is not only jarring but unrealistic. Comic relief is supposed to literally relieve the tension by injecting some humor into otherwise serious proceedings, but it doesn't work if the comedic plot and serious plot are completely disconnected from each other. 

The Battle of the Underdeveloped Love Interests

Sarah has always been my favorite clone, and her plotline had some genuine stakes in this episode, especially when Kira was taken hostage. Although they've used the Kira-in-peril plot device many times over, the scene was tense, well-acted, and overall terrifying. And while it made perfect sense that Cal would leave with Kira in the end, as her life is clearly in danger, this resolution felt like a contrivance to get problematic characters out of the way. While Kira adds emotional heft, it's always difficult for action-heavy shows to write children without letting them drag everything down. And I personally like the Cal character, especially Michiel Huisman's portrayal, but he's too decent/bland to get much to do. Their bid to make him more complex with the "war profiteering" secret felt like just that- a desperate attempt to make him more interesting- so he's probably better off giving the audience a break for a while.

This blandness goes to the heart of the problem with the Sarah/Cal/Paul love triangle. I tend to enjoy it, because the actors are all likable and I have a soft spot for love triangles, but neither love interest is developed enough to justify its existence. In many ways, the stand-off between Cal and Paul was well-written, as it made their mutual feelings for Sarah very much the subtext and never the text. But, it was still a little difficult to care, even as someone with a weakness for that sort of thing. We don't understand much about the bond between Cal and Sarah other than the fact that he's a trustworthy, dependable guy who's the father of her child. And while Paul and Sarah's relationship was interesting at first, particularly during the whole Beth Childs debacle, the writers have worked so hard to keep his motivations and loyalties "mysterious" that it sometimes seems like he doesn't have any.


-I'm not at all on board with this "spiritual element" of Kira's specialness. It's always a little contrived when one character is the "key to everything," but at least the notion of unique stem cells fits with the show's mythology and overall naturalistic sci-fi sensibility. Some kind of "magic" healing power would be full-on fantasy and would definitely venture into cheesy territory.

-I don't always love Helena as much as everyone else does, but she was hilarious this week: "Where are the mangos? I would like to see these mangos." "I met your brother. He's ugly."

-Dr. Coady is shaping up to be a formidable new villain. I got chills when she warmly told Helena that she would "feel the water in there for a bit" as though she were talking about a paper cut stinging for a couple of days. Her affable yet merciless matriarch reminds me of Mags on Justified in the best way.

-The line from Rudy and Seth's victim, "I consented to the first guy, so it wasn't rape," was also surprisingly insightful about gender dynamics in society. We can only feel sorry for other people, and for ourselves, when they undergo a trauma that has a name, and her strange experience with Project Castor defied definition. It wasn't "technically" sexual assault, so she's not allowed to feel violated, and yet it was most certainly a violation.

-Quotation of the week: "I'll beat her like a French meringue." - Alison Hendrix
Science Fiction
Sci-Fi TV Shows
Orphan Black