Orphan Black Review: 'Certain Agony of the Battlefield'

Sunday, 24 May 2015 - 10:37AM
Orphan Black
Sunday, 24 May 2015 - 10:37AM
Orphan Black Review: 'Certain Agony of the Battlefield'
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Orphan Black has been floundering a bit this season, with too many plot threads to count and a lack of a specific focus to cohere them. And while last night's heart-wrenching episode wasn't perfect, and didn't fix all of those problems single-handedly, it was the most successful at uniting the disparate plotlines and packed a hell of an emotional gut punch at the end. In case it wasn't obvious, major spoilers follow:

The Titular Casualties

Paul has been a problematic character, especially this season. As I said last week, even through his apparently shifting loyalties and declarations of love for Sarah, Paul has been mostly a non-entity as a result of his lack of clear motivation. (Or personality, for that matter, which is probably the bigger issue.) He was vaguely evil, vaguely conflicted, vaguely a company man, but never cut through the vagueness enough to let the audience see where the character was coming from. 

This episode finally gave him bonafide motivations, and layered ones to boot. He is, in fact, a company man, in the sense that he believes in the military's notion of brotherhood. He got involved in the mission when the endgame seemed pure as the driven snow, for the sole purpose of helping his fellow soldier. But the crises of conscience have been eating away at him, and the revelation that Castor is sterilizing innocent civilian women was the last straw. It would have been interesting to see him work undercover a bit longer, but we should have known he was going to die when the character finally started to become appealing.

Paul is the obvious interpretation of the subject of the episode's title, "Certain Agony of the Battlefield," but the writers made it clear that Beth was the first casualty of this entire mess. Sarah's dream/hallucination of Beth made it clear that her dearly departed sister clone represents her path not taken, her worst-case scenario. If she had had different early childhood experiences, if she hadn't had Kira, if a few tweaks had been made to the "nurture" part of her personality, it easily could have been her under that train. 

Some of the Beth throwbacks got a little melodramatic; DreamBeth's "I jumped because I couldn't make sense of it all" was essentially telling the audience something we've known since the pilot episode, and Paul's "It was never Beth I loved" was satisfying as a Sarah/Paul shipper, but was also a little too on-the-nose. But everything else was completely devastating, and served to reinforce the parallels between Beth and Paul. When Beth died, Paul was a cog in the machine of the clone conspiracy, but now he's just another well-intentioned person who got in over his head, just another casualty.

And finally, death came to a true MVP: Helena's Tatiana Maslany-voiced scorpion. Helena getting tired of her subconscious bullying her and eating it is the most ridiculous, over-the-top, wonderful instance of symbolism this season.

The Marooners

While it was hilarious to see Alison and Donnie twerking in their underwear (I have a theory that the writers are literally crafting scenes entirely for gif purposes), I still have no idea what the endgame of Alison's Desperate Housewives/Breaking Bad mash-up is, and it gets more jarring every week that it's not tied to the larger plotline.

But on the other hand, Cosima was much more successfully integrated into the overarching plot. Not only did she serve her usual "trusty scientist" function, but her love life was related to the rest of the proceedings through the return of Delphine, acting as a liaison with Topside. The fact that Cosima's romantic subplots felt much more seamless this week demonstrates that Orphan Black should continue to focus on character work, but should make sure to connect it somehow to the larger plotlines, or at least the larger themes.

Felix and the Cyclops

Rachel and Felix had only one scene together, but it was absolutely remarkable. It managed to show shades of each character that the audience has never seen before while still remaining true to their respective characterizations, not to mention that it was the first time I've been mildly afraid of Felix. Rachel's profound vulnerability was startling, as was Felix's willingness to humiliate her. As Beth said, "We do terrible things for the people we love." It's not a new theme by any means, but it's a powerful one, and is the closest thing this season has to a thesis statement thus far.


-Why didn't Cosima just tell Shay that Sarah is her sister? Not only is "sister" much less romantically threatening than "friend who's like a sister," but if Shay ever happens to meet Sarah, which I'm sure she will, she'll probably have a couple of questions.

-Like the reveal that the Castor and Leda clones are siblings, the reveal that the counterparts have different versions of the same defect is important, but none-too-surprising. I think it was pretty much assumed that their shared faulty DNA was the culprit, and that Sarah and Helena are important because their genome is "special" in some way.

-Gracie's reaction to her sterilization- "In the compound I was expected to have children. Part of me is relieved. Does that make me a monster?"- was heartbreaking, and Cosima's hearty rebuttal was perfect. It also, incidentally, could have served as an answer to that controversial Black Widow plotline in Avengers: Age of Ultron.

-Felix beats out Alison and Donnie for the best line of the episode two weeks in a row: "Nut up and lead me to the cyclops."

-RIP Paul. I'm so much sadder about your death than I ever expected to be.
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