Orphan Black / Screen

Orphan Black redoes a few things, says goodbye to that terrible (and boring) farm and focuses on Rachel in “Things Which Have Never Yet Been Done”

It hasn’t been bad exactly. Orphan Black is one of those shows that’s eased itself into a groove of not being terrible, not yet anyway. Some episodes are better than others, but there are no truly bad installments. “Things Which Have Never Been Done” is like this in that it’s not an overwhelmingly impressive hour, but it’s not a bad one. It’s not the best one either. “Things Which Have Never Yet Been Done” is the penultimate episode of this season, and it doesn’t at all feel like it. In fact it feels as though very little has happened this season at all. With this episode, it’s clear that Orphan Black‘s lost a lot of focus or rather lost its ability to make season-long questions interesting and feel worth answering. By the end of the episode, we’re essentially right back where last season’s finale and this season’s pilot, first appeared to leave us: with Kira abducted by Rachel. This season has seemed to be a collection of moments and storylines that show’s backtracked on in order to do again, making the end result just a little bit different from the first time. From Kira not being abducted by Rachel or the Proletheans to Helena being lured back to the farm after her escape to even this episode’s reversal of Cosima’s illness, these have all been done before.

Alison’s the only story with a sense of real forward momentum as she and Donnie work together to hide Leekie’s body. For Alison’s faults, she proves herself to be the clone you want around when you’re in a pinch (or have a dead body in the trunk of your car). She doesn’t flinch at wrapping Leekie in plastic and taping him up, depositing him in the garage freezer for safe keeping, and she drills through their cement floor with ease and a mighty expression as Donnie watches. Hers and Donnie’s not-so-fool-proof plan to bury Leekie in cement is almost threatened when Vic shows up, trying to get information for Angela, sitting outside in a van. Angela is the one aspect of Alison’s story that doesn’t seem to be working. It’s just now that someone suggests that Angela’s investigation might not be all that legitimate and may even be toeing the line into harassment. And unless next week sees Alison and/or Donnie facing a real threat from law enforcement (for Aynsley or Leekie or both), this whole thing’s going to be a bust.  On the bright side, hiding dead bodies and watching Donnie grow a backbone apparently drew him and Alison back together, and they consummate their new relationship on top of the freezer in which Leekie’s body had been hidden earlier.

We return to the farm in this episode, and it manages to not be completely terrible. Well, it is still terrible, but the final moments there do proceed with a lot of excitement and end with Helena setting fire to the farm. But before this, she’s impregnated with her embryos and is excited at the chance to be a mother and have a family of her own. Considering how happy she’s been to latch onto Sarah and be part of that family, it makes sense that she’d want one, too, Once she realizes that her babies aren’t really going to be hers, that other women are also pregnant with them (including a reluctant Gracie), she decides to leave the farm. When Gracie plans on coming with her, they’re stopped by a gun-wielding Henrik, and it’s one of the most tense moments of the episode as Helena gets knocked to the ground and Gracie locked away.

The subplot of Gracie and Mark’s romance has been dumb from the start (as if anyone cares about the romantic tribulations of any of these people), but Gracie attempting to assert her independence from her father is better done. If we forget for a moment that she tried to kill Helena once, it’s nice to see her able to make her escape with Mark since Henrik considers adequate discipline to be imprisoning his kid in a cellar, sometimes even sewing her mouth shut . And it’s even more thrilling to see Helena finally wrench free of them as well, after sodomizing Henrik (that wasn’t thrilling, that was actually very disturbing) and torching the compound (according to producers Helena helped the children escape, but the scene had to be cut).

The faults of this storyline aside, it makes up for it in its conclusion. Though I’ve badly wanted someone to help Helena this season, it’s fitting that she ends up helping herself and even helping Gracie, holding Henrik while she tells Gracie and Mark to run. She’s also been on her own, and unlike her sister clones she also has a more difficult time forming the relationships that would lead to the kind of alliance that’s formed between Cosima, Sarah and Alison who videochat this episode as Cosima catches them up on her illness as Alison tears up. Helena had to save herself because no one else was going to do it for her. Hell, no one’s even asking what she’s up to right now. But why did this have to be spread across the whole season when we could have done this awhile ago and moved on to better, less boring and less disturbing things?

