Writer: Graeme Manson
Summary: After witnessing the suicide of a stranger who looks exactly like her, Sarah Manning becomes tangled in a deepening mystery when she assumes the other woman’s identity.
Sarah Manning awakens suddenly on a train and disembarks at Huxley Station. While making a payphone call inquiring about her daughter Kira, a sobbing woman appears on the platform. Sarah sees that the woman looks exactly like her just before the woman kills herself by jumping in front of an oncoming train. In the ensuing commotion, Sarah takes the woman’s purse, which was left on the platform.
From the driver’s license, Sarah learns that the woman’s name was Elizabeth Childs. Sarah also finds two phones and a set of keys. At a bar, Sarah meets with her homosexual friend and foster brother, Felix. Sarah has had another fight with her abusive boyfriend Vic. She asks Felix to unload some cocaine she stole from Vic, as she needs the money for her daughter. Felix is skeptical that she can get her daughter back from foster mother Mrs. S, as Sarah has been gone for almost a year. Sarah tells Felix about the girl from the platform and shows him the driver’s license. One of the phones rings and Sarah ignores a call from Art. Sarah goes to Elizabeth’s flat. She learns that the flat is shared with Elizabeth’s boyfriend Paul Dierden, who is gone for the weekend. Felix has sex with a man before making a tentative deal to sell the cocaine. After a knock at the door, Felix stashes the cocaine in a drawer. Vic storms in looking for Sarah and his cocaine. Felix claims he has not seen Sarah in a year. Vic says he will return. Felix tells Sarah what happened with Vic. Sarah discovers that Elizabeth has a $75,000 savings account. Sarah watches a newscast claiming that the woman from the train is unidentified, giving Sarah an idea.
Sarah studies photos and videos to learn Elizabeth’s speech patterns and to duplicate her look. She ignores another call from Art. Pretending to be Beth, Sarah cons bank manager Steven into putting a rush on an account withdrawal and giving her safe deposit box access. In the safe deposit box, Sarah finds papers for Elizabeth Childs, Alison Hendrix, and Katja Obinger. When she returns to the flat, Sarah sees a car flashing headlights at her. Another car pulls alongside Sarah and the driver forces her inside. The man is Detective Arthur Bell, Elizabeth’s partner on the police force. At the morgue, Felix meets with an attendant named Colin and identifies Elizabeth’s body as belonging to Sarah, furthering the ruse of faking Sarah’s death. Colin flirts with Felix. Art takes Sarah to the police station, where she confirms that Beth was a cop. She is scheduled to give a deposition about the shooting of civilian Margaret Chen. Sarah is unable to place a call to Felix in time to tell him to abort the plan. She drinks hand soap in the bathroom so that she throws up in the interview, necessitating its postponement.
Vic comes back to Felix’s and Felix tells him that Sarah committed suicide. Felix takes Vic to see the body as proof. Sarah sees Dr. Anita Bowers, a psychiatrist. Sarah learns that Beth was suspended from the force over the shooting. Felix objects to Sarah’s plan to disappear again. While Sarah packs her bags, Paul returns to the flat. She has sex with him to distract his suspicions about her.
Vic insists on a wake for Sarah, which Felix helps organize. Art follows Sarah to the bank, where she retrieves the cash from the savings account. When she stops at Felix’s, Art breaks into her car and finds the money. Sarah finds the information for her wake and watches from afar with binoculars. Mrs. S arrives at the wake with Kira, upsetting Sarah that her daughter might think she is dead.
Sarah returns to her car. Katja Obinger, who also looks exactly like Sarah, enters the backseat and asks to speak with Beth’s scientist friend. Sarah learns that Katja was in the car that flashed its lights at her previously. Just as Katja realizes that Sarah is not Beth, a sniper bullet kills Katja. Sarah drives away in a panic. Katja’s pink phone rings, but goes unanswered. Beth’s pink phone then rings, and Sarah answers.
“North by Northwest” captivated me as a youth. There are a number of reasons why any person would become enraptured by the film, but for me, the notion that Cary Grant’s adventure was set in motion by a single errant gesture was eternally fascinating. I became lost in ideas about how crossing the street at a certain time could change the flow of traffic, perhaps causing or preventing a devastating accident that rippled unknowingly through the lives of complete strangers. Or how choosing where to sit can lead to meeting one’s spouse and eventually creating more human beings. Of course, not every seemingly inconsequential action can have such far-reaching impact, but the thought that raising one’s hand at a certain time could lead an ordinary person to dodge crop dusters and escape gunmen while climbing across Abraham Lincoln’s nose was a thrilling prospect.
Sarah Manning is not exactly an ordinary person. She is a more willing participant in her predicament than Roger Thornhill was in his. But what was more or less a simple purse snatching with an opportunity to grift more cash becomes an entanglement that suddenly finds Sarah impersonating a police officer, faking her own death, and dodging bullets aimed at her head.
Sarah stumbles off a train and into the path of a sobbing woman who more than just resembles her. It is her. Before Sarah’s jaw can reach all the way to the floor, her doppelganger steps in front of an oncoming train. Sarah then does what any girl would do after witnessing the suicide of a twin sister she never knew existed. She steals the woman’s purse. And clone-related chaos soon ensues.
Before passing off the inadvertent crisscrossing of two perfect clones as insultingly improbable, remember that Sarah is first seen waking up on a train and exiting into the station in a hurry, possibly unsure of where she is and without ever indicating a specific destination. It is later revealed that she had been missing for 10 months. Although Sarah has a stash of cocaine in her bag from the abusive boyfriend she just clocked in the skull, her timely appearance on that particular train platform may not be as random as it first seems.
Speaking of cocaine, Sarah is introduced as an unsympathetic criminal. Her first word is a curse that offends the delicate ears of a mother and daughter riding the same train. She just knocked her boyfriend unconscious and is looking to unload his dope for cash that she wants to use for a reunion with her daughter. The trouble is, she apparently abandoned her daughter without warning nearly a year previous, leaving her well out of the running for Mother of the Year.
Under normal circumstances, dumping such sketchy behavior onto a lead heroine would spell disaster for crafting a relatable, and likable, protagonist. At the same time, “Orphan Black” is wise to load up its central figure with streetwise toughness and an unscrupulous will to run dangerous cons. Without her hustler capabilities to adapt to any situation on the fly, Sarah would not last long in the world she serendipitously enters, and it would be a greater challenge to buy into the loonier aspects of the show’s creative premise.
Provided “Orphan Black” retains smart writing and a lasting audience, the series is poised to make actress Tatiana Maslany a more widely recognized talent. She and her characters(s) are seductively sexy and intelligently charming. The same way that Sarah flashes her man-melting smile to make a bank manager bend to her will, Maslany’s tantalizing presence is constantly captivating and can sell suspension of disbelief like ice to an Eskimo. Playing Sarah and her clones, Maslany portrays distinct characters, not simply different versions of the same woman. Perhaps because the show is televised by BBC America, I presumptively assumed she was English. It turns out that Maslany is Canadian, although the British accent had me fooled. Her turn as a German was less convincing, but no doubt there will be ample opportunities to express a wide range of thespian skills in the multiple characterizations that lie ahead.
Suspense is constructed from that “North by Northwest” scenario of Sarah being in circumstances beyond her control, and set in motion well before her arrival. Constantly dropped into one improvisational theater scene after another, there are dire consequences at every turn. The audience is missing just as much information as she is, and the unsettling prospect of what could possibly be twisted next ensures that the thrills remain unpredictable and entertaining.
The challenge that the series faces moving forward is that this chain of mystery can only fuel a limited amount of the ride. As the details surrounding her doppelgangers emerge, and as Sarah grows more accustomed to adventuring under false identities, the stakes will be reduced. As she learns more, so will the audience, and gone will be much of the suspense from think on your feet uncertainty. For continued interest, “Orphan Black” will have to build intrigue without coasting on unanswered questions.
Premiere episode “Natural Selection” creates an interesting world populated by fun supporting characters. Now it is up to the story arc to sustain the program. “Orphan Black” is perched on the tip of a pointed roof. One slope is occupied by the breakneck pace and enduring mystery established with the first episode. The other is riddled with potholes of potentially jumbled complexities and interest that will wax and wane according to script quality. We can only hope that the show slides gracefully down the one side instead of tumbling down the other.
Episode 2 - Instinct
Director: John Fawcett
Writer: Graeme Manson
Summary: Sarah finds answers regarding the details of Beth’s police shooting, but more questions after the discovery of additional clones.
While driving away from the sniper attack that killed Katja, Sarah answers Beth’s phone. The mystery woman on the other end asks about the German. Impersonating Beth, Sarah says that Katja is dead. The woman says, “someone is killing us.” She also asks about Katja’s briefcase and then tells Beth to dispose of the body, after retrieving hair and blood samples.
