With The Force Awakens just months away, the next director …
Orphan Black has struggled this season, caught between genuinely moving character beats and an ill-defined series of plot points lacking the emotional depth necessary to get the audience particularly interested. For each scene of Helena enduring her capture by commiserating with her scorpion, there was one of Alison campaigning for an election few cared about. For each scene of Cosima’s adorable budding relationship with Shay, there was one of Dr. Coady acting vaguely evil. Orphan Black wrote itself into a corner with last season’s finale reveal of a separate line of male clones and despite a few powerful moments, such as Paul’s sacrifice or Sarah’s emotional conversation with Helena through the Project Castor prison walls, this season failed to deliver on the intrigue and promise of that cliffhanger, utterly failing to replicate the detailed character work that made audiences invest so fully in the Project Leda clones who power the story.
Orphan Black has been on a roll in the back half of the third season, focusing back in on character—rather than plot—with tremendous results. Unfortunately that forward momentum stalls in this episode, as Sarah, Felix, and Mrs. S head to London to find the Castor original. While their trip across the pond allows for one of the episode’s best moments, Mrs. S rocking out with her former band, it also leads to the latest development in what has been a disappointingly plot-heavy season. It’s fun to watch Maria Doyle Kennedy perform one of her own songs (“Stuck”), but that’s not why it’s such an effective moment. The jam session gives much-needed nuance and background to the woefully underserved Mrs. S, humanizing her and letting the audience, and Sarah and Felix, see a bit of what she was like before Projects Leda and Castor took over her life.
So far this season, Alison’s subplot has struggled, partitioned off from the rest of Clone Club and driven by one out of character move after another. Thankfully this changes with “Community of Dreadful Fear and Hate”, which folds Felix and Cosima into Alison’s story, making it instantly more relevant. It’s great to see Felix helping out with a more mundane problem than usual and in one of the episode’s best moments, we finally get to see Cosima try to pass as one of her sisters.
Given the inconsistency of Orphan Black season three, it was easy to fear last week’s moving installment would be a blip in an otherwise unremarkable season. Thankfully, “Certain Agony of the Battlefield” builds on the strengths of its predecessor, continuing its character-based approach and efforts to tie as many threads as possible into the central narrative of the season, Project Castor’s conflict with Sarah and the rest of Clone Club.
After the underwhelming season three premiere, “Transitory Sacrifices of Crisis” is encouraging, moving what appears to be the crucial arc for the season, the introduction of Project Castor and the CastorClones, towards more interesting territory. While the two main CastorClones featured this week remain Bad Moustache Clone and Fauxhawk Clone, they’re given names and briefly, motivation. Seth (BMC) is sick, a short circuit in his brain causing searing pain and Rudy (FC) is protective of his brother, certain Seth will be put down if they return to base as they’ve been ordered. It’s not much, but this is far more characterization than Ari Millen has been given to work with either last season or in the season three premiere (aside from Creepy Cult Clone, Mark), and he does a surprising amount with these few beats. Seth and Rudy’s treatment of the woman they lure back to their hotel is appropriately creepy and traumatizing, a logical way to bring Art back into the fold, and making Sarah Manning the inspiration for Rudy’s decision to go off-book is a nice touch.
Well then. Looks like the writers shared this critic’s concerns about Leekie as a viable villain. This week’s Pulp Fiction-inspired conclusion may be a bit pat and predictable, but it resolves the show’s Leekie problem while moving Donnie in a new and promising direction (and making fabulous use of “Love Is All Around”). Alison’s relationship with her monitor husband has been a confusing blind spot for the show for most of its run—do they care for each other or has Donnie been playing Alison from the start? The show has tried to have it both ways and while the answer given this week is far more interesting than Paul-and-Beth-take-two, it requires some selective forgetfulness from the audience.
After the previous two episode’s pulse-pounding intensity and emotional rawness, “To Hound Nature in Her Wanderings” could easily feel slight. While we get action, it’s comparatively toned down, and for the most part, our heroes spend the episode peril-free. However, this episode works well as a breather, offering the audience an emotional respite before the undoubtedly charged push to the finale. Along with a few positive, adorable scenes between Sarah and Helena (whose time together this season has been fraught with drama, to say the very least), we see forward movement on each front, checking in with Alison, progressing Cosima’s treatment, and refocusing the central struggle on Leekie and the Neolutionists.
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.
Orphan Black has had a solid second season so far, bringing interesting new developments for most of the characters (and enough fun with Alison to make up for her somewhat lackluster arc). This week, things kick up a notch, with more action and suspense and serious legwork done to prop up the less successful corners of the show. A key element of what works here is the focus of the episode- unlike in previous weeks, “Governed as It Were by Chance” is very much the Sarah show. We spend memorable moments with the other clones, but Sarah is our throughline, digging into the mysteries of Mrs. S and pulling the audience along for the ride.
Orphan Black picks up this week right where the previous episode left off and builds momentum as it goes. While there’s plenty of new mythology here, what makes the series continue to shine is the character-based approach it takes to these new developments. We open with a less-than-refreshed Sarah and Felix on the lam with Kira, roughing it in the country in their truck, but rather than dive in immediately with schemes or a reminder of the various threats against them, we get a full scene of the two reacting to last week’s revelation of Mrs. S’s utter badassdom.
Orphan Black came back running, literally, last week and episode two continues this momentum with another strong episode. The season one-ending decisions by Alison and Sarah to sign, and not sign, their deals, respectively, remain less of a limiting factor than many may have guessed, though that surely can’t last much longer. With Alison on to Donnie, she’s likely to begin acting out again. Having signed her rights away, how much space will The Dyad Institute give her before they intervene? Tatiana Maslany continues to shine particularly bright as Alison and her desperation at the end of the episode is palpable, and incredibly affecting.