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Monday, May 4, 2015

Orphan Black: Formalized, Complex, and Costly

You know who I wasn't particularly interested in seeing ever again? The Proletheans. So guess who returned this episode? The Proletheans.
Here’s the thing. A religious faction has always been a part of this show. In the first season it was comprised of Maggie Chen, Tomas and Helena. The first two had discovered that clones existed and so were using Helena to get rid of what they considered an aberration. The how, when and why of all this has yet to be explained (and probably never will be) and they were replaced in early season two by the Proletheans, who killed off Tomas and have since shown a vested interested in the clones (specifically the idea of experimenting with their fertility).
And yet we know at this stage that the creators of the clones are the military and the Dyad Institute. So beyond the thematic importance of fundamentalist religion's obsession with controlling the bodies of women, why keep bringing in the redneck nutjobs?

***
Let's start at the beginning, in which Art appears at Felix's door and proves his cop credentials by immediately seeing through the siblings' nonsense and discovering Seth's dead body in the tub. Luckily, he chooses to look the other way when Cosima decides she needs to examine Seth's brain to determine how exactly the boy clones are getting sick.
Subtle.
Art also has a lead on Mark – though what's treated as mostly important here is that Sarah's continuous questioning leads us to why Art is really doing all this. Apparently he was in love with Beth.
Yeah, I thought this was rather pointless too. I don't really want to harp on something that's so relatively minor, but as with Paul, this new development smells like a retcon. And unlike Paul, I'm not sure why it's even necessary – especially since there was nothing about Kevin Hanchard's performance in the first or second season that ever suggested such a thing (well, I suppose if you squint it explains his tension with Paul and his willingness to risk his career by putting the cellphone in Maggie Chen's hand).
Still, it disrupts some of what made the first season so spectacular. One of the most fascinating things about Sarah's impersonation of Beth was how the dead woman's associates reacted to the interloper. When Sarah-as-Beth meets Art for the first time, he notices nothing wrong. However, when Paul first sees her he can tell that something is amiss – as does Mrs S when she first meets Alison-as-Sarah. However, it is not until Kira that someone can instantly tell the woman in front of her is not who she says she is.
See how the tension rises with each one? A work college sees less than a lover and foster mother, and they in turn see less than a daughter. The escalating scale of the challenges are beautifully crafted – and now it's somewhat nullified with the idea that Art was in love with Beth. Because if he was in love with Beth, then by the show's own logic, he should have noticed something was up. A person in love is hypersensitive of the beloved's mannerisms, quirks, speech patterns, gestures – which Art clearly wasn't.
That Beth rang him up the night before she killed herself was a nice detail, but having established that I'm not entirely why they didn't just base Art's commitment to Sarah on a sense of guilt that he had failed to protect or listen to his partner.
***
There's another pair of wannabe lovers in town, and that's Mark and Gracie. There's something rather endearing about sullen little Gracie, though I wish I had a better grasp of her moral compass (I can't forget the time she tried to smother Helena with a pillow – and what kind of teenage girl is capable of committing cold-blooded murder?)
Still, on learning that her new husband was actually a military mole at the Prolethean ranch, she gets on board with Mark's need to get a brand new MacGuffin from a man named Willard Finch. Apparently he was associates with her father Henrik Johannsson, and that he's holding stolen scientific property from the military on his behalf. If Mark retrieves it, the military will hopefully leave the newlyweds in peace.
Gracie steps up by claiming the box from Willard through the strength of her personality – reminding me of the scene in The Bourne Identity when Jason comes up with an overly complicated plan to get something he needs, only for Marie to simply walk into the facility and ask for it. Unfortunately, all the journals and notepaper it contains is not what Mark is expecting.
This is the most I've ever liked Gracie. Enjoy it while it lasts.
Still, it at least makes clear the trajectory of this season's overarching plot. Just as Sarah is looking for Helena, the Castors are looking for a cure to their "glitching" – and if Sarah can get to it first, then she's got something to barter back Helena with. It's all tied up in the identities of the original genetic donors, who Cosima discovers were siblings. Which means of course that the Leda and Castor clones are siblings as well – though for some reason doesn't feel like that big of a surprise.