Sarah’s wake continues at Felix’s place. Distraught over Sarah’s presumed death, Vic attacks Felix for insinuating that Vic drove Sarah to suicide, but he quickly apologizes. While burying Katja’s body, Sarah finds a keycard for room 303 at the Carlsborough Hotel and later cleans the vehicle. While drunk, Vic says he wants to meet Sarah’s daughter Kira so that he can stay connected to Sarah. Felix forces Vic to go home. Sarah comes to Felix’s and narrowly misses running into Vic on his way out. Sarah asks if Kira thinks she is dead. Felix does not know. Sarah tells him that she met Katja, but does not go into details. She also asks Felix to make sure that Kira knows Sarah is still alive. Sarah and Felix realize that the $75,000 in her bag has been replaced by Art with a file on the Maggie Chen shooting. To get the money back, Sarah pretends to be Beth and calls Art. He tells her to meet him at Fung’s at noon.
At Beth’s flat, Paul cites Beth’s behavior as his reason for moving out temporarily and staying with someone named Cody. Sarah pretends to be upset. Felix visits Mrs. S and they discuss Sarah’s fitness for motherhood. Felix assures her and Kira that Sarah is still alive, having staged her death to escape Vic. Sarah reviews the Chen file and rehearses for the police hearing. She tries telling Art that the money belongs to Paul, but Art refuses to return the cash until Beth is reinstated. It is revealed that after mistakenly shooting Maggie Chen, Beth called Art before calling the police. To cover up the fact that Beth was tweaking on pills, Art planted the phone in Chen’s hand to make it seem as though Beth mistook it for a gun.
Felix tells Sarah that Kira is fine. The pink phone rings and Sarah puts the call on speakerphone. The mystery woman tells her to retrieve a briefcase from Katja’s hotel room “before they do.” Sarah still does not tell Felix what is going on. Impersonating Katja, Sarah goes to the hotel. She enters the elevator as the attendant at registration attempts to stop her. She discovers that the room is ransacked. Sarah finds locks of red hair and a headless doll marred by cigarette burns sitting atop an open Bible page defaced with the word “truth.” Avery, the man from the Front Desk, escorts Sarah downstairs with another hotel employee. She is given a bill for the extensive damage done to the room. Sarah tells them to use the credit card on file and then asks for the return of her briefcase. The bill is successfully settled and Sarah leaves with the briefcase. In the case, Sarah finds x-rays and blood samples with names that include Danielle Fournier from France, Janika Zeigler from Austria, and Aryanna Giordano from Italy. She also finds a paper with addresses for Beth Childs at 112 Citywide Way and for Alison Hendrix at 35 Black Oak Drive in Scarborough. The mystery woman calls again. Sarah decides to be herself. She asks if the other woman is Alison. The other woman responds, “Just one. I’m a few. No family, too. Who am I?” This is the same riddle that Katja said shortly before she was killed. Realizing that Sarah is not Beth, the woman hangs up the phone. Sarah drives to the Scarborough address and learns that Alison is a soccer mom.
At the soccer field, Sarah watches Alison take a call on her own pink phone. Sarah confronts Alison in the field house and tells her that Beth is dead. Alison does not provide any answers. She tells Sarah to leave and to wait for a call. Art calls and tells Sarah that the psychiatrist has ruled Beth unfit for duty, further delaying the hearing. Sarah visits Dr. Bowers and blackmails her into clearing Beth by threatening to blame the shooting on overlapping med prescriptions. Sarah then goes to the police hearing.
After the hearing, Sarah receives a call from Alison to meet her at 9pm with the materials retrieved from Katja. Art is pleased with Sarah’s performance in the hearing, but still refuses to give the money back until she is fully reinstated. With Felix waiting in the car, Sarah goes to Alison’s house. Inside, Alison introduces Sarah to Cosima, the mystery woman from the phone who is also another clone.
The first hour of “Orphan Black” wove enough threads of mystery and established enough character relationships to supply more than one series. The second episode, “Instinct,” refrains from piling on too much additional exposition and simply powers ahead on the momentum of melodrama already in place.
With the premiere having concluded in the midst of gunfire, “Instinct” is a seamless extension, picking right up as Sarah is on the run with a body in her backseat. As if things were not complicated enough by impersonating police officer Beth, Sarah learns that she will next be assuming the identity of the second identical twin to die in front of her eyes. Right after she collects a few DNA samples and ditches the corpse in a shallow grave. And while the cloak and dagger subterfuge continues to mount, Sarah still has to retrieve the stolen money re-stolen by her detective partner, juggle the boyfriend drama of the first woman she is pretending to be, and find a way to reunite with her daughter. Life was so much simpler before she stepped off that train. Luckily for her, she has her confidante and foster brother Felix to help with that last task.
Tatiana Maslany is unquestionably the star of “Orphan Black,” but the supporting cast earns that descriptive adjective by fashioning personalities used effectively for humorous distractions. Felix already cemented his status of guaranteeing a smirk with every appearance after teasing, “well aren’t you an odd duck?” at the flirting morgue attendant. And despite being introduced as a girlfriend-beating drug dealer, even temperamental Vic hints at a softer, more considerate side. Clasping his grip on Felix’s throat one moment and then offering to hug it out the next, there is more to this lovable loser than initially meets the eye. He and Felix are devoted to Sarah in different ways and the complications of this triangle are ripe for drama if Sarah ever finds a personal moment away from being centered in a sniper’s scope.
Alas, not all of the characters can be as goofily endearing as Felix and Vic. Paul, Beth’s live-in boyfriend and Sarah’s pretend boyfriend, appears long enough to announce that he is moving out. Sarah, and the audience, could not care less and so Paul is temporarily placed on the shelf in favor of more entertaining developments. With any luck, Paul will stay away long enough to find a personality and will return only when he has something worthwhile to contribute to the storyline.
Despite its clear intention to keep the action striding with a controlled intensity, “Instinct” briefly reins in the science fiction espionage for quieter moments of human drama. Sarah may alternate between personas of cocksure grifter and faux police detective, yet she is also a mother anxious to create a new life with her daughter. Sarah operates with a chameleon morality that alters as needed, though her sliding scale of ethics is a necessary survival tool for her ever-evolving situation. “Orphan Black” remembers that her character is as multi-faceted as her history of being a clone by giving Sarah scenes dealing with familial relations, instead of always having to dodge figurative and literal bullets.
Felix’s bonding moment with Sarah’s daughter Kira brings out a look in the eyes of foster parent Mrs. S that hints at a complete tale behind Sarah’s troubled motherhood. The details of Sarah’s yearlong disappearance can be added to the growing list of complexities surrounding the heroine. Sarah is neither heartless nor a stereotypical absentee mother. There is a much deeper connection tying this unconventional family unit together waiting to be explored.
Like any freshman drama, the series is not without hiccups. Canadian writer Graeme Manson seems convinced that every other line of dialogue from a British character should end in, “yeah?” Sarah even lets the word slip while portraying Beth, though we will chalk that up to a mental lapse in her impersonation. She is not a professional master of disguise, after all. Not yet, anyway. Considering the number of ongoing challenges in maintaining a roster of international clones, this is an excusable quibble if it remains the most serious offense.
The show’s creators have no interest in even hovering a finger over the pause button, let alone pressing it. On the contrary, the lead foot of “Orphan Black” is pressing down on the pedal with gleeful abandon. After just 90 minutes of total runtime, Sarah has more than enough on her plate to maintain the entertaining speed. Should this velocity keep up, it might be worth releasing the seat belt and hanging on for a wild ride.
Episode 3 - Variation Under Nature
Director: David Frazee
Writer: Graeme Manson
Summary: Compelled to take her impersonation of Beth to the next level, Sarah lands directly in the path of the assassin targeting the clones.
Sarah learns from Alison and Cosima that she belongs to a group of experimental clones and someone is killing them off. Felix comes to peek in the window and Alison pulls a gun on him. Sarah intervenes and slaps Alison for pointing a gun at Felix. Felix also meets Cosima and learns that Sarah is a clone. Cosima tells Sarah that she needs to provide the samples from Katja’s briefcase so that they can get answers.
Back at his place, Felix discusses the situation with Sarah. Sarah still plans to retrieve the $75,000 from Art and abscond with Kira, avoiding the clone situation altogether. Sarah goes to the police station to ask for the money. Art refuses until she is reinstated. Just then, Lieutenant Gavin Hardcastle calls the duo into his office and reinstates Beth as a detective. Sarah struggles with securing her gun and holster, as well as how to answer the police radio. She and Art are called to a crime scene where Katja’s body has been discovered. However, its face is unrecognizable due to the earth moving equipment in the quarry where it was found. Sarah calls Cosima and tells her about the police discovery. Cosima confirms that the clones’ fingerprints match. When they run Katja’s fingerprints, it will reveal Sarah’s criminal record. Back at the station, Art realizes that Sarah did not load the clip in her gun. Worried about her field readiness, Art benches Sarah at a desk. Sarah later meets Cosima at a bar. Cosima is a PhD student in Evolutionary Developmental Biology at the University of Minnesota. Cosima tells Sarah that six months ago, Katja contacted Beth with a story about her genetic identicals being hunted in Europe. Beth used her police access to find Cosima and Alison, but no one knows who the original is. Cosima wants Sarah to continue impersonating Beth so that they can use her detective connections. Sarah gives Katja’s briefcase to Cosima.
