Monday, April 20, 2015

RECAP: Orphan Black 3x01 - Count Your Sisters

It's come. It's finally arrived. Orphan Black is with us once more, ready to grace our television screens with more dramatic twists, dubious science and legal claims, insane reveals, and Tatiana Maslany than we think we can handle! It's been too long since last season, dear readers. Too long.

Also since last season I've gone and moved and now my roommates and I get BBC America in our cable package. It was a very interesting sensation to actually get to watch the series premiere when it aired rather than the next day through slightly dubious sources. Before we get into the dramatic (and oh were they dramatic) events of this new episode, let's do a quick recap of where we left everyone last time:

Sarah had escaped from DYAD with the help of Marion Bowles, an executive at "Topside", whatever that is. Meanwhile, Mrs. S, in order to assure that Marion would in fact rescue Sarah, made an agreement to trade Helena to a military organization: Project Castor. And it turns out that Project Castor is the male version of Project Leda - a clone family, just this time with boys. 

Also Alison and Donny saved their marriage by covering up a murder together and Cosima had a radical medical recovery when she hallucinated Delphine and nearly died. Then Kira woke her up and showed her that Professor Duncan had revealed the key to his synthetic genomic sequence. It was hidden in a copy of The Island of Dr. Moreau that he gave to Kira before he committed suicide.

Are we all following nicely? It was a pretty confusing episode at the end of a confusing season, which, upon a second viewing, is still fun as hell, but definitely no more logical or sensical.

As my roommate, with whom I am rewatching season two at the moment, has point out to me, the show is really more entertaining than it is "smart." It's a fun, cool, catchy science-fiction thriller, but the plot doesn't make a whole lot of sense if you stop and think it through. Why don't the clones all just go public? Sure, there might be some recriminations in their personal lives, but it would keep them safe from more DYAD meddling, wouldn't it?

But silly questions like this really get away from the point of Orphan Black which is not and really never has been about the likelihood or realism of the show. Instead, the point of it all is to have an extended conversation about women's rights, specifically in relation to our biology and our reproductive capabilities. And on that front, it succeeds marvelously.

Like, sure, season two is a hot trainwreck of no one having good communication and everyone just needing to sit down in a room together and work things out, but it's also ten episodes that are all about women's rights to their own biological determination. Between Sarah protecting her daughter against scientists and foster mothers who think they understand her child better than her, and Cosima fighting to control her own body as she's slowly dying, to Helena and the way she's violated as strangers use her body to study reproduction, the whole season is about women's bodies. Heck, even Alison's story backs this up, as she's committed to a rehab against her consent.

The whole season and the whole show is about the ways in which women are not given control of our own bodies, and the contrivance that it's a show about human clones whose very DNA might not belong to them just really cinches it in. So, no, Orphan Black doesn't make a heck of a lot of sense from a plot standpoint and it is really soap operatic. But it's also one of the most feminist shows on television, and that's worth a lot.

Okay. Rant over. What happened in the season premiere?

To put it mildly, all of the crap hits all of the fans. But before that, the season starts with a beautiful garden filled with golden light and decorated for a party. Helena is the celebrant, of course, because this is her baby shower. Dressed in a sweet pink dress and with her unmanageable curls pulled back, Helena looks the happiest we've ever seen her as her sisters all gather around her to celebrate her "precious cargo." Alison even made cupcakes!

Everyone that Helena loves and considers family is there: Sarah in her leather pants and aviator sunglasses. Alison in a perfect pastel matching outfit, all tight and mannered and precise. Kira is dressed as a fairy while Cosima is kitted out in full Ukrainian folk costume. Even Felix is there, manning the barbecue with some traditional Ukrainian meats. It's everything Helena could possibly want in a perfect day, and so, obviously, it's a dream.

And naturally the show makes this clear by giving us some high octane nightmare fuel: a scorpion climbing out of Helena's stomach and up her face while she screams. Then she wakes up. In a tiny wooden box. With a scorpion. Welcome to Orphan Black season three!

This episode was all about setting up the storylines to come and expanding on the final revelation of last season (the boy clones). Tragically, Charlotte and Marion were utterly missing from the episode, but we did get an eyeful of two new characters: Rudy, the scarred clone in Marion's basement, and Seth, the mustachioed and not particularly bright clone sent in to do the dirty work. We also get to meet another Leda clone, but only briefly.

