Tweetable Takeaway: #OrphanBlack is giving us 2 seasons for the price of 1, but at what cost to the characters?
First of all, big shout out to Sarah Manning for doing arctic incognito in style. The beautiful fur-trimmed down jacks she and Kira are wearing in their snowy embrace at the end of last week’s episode retail for about $500. Sarah shows us that if you have to hide out in basically an igloo, the least you can do is serve preppy arctic ice fugitive realness the whole entire time.
I have to say, this episode of ORPHAN BLACK is a hopeful hop forward from last week’s Season premiere, but what I’m left wondering is this: are the writers going to continue to serve us 2 seasons for the price of 1? What seemed like an isolated flashback episode last week was maybe not so isolated, as Beth’s past seems to be shaping up as a D storyline or runner of sorts in this season. My next question is: do I care? I mean really, in a show about clones, which by definition implies we’re following a lot of different characters, is this worth the real estate? We know Beth is the link that binds all the clones together, the spark that set this whole shitstorm alight — we’ve known that since the pilot. While some viewers might enjoy the nostalgia of “getting to know who Beth was,” I’m somewhat trepidatious as to whether or not this will pay off, especially when story points from Season 3 such as Delphine’s death, Gracie’s betrayal, and oh idk *a whole army of male clones* haven’t been followed up on yet.
This episode starts probably the way Kira’s nightmares start at this point: Sarah’s telling her to pack up because they have to run. Remember, MK, whom we learned about in last week’s flashback episode, tipped Sarah off that Neolution knows where they are (could have been the DHL shipping receipt for those fly-ass jackets that was probably v trackable but IDK). Kendall Malone and Mrs. S. are dubious, in an appropriately Irish manner. How does Sarah know Neolution isn’t just trying to flush them out? Poor Kira, whose future shrink will likely rake in a fortune off her abandonment issues, asks what about her dad? But Dad’s not coming and stubborn Sarah, as usual, won’t listen to anyone’s advice, so she and Kira are about to roll out when Kira sees something out the window. Sure enough, a lone headlight appears in the distance. The gang springs into action and in typically BAMF Orphan Black fashion, Sarah, Kendall and Kira sneak out while Mrs. S. torches their hideout in a fair-aisle sweater almost frumpy enough for a Williamsburg house party. Kira’s stuffed monkey is slowly engulfed in flames — kind of like her childhood, with all this running and hiding! Clever writers. I see what you did there.
We check in with our other favorite members of the Clone Club when they all receive a mysterious text: Felix is at home spray-painting wearing only an apron, because, like a young Miley Cyrus, he can’t be tamed; Alison is still someone with enough self-discipline to make herself do an exercise video alone at home, a skill I respect but will never ever acquire; Cosima is staring at the ceiling of what appears to be a marijuana grow-room, aka #LivingMyBestLife. We do not see who the text is from.
Sarah and her fugitive entourage arrive at a comic book store, smuggled in a shipping truck. They send Kira and Kendall off to the safe house ahead of them, which neither is happy about. Kira isn’t speaking to Sarah on account of not being able to see her dad for awhile, and for once Sarah’s not able to win her over. We’re seeing seeds of something interesting here; Kira’s getting older now. She’s nearing adolescence, which is when she’ll start to form her own identity separate from Sarah’s — and Sarah is stubborn and controlling to an almost terrifying extent, so I hope the writers will milk this brewing conflict for all it’s worth as Kira enters tweendom. Turns out the Comic Book shop is a secret lab, apparently funded by Dyad, who’s now out of the clone game. When Sarah and Mrs. S descend into the basement, they’re reunited with Cosima and her lab assistant Scott. Alison Skypes in and the Clones have a conference. Allison’s stressed; she has no time for Neolution drama right now. Sarah, Cosima and Allison try to figure out who MK is. Cosima doesn’t look well. Scott tells Mrs. S. discreetly that they’re making progress with Kendall’s genome but it’s slow. Nobody has heard from Delphine, which means nobody knows she is dead (right? She was shot all up in her torso in that parking garage last season so…) The clones decide they can’t safely determine where Sarah can run until they talk to MK.
Art and Sarah have breakfast and the answer to my question from last week, which is why the hell did we have that flashback episode, was finally answered. Art gives Sarah the information on the body-mod Neo-worm case they were working on when Beth shot the civilian, and he said Beth got an anonymous tip about where they found the last body — which Art’s guessing came from MK. The two go back to Beth’s flat, a piece of prime-looking real estate that has somehow remained untouched, to look for more clues.
Alison goes to Felix, who’s in a very artsy enigmatic humor. She asks Felix why he hasn’t returned any calls or messages and if he knows his family is in town. Felix is aloof. Allison implores him to just tell them what he’s doing. They’ll be supportive. Felix is hesitant. What is that handsome devil up to?