Art books time for Sarah on the gun range. Art receives a call from someone using a voice scrambler and puts the voice on speakerphone. The voice insinuates responsibility for the body found at the quarry and provides a lead. Unable to log into Beth’s workstation, Sarah flirts with IT technician Raj Singh for his help with computer access and with running fingerprint results. Later, while the attendant is distracted, Sarah finds the fingerprint results from Katja’s body and deletes them from the police computer. Sarah meets with Mrs. S and they discuss conditions for a possible reunion with Kira. With temporary partner Angela DeAngelis, Art finds the broken auto glass where Katja was shot. He traces the line of fire to a sniper’s nest and finds motorcycle tracks along with a red haired doll head on a nearby bush.
Cosima refers Sarah to Alison for shooting lessons. Raj calls Sarah with a lead on a stolen motorcycle. Felix babysits Alison’s children Gemma and Oscar while Alison takes Sarah to a range. Sarah learns that the $75,000 belongs to Alison. She still plans to steal the money anyway and run away with Kira and Felix. Felix is forced to hide when Paul comes back to Beth’s flat unexpectedly. Sarah and Paul start to become intimate, but he exits suddenly to leave her hot and bothered. Sarah does well at the police firing range. She and Art then follow an APB hit on a Suzuki sport bike.
Sarah and Art trace the motorcycle to an apartment with a Ukrainian superintendant. Inside, Sarah finds a photocopy of Katja’s papers in a Bible. As Art reads a passage from Psalms scrawled on the wall, Sarah tackles him after seeing a gun pointed outside the window. A bullet clips Art in the ear while Sarah chases the hooded shooter. Sarah is knocked to the ground from behind. The shooter refrains from stabbing her when Sarah shouts, “I’m not Beth.” The shooter pulls back her hood and reveals that she is another clone. Sarah stabs the clone in the stomach with a piece of rebar found on the ground, but the shooter then escapes. Sarah recovers the clone’s knife just before Art arrives.
Art and Sarah confer with the Lieutenant and with each other after the incident. Art returns the $75,000. Through the outside window, Sarah watches Kira and Mrs. S play together. Sarah changes her mind and decides to not steal the money and abscond with her daughter and Felix after all. The shooter clone is seen pulling the rebar out of her body and she reveals numerous scars covering her back.
When a new television show appears seemingly from left field with three consecutive episodes as solid as “Orphan Black,” it is only natural for a skeptic to wonder when the program might crumble into conventional mediocrity before being taken out back for a mercy shooting from the shotgun of cancellation. Thankfully, this series is as far from conventional as it is from mediocrity.
With a premise founded on a gradually unfolding mystery, “Orphan Black” stands on a trapdoor that could release at any moment if the mystery stretches for too long. And the noose it wears around its neck loosens according to how well the intrigue is sustained. But any execution-related worries can sleep peacefully. Still on the first lap with lungs full of wind, “Orphan Black” is running strong and with purpose.
A testament to how well the initial pieces were placed, exposition lags well behind while the story concentrates on making existing threads even richer. Sarah’s increasingly complex situation is growing more so without a need to introduce any truly new elements yet. Sarah seems only peripherally interested in anything related to the clone mystery. Her number one priority is nicking back the $75,000 and spiriting away Kira for a new life. The murder, the suicide, and the briefcase with the blood vials will just have to wait their turn in the queue.
Tatiana Maslany stretches her wings in episode three, “Variations Under Nature,” by taking turns as four different characters, not including the other two in the recap flashbacks. The quality of clone portrayals varies, but rings up more hits than misses. Particularly fun is Cosima, the dreadlocked science geek version of the heroine. Onscreen with Sarah, accepting these two as separate characters is an easy task, even with the same actress in both roles. Though the differentiating personality traits are laid on thicker with Alison, the uptight soccer mom with a tendency to wag her head overmuch.
In Maslany’s defense, she does share a lot of scenes with co-stars who are not even there. As the series develops, the burden lies more on individual episode directors to dial back any excessive mannerisms, keeping the characters distinguishable before they become caricatures.
After meeting clones Alison and Cosima, and previously Beth and Katja, Sarah now has a rough sense of what is happening. But she is still ripe for fish out of water scenarios as neither of the two new clones are terribly eager to give her the full lowdown. Although Sarah has de facto joined their “Clone Club,” she is still in the dark on more than a few important details.
It is strange that no one has made much of the coincidence that Sarah, previously unknown to Alison and Cosima, happened to enter the scene exactly at the moment of Beth’s suicide. This is either a convenient contrivance that has to be overlooked to push the show’s concept off the ground, or it is a jigsaw piece waiting for future placement in the puzzle. No one has stopped to wonder if Sarah could be directly or indirectly responsible for Beth’s demise, either. Was it certain that Beth was going to throw herself in front of the train that night? Locking eyes with Sarah beforehand did not stop her, if so. Either way, Beth had little interest in this new clone standing on the platform.
One message delivered in this episode is that not all clones are playing on the same team, and not all of them can be trusted. And while just three hours ago Sarah was shown knocking her boyfriend unconscious, fencing cocaine, stealing $75,000, and faking her death, circumstances are quickly developing her into a more honorable person. In “Variation Under Nature,” one clone points a gun at her brother, another clone points a gun at her, and yet Sarah still thinks twice about robbing from the club to fund the kidnapping of her own daughter. Delving to the bottom of the clone mystery is moving up on her priority list, as is being a respectable mother.
“Orphan Black” as a series reflects the vibrant personalities of its characters. For some in the audience, disbelief might be hard to come by, but consider that Beth’s boyfriend Paul is probably the most normally depicted character thus far. Ironically, he is also the flattest and most boring. In the pantheon of things complicating Sarah’s life, Paul barely registers as a minor annoyance. Seeing this alternative, staunch realism can be traded for the quirky charms of Felix, Cosima, et al. any day of the week.
To be fair, Paul has had a collective screen time in minutes equal to the total number of episodes thus far. The creators have demonstrated firm slots for the characters established up until now, so it stands to reason that much more import could be in store for Paul. Hopefully, something is also in store for Art that gives him a chance for an expression other than creasing the skin between his eyebrows.
As with the previous installments, this episode wedges in nice bites of humor stemming from Sarah’s perpetually adapting confusion. Moments such as Sarah’s sidearm strapping snafu in the bathroom and a fumbled attempt at responding on the police radio are reminders that despite the high stakes, this is still a fun trip. “Orphan Black” is focused on human drama, even if it does center on clones. The espionage action and intrigue are supplements to telling the broader story of Sarah’s redemption for being a child abandoning drug runner and becoming… well, that remains to be seen.
SIDE NOTE: Why does the office door in the police station say “Captain Glen Hardcastle” when the character’s name is “Lieutenant Gavin Hardcastle?”
Episode 4 - Effects of External Conditions
Writer: Karen Walton
Summary: The clones uncover the identity and the motive of their assassin, as well as the reason why Beth shot Maggie Chen.
The clone shooter tends to the wound she suffered from Sarah’s attack. A little boy is awakened and follows a blood trail to the bathroom. It is revealed that the clone shooter is in someone else’s home. She whispers to the boy to be quiet and closes the door to the bathroom with him inside.
Sarah meets with Alison to tell her about the clone shooter. Sarah also returns the $75,000. Alison appears surprised to learn that Kira is Sarah’s biological daughter, as Alison’s children are adopted. Cosima researches the symbols from the knife that Sarah recovered. Art calls Sarah with a lead. He and Sarah find the motorcycle and a blood trail at the house where the shooter treated her wound. Art interviews the boy who saw the shooter. He describes the intruder as an “angry angel” and indicates that she looked like Sarah. The boy gives Sarah a paper fortuneteller that the shooter left him. Sarah makes an arrangement with Mrs. S to see Kira. Sarah is concerned about making the appointment as it conflicts with the escalating police business.
The police review all of their clues. The shooter is profiled as an isolated and detached religious fanatic with child development issues. The shooter calls Sarah on Beth’s office line. She identifies herself as Helena and tells Sarah to come and meet her. Meanwhile, the police learn that the numbers on the fortuneteller are addresses related to Helena’s movements. When Art and Sarah leave the police station, Helena enters. Raj confuses Helena for Beth. Investigating an address from the paper fortuneteller, Art, Beth, and Angela find more evidence of self-surgery as well as stick figures drawn on the walls. Helena examines Beth’s workstation. When Paul calls, Helena tells him to come and pick her up. Sarah enlists Felix to help her be in two places at once. When the police return to the station, Raj refers to seeing Beth earlier while Art and Sarah discover that someone altered the investigation board.