Anyway, the episode really kicks off when Sarah, after enjoying a brief few days of peace in the wake of all of last season's drama, is pulled right back in again. Delphine is back from "Frankfurt" and she has newly straightened hair and a newfound badassery. She's been promoted in the DYAD and in Topside, and now she's basically who Rachel was last season. She even says that to Rachel: "I'm you." And while it's comforting to have the person in charge of Leda be Delphine of all people, that also means that some stuff is going to have to change. Quickly.

For starters, no more puppy love between Delphine and Cosima. While Delphine still clearly loves Cosima and cares about her a great deal - she freaks out when she sees Cosima breathing without her cannula - Delphine has to care for all of the clones equally now. They're all her responsibility. So she breaks it off with Cosima and seals her fate: this is bigger than just one of them now, and she might be forced to make some very tough choices.

First off, we have to deal with that Castor clone who's been living in Marion Bowles' basement. Now transferred to the DYAD institute, the clone, Rudy, is demanding to only speak to Sarah, but when he does get to talk to her, he just is all vague and weird and creepy. Sarah doesn't care about it until, as she's leaving, Rudy tells her to "Count your sisters."

Sarah freaks out immediately, but Delphine has other stuff on her mind, starting, as it happens, with another impersonation job. Delphine has discovered that Topside, not happy with the way Rachel is running things, has sent an investigator to look into Project Leda. This investigator, Ferdinand (James Frain), is really more of a wet works guy. If he's here, that means that he might be ready to get rid of Project Leda altogether and destroy any evidence it ever existed.

Delphine can't let that happen, but she also can't let Ferdinand find out that Rachel is in the hospital wing. Remember how Sarah shot her in the eye with a pencil last episode? Yeah. That. She's in the hospital and has some brain damage. That's not going to make Ferdinand any less likely to kill them all. So Delphine pulls the nuclear option: getting Sarah to pretend to be Rachel so that Ferdinand will go the hell away.

Sarah's kind of reluctant to do this. She's enjoying her break and really wants it to stick around. Her life is going okay for once. Kira's safe and happy, Cal is around (though not in the episode), Felix and Mrs. S are healthy and on speaking terms with her. Why get involved in all this drama again when it will inevitably go wrong?

She keeps this attitude up until Mrs. S is attacked in her home by a masked assailant. Said assailant, who takes his mask off in order to reveal he's a Castor clone, wants to know exactly what she knows about Project Castor. And when Mrs. S demands he go away since she made a deal with Paul, the guy laughs it off. Paul isn't in charge of Castor and not in charge of him by any means. They want Duncan's synthetic sequence. There's something wrong with the Castor clones too, and they want a cure.

But S doesn't have a cure nor does she know where it is. (Cosima's keeping it hidden for now.) So Seth, the Castor clone, leaves unsatisfied and S is forced to tell Sarah and Felix what she did. She sold out Helena. Sarah is absolutely furious - which is a really cool character development since she hated Helena at the beginning of last season - and pretty much writes S out of her life again. Felix is more moderate. It was a war time decision, after all, and S was trying to save Kira. It's always about saving Kira.

Still, Sarah figures she knows a way to get Helena back. They have a Castor clone in the basement and she can do a prisoner swap. But to do that, she has to get Topside to agree, and the only way Topside will agree is if Rachel convinces them. Dammit.

So Sarah becomes Rachel for a day and conspires to trick the slimy and horrible Ferdinand. Only once he's there, Delphine and Sarah discover a problem: Ferdinand knows Rachel much better than anticipated and they have something planned. So Sarah has to improvise, which includes a really hilarious and terrifying scene where Sarah as Rachel interrogates Alison as Sarah, and figure out just what Rachel and Ferdinand were planning.

Meanwhile, Delphine goes straight to the source and gets answers from Rachel. It is worth noting that this is really the moment we realize that Delphine has depths we hadn't seen before, because her method of getting answers from a brain-damaged Rachel involves waking her up by pressing on the eye that was recently stabbed with a pencil. Ewwwwww.

But effective. Delphine gets some answers while Sarah discovers that Rachel was plotting with Ferdinand to have all of the other clones killed. Just completely wiped off the face of the map. Even worse, it's already been set into motion.

Sarah and Delphine do manage to call off the dogs and send Ferdinand packing, but it's a very close call. The clones are more embattled than ever and it's going to take all of their wits to get out of this alive. Even worse, as the episode ends, Seth breaks Rudy out of the DYAD holding cell, which means that any leverage they had to get Helena back is now gone.

Also, Alison had her own storyline this episode, largely separate from the others (as Alison's plots usually are). Donnie's newfound confidence got him fired from his job and now the two of them are trying to figure out how to pay the mortgage. Also Alison might be running for the school board (in order to challenge a neighbor she doesn't like) and the two of them continue to be a little too bloodthirsty to be sane or normal. But fun. They're the pop of color in an otherwise intense thriller of a show.