Art and Sarah deduce that, since Beth was stubborn like Sarah and never let anything go, she probably kept investigating the body-mod case after she was pushed off of it. We see a flashback of Beth entertaining a visitor in this very same flat — the doctor and murder suspect Beth was spying on before all hell broke loose in last week’s episode! He gives her a threat disguised as a pleasantry so she’ll stop poking her nose into Dyad and Neolution. Back in present-day, Sarah and Art find her autographed copy of Dr. Leekie’s book.
After way too long, we finally revisit bat-shit crazy Helena, who might just be my favorite clone of all, if only because she eats like a bear just coming out of hibernation and gives zero shits what you think about it. She and Donnie are at the doctor, where Donnie gets Helena a pre-natal appointment under his insurance… as his wife. She gets an ultrasound and sees her baby for the first time — OOPS — make that babies. Plural. Helena’s having identical twins, and her first thought is she has to tell her sister. Cosima, Scott, Kendall and Mrs. S. hang back in the lab so Cosima can take some more bloodwork on Kendall — who, by the way, has a lingering troublesome cough. Mrs. S. notices.
Back at Beth’s flat, Sarah makes her most troubling discovery yet — Beth’s toiletry case containing her drug stash & works. Art finds a camera hidden behind a painting — was Paul spying on Beth or the other way around? They watch footage from the camera and come upon the moment when Beth pulls a gun on Paul. It’s troubling. Then, Sarah has Art pause on an image of a girl in the flat whose modified face suggests she’s with Neolution. Sarah takes her picture and rolls out, hot on a new trail.
Finally, the scene I’ve been waiting for since last season: Sarah and Felix’s reunion. She surprises him in the shower, of course, and lures him out for a drink — to Neolution. Felix sweet-talks the bouncer in his goth-eyeliner best. Felix gets in and lets Sarah in the back door. Neolution looks like a normal Brooklyn warehouse-turned-nightclub except for people branding each other in the corner and stuff.
Allison (who, remember, can’t get pregnant herself) is threatened by how excited Donnie is about Helena’s pregnancy, and it’s manifesting as her throwing major shade at Helena. When Donnie admonishes her for not being excited and supportive, Allison retorts with a hilarious “This is Helena we’re talking about. She eats frozen bread and she’s murdered people.” Donnie counters her with the fact that they have too and Allison, flustered, says “It’s different. Helena’s trained to kill people, we’re manslaughterers.” But we’re not sure who she’s trying to convince — Donnie or herself — in this lovely moment when the overall theme of the entire series, nature vs. nurture, reasserts itself.
Cosima vapes marijuana while Kendall Malone smokes a cigarette in the next room. Mrs. S. comforts Cosima, who’s getting sicker and weaker. Cosima implores Mrs. S. to tell her Delphine was alive. Mrs. S. says she can’t do that. Reminds Cosima that this is a war and anything can happen. Cosima breaks and we realize perhaps sickness isn’t the only thing that’s weakened her over these past months. Kendall corners Scott, who’s obviously looking at her test results. His face shows concern. Kendall lets the cat out of the bag that she was diagnosed with leukemia months ago. Mrs. S. doesn’t know — and she forbids Scott from telling her. Kendall just found her family again and doesn’t want to lose it with so little time left.
Sarah and Felix scour club Neolution, in search of the mysterious Neolution girl from the camera footage in Beth’s flat. Sarah confronts Felix about being a bitch. Felix confesses he’s been looking for his birth family while Sarah and Mrs. S. have been away. Sarah’s pissed. She says they’re Felix’s family, he belongs with them. Felix reminds her that she, Mrs. S. and Kira are all related — even biologically speaking, Felix does not belong. He leaves and a scruffy Neolution guy comes up to Sarah, mistaking her for Beth. He takes her aside. Apparently Beth asked him to poke around for the whereabouts of the infamous Cheek-cutting Doctor, and this guy has a pretty delightfully graphic video of a mysterious hand performing the exact surgery Beth discovered in last week’s episode — removing a man-made bug from inside someone’s cheek — somewhere in Latin America. The surgery goes awry when the bug activates its built-in defense mechanism and kills its host. Sarah realizes this guy hasn’t mistaken her for Beth — he’s mistaken her for MK. He grows suspicious. Sarah grabs his phone — with a rendezvous point with MK on it — and bolts.
Back in flashback-land, Beth puts on a blonde wig, gets her gun, and leaves for a mysterious meeting. Art watches this footage on security footage in present time, puzzled. Sarah, wearing a very badass leather biker jacket (for someone without a permanent address, homegirl sure kills the outerwear game, just saying), shows up for her meet with MK in a laundromat. MK calls Neolution guy’s phone and Sarah answers. MK knows who she is and says she shouldn’t be there. MK tells Sarah to put her other phone in a dryer, to cut the signal “in case they’re listening,” and take her boots off. She’s watching Sarah from a surveillance camera. She gives Sarah three minutes and starts a timer (mysteriously like B.D. Wong does to Rami Malek in the pivotal Mr. Robot episode “EPS1.7_WH1TER0SE.M4V,” which, like, really guys? Do you not realize how much audience overlap there probably is between these two shows and like maybe someone else might catch that? Eye roll audible.) Sarah milks those three minutes for all they’re worth, though; she finds out Neolution is tracking her and Kendall Malone, and MK is afraid to talk to Sarah further because it will kill her “like it killed Beth.”