At Beth’s desk, Sarah discovers that Helena scratched out the eyes on a picture of Paul and also covered it with a photo of Maggie Chen. Felix works with Alison on impersonating Sarah. Reexamining the Chen file, Sarah discovers that Maggie had a brand on her neck that matches the symbol on Helena’s knife. Paul arrives and has a brief confrontation with Art and then with Sarah before leaving. Cosima confirms that Maggie was intentionally killed by Beth. Cosima theorizes that Helena has had her religious beliefs twisted into a notion that the clones are abominations. Art is skeptical about Beth’s relationship with Paul as well as Beth not noticing that her attacker was a woman. Helena calls and tells Sarah to meet her at Maggie’s apartment. As blackmail, Helena also emails a video of her impersonating Beth and confessing to the murder of Maggie Chen.
Felix brings Alison to meet Kira. Kira recognizes that Alison is not Sarah. Alison delicately explains the situation and indicates that her real mother will see Kira soon. Art finds a notepad on Beth’s desk revealing that Sarah went to Maggie Chen’s apartment. He follows her. In the event of her death, Sarah records a message on her phone revealing her true identity to Art. Sarah confronts Helena in Maggie’s apartment. Helena claims that God sent her. She also says that Maggie helped make the clones, but then saw the light and came to her side. Sarah realizes that Beth killed Maggie to protect the clones. Helena appears to believe that she is the original and that the other clones need to be destroyed. Sarah tries to convince Helena that she has been brainwashed. Art arrives at the door.
Sarah lets Helena escape out the window before Art enters. Kira keeps Alison’s secret. At the station, Hardcastle asks why Beth was at Maggie Chen’s apartment. With Art also in the office, Sarah resigns Beth from the police force. Helena stumbles through an alley before collapsing on the pavement. A man picks up her body, puts her in a van, and drives away.
After three episodes penned by series creator Graeme Manson, “Effects of External Conditions” passes the scripting reins to Karen Walton without missing a beat. Although she also seems to have a proclivity for ending dialogue with, “yeah?” even if the character is not British, just like Manson. Maybe there is something contagious in the writing room.
Since playing six different characters and counting has not been enough of a challenge, lead actress Tatiana Maslany does one better when Alison is roped into impersonating Sarah while Sarah is occupied pretending to be Beth. Maslany is not just playing characters. She is playing characters playing other characters, yet she and the creators are making those portrayals feel different while maximizing comedic returns in the process. Put upon Felix is saddled with prepping Alison for her turn as Sarah so that mother may be reunited with daughter while the real thing pursues an assassin. The levity funneled from Felix’s frustration and Alison’s struggles with perfecting a Cockney accent balance the heavier tones that come courtesy of a clone serial killer.
“Orphan Black” pivots slightly from its sci-fi thriller bent to additionally tease a nature versus nurture debate. Her name revealed in this episode, clone assassin Helena is painted as a misguided religious zealot. These themes hint at a deeper level to what on the surface can be misconstrued as a mere fast-paced entertainment piece. But the real-world theoretical conflicts that come with the concept of human cloning are being woven intelligently into the action.
Presumably, the clones were all molded from the exact same DNA and genetic conditions. Yet with each one raised separately and in a different part of the globe, one developed into a rough and tumble punk, one a suburban housewife, another a hippie brainiac, and still another became a demented sociopath. How much of a person’s character is predetermined by nature? How much is affected by environment? The creators are not avoiding the opportunity to peel back this layer and explore the possibilities. This series is meant to burst more than sensory synapses. “Orphan Black” aims to appeal on a philosophical plane, as well.
Meanwhile, the rest of the episode is up to its old tricks, as much as a series only four episodes deep can have old tricks. Paul makes his obligatory one-minute appearance, adding little more than an interruption to an otherwise on target tempo.
And Maslany continues to impress. She is the one selling each character as a different person, not the hair and makeup. No other proof is needed than when Helena infiltrates the police station as Beth. Hiding her blonde curls under a knit cap, she is clearly the twisted sniper, even without the benefit of distinguishing visual characteristics. Sure, her reddened eye sockets are distinct, and so is the way the injury affects her movement. But there is an arch to her body and a step in her gait that belongs only to that clone and to none of the others.
As the first season nears its midway mark, “Orphan Black” now has a layer of subtext regarding religion and philosophy that is as rich as the template for high stakes action. The reasons to be invested in this series are only increasing. Answers are being delivered, yet each one serves to make the arc even more compelling. This is intrigue done right.
SIDE NOTES: Hardcastle’s office door still says “Captain” even though he has been referred to as “Lieutenant.” And I wish Helena had a different leitmotif, because every time the screeching strains of her theme are played, I am reminded of the Britney Spears song “Toxic.”
Episode 5 - Conditions of Existence
Writer: Alex Levine
Summary: The clones suspect that people close to them may actually be monitors assigned by their creator.
The man from the van tends to Helena’s wounds. She mutters, “Tomas.” Sarah thanks Alison for her help with Kira. Paul comes back to Beth’s apartment unexpectedly. He and Sarah have sex in the shower. Paul suggests running away to Rio de Janeiro. That night, Sarah has a dream that men experiment on her while she sleeps in Beth’s bed. In the morning, she finds an electrode in her mouth and a mark on her arm.
Sarah avoids Paul’s suggestion to run away. Cosima identifies the electrode and Sarah realizes that she was not dreaming about the scientists. It really happened. Alison and Felix wonder if Paul might be in on it, and theorize that someone close to each clone has been assigned as a spy. Raj calls Sarah and asks for the return of police surveillance equipment. Sarah and Felix realize that Beth suspected Paul and she was already spying on him. Alison suspects that her husband Donnie is spying on her. At Beth’s flat, Felix finds a business card identifying Paul’s workplace as Trexcom Consulting. He and Sarah also find a keepsake box with photos of Paul in the military and letters from Beth. They find the surveillance gear stashed in the spare tire well of the car trunk. Sarah goes to Trexcom and discovers that the office is empty.
A woman named Madison tells Sarah that the company downsized and Paul’s office is now located in the back. While looking for clues about her husband, Alison finds his stash of adult movies, including “Big Boob Blowies.” Sarah plants a microphone under Paul’s desk. Paul arrives and notices that Sarah is missing Beth’s neck scar from a mountain bike crash. He watches a video of Beth that confirms his suspicion about the scar. Alison finds a locked box in the garage and tries to saw it open, but her husband stops her. Cosima notices something curious about Delphine, the French student working near her in the lab. They later become acquainted. Sarah and Felix learn that Beth loved Paul, but he did not love her back. However, Paul appears to have fallen for Sarah. Felix has a rendezvous with Colin from the morgue. Sarah walks Kira home from school as someone photographs them from a distance. Vic loses a finger to the drug dealer whose cocaine is missing.
Alison purchases a nanny cam from a spy shop while her children buy candy bars from the convenience store next door. Vic is at the same convenience store. He spots Alison and confronts her, believing she is Sarah. Alison pepper sprays and tases him to escape. Alison calls Sarah and lets her know what happened. A man named Olivier visits Paul and asks about Beth. Sarah narrowly misses Colin when she stops at Felix’s. She and Felix listen to Paul’s conversation with Olivier. They learn that Paul is indeed Beth’s monitor, but he is also keeping the truth from Olivier. Paul texts Sarah a picture of her with Kira. Vic then enters suddenly.
Sarah gives Vic $20,000 of Alison’s money to make up for the missing cocaine and as a payoff to never see Vic again. Vic takes the money but tells her that it is not over between them. Alison makes it into her husband’s locked box, but only the adult videos are inside. Her husband is shown burning papers and making a secretive phone call. Alison hides the nanny cam in her bedroom. Sarah goes to Beth’s flat where Paul is waiting with a gun. He knows that Sarah is not Beth.
Sarah tells Paul who she is and what happened to Beth, but Paul does not initially believe her. Paul eventually admits that he is Beth’s monitor. Sarah claims that his deception is why Beth killed herself. Paul tells Sarah that he had no choice and claims he was never told why he was assigned to Beth.
Episode five, “Conditions of Existence,” is a pivot point for “Orphan Black.” Compared to the previous four episodes, this hour is far quieter and far less dangerous, even with the bevy of guns and the loss of a finger for one character.
The greatest hiccup for this episode is a heavy reliance on several conveniences of timing. Just as she and Felix are contemplating how to deduce if Paul is a mole, Sarah receives a timely call from Raj mentioning that Beth needs to return some outstanding surveillance equipment to the police. Even more fortuitous is Vic making a purchase at the same convenience store and at the same time as Alison’s children. He was going to learn that Sarah was still alive sooner or later, but there had to be a more plausible way to make that happen.
For one thing, Sarah herself is never too careful about hiding her existence. Not learning her lesson when she previously dropped by Felix’s unannounced only to narrowly miss a face-to-face with Vic, Sarah makes the same mistake in this episode. This time she narrowly avoids confronting Colin, the morgue attendant now shagging Felix who can also identify her. She has two of Beth’s phones. Sarah really ought to use one of them to call Felix before making her next surprise visit.
“Orphan Black” takes advantage of this relatively subdued hour by turning supporting players into potential threats and launching several threads that are poised for bigger payoffs down the line. Paul mercifully steps off the C-list and reveals himself to have major import on where the Beth and Sarah storyline goes from here. He is still dreadfully dull, but at least he now has a visible contribution to the plot. And Alison’s goofy husband, whose character offers the best laugh when Alison discovers “Big Boob Blowies” in his adult video collection, is not just a paunchy background joke after all.
