Orphan Black: 104 “Effects of External Conditions” Review
Reviewed by Adam James Cuthbert.
With this week’s instalment, Orphan Black shows signs of establishing itself as eventful and unforgettable television. This is due in part to Maslany’s versatility and compelling screen-presence. Although the clones are visually identical (the same woman, genetically), Maslany invests them with unique traits and mannerisms. It’s perhaps worth speculating on the nature/nurture topic the series addresses. Knowing that one of the clones is a sociopathic killer, and another (just to select an example) a student of science, it is perhaps interesting to consider how the clones’ lives might have turned out differently if their upbringings were exchanged; Helena the murderous-sociopathic potential, and Cosima the intellectual potential.
We learn more about the killer-clone, Helena. Helena is a religious fanatic, led to believe she is the original. The clones are, according to Helena, “poor copies of God’s image of human beings”. Corresponding with Sarah, Cosima elucidates that according to creationist types, the clones would be viewed as abominations; the children of Satan. Helena is on a religious crusade to terminate her clones. Margaret Chen, the civilian Beth shot, is revealed to be involved with people that deceived Helena. Beth, Sarah realises, shot Chen on purpose – to protect the clones.
Helena is an admittedly fascinating creation by Maslany; a woman disturbed. The episode explores the extent of her mental sickness, such as her morbid occupation with death (she devises a fortune-teller that results in a number of deaths, each death dependent on the subject’s choices). She is also seen to cut her own skin (explaining the marks across her back?). Maslany’s performance is mesmerising; testament to her commendable acting skill. The intense scenes between Sarah and Helena, set in Chen’s hotel room, might be the most entertaining moments thus far.
Unable to attend her appointment with Kira, Sarah requests Alison’s assistance in impersonating her. It’s enjoyable to see the series’ rich setup, in terms of the acting challenge, unfold in such a way – other clones playing the ‘role’ of their genetic counterparts/doubles. While Cosima is limited to an expository role (conducting research), Alison feels like a fleshed out persona. Although she’s imitating Sarah, and her happiness at reuniting with her daughter, there’s an impression that Alison, as a mother herself, may be identifying with the mother-child bond. She later stresses to Kira (who recognises Alison as an impostor) that Sarah is courageously devoted to ensuring the two can be together again, the character feeling differently towards Sarah.