ORPHAN BLACK Review: “From Instinct to Natural Control”


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Airtime: Thursdays at 10PM on BBCAmerica
Episode: Season 4, Episode 4 (S4E04)

Tweetable Takeaway: The Helsinki beans finally get spilled this week on a stellar episode of #OrphanBlack

This episode packs everything ORPHAN BLACK’s viewers love about the show into an hour by delivering a gory, funny, but still intensely suspenseful episode. We get answers to some burning questions (Helsinki y’all!!!!) as well as setups for big impending twists up ahead.

Okay, let’s get started. MK! I was hoping we weren’t done with her. She’s researching DYAD and living a Highland Park Hipster’s dream life, holed up in an airstream with a mousey haircut and a throwback car. She drags MARIAN BOWLES’ photo into a diagram leading to Ferdinand. “See Nikki,” she says to a blonde Leda clone projected onto her blinds, “We’re getting closer. Never forget.”

Um, hold up. Who the hell is Nikki?

Meanwhile, Siobhan and Sarah take Ferdinand to the safe house, a safe distance away from Kendall and Kira, to make him extract the worm from Sarah. Ferdinand serves them some Hannibal Lecter realness, cracking jokes with Sarah and Siobhan as he cooks frittatas. The talk turns to Rachel: Ferdinand wants to rescue her because he’s in love with her. Ferdinand wants Sarah to share the source that tipped her off to the Neos finding her in Iceland. That source is MK, and if there’s one thing we know about Sarah, it’s that she’ll take a bullet for her sisters. Looks like we’ve got ourselves a standoff!

Cosima and Scott remove an abscessed neb-worm from Leekie’s decomposing head. Though they’re not seen much in this episode, Cosima does drop a classic line that reminds us why she’s a fan favorite as she says to Dr. Leekie’s head “Who’s the science now, bitch?”

Allison’s at lunch when a Neo girl named Trina, who we met in Episode 1 when her boyfriend Aaron went missing after trying to have his neo-worm removed, comes over mistaking Allison for Beth. Trina’s pretty freaked out. She told her she was “a carrier” in confidence, and now people know. Beth investigated an IVF Clinic she went to. Trina’s pissed and wants Beth to stay away from her.

Siobhan runs a family meeting with Sarah and Felix while Ferdinand is in the next room. Brings Felix up to speed on Sarah’s neo-worm and reminds Sarah they need to give Felix his own space to explore his relationships with his birth family. Allison with news on the fertility clinic, but is noncommittal about going to the clinic and helping. Felix says he’ll help her.

Donnie has a talk with Helena about Allison. Helena figures out Allison’s resentful of her pregnancy and mad at her for bringing the police and you can see she’s wracked with guilt.

Sarah has another 3 minute rendezvous with MK, where we get some more info dump about the implant. Sarah gives MK some news this time; Susan Duncan is still alive. Sarah shows MK a message from Rachel that apparently says Susan’s holding her captive. MK’s skeptical and wants to know who Sarah got the message from. Sarah says if she shows MK the message, she wants to meet in person, regardless of whatever danger MK feels it may put her in. Sure enough, when MK translates the message, it reads: “Susan Duncan is alive. I don’t know where she’s holding me. Help.”

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Allison sends Donnie and Felix into LifeSpring undercover as a gay couple. This is one of those scenes that will go down in Orphan Black history, right alongside Donnie and Allison’s money dance of Season 3, Episode 6. It gets even funnier when Donnie Alison for a little help with his sperm sample and she talks dirty to him in character as an Italian stewardess. This episode played with fun transitions a lot, and my favorite was the transition from this moment into Cosima and Scott extract the worm from milky white fluid spilling out of the tumor in Leekie’s decomposing cheek. They examine it under a microscope, not sure if it’s even still alive.

Rachel looks at Charlotte’s health records. She’s a sick little girl. She discusses treatment options with Ira, who’s mansplain-y to her. She thinks immunosuppressive therapy could work on Charlotte because she’s so young her hormone levels are really low, but there’s no way to be sure.

