Orphan Black‘s second season has been far (far) from flawless. With the farm weighing heavily against it and shaky attempts at building relationships with monitors and their subjects (weirdly the season closes with the most successful of these attempts being between Alison and Donnie) to trying to make storylines float that just don’t, it hasn’t lived up to the bar set by the first season. But Orphan Black can luckily always rely on the excellent work of its lead actress to propel it forward even in the worst of times (who, alongside the technical team brings us our very first clone dance party), and for the finale “By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried”, Tatiana Maslany brings her A-game. The episode doesn’t have to lean so heavily on her anyway since it’s easily the best hour the season’s offered us, despite falling apart a bit (or a lot, maybe not at all depending on how you look at it) in the end.
“Things Which Have Never Yet Been Tried” hits the ground running as Sarah turns herself over the Dyad in “unconditonal surrender” after Rachel takes Kira, subjecting herself to invasive questioning and giving her permission for her eggs to be harvested (and then almost being forced to undergo the removal of one of her ovaries). It’s a noble and bold move on Sarah’s part, but it’s a naive one as well. Turning herself in did nothing to help Kira. All it did was give the Dyad another subject and a “willing” clone to run tests on. But it was all Sarah could do to reunite with Kira, and when she finally sees her again it’s through a two-way mirror, and Rachel takes the opportunity to taunt Sarah with the knowledge that she’s finally being forced to do as she’s told.
Taking Kira is only one of Rachel’s new changes. She sends Delphine to Germany, makes Dr. Nealon (the doctor who likes to examine clones in their sleep and without their consent) Cosima’s physician and makes Duncan a prisoner. And when she tells Delphine that none of this is personal, it’s perhaps the biggest lie Rachel’s ever told. The very nature of the clones’ existence, and their subsequent trials, is personal. And Rachel probably takes things more personally than any of the other clones. Sarah just fighting for her life and hers and Kira’s safety is offensive to Rachel, offensive enough for her to kidnap Kira. And her inability to procreate leads her to demand a solution from Duncan, who finally realizes how far this Rachel is from the daughter he raised and kills himself, telling a hysterical Rachel that she doesn’t deserve to have him anymore. It’s a disturbing scene, with Duncan trembling and his tea spilling as Rachel realizes something’s wrong with him, alternately answering his distress with calls for help and hitting him while she sobs. Though she says she doesn’t remember being loved by her parents, turning to the home videos in an attempt to remember, she must remember something about it, the part that mattered enough for her to be upset at Duncan dying. Or maybe she’s just upset because the sequence to make her fertile might have died with him. Rachel turns to Sarah for answers, claiming that Duncan must have given it to her, and when Sarah doesn’t know, Rachel destroys Kira’s bone marrow, effectively making curing Cosima that much harder. But she gets a pencil to the eye for her trouble, and Sarah manages to escape with Kira.
The entire engineering of the escape was fantastic. Maybe confusing, due to the shadowy machinations happening with double-agent and back-in-uniform Paul, a hacking Cal and Marian Boyles apparently having a conscience, but still fantastic. Cosima and Scott come up with a plan to get Sarah out, using “pure science” and Kira’s artistic ability, leading to Rachel’s mutilated eye; and Cal connects them to Marian, who has a way to get Sarah and Kira out of Dyad. Though Alison’s absent from the planning (though she turns up later to stand around and be Alison), it’s still nice to see so many of the characters working together with a common goal, even if Cal and Paul are boring. Even Helena’s around, though not privy to what’s going on (because she’s too unpredictable), and the presence of so many people gives the episode a feeling of having a very large scope and makes the stakes seem that much higher.