Alison is developing into a believable individual, separated from the other clones by more than her tight ponytail and clenched cheeks walk. Her character is also coming forward as someone with more to contribute than a few bundles of cash. And now that even more people are privy to the truth about Sarah, Vic and Paul are both primed to be more than mere nuisances. This episode was “Orphan Black” taking a break to reset the table while Helena heals her wounds and the A storyline waits for her to recover. The action was scant. However, the creators did put out a few new toys rife with future drama.
“Conditions of Existence” packs the weakest wallop of the first half of season. But it does make significant alterations to key relationships, including Vic and Sarah, Sarah and Paul, and Alison and her husband. It could very well be that this is the last lull the clones will have to catch their collective breath now that more stages are set for new confrontations. The episode under-delivered the excitement for this hour, but it may eventually make up for the missing thrills with what it has loaded in the chamber.
SIDE NOTE: Along with Raymond Ablack as Raj, Miriam McDonald’s brief role as Paul’s assistant Meredith in this episode marks the second appearance of a Degrassi alum on “Orphan Black.”
Episode 6 - Variations Under Domestication
Writer: Will Pascoe
Summary: Alison and Cosima try learning more about their monitors while Paul digs into the true connection between Beth and Sarah.
Alison checks the recording from the nanny cam hidden in her bedroom. She watches Donnie get out of bed and disappear for several hours during the night, but the recording ends abruptly without revealing anything else. Alison confronts Donnie about his nighttime whereabouts, but he avoids her questions. Alison takes a golf club and knocks her husband unconscious.
Paul explains to Sarah that he does not know why he is monitoring Beth. A secret in his military past has given Paul’s employers something to hold over him. He gives Beth’s medical reports to Olivier, but knows nothing else about the clone program and assumes that Sarah is Beth’s twin. Pretending to take a shower, Sarah escapes the apartment and calls Cosima. Cosima explains that they are part of a double blind experiment that keeps the monitors unaware of the clones’ true nature. Sarah warns Cosima not to get too close to fellow student Delphine, who is presumed to be Cosima’s monitor. Alison asks Sarah to come to her house. Paul tracks Sarah’s movements on a computer. Alison ties up Donnie in the basement and begins interrogating him. Donnie acts confused about Alison’s accusations. Alison accidentally burns him with a hot glue sequin gun. Delphine invites Cosima to a lecture by Dr. Aldous Leekie on Neolution, the new science of self-directed evolution. Paul drugs a bottle of alcohol before leaving to follow Sarah. Sarah arrives at Alison’s and discovers what has been done to Donnie. The doorbell rings and Alison remembers that she is hosting the monthly neighborhood potluck party.
Alison starts drinking wine and playing hostess while Sarah interrogates Donnie as Alison. Sarah enlists Felix to tend bar at Alison’s party. Paul meets with Olivier. Donnie explains that he got up in the middle of the night to watch cricket, as the South African games start at 4am. Cosima and Delphine attend Leekie’s lecture. Vic breaks into Felix’s apartment and learns where Felix went. Alison confers with Sarah and accepts that Donnie is not really her monitor. Alison then passes out from the wine. From his car, Paul spies on Alison’s house.
Cosima and Delphine speak with Leekie after his lecture. The two girls then steal a pair of wine bottles and escape the reception. At Alison’s, Felix suspects that neighbor Aynsley may be Alison’s true monitor. Vic crashes the party. Paul sneaks into the house and finds Alison on the basement couch. He then finds Donnie tied up in the other room as well as the computer monitor linked to the bedroom nanny cam.
Sarah meets with Vic in Alison’s bedroom. Paul confronts them both. Vic pulls a gun and escorts Paul to the garage. Meanwhile, Sarah pretends to be Alison and consoles Aynsley over their similar marital problems. Under the threat of torture, Paul interrogates Vic for information about Sarah.
Sarah convinces Paul that Vic knows nothing, but Paul puts a nail in Vic’s hand before letting him go. Aynsley walks in on Sarah and Paul. Sarah plays Paul off as Alison’s lover. Donnie confesses that mementos of a past girlfriend were the true contents of his lockbox. He pledges to be a better husband. Back at Beth’s flat, Paul prepares to serve Sarah the drugged alcohol. When she reveals that she is actually a clone and not a twin, Paul switches to the non-drugged alcohol and they begin talking. Delphine secretly meets with Leekie, and they are revealed to be lovers.
Beth and Paul. Sarah and Vic. Alison and Donnie. As “Orphan Black” begins riding down the back half of its freshman season towards a climax, episode six takes three of the key relationships and brings them together in an unlikely place: the neighborhood potluck party at Alison’s suburban home.
Like any television program, “Orphan Black” does not and will not appeal to everyone. “Variations Under Domestication” conducts a litmus test of sorts to determine which side of the fence a viewer may fall.
Suspected of being her monitor, hapless Donnie spends most of the episode tied to a chair while his wife (and Sarah pretending to be his wife) interrogates him under the threat of hot glue from her Bedazzler. Presuming Donnie is telling the truth about his ignorance of any confusing clone conspiracy, his reactions to Alison’s incredible accusations are as incredulous as they would be for any skeptic having difficulty with the show’s premise. “Where are the files that you have on me? … You perform medical examinations on me in my sleep! … Am I sick, like the German?” Highlighted by the absurdity of depriving his senses with a pink night mask and headphones, it is hard to fault someone for passing off the show for being as crazy as Donnie thinks it sounds. But for those of us who swallow it whole only to want another heaping serving, this scene amplifies just how much fun “Orphan Black” can be, even when it winks at itself.
Tatiana Maslany owns her multiple roles. Whenever this series concludes, she will emerge from the other side as a much greater talent than she was going in. When Maslany is not caught up in Eastern Bloc accents, she melts comfortably into her portrayals of the three primary clones: Sarah, Alison, and Cosima. She and the creators are further developing the depictions of each girl as convincing separate entities. There is a discernible difference between the real Alison and Sarah playing herself as Alison. This may be a required ability for a professional actress, but pulling off the feat successfully is remarkable nonetheless.
The really unbelievable aspect of Sarah’s personality is trying to reconcile how she ever had a relationship with a guy like Vic. Poor Vic. Constantly learning the hard way how much love hurts, his unending affection for Sarah is making him the show’s resident pincushion. It is difficult to tell if he or Felix is intended to be the primary source of comic relief. It seems almost an inside joke amongst the writers to find a different way to abuse the man every hour, whether it be physically or emotionally, though mostly physically. Clocked in the head, pepper sprayed, and on the finger-losing end of a paper cutter, this time Paul takes a turn using Vic as his punching bag when the hustler once again sticks his nose where it does not belong.
At last, Paul emerges from the shadows of dull near-obscurity and shows that he has more to offer than a bathroom break opportunity. His perpetual stone face and understated tone even add menace to his sadistic side. There is a cold efficiency to the way he approaches his torture of Vic and his interrogation of Sarah that signals he is not to be underestimated. He is not a clandestine bad guy after all, but he is not a black-and-white good guy, either. His character development in episode six was much needed to elevate his interest level closer to that of the others in the supporting cast.
The first episode of “Orphan Black” seemed to establish the setting as New York with unmistakable NYPD logos emblazoned throughout Beth and Art’s police station. Since then, the location has clearly reverted to Toronto, although it has yet to be named specifically. It is as if the creators want the location to be intentionally ambiguous. If looking for further ambiguity, one could even place the timeline just about anywhere, were it not for the consistent use of cell phones. In a slightly curious move, the three songs that play at or in reference to Alison’s party are The Cardigans’ “Lovefool,” The Spice Girls’ “Wannabe,” and Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It.” The latter is from 1995 while the other two are from 1996. Perhaps Alison and her neighbors simply have an affinity for mid-90’s pop hits. Or could there be another reason these tunes are related by date?
Even with glue guns and nail guns pointed in faces, “Variations Under Domestication” shows that “Orphan Black” is equipped to dole out suspense by more mundane means as well. The possibility of a next-door neighbor stumbling upon a clone while eating a sausage roll holds as much interest as the motivations of Dr. Leekie or wondering where Helena will rear up next.
This episode could have been all about laborious exposition while the various threads converged into a state of mutual awareness. After a strong first half of the season, the creators unsurprisingly made an entertaining hour of small shocks and suburban suspense as several of the characters laid out their cards for all to see. The best part of it though, is that the audience is now no longer waiting for these main players to play catch up. As the next four episodes approach the finish line, there is now a much less obstructed path for things to start hitting the fan.
Episode 7 - Parts Developed in an Unusual Manner
Writer: Tony Elliott
Summary: Sarah’s true identity comes into the open, leading to extreme consequences for Paul as well as the other clones.
Via webcam, Cosima and Sarah discuss their monitors. Sarah wonders if Paul can be trusted. She also warns Cosima to stay away from Delphine. Tomas continues to treat Helena’s wounds.