MK talks to Nikki, the mysterious blonde clone, as she traces Rachel’s message. It turns up several pictures of Ferdinand. Speaking of the devil, he’s still grilling Siobhan, not letting up about finding out who Sarah’s source is. Sarah shows up at Beth’s to meet MK, as promised — and she flakes. She Sarah, pissed. She knows that Ferdinand is Topside. She’s finished with Sarah. She can’t trust her anymore. She hangs up and leaves Sarah hanging with a Neo-worm in her cheek.

Donnie sees a woman he and Allison tried IVF with years ago at the clinic — and she’s knocked up. Allison fakes a chance run-in with her to distract her from seeing Donnie and Felix at the clinic and grills her about what she’s doing that’s different. After a little cajoling, the woman tells Allison to see Dr. Bosch and ask about the “Bright Born” treatments. She relays this info to Donnie, who’s mid-consult with Felix and the doctor. At first he’s suspicious when Donnie asks about Brightborn treatments, but then asks his assistant to bring in some samples.

Sarah goes back to Dizzy to find MK’s whereabouts. He’s skeptical and leverages with her: she keeps coming to him for favors but he wants to know something from her now. what’s going on with her and MK? At first Sarah’s silent, but she finally caves and tells Dizzy they’re clones. She explains the basics to Dizzy. There are 22 Leda clones that they know of, including MK. Dizzy tells Sarah that the few times he met MK in person, she had different defunct license plates each time. She once told him she worked as a night watchman and the two figure out it was in a scrapyard. Sarah identifies the scrapyard closest to Beth’s and Dizzy assists on accompanying her there in case MK gets dangerous.

Helena buries her tank of fertilized eggs from the Prolethean compound in Allison’s flowerbed. She swings a backpack over her shoulder, says goodbye to the house, and bolts.

Sarah and Dizzy roll up to MK’s airstream. Sarah breaks in and Dizzy catches a dangerous booby-trap before it blows them all to pieces. They get to work hacking into MK’s computer.

Susan examines Rachel’s eye. Rachel keeps asking after Charlotte. She passes another message to Charlotte before Susan sends her to her room. Susan lays out options for Charlotte, including letting her die in order to study her and possibly cure the others. Rachel asks Susan if this is a test. Susan says it’s a decision — one they have to make every day. In an especially cruel Mommie Dearest move, Susan says this time the choice is Rachel’s. Charlotte is a clone of her, after all.

Back at MK’s airstream, Dizzy figures out MK was most recently Sarah. Sarah finds a photo of MK with Nikki, labelled by serial numbers. Sarah notices MK’s serial number has the letters MK in it. She signals to Ferdinand to meet her at Beth’s, saying she’s found something.

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Scott discovers the abscess holding Dr. Leekie’s neo-worm leaves a bioluminescent trail aka literally changes the chemical makeup and DNA of the host. This could by why the Neos are implanting them in people.

Ferdinand shows up at Beth’s where MK greets him via Skype, wearing a sheep mask. She says she has information about Susan Duncan and Rachel. As Ferdinand sits down in the chair, he activates an explosive. MK tells him not to stand up and enters, pulls up her sheep mask, and starts playing the story of his life for him on the wall. We learn that Ferdinand is British aristocracy who learned to kill in the British SAS and was recruited to be a Topside cleaner from there.

Back at MK’s, Sarah and Dizzy root through the airstream and MK’s computer to find more info. Sarah finds newspaper clippings from Helsinki. Maybe that’s where MK is from. Holy shit you guys: are we finally gonna find out what these Helsinki references we’ve been hearing forever are finally about?!! MK pulls the same article up for Ferdinand. As she pulls her hair aside so Ferdinand can see the burn scars on her face, he recognizes her and her by her real name: Vera.

