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Orphan Black: 207 “Knowledge of Causes, and Secret Motion of Things” Review


Reviewed by Adam James Cuthbert.

One of the rules of thumb when it comes to characterising science-fiction is its exploration of what it means to be human. We are limited by our evolutionary nature as human beings; by the organs and senses of the flesh, through which we interact with, and experience, our world. They constitute a pre-linguistic ‘language’ that informs our behaviour. Often science-fiction challenges us: it forces us to re-evaluate our opinions, synthesised by the milieu in which we have been nurtured.

Orphan Black has routinely dramatized the complexity of human nature through its ambiguous morality, and changing characters. But change is a violent process, one that necessitates destruction and upheaval within our world. Change involves an overturning; an ending followed by a new beginning. It is the violence of change which predominates this week’s episode. The dénouement is appositely explosive, sending a jolt through the viewer, as Donnie Hendrix unintentionally shoots Leekie, splattered by the doctor’s blood.

The episode commences in media res (‘in the middle of things’), with Alison and Vic making preparations for the upcoming ‘Family Day’ at the rehab centre. One aspect that I have enjoyed about the season is how each episode dovetails into the next, like connecting adjacent pieces of a jigsaw-puzzle together. Alison is talking about her relationship with Aynsley; how she felt judged by her neighbour. After Vic assures her he will be impartial (he has no right to judge, considering his own past), Alison finds the confidence to be frank about Aynsley’s death. Tonally, her confession is like a scene out of a horror film: the creepy music, the whispering dialogue with pauses (“She clawed at the countertop… begging for her life. I stood there… until it was over”). Her pithy description paints an interesting account of human fragility (through the lens of the illusionary nature of time, affected by memory: i.e., how we restructure the past in the present), and her impassivity towards the event. The violent nature of Aynsley’s death spreads further ripples, upsetting Alison’s established relationship with Vic (she made him gloves, as a token of friendship), becoming a catalyst in the multi-stranded plot. She eavesdrops on Vic’s phone call with Deangelis.

This action is paralleled by Cosima eavesdropping on Scott and Delphine (it is even mirror-reversed, with Alison framed to the left of the camera and Cosima to the right, in their respective locations at the time). Scott had discovered that the stem cells compatible with Cosima’s biology originated from the female relative of a clone. Delphine is peremptory, refusing to allow Scott to share this information with Cosima, only for Cosima to intervene, forcing Delphine to explain. The stem cells were harvested from a tooth that Kira lost during her accident in the first season. I appreciate the long-term repercussions here: it shows a competence of ability to pre-empt developments in this season. The stem cell line that Leekie has been operating originated from Kira’s tooth, which he had procured from the hospital. Cosima is outraged. She feels torn and betrayed. Delphine defends her decision: Cosima has no alternative. The tooth is a “finite source”, unless Kira is brought into the Dyad Institute.

From Duncan, Siobhan discovers that he possesses copies of the early research of Project LEDA (on floppy disks, naturally, and in good condition, as the average durability of floppy disks is five to ten years). She adopts Sarah’s suggestion that they “divide and conquer.” She meets with Leekie to propose a trade: in exchange for Duncan, Leekie will drop the “hunt”. Again, Siobhan is shown to prioritise Kira’s welfare. After corresponding with Sarah, she arranges a meeting between Rachel and her father. As the characters are in the same scene, and the conversations between Siobhan and Paul, and Rachel and Duncan transpire simultaneously, it’s the writer’s discretion to focus on the former pairing, the camera cutting back to the latter viewed at a distance. It’s a decision made perhaps based on our extended familiarity with the former; justified in that there’s a tender gesture when Paul recognises that Sarah inherited her “knack for burning things down” from her foster mother. Rachel is emotional, vulnerable even, before her father, as she learns the truth about her mother’s demise. Over the course of this season, there has been a humanisation of Rachel’s character, as a tragic victim of circumstance. Rachel reverts to her behaviour as the loving, sensitive daughter of the Duncans. This complicates her relationship with Leekie.

The episode introduces the mysterious Marian Bowles. Michelle Forbes gives an accomplished performance. She exudes chemistry with Matthew Frewer that strengthens the impression of an older history between Marian and Leekie. Marian’s comment that it was their fault “putting a lab coat in the big chair” would suggest that she represents the people who appointed Leekie to his position. I do think there’s a potential risk in introducing a new character this late in the game, even if the production team are building for a third season, when there are loose ends still in motion, which require sufficient screen-time to be developed and resolved. Nonetheless, the character’s presence mounts the tension of Rachel’s confrontation with Leekie. The vengeful Rachel decides to spare Leekie’s life. The viewer could, of course, sympathise with the decision to kill Leekie. This makes it all the more effective when it does happen, coming as a shock to the viewer.

Donnie hadn’t left a strong impression before. Unlike Felix or Art, for example, Donnie’s sense of personality (or vocation) wasn’t a front that could overcome his limited characterisation. The episode improves on this factor. Donnie appears to have no knowledge of the clones. From dialogue, a history can be extrapolated. Leekie recruited into Donnie into a study: “Long-term social metrics”, in which the assigned subject for monitoring would be totally oblivious. Donnie accuses Leekie of destroying his marriage. Leekie arrogantly says: “I gave you your wife.” This statement, and his condescending demeanour towards Donnie, underscores the extent of how he views Donnie as hapless.

Overall Verdict: 8/10

The scenes that I have addressed above help to offset the weaknesses of the episode. There’s a tedious carry-on over an unconscious Vic which occurs for no sensible reason (why did Felix spike Vic’s tea?), and the role-playing demonstration feels cringe-worthy in its execution. Overall, the episode is entertaining.

On a final note, the camera technique utilised in the episode is worth analysing. Set on the morning of ‘Family Day’, the camera frames Kira and Sarah in bed together from outside the campervan, looking in through the window. In this way, the camera almost becomes a character itself, a mute witness, paradoxically both intruding on this private moment between mother and daughter, yet being invited, welcomed, into their lives. The camera becomes a surrogate for the viewing experience.

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