It’s obvious this season had some endpoints it was looking to reach and some beats that had to be hit along the way. But most of the season seems to have gone along, concerned with just hitting those points and filling time before it could reach the end. Take Cosima’s illness for example. It’s been chugging along in the background of the season before coming to head last week. What looked like a pretty dooming situation for her wasn’t that dooming (not yet anyway) as she’s up on her feet and talking this week. Her collapse functioned only as a means to validate Kira’s blood marrow being used, which put the rest of the episode’s events into motion. For an entire season being built around Cosima’s degrading health and probable death, the season seems to just be playing around with it. Any concern about Cosima’s well-being gets undercut with this episode (as it ends with Cosima’s health problems on their way to being solved) and then pushed aside as Orphan Black starts on the subject it’s really concerned with. Since the season began, the creators were going on and on about a war between Rachel and Sarah without really giving us much of one, and now they have as Rachel does just what Sarah thought she did in the premiere: kidnaps Kira.

But first Rachel gets Delphine to appeal to Sarah about Kira’s bone marrow by offering her the position of interim director, and it’s clearly a bribe. And it’s easy to see because Rachel’s never been half as smiley in the show as she was in that scene. Rachel’s scenes with other people are mostly performative. She always has something she’s trying to hide, usually her emotions. When Marian turns up, her facade slips some as Marian brings up Sarah whose chance, Dyad-free upbringing seems as though it would have hindered her, especially in comparison to Rachel’s education and Dyad-approved childhood. And it seems Rachel reads their difference in upbringing and the adult lives they ended up with as another insult to take personally. Not only is Sarah an unpolished grifter, she has a child. For a clone who has considered herself above average and has taken great pains to remain that way, hiding her emotions so to not to appear weak and taking Sarah’s resistance as an insult, being unable to have the one thing she wants —  children — is a  slap in the face. And its compounded by the knowledge that she was intentionally left infertile while Sarah escaped that particular trait due to random chance. This episode zeroes in on Rachel in an illuminating and fundamental way as her viewing of home videos with her parents leads to examining photos of Sarah and Kira, igniting Rachel’s jealousy and leading her to put her plan in motion to snatch Kira.

While Kira’s recovering from the bone marrow procedure, Rachel takes her performing to the next level as she poses as Sarah to evade detection while Delphine (having fallen into Rachel’s trap herself by “stumbling upon” a confidential document that makes her question Benjamin’s loyalty) warns the real Sarah outside. Some viewers will have caught on fairly quickly to what was going on, courtesy of some of the nuances Tatiana Maslany imbues in her Rachel-as-Sarah. Sarah’s accent is just slightly different, with her pitch just a little lower, and by the time Rachel-as-Sarah is upstairs and a confused Felix is getting a call from Sarah, it’s already clear that something terrible is underway even before Rachel stabs Felix with a needle.

Next week is the finale, and I’m hoping it’ll make the wobbles of this season worth it. If we’re going off of Rachel’s storyline alone, I have a lot of faith especially since one of the season’s weakest elements (the farm) has been dealt with. But next week will surely mean a visit from Paul so….we’ll have to stomach that.

Stray Observations

  • I love you, Siobhan, but your hair was not cute this episode.
  • Tatiana Maslany deserves lots of awards, and I’m sad that she may never get the mainstream accolades she deserves. Aside from her performances as clones-as-other-clones, her acting as Rachel in the viewing room going from Rachel’s containment to her surprising laughter as she drinks her martini was especially well-done. It’s an arresting visual, in concert with the close-up shot of Rachel and the dark backdrop of the room.
  • This episode got me thinking a lot about how Helena and Rachel are a lot alike, both of them looking for family, particularly children. Helena’s pregnant, Rachel’s abducted Kira, and both made conscious choices that got them here. But while Helena’s decision is empowering because she’s taking control back from people who’ve been using her, Rachel’s is villainous because she’s stealing the agency of someone else, Kira.
  • Apologies for this very late review. I went to bed early last night and didn’t watch the episode because I had an early day at work.

Leave your thoughts in the comments.

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