Paul meets with Olivier in an underground club that Olivier owns called Neolution. Sarah and Felix follow Paul there. The police discover that Helena’s blood and Katja’s body have identical DNA. Angie wonders if Beth is involved in the connection. She and Art begin digging deeper into the evidence. Felix infiltrates the club and befriends Astra, a confidante of Olivier. He learns about the body modification and self-directed evolution of the club-goers. Olivier questions Paul about Beth. He also tells Paul that someone is killing their subjects. Paul leaves Neolution and catches Felix following him, but Sarah intervenes. Tomas admonishes Helena for believing Sarah’s assertion that Helena is not the original. Tomas then instructs her to kill Sarah.
Sarah tells Paul about the clones, but holds back some information, as she is still unsure of his trustworthiness. Helena meets with Sarah. She tells Sarah that she will not kill her if Sarah gives Helena the names of the other clones. Leekie informs Olivier that Beth’s medical exam shows she is someone else. During a discussion with Cosima, Sarah learns that Olivier’s club shares its name with Leekie’s science. Sarah also reveals that Olivier reportedly has a tail. Olivier and Astra confront Paul. Olivier tells Paul that Beth is an imposter.
Helena breaks into Beth’s flat. Sarah meets with Kira. While there, Mrs. S. shares a scrapbook with Sarah that reveals more about her origin. Cosima and Delphine have dinner out. Leekie enters the restaurant and is invited to join them. They discuss his work at the Dyad Institute. Leekie invites Cosima to work at Dyad. Back at Neolution, Olivier instructs Paul to bring Beth’s imposter to him. In return, Paul’s debt to Olivier’s group will be paid with regards to Paul’s Afghanistan-related secret. Olivier forces Paul to call Beth. When he does, he tells Sarah to run. Olivier then restrains Paul while Astra gives him an injection.
Sarah wants Helena to kill Olivier and asks her to come to Neolution. Sarah infiltrates the club’s basement and is escorted by Astra. Astra confiscates the knife that Sarah took from Helena and gives it to Olivier. Olivier interrupts his torture of Paul to speak with Sarah. Sarah tells Olivier that Helena is the real clone killer, not her. Over the phone, Leekie instructs Olivier to prepare Sarah for travel. Astra zip ties Sarah’s hands and puts a bag over her head. As she escorts Sarah in the hallway, Helena appears and knocks Astra out. Helena then takes Sarah’s place. On the security camera, Olivier sees Astra on the ground. He goes to the hallway where Helena then overpowers him and takes back her knife. She then forces Olivier to reveal his tail and she cuts it off as “a message from Tomas.” Sarah rescues Paul. Felix calls Art to talk about Beth but aborts the call when Sarah finally appears.
Sarah reveals that she told Helena her real identity when Helena demanded the name of a clone. Sarah and Paul share a romantic moment in Felix’s apartment. Cosima kisses Delphine, which causes Delphine to leave abruptly. At the police station, Angie shows Art that the fingerprint they lifted from the body at the morgue identifies their Jane Doe as Sarah. Art also sees that she looks identical to Beth.
Should there come a time when every season one episode of “Orphan Black” is ordered on a list of “Most Engaging,” episode seven will unfortunately find itself on the bottom half of that hierarchy. Reflecting on why “Parts Developed in an Unusual Manner” felt lacking in comparison to its predecessors highlighted a key element that explains why the series as a whole is usually so consistently satisfying.
In Sarah’s immediate radius, there is not a single character that would be unwelcome in an ordinary person’s circle of friends. Even Paul. Who would not want someone like Felix to rely on when in immediate need of a sweater-clad suburban bartender? Despite life or death consequences, the population of “Orphan Black” always finds a quick moment for injecting subtle humor, whether it is burning Donnie with a glue gun or the surprising sight of Felix painting in the nude. Episode seven aims to continue that trend of keeping the characters fun in the face of danger, but falls short of scoring the goal.
Since the series started, the various clones have largely been separated by the unique mannerisms given to each personality. As Tatiana Maslany continues to improve, relying heavily on physical movements to distinguish the characters should be less of an issue. Helena in particular has always been played with eccentric behaviors, but in this spin her eccentricities are played as more goofy than truly deadly. There is initial amusement in the way she slurps her Jell-O and admires a casual diner for being a nice restaurant. Yet acting more like a clown than a killer, it comes off as silly when remembering the way she calculatingly infiltrated the police station and blackmailed Beth/Sarah.
Escorting Sarah and Helena to lunch with the accompaniment of Sonny and Cher singing “I’ve Got You Babe” is a little too on the nose, as well. The show’s humor always plays better when it is incidental to the action as opposed to directly out in front. The lunacy of a situation such as Donnie’s basement interrogation garners subtle laughs from the setup itself. Throwing a song over the top of a scene to achieve the same effect smacks of being artificial.
And when it comes to artificial, “Orphan Black” teeters on its track by introducing a tail for one of the characters. The science fiction of the program is interesting in terms of the realities of human cloning and the debates of nature versus nurture. So far, the story has worked well when focused tightly on the chief storyline of Sarah and the clones. Drift too far into Dr. Moreau territory with the body modification angle and the show may come off the track of pseudo-realism completely.
“Parts Developed in an Unusual Manner” is certainly an important episode for the season. Now that virtually every ancillary figure on the show is aware of Sarah’s identity, it can be argued that this is the episode that most changes the course of the story. It just so happens though, that episode seven gives up the series’ usual charm while establishing what is to come.
Perhaps the time crunch of only three episodes remaining has taken its toll. How else to explain some of the quick jumps in logic such as Sarah and Paul suddenly being in love and Olivier sharing the name of his club with Dr. Leekie’s pseudo-science? (That is not doing much to hide their connection.) When a single season has only ten episodes, some of these jumps do necessitate forgiveness. But one can only hope that “Orphan Black” remembers what makes it a routinely engaging show and dials it down before wandering too far from its core.
Episode 8 - Entangled Bank
Writer: Karen Walton
Summary: Kira becomes an integral figure in the clone conspiracy as Art and Angela draw closer to exposing Sarah.
Art and Angela continue investigating the connection between Beth and the two dead bodies identified as Sarah Manning. Paul and Sarah continue hiding in Felix’s loft. Alison decides to divorce Donnie. Assuming Aynsley is her monitor, Alison also begins alienating her neighbor. Art and Angela question Mrs. S. about Sarah.
Sarah worries that Cosima may be sympathetic to neolutionism. Paul confronts Olivier in the hospital. Delphine tells Leekie about Cosima’s romantic advances and Leekie instructs her to dig deeper in order to protect Cosima. Still in possession of Sarah’s jacket following their switch at Olivier’s club, Helena discovers a picture of Kira along with Mrs. S’ address. Mrs. S. confronts Sarah and Felix about her visit from the police. Art and Angela discover that the bodies of Beth and Katja have matching DNA. Sarah shows up at the police station as Beth to answer Art and Angela’s questions.
Sarah dodges the police questions about the matching bodies that look identical to her. After she touches a photograph, Art lifts Sarah’s fingerprints. Alison argues with Aynsley at their kids’ figure skating event. Alison finds Aynsley’s husband Chad smoking pot in the skating rink parking lot. She joins him and they end up having sex. Paul threatens to expose Olivier’s sex warrants to the police and blackmails him into hiding the truth about Sarah’s existence from Leekie. Delphine and Cosima become intimate.
Aynsley confronts Alison about having sex with Chad and they have a fight in the street. Art and Angela visit Colin at the morgue and obtain Felix’s information from when he identified Beth’s body as Sarah. Colin calls Felix with a warning that the police are on their way. Alison shows up drunk at Felix’s. Sarah takes her to Mrs. S’ house. Leekie arrives at the hospital and greets Paul. Olivier lies and tells Leekie that Helena was the only clone at his nightclub. While Cosima is out, Delphine goes through her things and learns everything that Cosima knows about the clones. Delphine tells Leekie about her discovery, but hides the fact that Sarah has a daughter.
Sarah introduces Alison to Mrs. S. and tells her foster mother about the clones. Art and Angela question Felix. Art realizes that Felix is the same person who called from the nightclub and mentioned Beth before hanging up. On Leekie’s orders, Olivier is given an injection and he dies while foaming at the mouth.
Mrs. S. tells Sarah that there were rumors of medical experiments when she came to her as an orphan through Carlton’s pipeline. Meanwhile, Helena comes to the house and absconds with Kira. As Sarah gives chase, Helena lets Kira go. However, Kira is hit by a car while crossing the street back to Sarah.
Following the slight hiccup of episode seven’s divergent tone and narrative shift, “Entangled Bank” clones the scripting DNA of episode six to right the listing ship. Episode eight is a return to relationship exploration while tidying up loose ends that bring more of the central characters up to speed.
