This week, on Orphan Black: Helena styles some hair, Leekie opens up, and Rachel crosses the line
All season long, Orphan Black has focused on character moments and the tremendous and personal stakes for each of our leads. This week, the show hits that home even further as it, for the first time, threatens the heart of the series. We like Kira- she’s an adorable little moppet who’s smart enough to ward off the cops and intuitive enough to see through the clones’ impersonations. We like the Mrs. S, particularly when she’s getting her badass on, we like Art, and we definitely like Cal, but honestly, any one of these characters could go if the story demanded it. They’re entertaining, well-written, and ultimately, disposable. The one who isn’t, at least at this point, is Felix and this week, Rachel crosses a line when she goes after him.
This critic has said for weeks now that Felix, and Jordan Gavaris’ performance, is the absolute heart of the series. He’s a purely good and self-less character, drawn into the destructive craziness that comes with Clone Club solely out of loyalty to and love for his sister. He’s the audience’s barometer, his read of a situation unclouded by the varying degrees of self-interest guiding everyone else. When Paul holds down Felix, thankfully only to press a murder weapon into his hand, it’s a violation and every bit of that is felt, thanks to Gavaris, the blocking and direction of the scene, and the score. Even last week’s potential torture of Sarah had less impact, as Sarah had in some sense brought it on herself by trespassing. Felix is an innocent, or at least as close to one as an adult can be on this show, and this act by Rachel, this stripping of any power Fee has in this moment, singlehandedly pushes Rachel from detached bitch to hateable villain.
Paul is not blameless in this interaction, of course, but knowing the show, not all is as it seems with his quick turnaround. If he is playing a long game, however, Dylan Bruce’s performance in his scene with Felix is misleading, to say the least. Bruce is not coy—he amps up the smirking and makes Paul a full-on mustache twirling baddie. There’s no room for interpretation here; unless Rachel somehow has a camera on Paul in this scene and he’s performing for an audience, this is Paul enjoying being an abusive ass to a former ally. It’s a more entertaining look for Bruce and Paul, and if the writers plan to backpedal, they’ll have their work cut out for them.
The other highlight this week is the continuing saga of Sarah and Helena and their heart-to-heart over Maggie Chen’s sniper rifle. The episode-ending reunion of the two last week was among the best moments the series has ever done and we get another memorable, touching scene between them here. As she says, Sarah hasn’t reflected on her murder of Helena to this point, at least outwardly and in all honesty, her moment of catharsis with Helena shouldn’t work; it should feel like a cheat. But it does work, thanks to the always amazing Tatiana Maslany. We believe her when Sarah says she’s been torn up by her murder of Helena, particularly her inability to discuss it with anyone, and the near-constant action from that point to now helps explain this. Sarah’s barely had a moment to breathe, let alone process what is to our knowledge her first attempted killing. She’s open and raw with Helena, who is understandably cagey and suspicious—Sarah was the first person Helena trusted after her years of mistreatment by Tomas, and she tried to kill her. In the end, though, Sarah’s sincerity comes through: “You make me cry, seestra”, Helena says, and she’s not alone.
Helena is quickly climbing the Clone Club rankings this season, and it’s not just thanks to powerful scenes like the one discussed above. Maslany is moving as Sarah this week, but she’s hilarious as Helena. From hissing at Fee (and Gavaris’ fantastic reaction) to oinking at Art, Helena is queen of the teasing sound effect, and a growing bond between her and Felix is a good thing, as far as this critic is concerned. She’s devoted to Sarah and Kira, adding her “brother seestra” to the mix has a lot of potential. If “Meathead” (sorry Helena, that’s totally gonna catch on) is finally in a somewhat safe space and has the ability to heal, there’s no telling how she’ll develop, and this is incredibly promising.
Along with its entertaining and emotional character moments, “Ipsa Scientia Potestas Est” keeps the plot moving, with several key revelations. The title is a Latin phrase which translates as, “knowledge itself is power”, and by having Leekie reveal the Dyad Institute’s loss of the original genome, the series answers a score of questions viewers may not have even realized they had. Why are the clones all the same age? Why aren’t there other, non-Maslany clones? Why even bother attempting to manage the more difficult clones; why not just grow new ones? Why hasn’t science progressed in the years since the Dyad Institute successfully cloned people, a huge breakthrough? Because they can’t, and the loss of such promising and potentially lucrative scientific knowledge has the Dyad Institute desperate, particularly with the few clones remaining getting sick and dying. It’s an elegant solution to many of the show’s plot holes and it’s great to see the show willing to dole out answers like these only midway through the season.
We also get answers with the Proletheans, who have inseminated one of Helena’s eggs. Glad to know she’s not already with child—the world’s not ready for Helena take two. Henrik and Bonnie’s treatment of Gracie is abhorrent, making her instantly more relatable and likable in her defiance, and the more the show focuses on the Proletheans’ scientific pursuits, instead of their stereotypical cult elements/sister-wife religious fanaticism, the better. Cal is more of a mystery after this week, his ease with the law-breaking Sarah less surprising once we see his stash of IDs, cash, and a gun; he remains fantastic with Kira (her trust of him says a lot) and the adorable, newly-dubbed leopard gets extra points for her Halloween ploy. This Whovian wants to think her costume’s a shoutout to “The Empty Child”/“The Doctor Dances”, but that’s undoubtedly wishful thinking.
The scoring is once again fantastic this week, with memorable music chosen for both Felix’s much-needed happy moments with Colin as well as Rachel and Paul’s sex scene, and there are many nice stylistic touches to the direction, particularly the artful handling of Helena’s flashbacks. There are callbacks galore, from Cosima’s University of Minnesota buddy Scott making a return, to Maggie Chen’s locker and the Beth baggage that brings with it, to Helena’s propensity for styling dolls’ hair, and these nods continue the show’s strong series memory.
Orphan Black is on one hell of a kick at the moment, masterfully blending a dedication to character with tight, confident plotting. If the second half of the season can match the first half’s energy, pathos, and creativity, not only will it be one hell of a season two, the show will be in the end-of-year conversation as one of the best series of 2014.