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It turns out Vera and her BFF Nikki were two of 6 clones murdered in a genocide in Helsinki spearheaded by Ferdinand. We don’t get exact details, but we find out he killed Nikki and then gassed her entire family, along with 5 of MK’s other sisters and 32 of her loved ones. Back at MK’s airstream, just as Sarah realizes Ferdinand is at Beth’s and in grave danger, Cosima and tells Sarah she and Scott have figured out what the bots do. Sarah busts in on MK right as she’s about to douse Ferdinand in gasoline and tells her what Cosima found — the neo-worms are conduits for some kind of gene editing. It’s changing her DNA. They need Ferdinand because he’s an asset. He’s got access — and money. MK makes Ferdinand enter the password for his assets accounts. She steals all his money and leaves both Ferdinand and Sarah behind. Sarah realizes MK’s using her, pulling her into her web of bullshit, just as Felix feels Sarah’s done to him. Siobhan dismantles Ferdinand’s bomb like a badass and she and Sarah leave him alone and broke.

Susan Duncan comes into Rachel’s room to talk about Charlotte. Rachel agrees that, untreated, Charlotte’s data has more value than her life, and so they shouldn’t intervene. Susan announces she’s going away again and shows Rachel one of the messages she had Charlotte paint into her drawing-pad. Susan knows Rachel contacted Ferdinand. She tells Rachel ominously she’s right about Charlotte and right to think of the future.

Cosima and Felix check out the DVD for BrightBorn technologies. They realize that Brightborn is Neolution’s attempt to mainstream reproductive technology. It’s the first step down a slippery slope to designing your own baby.

This episode mandates a big shout out to the amazing comic chemistry between Tatiana Maslany and Kristian Bruun as (Allison and Donnie Hendrix) that has percolated throughout the series for four seasons straight and is still giving me life. While their money dance in Season 3 will forever live in infamy, their Air Italia in-flight sex routine *while* Donnie is undercover as Felix’s domestic partner will likely stand out as one of the most memorable moments of Season 4.

OKAY can we talk about how satisfying it was to FINALLY find out the T about Helsinki, you guys? I mean damn. We’ve only been hearing about it at least all season, so. I’d say it’s about time. And, true to the “Orphan Black” brand, when we finally do find out the awful truth, they do not skimp on the “awful” part. Mass genocide by gassing is some visceral and connotative shit. Its backstory also builds MK into a formidable opponent for Sarah, for, like Sarah, MK is a lone wolf seeking recompense for the wrongful death of her sister and friend who will stop at nothing to get what she wants. MK makes us wonder going forward if Sarah, who’s clearly the Kristy of this BabySitters Club, has finally met another clone she can’t control.

On another note, that ending tho: I mean… duh??? The twist that we can design our own babies kind of got blown in the pilot, with the, you know, clones??? The scene between Rachel and Susan in which Rachel basically signs Charlotte’s death sentence and Susan reveals they know Rachel made contact with Ferdinand feels much more impactful. Especially since we spend so little time with Cosima and Scott in this episode, like not even enough for a runner really, the ending felt tonally and structurally like a letdown.

Other musings from this episode:

-Is Dizzy being set up as a love interest for Sarah? If so, nothing , but… I kind of like Cal.

-Are we preparing ourselves for a Sarah/M.K. showdown? Is that what’s happening here? Because if so, I’m psyched — M.K. might be Sarah’s most worthy adversary yet.

-Delphine: when is that bomb going to drop????

-Helena will be okay, right? RIGHT? ::chews nail beds::

This episode exemplifies Orphan Black at its best. Honestly they had me at Donnie and Felix undercover as a gay married couple, but the cheek-tumor sure didn’t hurt either. The on this show can make me go from breathless with suspense to so squeamish I’m not even watching to laughing out loud on my couch by myself — and they do it all, usually, in approximately 40 minutes. It’s always a delight to see where this show will go next.


Ellen is a writer mostly because she can’t be a contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Race.

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Ellen Duffy | Contributor

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