Art watches security footage of Beth returning from her blonde wig meeting, rattled, with blood on her hands. She hears someone in the flat; turns out it’s MK, who came in the back door. Beth locks herself in the bathroom, turning a deaf ear to MK’s pleas, and washes the blood from her hands. Finally Beth snaps and tells MK it’s over, she screwed up. She gives MK her gun and begs her to go back into hiding and stay hidden. MK tells Beth she needs her and asks her not to leave (whomp whomp, MK, we all know how that one ends). Beth gives MK one last hug and tells her to watch the others for her. Sarah asks MK — who now lets Sarah call her Mika, as Beth did — for info on what Beth found out. Mika knows nothing. Sarah’s cleverer than her clone predecessor, though, and spots Mika in her kind of rad junker parked across the street. Sarah gives chase but Mika pulls down her sheep’s mask and speeds away.
This is where the creepy shit goes down, though. Sarah goes back into the laundromat, where she was just talking on the phone to Mika, and finds two agents have basically sterilized the place — and they are the same two Neolution employees dumping a body but making out over it real quick first in last week’s season premiere. The male agent locks the laundromat door and they jump Sarah. They wrestle her to the ground. They tell her they’ve been looking for her a long time — but after a closer examination, they realize it’s not her they’re looking for. The burly guy agent checks something inside Sarah’s mouth (ew) and, disappointed, leaves her there. A lightbulb goes off for Sarah, however, and she hightails it back to Kira like a bat out of hell. Back at the safe house, she asks Mrs. S. if Dyad did anything to her while they had her. Realizes they also had Kira. Sarah tries to check inside a defiant Kira’s mouth and she struggles. Mrs. S. breaks it up. Sarah catches Mrs. S. up and says she’s afraid there’s something in her jaw. Mrs. S. checks Sarah’s teeth with a flashlight — and we see something wiggling around in her cheek!!! Gross. The Neo-worm that was in the murder victims’ cheeks from last week is also in Sarah’s — and probably Kira’s as well. How will they get it out? Does Kira indeed have the implant as well? We’ll have to tune in next week to find out.
Things that get my thumbs-up:
–Revealing Felix is looking for his birth parents. Felix is a fan favorite, and I’m not just saying that because he’s this fan’s favorite. Having him search for his birth family this season is a story choice that not only makes sense, given what we learn in Season 3, but also tugs at our heartstrings, which is what Felix’s character is designed to bring to the clinical world of this show.
-Revealing Kendall Malone is sick. I could see it coming from a mile away with the lingering cough, but still, golf clap for that twist. Also how awesome is it to see a character who actually brings out the vulnerable side of Mrs. S. in a more nuanced way than waving the “maternal instinct” flag, am I right?
-Sarah and Kira’s relationship beginning to change as Kira nears adolescence. As Kira gets harder for Sarah to control, it will also be harder for Sarah to keep her safe. Stakes, stakes, stakes!
Things that got one eyebrow up:
-Still no Castor clones tho? Like… really? It was kind of a big part of last season and there are still some loose ends untied there… the ones that weren’t taken out by a suicide grenade, anyway. So like not even a quick catch-up with our favorite fundamentalist fugitives Mark and Gracie?
-Rachel??? Her mom’s not dead? And in charge of Neolution…? So presumably they’re planning revenge, and I want to see it.
-Too much story, not enough character? We’re jumping back and forth between time in Season 4, in a show that’s already sort of disorienting because it jumps back and forth between completely different-looking households with identical clones in each one, and now there’s Beth’s old unsolved Neo-worm case plus the mystery of MK and we still don’t even know Delphine is dead yet, let alone who shot her. Also, Susan Duncan is alive??? Um guys??? This show has 10-episode seasons, so it really isn’t like we have all the time in the world to follow up on that.
In a show praised for its delightful nuances of character, both on the part of Tatiana Maslany and the show’s writers, are we biting off more than we can chew here? I’m already sorely missing the dialogue and relationship moments that make this show so uniquely strong, like Sarah and Felix’s relationship, Allison and Donnie’s banter, Cosima’s disarmingly relatable dating struggles, Helena’s Kimmy-Schmidt-on-meth language and POV. Any one of these endearing treats I’ve come to expect from Orphan Black would have bumped Episode 402 up a letter grade in my book; but those moments need air to breathe and crackle off the screen, and flashbacks and murder mysteries take up a hell of a lot of real estate. Orphan Black has always been able to juggle a lot of dense plot material, but for some reason this season I can see the effort more than usual. That said, it’s still one of the most premonitory shows on television, and I’m waiting with bated breath to see how the hell they get that thing out of Sarah’s cheek next week.
Ellen is a writer mostly because she can’t be a contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Ellen Duffy | Contributor