Orphan Black sure knows how to turn it around. After a lackluster showing last week, and with the penultimate episode airing this week, I expected something bigger and better. Despite how much I loved much of this week’s episode, I couldn’t help but feel as if there was still something vital missing in order to make it all click.
Maybe last week is still souring my opinion.
It was bound to happen but it didn’t make the first truly disappointing episode of Orphan Black any better. Last week, for the first time the episode felt directionless. There were bits and pieces floating around not even attempting to connect. The stories were vignettes in the lives of our characters and if this were a 23-episode show where filler episodes could be excused it wouldn’t matter. I may have even appreciated the lighter moments of flirtation among characters had that been the case. However, the show is allotted a strict amount of time to tell its story and in the end, despite my amusement at parts, it felt like a waste of time.
However, one noticeable appearance that brought the episode’s quality down.
It’s not that having a transgender clone is a bad idea. Not in the slightest. It’s actually quite nice to see more representation on television and I’m glad that Orphan Black chose to tackle it without much fanfare surrounding it which will only continue to normalize it.
What I cannot stand is the hatchet job that the costume and hair department did with the character considering just how high quality their work typically is. If they can cram Tatiana Maslany’s mane underneath the Rachel wig how hard could it have been to create a less cartoonish one for Tony? Tony is interestingly written but the super glued-on goatee turns what could be a welcome addition to the “clone club” instead turns into a caricature. Considering this is the show that has received raves (from me included) about the writing team’s ability to obliterate archetypes, to see them squander the opportunity to do something progressive is a shame.
And it’s all because of an ill-advised mullet.
In all fairness, it’s a very strong episode. I think I’m going to begin judging how good the show is by how often Helena is utilized because she is easily becoming the highlight of the season, just as Allison became the highlight in season one. Despite not making an appearance last week she comes back in full force as we see her at the Prolethian camp where she’s being impregnated. She almost seems peaceful about it, but as the episode progresses we begin to see bits of a character that we’ve never seen before— a woman with fierce protectiveness over children. It could just be the newfound prospect of motherhood but we got peeks of this last season when she was worried about Kira’s wellbeing.
Helena is the most interesting character because she’s the one we still know so little about. We continue to watch her grow and learn depending on who she is around in any given week. Witnessing her slowly realize what’s being done to her—and the other women who are being impregnated with her eggs, including Gracie (so she’s technically carrying her father’s child…)—is not only sobering but heartbreaking. Our immediate response is to wait as her rage takes over her to dismantle the cult. We can’t help but feel for her as one of her few moments of joy is taken.
We watch at the end of the episode as she straps the leader into a chair, his feet in stirrups, and tortures him and then goes on to burn the camp to the ground. Her and Gracie escape and we can’t help but feel gratified. It’s horrifying stuff, but it’s a win on her part and we love seeing those who deserve a win get one.
The same can be said for Allison who has had some tough luck this season but despite the recent homicide committed by her husband, she couldn’t seem more content. Her and Donnie treating the hiding of Dr. Leeke’s body like a tedious household chore was one of the best scenes of the episode. It’s incredible how quickly a character can grow on you. Up until this past episode, Donnie has been little more than an aggravation to me. He was whiny, always seemed to be hiding something and in all honesty I couldn’t see why Allison would have ever fallen for him. Due to a mixture of how he’s being written, and the looser manner that Kristian Bruun is playing him, he’s quickly turned around into an immensely likeable character. His blackmailing of Vic and Angie was delivered beautifully and it’s another example of a character growing and continuing to surprise the audience. With Bruun’s performance, I forgot (again) that it was Tatiana Maslany playing Allison. The chemistry was fresh and unlike the other pairings.
And who else was laughing stupidly when the two of them did it on top of the freezer where they’d hid Leeke? Because that was just comedy gold.
Despite the positives of the episode—and there were many—there were still plenty of moments that felt noticeably weak in comparison. Sarah didn’t get much to do other than determining if she was going to allow Kira to donate bone marrow to save Cosima. The scene where Kira goes under and Sarah watches as her little girl is stuck with an impossibly large needle is beautifully done and Maslany’s vulnerability as Sarah is touching but the imagery certainly adds something with Kira looking fragile and small on the operating table.
She is, of course fine, and the rest of her plot intersects with the weakest which is Rachel’s.
Rachel is a character I’ve struggled with all season because I want to enjoy the character. Even at Sarah’s most selfish, at Cosima’s most high and mighty, Allison’s most frigid and Helena’s most destructive I’ve at the very least enjoyed their scenes. Each of them are distinct characters with flaws and despite that they’re incredibly engaging but for some reason I haven’t been able to connect with Rachel even when they try and dial down how robotic she is. I began to feel some sympathy last week when she learns she was “designed” barren with Sarah and Helena being the mistakes in the sequence but this week she’s back to her detached self and it isn’t as interesting to watch. Her watching old family videos and then her apparent envy of Sarah’s motherhood doesn’t evoke any form of emotion: rather I’m turned off by how hammy the performance is. As good as Maslany is, even she is having trouble saving Rachel’s character.
Rachel’s main goal is to kidnap Kira and she succeeds and that’s her best moment of the series so far only because she’s disguising herself as Sarah. Being able to detect the slight change in her pronunciation of words and her use of language makes it thrilling but we’re also tired of the whole Kira gets taken storyline.
The episode is fun at times, dull at times and for the most part a very solid episode but the lows are apparent and the idea that we’re spending the finale of the season focused on the will they/won’t they find Kira in time narrative lessens my excitement for it. The season was off to a great start and continued with the early momentum for most of the season until last week derailed it and set the show back up on shaky footing. The show doesn’t win merit based on the quality of its writing. It is campy and enjoyably so and the storylines aren’t always going to flow at the right speed but it skirts by on its charm and its wonderful characters. Having Rachel be a weak point and then centering a portion of an episode on her can and will be a detriment to the episode.
As a fan of the show, my fingers are crossed that next week sends us out of season two on a high note. Hell, if Allison and Helena get a lot of screen time I’ll be happy. I’ll be happier if the show brings the energy and intensity of their best moments.
They need to keep us on our toes until season three!