After four episodes bogged down with disparate strands and far more plot than character, “Scarred by Many Past Frustrations” pares down the narrative and in doing so, delivers by far the best episode of season three. It’s no coincidence this upsurge in energy comes the week Alison, Donnie, and their new drug business stay on the bench; with the exception of Cosima’s C storyline, every scene contributes directly to the main thrust of the season and by the end of the episode, even the most seemingly superfluous corners of the show—again, besides Hendrix Pharmaceuticals—gain relevance.
Though much of the season has floundered, Helena’s imprisonment at the hands of Project Castor has been almost uniformly engaging, giving Helena clear motivation and a tangible enemy. Throwing Sarah into the mix works beautifully, adding emotional stakes to the physical and psychological turmoil Helena’s been enduring. Sarah and Helena’s relationship is one of the series’ most affecting and seeing it tested here, particularly after Sarah has spent the season struggling to find Helena, feels earned. Sarah may have been able to talk Helena down after attempting to murder her in season one, but Helena’s been betrayed too many times to be so easily won back to Team Manning. Once again, the scorpion contends for episode MVP, embodying Helena’s fears and justified resentment towards Sarah.
Sarah’s talk with Helena is a highlight of the episode, with Sarah placing the blame for Helena’s capture where it belongs without condemning Mrs. S’s decision. It seems Sarah may finally be maturing and while her relationship with Mrs. S may be one of the series’ most frustrating—Sarah lashes out at her adoptive mother with annoying frequency given all they’ve been through—her respect for S’s position is commendable. Connecting Mrs. S’s choice to Sarah’s relationship with Kira and Helena’s obsession with family and motherhood works well, as does underlining the sacrifice Sarah has made in sending her daughter away so she can rescue Helena. After three seasons, viewers are finally given the reasoning that led Sarah to abandon Kira with Mrs. S a year before the pilot and the weight of this confidence is felt as much by the audience as it is by Helena. The escape sequence that ends the episode is icing—thrilling, suspenseful icing—to the rest of the installment’s strong and well-considered character work.
Sarah and Helena aren’t the only clones getting some much-needed catharsis. Cosima has a date, and it’s with Kenzi! (That’s Ksenia Solo, to the non-Lost Girl fans out there.) Another gorgeous, seemingly too-good-to-be-true blonde randomly falling into Cosima’s orbit seems unlikely, but it’s nice to see Cosima open up a bit and start nursing her wounds. Shay will likely wind up as yet another monitor or covert agent, but for now, Cosima’s happy. She spotted Delphine a mile off—hopefully her spy-dar is as functional now as it was then and she’ll be able to foresee and prepare for any Shay-related heartbreak headed her way. In the meanwhile, Felix and Cosima continue to grow closer (“Ciao, darling” indeed!) and if nothing else, it’s wonderful to see these two nurturers helping each other for once, rather than their more needy friends and siblings.
Felix’s caring side is not so easily sparked by Gracie, however, who this week has perhaps the series’ quickest character turnaround yet. A season and a half of dour, interminable storytelling and one heart to heart with Mrs. S and a dance party with Mrs. S and Felix is all it takes to make her relatable and interesting. Gracie suddenly feels vital, confirming once again Felix’s role as the heart of the series. By the time she’s getting adorably sloppy and learning to twist, Gracie feels like one of the family and her contraction of whatever illness the Castors have been spreading, knowingly or not, among their conquests hits much harder than it has any right to. Bringing Patti, Seth and Rudy’s assault victim, back into the story and tying her, Gracie, and Art so intrinsically to the central Castor narrative is surprising, effective, and overdue. This season has been shaggy for almost half of its episode order—it shouldn’t have taken this long to incorporate Art or get Sarah to Helena, Gracie to Mrs. S and Felix, and a conflicted Mark back to home base—but at least these pieces have finally started to come together in a satisfying and compelling way. Unfortunately, there are still an irritating number of dangling threads for the back half of the season to deal with, but if the next episode or two can handle these as tidily as this one does Gracie and Art, perhaps season three of Orphan Black is salvageable after all.