Orphan Black: 206 “To Hound Nature in Her Wanderings” Review
Reviewed by Adam James Cuthbert.
There are two sides to every coin. In Orphan Black, it’s the twins Sarah and Helena (most likely the titular ‘orphan(s) black’). The episode commences with Sarah and Helena bivouacking in the woods. The tight space of the tent, the limited illumination of the lamp, and a bird’s-eye shot of the twins sleeping head-to-toe respective of each other, suggests the image of twins in the womb, symbolically reinforcing the connections between the characters. The atmosphere is lyrical yet playful, as Sarah humours Helena’s shadow-puppetry. It’s as if the sisters were compensating for the happy childhood they never had together. It’s a quaint illusion of lost childhood that is deepened by the succeeding sequence of the twins driving towards Cold River. Helena flicks through the radio-stations, to Sarah’s irritation, settling on ‘Sugar, Sugar’, singing along to (and misremembering) the lyrics. It’s at this moment (perhaps earlier) that you realise how significantly Helena’s happiness matters. To elaborate upon my opening choice of metaphor, she and Sarah do not represent antithetical (coloured) sides of a coin. That is to say, one isn’t good and the other evil. Both transform, and change, on a journey, for the positive. Helena’s opportunity for happiness comprises the emotional centrepiece of the episode – and it’s simply beautiful.
Disobeying Sarah’s orders, Helena indulges herself in a bar, ordering several drinks. She attracts a young man Jesse, and the two bond over arm-wrestling, Helena the repeated (and gleeful) victor. Jesse asks Helena to dance. The camera captures them in slow-motion, as they consummate their mutual attraction. The scene can only be described as romantic. This makes it all the more tragic that it should be so transitory. The sequence impresses by an inspired choice of musical accompaniment, which is worth deconstructing in itself: ‘Crazy’ by Diana Salvatore. The lyrics evoke Helena’s past, a vicious cycle of bloodshed and darkness (“Walk along the razor’s edge/Into black and back again”). They also express hope for a brighter, more forgiving future in the wake of past actions (“There’s nothing I can say to change the past/Tell me, what is life without a chance?”). The lines: “You think you can save me./You can’t even save yourself/It’s you I want, and not your health” offer another view of the twins’ relationship.
Helena winds up being arrested. Mark and Grace follow her to the police station. There’s an interesting nuance to be found in Grace concealing her damaged lips with her hand, suggesting that she feels self-conscious about her recent punishment. Grace informs Helena that the Proletheans intend to unite her with her unborn children. Grace’s statement that Henrik “made [Helena’s eggs] whole” implies that he fertilised them himself, and it’d certainly follow that Henrik would want to father Helena’s offspring. Helena leaves with Mark and Grace. It’s an organic decision, linking back to the opening sequence and Helena’s comments about possibly bearing children of her own.
The elements of comparative lightness associated with Helena’s story are counterbalanced by Sarah’s discoveries. We learn that Ethan Duncan has been living as Andrew Peckham for the past twenty years. After Leekie murdered his wife and stole their daughter, Duncan was hidden by Siobhan’s network, under a new identity (which originally belonged to an infant who died in the 1940s). The Birdwatchers received in exchange information about experiments on unborn children, and a surrogate who fled. Sarah’s backstory here is a little convoluted, another thread in the intricate web of Orphan Black, but it’s a poignant development. The viewer can sympathise with Duncan’s motives, both as a scientist (one of the objectives of Project LEDA was “Proof of concept”), and as a father, who he expresses remorse for his unethical actions, and wishes simply to see his daughter. Contrary to Cosima’s perspective about the younger Rachel’s upbringing, she was beloved by the Duncans. It was the Neolutionists within Dyad, led by Leekie, who moulded Rachel into the “monster” she is. We also learn that the Dyad Institute was a contractor, who hijacked Project LEDA after the military decommissioned the project, following the verdict of an ethical committee. Duncan says that the outcome of the project was to successfully clone human embryos, specifically little girls. The specificity remains unclear (perhaps it’s to do with women being capable of childbirth?).
From the records of the Cold River Institute, relocated to and archived within a church for “historical value”, Sarah uncovers Duncan’s involvement with the Institute. The Institute itself has a history which visibly sickens Sarah, dating back to the early twentieth century. A sequence of rapid cuts of Sarah examining monochrome photographs shows disturbing images: nurses wearing gasmasks while inspecting patients in hospital beds, photographs of deformed foetuses, and a surgical operation in progress. A book contains the scans of criminals’ brains, by the Department of Mental Diseases. These are nuances which enrich the history of Orphan Black’s universe. This is achieved by cleverly grounding the central conceit of the series within a plausible historical past, which bears similarities with our own (eugenics), and Duncan’s links to that past by his association with the Institute.
The episode features some surprising pairings, which are enjoyable due to that quality. In the bar, Mark and Paul interact, in another example of parallels intersecting in the series, acting on their respective orders. Paul compliments Mark on his tracking skills (his ‘invisibility’, so to speak), wondering if Mark worked for the Army. Mark smirks: “Boy Scouts.” There’s an impression of respect and curiosity, with no outward hostility, between the two as they establish an agreement.
The other pairing is Alison and Vic, Sarah’s former (abusive) partner in crime. In my previous reviews, I hadn’t discussed the matter of Alison’s sojourn at the rehab centre. It was uninteresting, frankly, since it felt that the character was being diminished in terms of her role. Her isolation from Cosima and Sarah weakens the character, in my opinion, as the unit which completes the triad. (The first episode of this season demonstrated her strengths: it was her connections that assisted Sarah’s agenda, providing Sarah with equipment.) I found myself asking why she didn’t confront Donnie already, having deduced his identity as her monitor. This would mark a touchstone in their relationship, and a catalyst to progress her story. Fortunately, this week’s episode injects some vigour into Alison’s storyline. Vic has been attending the rehab centre for some time, turning over a new leaf. It’s to Vic that Alison admits her drinking problems (she’s a “bottle hider”). It’s an example of how we can open ourselves up to the individual, but not to the group. There initially appears to be signs of reciprocated friendliness between Alison and Vic, Alison shifting from belligerence. Vic reports to Detective Deangelis on Alison, who is steadfast to uncover the truth. The character herself makes for repetitive viewing, which is unavoidable at this stage in her development, but one feels that the pace could be hastened. Her protracted obsession with Alison threatens to undermine what could be a resourceful ally, if that is the intended outcome for the character.
Overall Verdict: 9/10
At its best, Orphan Black is lyrically memorable. This episode triumphs in that direction. The romance between Helena and Jesse sharply reminds the audience that Helena has not betrayed her chance for personal happiness. The lyrics of ‘Crazy’ enforce a message for forgiveness.