Sex is a featured entrée on episode eight’s menu. Paul and Sarah spend the night in Felix’s bed. Cosima and Delphine finally give in to their seemingly mutual attraction. And Alison screws over her presumed monitor by screwing Aynsley’s husband Chad. It is also a good thing that Felix is still sleeping with morgue attendant Colin. Otherwise, he may not have been tipped off in time for an official police visit by Art and Angela. Sex is not just the main course for “Entangled Bank.” It is an essential component for advancing “Orphan Black” plotlines. Tatiana Maslany really has her hands full as the featured player in the majority of these couplings.
With multiple clones spinning multiple plates, “Orphan Black” has thus far been successful in keeping the attention drawn towards the stories depicted onscreen. As season one draws to a close, however, wheels start spinning about the elephants in the room that have gone unaddressed. There are still more than a few outstanding questions that could play into how the first year arc wraps up, as well as where season two goes from here.
The obvious question that no one has asked yet is: who is Sarah’s monitor? Dr. Leekie has a reaction after hearing her name that is difficult to read in this episode. If she is the original, or if she means something else entirely to the clone program, then perhaps no one specific was ever assigned. But if she does have a monitor, that person has done a piss poor job of keeping tabs on her, seeing as how Sarah has been MIA for the previous 10 months. Which is another question that circles back to the premiere episode. Where was Sarah before she appeared on the platform at Huxley Station?
Until more is revealed, the wise skeptic would keep an eyebrow cocked towards everyone in Sarah’s life. That includes Felix, Vic, and especially Mrs. S.
Even if she is just a doting adoptive matron, Mrs. S. still has some questionable child rearing talents. Never mind for a moment that Sarah matured into an urban hustler with shady connections and a dearth of her own mothering abilities. Little Kira is smart enough to recognize a perfect DNA match as someone other than her genuine mother. Yet she still opens the door for a stranger after being clearly instructed of the danger and then she walks right into the street without looking both ways to boot. It might be time to stop leaving orphans in the Sadler household when it comes to their formative years. Or maybe someone simply needs to look at Mrs. S. a little more closely. Maria Doyle Kennedy is too talented of an actress. As the last billed cast member with an opening credits title card, smart money points to her ultimately playing a more integral part in this story.
Among other unrelated questions, how is Leekie able to jet so effortlessly between Minnesota and Toronto? “Orphan Black” has gone to great lengths not to specify its obvious location. But Leekie’s jumping back and forth suggests either a continuity lapse, or the possibility that Sarah is not the only clone.
Perhaps most pressing of all the unanswered questions: what is it with Alison and 1990’s radio hits? Anyone with a pang for more blasts from the past since her potluck party has his/her patience rewarded this episode with a karaoke-like rendition of Meredith Brooks’ 1997 chart topper, “Bitch.”
It so happens that episode six was not the last table setting hour to put light bulbs over characters’ heads and pave the way towards the season finale. “Entangled Bank” plugs a few more holes so that the remaining two hours can flow unhindered. In an episode full of questions, the greatest is how much can be answered by episode ten, and how much fills the reserve tank for next year. Considering the shock ending for episode eight, the creators of “Orphan Black” appear willing to do whatever it takes to keep the captive audience on its collective toes.
Episode 9 - Unconscious Selection
Director: TJ Scott
Writer: Alex Levine
Summary: Art uncovers the truth about Beth’s suicide and Sarah discovers that she has a unique connection to Helena.
Despite the severity of her accident, Kira suffers only external scrapes and miraculously has no internal injuries.
Art and Angela agree to wait one more workday before telling the lieutenant about their investigation into Beth. Tomas locks Helena in a cage after she refuses to help him capture Sarah and Kira. Leekie reveals that he knows Paul doctored the nightclub footage and that he is aware of Sarah Manning’s identity. Alison cleans Felix’s loft when she takes up temporary residence there. Paul tells Sarah that Leekie wants to meet with her.
Cosima discovers that there is a unique anomaly in each clone’s DNA. Art calls Sarah and demands to meet with Beth. Sarah meets Art as Beth, but refuses to tell him anything. Felix takes Alison to pick up sundries at her house only to discover an intervention waiting for her. Sarah asks Cosima about Delphine as she tries to figure out how Leekie knows her identity. Paul brings Leekie to Sarah.
Leekie tells Sarah that he only wants to protect the clones and he asks her to bring him Helena for deprogramming. Cosima learns that Delphine works with Leekie and demands that she leave. Delphine pledges her feelings for Cosima and reveals that she did not tell Leekie about Kira. Art reviews the security footage at Huxley Station and discovers that Sarah took Beth’s place after the suicide. Mrs. S. contacts her people in England and tells Sarah that they are scared of something there as well. From her cage, Helena manages to access her phone and call Sarah for help.
Paul and Mrs. S. advise Sarah to give Helena to Leekie. Kira tells her mother what really happened with Helena. Alison explodes at her friends and family. Aynsley makes a veiled threat. At Tomas’ boat, Sarah points a gun at Helena but then decides to free her from the cage. Helena takes the gun when Tomas enters. Tomas tries to convince Helena to shoot Sarah and that Kira is rightfully Helena’s daughter. Sarah acknowledges a unique connection with Helena, inspiring her to attack Tomas. Helena incapacitates Tomas, but Sarah then knocks Helena out.
With Tomas locked in the cage, Sarah binds Helena and puts her in the car trunk. While waiting to give Helena to Leekie, Mrs. S. calls and tells Sarah to return immediately. Sarah is gone when Paul and Leekie arrive. Leekie informs a mystery woman about what happened. Angela brings the case files to Lieutenant Hardcastle. Art informs Hardcastle that Beth is dead and they actually need an arrest warrant for Sarah Manning. At Mrs. S’ house, Sarah meets her birth mother, Amelia. Amelia reveals that she gave birth to twins, and Helena is the other child.
Much like the ebb and flow of the season as a whole, “Unconscious Selection” is a microcosm of how “Orphan Black” contains scenes and other elements that sometimes unintentionally serve as potholes and speed bumps. Luckily, the big picture has always been greater than the sum of its parts, which is the case for this episode as well as the complete first year arc. Episode nine delivers an hour of entertaining science fiction, even if the tires pick up a few nails along the way.
Until this episode, “Orphan Black” has near masterfully maintained intriguing drama as its top priority while deflating that balloon slightly at appropriate times with subtle pinpricks of humor. Brief one-liners from Felix are usually at the top of this bill. But “Unconscious Selection” fires a rocket at that balloon and opens wide to gorge itself on entire comedic scenes. The result is an episode that teeters off balance in tone, even though it remains engaging overall.
With just one additional hour remaining in the season, the penultimate episode seems a curious moment for devoting so much time to Alison’s sitcom-esque friends and family intervention. As if that were not distraction enough, she also finds time for playing the odd homemaking partner to Felix’s Oscar Madison. The scenes are fun, as any pairing of Alison and Felix usually is, but there are far more mission critical threads that might have benefitted from a similar amount of creative attention, especially this late in the game.
It could be that the creators simply wanted everyone to breathe easier after having a fender barrel into a little girl at the climax of the previous hour. Although thankful that sweet Kira survived largely uninjured, it still feels like a cheat that the emotional gut punch of her accident was resolved in a matter of mere minutes. Annie Wilkes might like to take an axe to the creators’ feet for ending episode eight on such a heartrending cliffhanger, only to put the pieces right back where they were before episode nine’s opening credit roll.
A few other moments of intended intensity also lack payoffs. Helena has come much too far on her character’s journey for it to seem plausible for even one moment that Sarah might actually pull the trigger with a gun pointed at the Ukrainian’s curly blonde locks. Equally lacking in suspense is Sarah’s waffling over whether or not to deliver Helena to Leekie. The only possible outcome for either scenario is for Sarah to give her sister the same helping hand she offered way back when Art arrived at Maggie Chen’s apartment. After nine hours spent learning about Sarah, as well as her push-pull relationship with Helena, the audience is too smart to expect anything less from her behavior. The writers for “Orphan Black” need to find other ways of generating heightened tension that do not involve playing up these mini dramas.
On that same note, Matt Frewer has a devious way of curling his lips into a sinister smile that all but screams, “I’m lying!” No way would Sarah ever believe a word he says. Leekie has a better chance of conning a blind and deaf person into believing he has altruistic intentions.
Now that the overall drama is not so black and white, it is interesting that the characters of “Orphan Black” are drawn into shades of grey factions that overlap almost as much as they oppose each other. No longer a mystery of just creators and clones, there is also Tomas’ religious sect that might be more dangerous than Leekie and Dyad. Cosima’s increasing sympathies towards neolutionism continue to create friction between her and Sarah. Delphine is caught in the middle, pulled between her loyalty to Leekie and her affection for Cosima. Meanwhile, Helena, Sarah, and Alison are in dissimilar states of confusion over what they should each do next.
The way that the series has gradually introduced these warring ideals and the seesawing character conflicts has made the sometimes loony premise easier to accept than if it had been swallowed whole. Not everything works. Rarely does it for any show though, particularly in the freshman year. But with so much on the table to enjoy, it is an easy task to remove the taste of a flat scene or stale plotline and forget it quickly with something far more enjoyable. “Orphan Black” is on its own path of self-directed evolution. Heading into the season finale, it is still developing a unique identity that sets it apart in the genre as an almost hidden gem worthy of much greater attention.
