ORPHAN BLACK Review: “Human Raw Material”


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Airtime: Thursdays at 10PM on BBCAmerica
Episode: Season 4, Episode 5 (S04 E05)

Tweetable Takeaway: #OrphanBlack treads water and takes a shocking turn for the Oedipus

This week’s episode of ORPHAN BLACK hits us with some hard truths reverberating thematically around a particularly brutal but salient quote from Susan Duncan: “No one gives permission to be born.” Season 4 continues to explore advancements in reproductive technology in a provocative way and asks us, the audience, to define where altruistic attempts to help the reproductively challenged end and playing God begins.

The episode opens with Crystal, the plucky manicurist who asks too many questions and is growing on me fast, explaining to her meathead trainer that she’s researching DYAD and is on a mission while she beats the shit out of him. Is this girl a version of Allison that you actually want to party with? That’s the distinct impression I’m getting and I’m so, so down. Also, Crystal’s appearance in this episode makes it compulsory to shout out Tatiana Maslany’s absolutely insane body. Whatever her trainer’s having her do (which I bet money involves a lot of time at Pop Physique), I do wish he’d publish it in a book so I could do it too.

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Sarah and Kira are painting a mural when she’s interrupted by a text from Helena – don’t worry about me sestra. (Sarah still doesn’t know Helena’s gone, remember? She peaced out of Allison and Donnie’s and they *still haven’t told anybody yet WTF*). Sarah and Siobhan remember that Evie Cho from the Brightborn video was on the board of Dyad. Sarah notices Brightborn also owns the company Felix used to find his biological sister Adele. Siobhan squashes her suspicions before she can even voice them.

Allison and Cosima Skype to catch up on the Brightborn of it all. Sarah was supposed to go undercover to the clinic with Donnie, but she’s taking a family day. Cosima, who’s feeling better now, apparently, volunteers to do it.

Sarah goes to Felix’s house to talk to him about Adele, but realizes Adele’s still there. She never left. Sarah’s already resentful of their bond, but to make things worse, from the looks of things, Felix and Adele are using together.

Cosima and Donnie visit the Brightborn clinic, with Donnie acting like a hilariously typical theatre kid about the sudden understudy announcement. Cosima asks the receptionist for a copy of the nondisclosure and clocks her refusal to comply before Cosima signs it. Sarah calls Scott at the lab and asks him to conduct a sibling DNA test of Adele on the sly — and for Cosima’s wherabouts. Scott’s a terrible liar and reveals she went undercover at Brightborn.

Cosima and Donnie picked a great day to go undercover at Brightborn; turns out Evie Cho is here in person. She comes out in a Nordstrom Rack Anna Sui knockoff and speaks to her cultlike adoring followers. She opens with a sob story about being a Bubble Girl as a kid until gene therapy saved her.

Adele’s teaching Kira basic ballet positions, which Sarah doesn’t like one bit. She notices Adele asking questions that could be construed as pointed — the family’s sabbatical in Iceland came up — and inconspicuously swipes Adele’s hairbrush from Felix’s room. Meanwhile, there’s a bump in the road over at Brightborn — apparently deviousness runs in the family. Crystal rolls up to Brightborn undercover also and checks in at the front desk as Christine Wiggam, who shows up to check in for her appointment.

Meanwhile, Evie Cho gives us more info on Brightborn babies. The facility is nicer than many spas I’ve heard distant rumor of, and apparently through Brighborn you can genetically enhance your embryo. Dr. Bosch takes over for a talk on pre and post-natal care, Cosima sneaks off to snoop around the lab. Evie Cho, while exiting through the lobby, sees Crystal/Christine at the front desk. She’s obviously just given a talk with Cosima in the room, and smells something amiss. To make matters worse for Cosima, Evie goes right upstairs to report to visiting Boss Lady Susan Duncan, who’s in town with Ira and wearing a horribly dated pearl-pink trenchcoat.  Evie, mistaking Cosima for Sarah, tips off Susan that her runaway clone is in the clinic. Meanwhile, Cosima and Donnie meet a Brightborn baby and as Donnie holds him, we realize Donnie might be sipping on a little bit of this Kool-Aid. Crystal/Christine comes into view and coochie-coos the baby, the sight of her nearly gives Donnie a heart attack.

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We drop in on our pal Art at the police precinct, where one of his co-workers finds an Allison Hendrix campaign card. It’s crazy how much she looks like Beth. He gets creepy and threatening with Art, revealing he knows the Hendrixes sold drugs out of the soap store, and urges him to let Beth go.

Sarah and Kira play at the comic book store while she drops the DNA test with Scott when Art calls Sarah, fuming about what he just heard about Allison and Donnie. He says he sticks his neck out enough for them as it is and they’re on their own. Sarah calls Allison, who caves and confesses. Allison lets it slip that Helena’s 0n the run. They fight and hang up on each other.

Susan Duncan finds Cosima by the Olympic-sized pool at Brightborn. Cosima grills Susan about the fine print of the Brightborn paperwork and picks the pocket of her lab coat. Creepy Susan spells out for us what Brightborn does: altering the DNA of an embryo directly through termline editing, which is illegal in most countries. Donnie finds Cosima later in the hallway, freaked, and tells her there’s another Leda clone here.

