Orphan Black: 208 “Variable and Full of Perturbation” Review
Reviewed by Adam James Cuthbert.
“I began to see the viler aspect of Moreau’s cruelty. […] It was the wantonness that stirred me. Had Moreau had any intelligible object I could have sympathised at least a little with him. I could have forgiven him a little even had his motive been hate. But he was so irresponsible, so utterly careless.” – H.G. Wells, The Island of Doctor Moreau
The above quote underscores the relevance of Professor Duncan’s speech to his daughter. In the context of their dialogue together, it has only one meaning. When potentially applied to the series as a whole, however (pending future developments), it presents a new lens through which to interpret the series’ themes and characters. In Duncan’s case, by cooperating with the Dyad Institute on a gene-therapy cure for Cosima’s illness (contained within his synthetic sequences), he can yet make amends for the past. Duncan reveals to Rachel that the clones were intentionally designed to be sterile. Sarah is anomalous, “a failure”. (This would also refute my earlier conjecture about why, specifically, they wanted little girls: the decision would appear arbitrary now in the selection of sex.) The episode effectively conveys Rachel’s reaction to this bombshell by cutting between her mental outrage and restrained exterior.
The opening sequence feels discontinuous within the rest of the season, as if we had stumbled into another plot, quickly introducing a couple of thieves, who were ambushed, one of them mortally wounded. Dying, Sammy instructs his partner Tony to find Beth Childs, and pass on a message. Tony is a transsexual, formerly Antoinette Sawicki. The presence of the character diversifies the demographic of the series, the variation of Maslany’s chameleonic performance, and her dynamic with Jordan Gavaris. The episode appears to stress psychological similarities between Tony and Sarah in order to experiment with the core dynamic between the actors (unlike Felix’s relationship with Alison, for example), the episode entertaining an attraction between Felix and Tony. Unfortunately this means that Tony does not emerge as a memorable personality. The character feels more like a play on sexuality within the series, and a plot device to establish Paul as a “ghost”. It’s to the writer’s detriment that Tony, being introduced this late, feels less anchored within the plot, due to the absence of a strong existent supporting character (his connection, Beth, is dead). The episode relies on the strength of Maslany and Gavaris’ chemistry, and our investment in that chemistry, to lend legitimacy to Tony as a multidimensional personality.
Elsewhere, Alison and Donnie’s relationship undergoes healing. Alison returns home to find Donnie inebriated. Later that night, Alison confronts Donnie while he is packing. While his behaviour is irrational, the audience can sympathise with Donnie’s plight. He believes Alison deserves better. She leads him through an impromptu session that is therapeutic for both: their marriage would seem to be reinforced by ‘blood ties’, by their individual participation in the death of another. In the world of Orphan Black, it’s a thematically appropriate nuance. When Donnie shows Alison Leekie’s corpse, the camera is positioned at a low-angle shot, looking up at the characters from within the car-trunk, initially covered by the plastic blood-smeared sheet. Stylistically, the shot aligns the viewing perspective with that of the corpse itself, prostrate in the trunk, being examined by the living. Considering Delphine’s comment that Leekie was “the lesser of two evils”, the shot causes the audience to identify with the perspective of the dead man, questioning whether or not Leekie deserved to die, since his intentions, at least, for the wellbeing of the clones were genuine.
Overall Verdict: 7.5/10
This isn’t a great amount I wish to discuss: the quality of an episode will reflect the extent of the writer’s interest in his criticism. The episode is faulted not by the decision to introduce another clone, but by a lack of emotional vulnerability and/or powerlessness to act as a foundation for the audience’s investment in the character. To compare Tony with Jennifer Fitzsimmons: Jennifer was unrelated to any existent character, and while her plight was an obvious dramatic shortcut, the character succeeded due to her distinct position of vulnerability. An improvement would be to have shown Tony’s reaction to Sammy’s death at the time, then later his attitude when expositing to Felix and Sarah, thereby developing a transition within the character.