Still, I'm glad that there's a clear plotline to follow here, especially when season two was so screwy that I had no idea of who was coming and who was going. 
If there's a theme to this season taking shape it's "what makes a family?" At the end of the first season Sarah shot Helena in the chest with the words: "I already have a family," rejecting her twin's claim of sisterhood in favour of her foster mother and adoptive brother. Since then, she's come to accept her sisters, dissociating herself from her daughter and Mrs S in the process, and here not only identifies the child in Gracie's womb as Kira's cousin, but also insists to Mark that she and Helena are his sisters.
The question "nature versus nurture" has come up many times in this show, and now it would seem Sarah is leaning heavily on the "nature" side of things. Helena is her twin, Gracie's child is her niece, Mark is her brother – and it seems that by accepting these genetic links, Sarah expects a sense of familial responsibility in return.
But it calls into question all kinds of questions. Who, for example, is Sarah's mother? Amelia, who gave birth to her? Mrs S, who raised her? The scientists at Dyad who created her? Or this mystery original donor, whose genetic material not only makes up Sarah's DNA, but that of all her sisters? What exactly makes a family?
Miscellaneous Observations:
Despite the more focused plotline, there are still a lot of characters and agendas to keep track of, and I feel this show's biggest weakness is that when the answers do come, they're so anticlimactic that it's easy to miss them (like Paul having been an army mole in Dyad this whole time, or the Castors being the genetic siblings to the Ledas).
Do we know at this stage why Dyad actually WANTED to make clones? Or what they want from them in the long-run? I recall Ethan Duncan saying at some point that they just wanted "to make little girls", which suggests it was all just a matter of seeing if they could, but there's got to be more to it than that, right?
We still don't have a clear idea of what we do and don't know about the scenario upon which this show is based, and at this point I'm longing for a flashback episode that depicts the original experiments, Amelia running from the clinic, and Mrs S. gaining custody of Sarah. Anything to give us a clearer idea of how all this began.
It's a dizzying proposition to consider that both Gracie and Helena are carrying biological sisters simultaneously in different wombs – and that the father is Gracie's father, even though technically no incest has taken place. Yeesh, even the midwife and Gracie's mother seemed to think that was messed up.
Alison and Donny are no longer channelling Dexter but Breaking Bad – and as entertaining as it is, it so far has no connection to the rest of this show.
The best part about this is that they're probably
standing right over Doctor Leekie's body.
Delphine has ordered a plane accident to get rid of Rachel? After all that trouble she went to in order to make Ferdinand believe she was still large and in charge? Does this mean we've seen the end of him? And how difficult is a plane crash to fake anyway? Isn't that how they covered up Doctor Leekie's death? Wouldn't that set off a few warning bells? And wouldn't Topside have serious questions about the strange disappearance of someone as important as Rachel?
Paul still struggles on the verge of being interesting, this time by learning that some director or other is about to shut the military operation down, something that distresses him considering Paul "served with these men." Presumably he means the Castor clones, which makes me want to rewatch the episode in which he comes across Mark watching Helena in the bar. Surely this new information will put that entire exchange in a new light; though either way – at least he has a personal investment in the proceedings.
So is the Dyad doctor also a military mole considering his reaction to the picture of the two-headed horse tattoo on the card?
Not sure of the vibe between Virginia Coady and her boys, but this dispassionate expression on her face when Rudy clings to her makes me suspect she considers them a project and nothing more. We'll see.
Not the face of a concerned mother.
I'll excuse the Contrived Coincidence of Sarah ending up in the same cafĂ© as Gracie, but how did the midwife know where Mark and Gracie were staying (given that she passed on that information to Gracie's mother)?
The scene in which Sarah tells Mark the truth about their relationship – on the page it's remarkably stupid to have shared this information with him, especially when he's waving a gun around; but in Tatiana Maslany's hands she plays it so that Sarah is saying the words just as much to herself as she is to him, outwardly verbalizing a truth she's still trying to get her own head around.  
So that's it for Mark? Wow, they're killing these Castor clones fast.
Where there's a cornfield and a pick-up truck
you KNOW there's going to be a murder scene.

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