Sarah gets back to the safe house with Kira, who she ‘s trying to persuade to tell her about a mysterious dream, to find Siobhan entertaining Felix and Adele, who dropped by for dinner. Kira’s happy to see Adele, which pisses Sarah off. Sarah takes Felix into the other room and tears him a new asshole. It’s called a Safe House for a reason, after all. She confesses to Felix that she’s running a secondary DNA test.

Donnie happens upon Crystal, who’s snooping around the front lobby. He confronts her, she pretends to be looking to schedule a massage. Donnie, in turn, pretends to be an employee named Ronnie and says there’s an opening for a massage with him. He shows Christina to a room and tells her to take her dress off.

Evie, Susan, and Ira talk about Cosima. She’s really smart, and it’s presenting a problem. She needs to be curtailed.

Donnie nervously massages Crystal’s crazy Pop Physique body. They bond about being healers at heart and Donnie brings up Brightborn. Crystal says to Donnie that she thinks Dyad and Brightborn are working together to conduct human experiments. Stem cells and other things. She’s personally being targeted because she’s a whistleblower and says if “that french doctor” hadn’t saved her she’d be dead right now. Donnie, before he can help himself, asks if she means Dr. Cormier. His cover’s blown now, and Crystal gets up from the table, suspicious. She starts unleashing holy martial arts hell on poor Donnie and leaves, but unfortunately crosses paths with a Brightborn employee, who thinks she’s Cosima and hauls her off to captivity.

Cosima, meanwhile, has donned Brightborn scrubs and a scrub cap and infiltrated Brightborn. Susan, Ira and Evie watch Crystal on surveillance in the conference room and realizes they’ve got the wrong clone.

Down in the labs, Cosima sees a screaming woman in labor wheeled past her. Careful to stay out of sight, she keeps snooping and observes a woman being paid to participate in some sort of study whose requests to leave are denied.

At dinner in the safe house, Sarah puts Adele’s feet in the fire about Gene Connection. She says “everyone’s doing it.” Sarah continues to grill Adele about the company and the process. Everyone’s coming down on her for being a jealous bitch, Adele finally confronts her and volunteers to leave, and Felix throws a fork at her, causing Siobhan to intervene. In this all-too-convenient timing, Scott calls with the DNA test results. Adele is indeed Felix’s biological sister and we see by Sarah’s reaction that Sarah’s not just upset about Gene Connection’s ties to Brightborn after all.

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Back at Brightborn, Cosima aids in a birth of a designer baby. There are complications, and the doctor calls in for a recess team. The baby comes out WITHOUT A NOSE YOU GUYS. The doctors take it away from the mother quickly, disappointed. Cosima pulls her mask down in horror, letting her guard down for a moment, and comes face-to-face with Susan Duncan.

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As the Brightborn staff escorts Crystal out, she passes Ira and freaks out, recognizing his face from her attack.

Cosima throws down with Susan and Evie. They are playing with human lives and Cosima’s not happy. Cosima lays into Susan in particular. How could she play with genetic mutations like this, with how sick Cosima is? Susan gets real with Cosima: she’s dying and doesn’t have the resources to save herself alone. But by sharing the original’s genome, Susan can eventually find a cure for all of them.

Later, Sarah and Kira talk and Sarah realizes Kira knows more about all her sisters then she realizes. It’s possible she’s having premonitory dreams. Sarah holds her daughter, confused and scared. This is one mystery she didn’t expect to solve.

Ira and Susan swim in the Brightborn pool, celebrating the fact that they are closer to the original then they’ve ever been… and then they make out?????? WTF WTF WTF WTF!





Way to end an episode that pretty much treaded water with a surprise Oedipus tsunami. Real talk though, other than the supremely cool nose-less baby and the surprise Oedipal twist, this episode felt like a good restaurant with an understaffed front of house — the quality of the food is somewhat lost by the inevitable inefficiency of the poor server stuck with the impossible task of keeping way too many tables happy.

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As we reach the halfway point in the season, I’m going to officially voice my concerns about the world of the show getting too big. The hook of Orphan Black is it’s a show about clones, and implied in that is a rotating cast of regular characters — Sarah, Allison, Cosima, Rachel, and Felix — who ideally give every audience member someone to relate to and who each have robust emotional journeys that anchor the audience throughout the series. What’s happening here that makes this structural fixture problematic is, as a way of raising the stakes for our Clone Club, the show is expanding the mythology of the world to include more clones. More clones means more characters to get attached to, more characters mean less real estate for our beloved motley crew from the pilot, resulting in an inevitably disappointing and inconsistent momentum similar to the experience of playing a horse race carnival game. If you’re in charge of too many horses, there’s never enough time to fire steadily enough at one horse to give it a substantial enough lead to stay in the race. Now, with so many clones in the mix and excess story threads from Season 3 still left hanging, I worry about how the will get all these horses across the finish line with only 5 episodes to go.



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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