Next week promises to show us more of the male clones - this week we only got a couple scenes each, with Rudy's conversation with Sarah being the most enlightening - and I look forward to that. Rudy is creepy as hell, but interesting, and Seth clearly has some kind of neurological problem. No idea about Miller yet, but I look forward to finding out. And Mark? Mark and Gracie promise to be one of the most interesting storylines of the entire show. It had better deliver on that promise.

So. A good start and a fun season of dramatic reveals to come. Welcome back, Orphan Black!

Best character development.


  1. It's come. It's finally arrived.

    Well, I've cracked. I thought I could resist and not read the recaps, but they were just there, every time I came to the site. Being Orphan Black recaps at me. And I've cracked.

    Why don't the clones all just go public? Sure, there might be some recriminations in their personal lives, but it would keep them safe from more DYAD meddling, wouldn't it?

    They don't have a lot of experience of the public sphere helping them out over their tormentors. But yes, it would probably help against DYAD. Maybe also Topside. I don't think it would help against Castor, though, and it would most likely increase the number of religious fanatics who want them dead by orders of magnitude. Also, and in-theme, it's a decision they'd be making not just for themselves, but for every Leda clone out there.

    (Also, without Delphine's help - which is tantamount to her consigning herself to prison - or locating three or four more Ledas, they might have trouble getting anyone to believe it anyway, rather than them being a massive multiple birth - cf my first point).

    So if you need reasons to think they'd hesitate to employ their nuclear option, there are some.

    I can't really *dispute* you, I admit, but there's at least enough for genre buy-in. :)

    Heck, even Alison's story backs this up, as she's committed to a rehab against her consent.

    Alison's story was also the one where they were still exploring the way the clones have been monitored. How long Donnie took to grasp that his wife's paranoia about being spied on might have its genesis in the way he spied on her is superficially about him being dumb - but it's also about him being in a position where he didn't *have* to think stuff like that through.

    Season 2 was a great matchup of each clone with a skewering of different patriarchal strands: Alison beset by Donnie, rehab, Angie's investigation, Vic selling her out, the theatre director groping her, all the shit of a world that won't leave the clones alone, but looks past their tormentors; Helena in the hands of the religious cult who alternately think her body is an abomination or a miracle (but always *her* abomination to redeem, or *their* miracle to use); Cosima trapped among a scientific pretty-much-also- cult who see her as a project, a revelation, or even a fetish (even the sweethearted Scott, when he first joined DYAD, asked to "see" a clone, not "meet" one); and Rachel thinking she rides high among the corporate group who commodify her sisters' bodies, and gradually losing the illusion that hers is really any different to them; and Sarah crossing into each strand.

    Even Felix is there, manning the barbecue with some traditional Ukrainian meats.

    It's nice that Helena has taken Felix on board as family. Of course it would be even nicer if she actually got to have a scene like this, *without* being interrupted by scorpions.

    Delphine has to care for all of the clones equally now. They're all her responsibility. So she breaks it off with Cosima and seals her fate: this is bigger than just one of them now, and she might be forced to make some very tough choices.

    Aw. And maybe ominous. Delphine doesn't have a good track record for parleying love into loyalty; she trying harder, but this new position gives her more temptations, and more avenues for rationalisation.

    So Sarah has to improvise, which includes a really hilarious and terrifying scene where Sarah as Rachel interrogates Alison as Sarah, and figure out just what Rachel and Ferdinand were planning.

    Hm. I think Sarah-as-Rachel fake-interrogating Alison-as-Sarah is the new holder of the title for the most brainbending clone impersonation scene.

    1. I'm sorry I kept dangling the temptation of recaps in front of you! It's terrible of me. Shameful, even.

      Those are good points. I'll take it. I want to believe in this show! And there is definitely the fact that by going public they would be inviting a level of scrutiny to their lives that they definitely don't seem to want. Up until this season, the stakes have very rarely actually been life or death. They've been freedom vs. biological exploitation, but going public could arguably do more to hurt them than help them. a really cool analysis. Spot on.

      I love how the season finale mirrored this scene, coming right back around to it and showing how this healthy family fantasy that Helena had is actually completely possible and even better than she imagined.

      Yeah, Delphine's not great with power. But I love that this was her great arc this season - learning how to be a good leader and not abuse those in her charge.

      Agreed. It was just so many layers of complexity and weirdness. Also hilarious side-eye glares. I loved that part of it.