Episode 10 - Endless Forms Most Beautiful
Writer: Graeme Manson
Summary: The clones must choose between aligning themselves with the Dyad Institute and continuing their lives underground.
Over Mrs. S.’ objections, Sarah takes Amelia to the basement for a meeting with Helena, who is bound to a support beam. On their way downstairs, Amelia tells Sarah that she must meet with her privately, away from Mrs. S.’ house, as she has something to reveal about her in vitro treatments. Upstairs, Mrs. S. goes through Amelia’s things and finds a photograph of a man and a woman in a laboratory. Amelia and Sarah inform Helena about her origin. When the police break into the house to arrest Sarah, Helena breaks free and escapes through a basement window.
Art begins questioning Sarah at the police station. Leekie visits Alison at her house and offers her a contract that guarantees freedom for her family and protection from Helena in exchange for agreeing to additional medical testing. As a gesture of good faith, her monitor has also been lifted. Angela interrogates Felix about his foster sister. Cosima begins coughing up blood. She then arrives in town and is greeted by Leekie at the bus station. Art’s interrogation is interrupted by Dyad attorney Daniel Rosen, who arranges for Sarah and Felix to be released. Leekie offers Cosima a contract with Dyad and gives her a hard drive containing her complete sequenced genome. He offers her the freedom to study herself and the other clones. Rosen escorts Sarah to an office building. Sarah meets briefly with Paul before being introduced to Rachel Duncan, who looks exactly like her and the other clones.
Rachel offers Sarah a contract that will protect her and Kira. She is given 24 hours to make a decision. Sarah, Cosima, and Alison meet at Felix’s and discuss what to do about their respective offers. To learn more about Sarah, Art and Angela confront Vic at an AA meeting. Confusing Alison for Sarah, Vic gives the police Alison’s suburban address. Meanwhile, Alison confronts Aynsley, who is preparing to move out of her house across the street. Alison goads Aynsley to tell the truth about being her monitor. Aynsley’s scarf becomes caught in the garbage disposal. Alison stops herself from helping and Aynsley chokes to death.
Art and Angela realize that Alison is a separate person from Sarah. Sarah and Felix prepare a bag for Kira in the event of having to leave suddenly. Mrs. S. warns Sarah about trusting Amelia. Cosima coughs up more blood. After Delphine arrives, Felix leaves Cosima alone with her. Delphine apologizes again and pledges her allegiance to Cosima. Together, they begin work on decoding Cosima’s genetic sequence. Amelia arrives at Beth’s flat to meet Sarah, but Helena is disguised as her sister. Amelia claims that Mrs. S. is not who she says she is before Helena plunges a knife into her birth mother’s stomach.
Sarah arrives at Beth’s and discovers a blood trail and black wig on the floor. Helena calls her and arranges a meeting. Donnie comes home and makes amends with Alison. Delphine reveals that Cosima’s unique identifying sequence number is 324B21. In a rundown building, Sarah finds Amelia dying. Amelia gives Sarah the photograph that Mrs. S. found earlier and mutters “foster mother.” On the back of the picture are the blacked out names of the two professors as well as the title “Project LEDA” and the date July 22, 1977. Helena enters just as Amelia dies. Sarah and Helena have a fight that ends with Sarah willfully firing a bullet into her twin sister.
Sarah calls Rachel and arranges to sign the contract in order to protect Kira. Alison signs her contract and faxes it to Rachel. While the police recover Aynsley’s body and investigate her home, Donnie, revealed as Alison’s true monitor, has a secret meeting with Leekie. In the elevator on her way up to see Rachel, Sarah rides with Paul. Paul reveals that Dyad covered up his friendly fire killing of six soldiers in Afghanistan and that is the secret that they hold over him. Having finally cracked the genetic code, Cosima calls Sarah and tells her not to make a deal. The barcodes that each of the clones have are patents that make them the property of Dyad. Sarah sends Rachel a message that reads, “up yours, proclone.” When Rosen greets the elevator, no one is inside. Rachel makes a phone call and says, “you know what to do.” Cosima reveals to Delphine that she is sick. Sarah returns to Mrs. S.’ house and discovers that the house is ransacked and everyone is gone, including Kira.
Someone watching episode ten as his/her first foray into “Orphan Black” would never guess it to be a season finale. “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” plays out less like an arc-ending episode and more like a mid-season slice from a story still in motion. There are no outright “Perils of Pauline” cliffhangers so much as there are open avenues for the creators to choose from when it comes time to develop new complications for Sarah and company. Whether or not this hour will satiate fans’ mouth-watering maws for clone conspiracy intrigue may depend on what these events ultimately mean once the next chapter unfolds.
In many ways, the first season finale is a return to form that resets some of the characterizations and pieces in place during episode one while simultaneously laying the paving stones for the sophomore season. The most notable dialing back of a character is Helena’s return to her sinister self. Gone are the jiggling Jell-O treats and melodic tones of Sonny and Cher. This is Helena at her most dangerous and her most reprehensible. Her character quickly earned her status as a fan favorite with quirky mannerisms and rough edged charm. Watching her dance with Olivier’s tail or casually compliment a dinky diner’s décor elicited laughter. But when she spits on the corpse of her birth mother, that action is an overt reminder that Helena is no clown. She is savage. Worse, she is uncontrollable. Even Tomas lost his hold on her. And Sarah has tolerated enough.
Is this the end for the Ukrainian assassin? Probably not. The writers would have their work cut out for them creating a multilayered villain with the same appeal as Helena, not to mention equaling her unique branch on Sarah’s family tree. It can certainly be no accident that the exact nature of her bullet wound is unclear, and she has already demonstrated a capacity for recovering from near fatal wounds inflicted by her twin sister.
Elsewhere in Toronto, or the unrevealed city where “Orphan Black” is located, Paul makes an obligatory appearance that returns him to his mostly useless roots. The truth about Afghanistan is revealed, but his accompanying presence when Sarah makes a pair of visits to proclone Rachel Duncan is almost perfunctory. Vic also makes a shoehorned cameo that serves mainly to provide Art and Angela with the knowledge that there is at least one more Beth lookalike for them to meet: Alison.
As has been par for the course in “Orphan Black,” the bucket dips into Alison’s well to source this episode’s comedic moments. Except this episode’s comedy arrives intermingled with a fatal turn. Red herring Aynsley’s demise comes as the result of tossing Alison’s handmade felt Christmas angel into her garbage disposal. It is a moment simultaneously as funny as it is grisly. Particularly when considering the hilarity of a soccer mom’s craft project being the catalyst for a strangulation.
Art and Angela are last seen parked outside of Alison’s house with dropped jaws at the sight of another dead ringer. After the mystery of Kira’s disappearance, this is the most obvious dangling thread for season two. Their investigation has been running strong for three episodes, but is now paused in limbo without a true resolution.
Meanwhile, the emergence of the Dyad Institute as a more omnipresent threat continues as the audience is shown the myriad ways that their tentacles reach into the clones’ lives. Though for a relatively clandestine organization involved in illicit activities meant to remain under the radar, they really need to stop taking pictures of themselves together. This is the second time that a photograph depicting Dyad scientists in a laboratory has served to undermine their surreptitious endeavors. Cosima previously learned of Delphine’s duplicity from a photograph of the French woman with Dr. Leekie. Now Sarah and Helena’s birth mother Amelia produces a Dyad-related photo that appears to have consequences for Mrs. S. Dyad needs a refresher course on how to properly operate in the shadows without leaving so many traces in their wake.
Tatiana Maslany turns in one of her best scenes yet, along with one of her shakiest. Anyone still doubting her talent needs only to review her interrogation scene with Art. The moment when she begins breaking down with a quivering lip in preparation for finally revealing all is a genuine moment of emotion from a mother desperate to save her daughter. The shame of the Dyad attorney interrupting the questioning is not that Art is still left in the dark, but that Maslany did not have a chance to take that scene further.
At the other end of the clone portrayal spectrum, proclone Rachel is introduced with the least distinguishing identity thus far. Her accent and physicality are a mesh of Sarah and Alison coiffed in a bob cut. Rachel could stand an injection of menace, along with a trait more unique than her haircut. (Depending on how many clones there are, will any two of them ever have the same hairstyle?) Luckily, her introduction comes right before the offseason, when Maslany and the showrunners have more time to craft a proper development for the role, as it will no doubt only increase in importance.
Is “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” satisfying as a fitting end cap for a Chapter One story arc? Maybe not. It lacks a neat bow and the carrot dangling from the stick that fit the mainstream definition of a season finale. Then again, are these things essential simply because this is the last episode of the season? As another well-paced episode in a carefully plotted and craftily executed freshman year, this hour is as successful as the other nine. Throughout all ten episodes, consistency has been a staple of the characterizations, the creativity, and the show’s ability to entertain. And during the entire season, “Orphan Black” has remained one of the best shows on television.