Orphan Black Review: 'Scarred by Many Past Frustrations'

Sunday, 17 May 2015 - 11:12AM
Orphan Black
Sunday, 17 May 2015 - 11:12AM
Orphan Black Review: 'Scarred by Many Past Frustrations'
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Last night's episode of Orphan Black was the most cohesive we've seen since the premiere, with the primary focus on Sarah and Helena's attempts to escape Project Castor. The back-and-forth between the recently estranged sisters was compelling, leading up to a fairly devastating conclusion. Plus, Gracie finally got a few layers to her character, Cosima got lucky, and Felix got all the best one-liners in Alison and Donnie's inexplicable absence.

Helena and the Sandwich

Not only was the development in Helena and Sarah's relationship well-written for this episode as a standalone, it also shed a different and more realistic light on their dynamic for the past three seasons. I always thought the twins' reunion was a little too neat; yes, they're biological twins, and Helena is certainly a character to be pitied. But still, she's killed a lot of people, she tried to kill the people she now considers to be her "sisters," and Sarah has tried to kill her in the past. It would be far too contrived if they had an unshakeable bond at this point, regardless of how much they may love each other.

First with Art's comment last week that Sarah was "going through an awful lot of trouble to save someone she once tried to kill," and then Helena's betrayal this week, the writers are giving the complexity of their dynamic its due credit. Castor may have been convincing Helena into believing that Sarah betrayed her, but the situation would have been entirely different if it were Alison or Cosima in that cell. Either probably would have assumed that Castor was lying, or at least would have been much more willing to accept Sarah's explanation and Paul's corroboration. 

But Helena can't enter into this unconditional, saccharine "sisterhood" as easily as any of the others. Sarah has been through her share of suffering, but it's nothing compared to the torture, confinement, and psychological terrorism that has defined Helena's life thus far. It would have been false for her and Sarah to simply become "sisters" without complicating the dynamic. It was relatively easy for Castor to convince Helena that Sarah had betrayed her, and more difficult for her to accept that they were lying, because she has been conditioned to be harsh, cold, and distrustful. 

"In Siberia when planning escape you take weak person with you. They are called sandwich because you eat them."

Ex-Prolethean Dance Party

Gracie's character has been mostly flat and two-dimensional so far, but in this episode, the writers added a few layers and idiosyncrasies. After the one-two punch of discovering that her husband is an "abomination" and losing her child/home, she's gone completely nuclear, and desperately wants to have a belated teenage rebellion against the Proletheans' rigid moralism.

The Gracie/Felix/Mrs. S dance party was just as charming as it sounds (although still not quite as endearing as that clone dance party), but the most interesting moment of character development came when Felix defensively asks Gracie, "You know I sleep with men, right?" and she immediately answers, "I'm not an idiot." In that one statement, before she's said anything about wanting to rebel, she effectively conveys that she was never as simplistic or as successfully brainwashed as she seemed. 

Gracie's scenes with Mrs. S. were also a highlight, as we've rarely seen Siobhan reveal her tender side to anyone, let alone a near-stranger. When she tells Felix that he was worse off than Gracie when Mrs. S. took him in, we're reminded that in spite of her tough exterior, she has a documented soft spot for lost souls who have nowhere else to go. 

These scenes were also much more explicit than usual with the shows themes, particularly when Gracie is surprised to find out that Sarah had normal human emotions growing up. "We were always taught that they were less than human, abominations," she says, clarifying that Helena was only taken in because she was fertile, and Mrs. S. sagely tells her, "Fertile, infertile, they're all just people."

As I've stated in previous reviews, Orphan Black is entirely concerned with exploring, and contradicting, the societal notion that a woman's value lies in any specific body part. This theme is especially reinforced when Gracie reveals that she is traumatized by her father forcing her to carry a cloned child, as it demonstrates that the injustice extends beyond the clones to all women, as it does in real life.

Cosima's Sapphic Sapphire Date

This subplot could have been another entertaining trifle that felt entirely irrelevant, but it was shot with such a sense of foreboding that there was sufficient implication Shay will play into the larger plot in some way. It's a little repetitive for Cosima's love interest to be duplicitous in this way, since Delphine and Cosima's relationship had a similar arc, but if it will bring Cosima back into the overarching story, I'm all for it.


-Alison and Donnie were entirely absent this week, which had its pros and cons. On the one hand, they had become frustratingly isolated in their own subplot, so no matter how hilarious they were, they felt distractingly irrelevant. On the other hand, they're hilarious, and taken in isolation have been the best part of this season so far. The fact that this episode was better overall in spite of forgetting about two of its best characters is just a further sign that the writers have a few too many balls in the air this season.

-It should be interesting that Paul is losing faith in Coady, but it's not, because we never had a real sense of his motivations to begin with. "The military is just another family"? Does he really care about the boy clones that much? Have we seen any foundation laid to that effect?

-Best line of the week: "You, baby Jesus, come up the stairs with me." - Felix

-The revelation that the Castor clones' "defect" is sexually transmitted is fascinating, and will likely weave sexuality into the themes of the show in a fascinating way, but it's too soon to say exactly what the thematic tie-in will be. I'm sure I'll have plenty to say about it next week.
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