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Orphan Black, Ep. 3.01, “The Weight of this Combination” stumbles out of the gate

Orphan Black, Ep. 3.01, “The Weight of this Combination” stumbles out of the gate

Orphan Black S03E01

Orphan Black, Season 3, Episode 1, “The Weight of this Combination”
Written by Graeme Manson
Directed by David Frazee
Airs Saturdays at 9pm (ET) on BBC America

This week, on Orphan Black: Helena sees an old friend, Alison considers politics, and Delphine channels her inner Rachel

The season two finale of Orphan Black took a big risk in introducing male clones, theoretically opening up the world and giving star Tatiana Maslany a slightly lessened load moving forward. Maslany’s towering performance has made the series must watch television, for genre fans at the very least, and the prospect of watching another actor explore and embody multiple personas should be exciting. Unfortunately despite a few interesting developments, “The Weight of this Combination” is ultimately disappointing thanks to its mishandling of Project Castor and Ari Millen’s reintroduction to the series as a far more prominent figure.

It may be a ridiculously complicated show now, but much of Orphan Black’s first season took its time, telling personal and relatable stories as Sarah came to terms with her background and met her sisters. This patience paid tremendous dividends, allowing Maslany and the audience to get a strong sense of each clone and invest fully in their journey. Rather than take a similar approach with even one of the Castor clones, “The Weight of this Combination” doubles down on crazy, making Millen’s characters barely distinguishable, even superficially. Sarah, Alison, Cosima, Helena, Rachel, and even one-off clones like Jennifer each have unique character traits and a distinct physicality, allowing the audience to suspend disbelief and accept them as individuals. The male clones introduced here do not—so far, there’s Creepy Religious Cult Clone (Mark), Bad Moustache Clone, and Where’s He Getting The Product For His Fauxhawk Clone. Both BMC and WHGTPFHFC function as boogiemen, crazy-eyed threats to our heroes and nothing else. This makes for rather uncompelling television and it does nothing to reassure fans skeptical that anyone else can pull off the feat Maslany makes look so easy. Millen will likely play a central role in the series from here on out. Giving him so little to do in his first episode post-reveal is an odd and less than encouraging move from the writers and one that puts season three off to a shaky start.

Rather than introduce distinct brothers for Sarah, this premiere focuses on the machinations of the Dyad Institute, particularly Mrs. S’s handing over of Helena to Project Castor in the season two finale. As is often the case on Orphan Black, everything with Helena works like gangbusters in the premiere. The opening scene, as Helena hallucinates a beautiful, sunny cookout with her sestras (and brother-sestra), is a fantastic start to the season. It’s colorful, optimistic, and too good to be true. It highlights what Helena’s lost—she’s gone from the season two finale’s Clone Club dance party to this clearly fabricated fantasy, one that she’s quickly unable to sustain, turning instead to an older friend, the scorpion who helped her survive her horrible treatment at the hands of the Proletheans. Also voiced by Maslany, the scorpion is a wonderful addition, giving something for Helena to focus on and talk to as she endures what’s unlikely to be a pleasant stay with Project Castor.

After seemingly forgetting she had them in season two, Alison is back to being an involved mother, chaperoning the soccer team and dipping her toes into politics (“for the kids”). It’s great to see Alison back in the swing of things, but the premiere overextends her. It’s one thing for her to juggle parenting with Clone Club. Throwing local politics and financial difficulties in as well strains credibility to its breaking point. As for Cosima, her condition has stabilized for now (if only she had indeed gotten, “like way better, thanks to science”!), but the return of the newly promoted Delphine only adds heartbreak to Cosima’s afflictions. This bad news for Cosima is good news for the show, however, which needed something new to do with Delphine. If Dyad is indeed going to be an ally moving forward, putting a familiar face at the head of the Institute cuts out a lot of potential dithering over the trustworthiness of Rachel’s successor.

Despite its entertaining use of Helena and Alison, this premiere is ultimately underwhelming, as the specter of a full season of indistinguishable Castors dampens any excitement over the episode’s more promising new threads. Maslany has already proven herself. If the writers want the audience to invest in Project Castor at all, Millen needs to be given the same opportunity.

Kate Kulzick