Sarah and Kira escape by the episode’s halfway point, reuniting with the clones (and Felix) to celebrate their victory. Their dance party is a fun addition to the episode (and was probably a nightmare to shoot), even with the lingering feeling that something’s about to go terribly wrong. It’s preceded by Helena’s introduction to Cosima and Alison. Cosima, slow-moving and with her oxygen tank, is more like a kindly grandmother than a sister, embracing Helena and telling her how beautiful she is. Alison isn’t as warm, but she’s as friendly as she can be and offers Helena some marriage advice. It’s a nice conclusion for Helena, who’s been searching for her own family for so long, to finally find one where they’re just happy to have her. So of course it all goes to hell as Helena slips out of the apartment and is abducted by military-types to be put on plane, having been sold out by Siobhan in exchange for Paul’s help. It’s at the end of the episode, beginning with this moment, that the finale begins to, if not fall apart, at least fray at the edges. Helena’s right back where she’s been all season, at someone else’s mercy, held captive and against her will without anyone who could help her knowing about it. It’s getting very, very old.
Nothing’s changed for Cosima either. Without Kira’s bone marrow, her prospects are looking grim, and when Kira awakens her in the morning it takes Cosima a little too long to come around. Throw in her shiny vision of Delphine telling her not to be afraid, and Cosima’s veering a bit too close to the white light for comfort. But she’s fine, and she discovers the key to Duncan’s sequence right where he left it: in Kira’s book. It’s annoying that we’ve yet to get an answer to Cosima’s problem, especially since the season went in and out of paying it any attention. Like Helena, Cosima’s in storytelling limbo and existing where she’s been all season. It indicates a lack of creativity that this is all the Orphan Black writers could come up with, retreading old ground (which has been a problem for this season as a whole). I didn’t want to see Cosima succumb to her illness, but at least her dying would have shown some forward momentum.
Even Marian’s promises to give Sarah answers don’t pan out. It’s not all bad since Marian’s characters goes the unexpected route of actually being a good guy, invested in the clone conspiracy and throwing her hat in the ring alongside Sarah and the other clones because of her daughter Charlotte, the only survivor of attempts to make new clones. The arrival of a new big, bad corporation, Topside, isn’t exactly thrilling, and none of this information is pushing anything forward. We’re just going sideways. The episode ending twist of Project Castor is probably the biggest question mark, and not a fun one either. Male clones have never been high on my list of things I’d like to see the show do. The angle of women and their bodies being property, fought over by various groups who care little about the actual women they’re fighting over, is a strong one that the show’s done decently with portraying, and I’ve never been eager to see men take on a larger role in the series. And I’m especially not eager to see that man be Mark.
Regular readers of my reviews will know that the farm and all its inhabitants have been the worst part of the season. And I do mean the worst. That’s counting Paul’s boring and monotone appearances on screen, the non-war between Rachel and Sarah that only became an actual war recently and…well, there hasn’t been that much bad stuff because the farm is the bad stuff. Helena burning it to the ground last week didn’t mean the story and its characters went down with it, specifically Gracie and Mark who pop up intermittently in this episode just so we know they still exist. They grind the episode’s fast-pace to a halt immediately from the first moment we see them on the road to their new life to the final reveal of Mark being the face of Project Castor.
Who asked for this? It’s disappointing that I’m disappointed, and not all that eager to see what next season holds for us.
- Now, you all know how much I loathe Paul (and how much I sincerely doubt Dylan Bruce has the acting chops necessary to pull off multiple characters), but I would have preferred he be a clone. Maybe I wouldn’t mind Mark if that farm hadn’t been attached to him, but really the best thing to do is just enact a scorched earth policy and kill everything related to that farm.
- I’m also 99% certain Graeme and Fawcett have no idea what they were, or are, doing with Paul. Apparently his story about Afghanistan was all fake and he infiltrated Dyad on behalf of Project Castor? But he still loves Sarah through all of this? Apparently? Hence his stupid reaction to meeting Cal and finding out he’s Kira’s father? Whatever.
- On a nicer note, Cosima and Sarah’s scene, talking existential crises and being clones, was very sweet. And definitely one of the high-points as far as clone/clone interactions go this season. Their relationships were neglected a bit this season, but the finale almost made up for the entire season in that regard.
- I doubt that pencil killed Rachel. She’ll probably be back next season with an eye patch and angrier than ever.
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