Orphan Black: “Conditions of Existence”
B

Orphan Black: “Conditions of Existence”

B

Orphan Black

“Conditions of Existence”

Season 1, Episode 5

"Is every man in your life a wanker but me?"

Thank you, Felix, for that neat summary of this chaotic episode. Between Vic, Donnie, and Paul, this week on Orphan Black was decidedly the Week of the Wanker. Not only did Vic crawl out from the shadows, but Alison's husband Donnie has apparently had a shady secret living in their garage. Also, the only reason Big Dick Paul was ever with Beth was to “monitor” her while clearing the way for overnight lab experiments. All in all, not a great week for the men and the clones who love(d) them.

Last week, everything fell apart in the big picture. Beth’s “accident” was revealed to be an intentional, necessary hit, an elimination of a threat no one else even knew existed. A lone serial killer was revealed to be just a pawn of something much bigger, much more complicated, and therefore, much more threatening. Sarah finally buckled under the pressure of being a “copy-cop,” and turned in her badge. So it’s not surprising that this week turns to the micro side of things. What is surprising, however, is that it’s largely unconvincing.

 Orphan Black has done a remarkable job of establishing relationships considering how quickly it moves, and so an episode that turns to the personal should have worked. But “Conditions of Existence” doesn’t trust the relationships the show had been building to speak for themselves, meaning much of the episode was spent convincing us which ones have value. The one notable exception is Sarah and Alison, who are slowly but surely dropping their reluctance to work with each other in favor of a friendship. Alison may never understand Sarah as she did Beth, but she at least understands her as a mother. Their Skype scene was brief, but satisfying as the result of prior buildup (and points for Maslany sticking to her neurotic Alison tics with that lotion). On the other side of the spectrum, though, we have Vic. Sure, Vic confronting Alison and finding out Sarah’s alive is a complication, but his drug money troubles are laughable in the face of the very real existential threat Sarah’s been facing down (missing finger notwithstanding). That Sarah immediately dismisses it with $20,000 from the Alison Hendrix Emergency Fund is a testament to just how superfluous this storyline is when stacked up against everything else. The attention to wrapping up stray plotlines is admirable, but I would have been fine leaving Vic’s Guy Ritchie troubles back in the pilot.

As for Paul, whatever he’s involved with seems like a completely different group than the one that picked up Helena last week, even if both are similarly obsessed with the clones. Helena’s group wears symbolic rings and thinks the clones are abominations; Paul’s wears suits and treats clones as lab rats. But Paul’s new role doesn’t change my mind about the fact that he’s the weakest part of Orphan Black. It's not that there isn't drama in the reveal, or that it doesn't provide real tension; Sarah feels Paul’s betrayal of Beth like it’s her own, so even if she doesn’t feel much for him outside the shower, her alternating anger and dismay are powerful. Then, after Paul sends Sarah the picture of her and Kira, you can feel her shaking fury through the screen. But outside of his interactions with Sarah, Paul himself has not proven to be an interesting character, or even a convincing one. Giving him a shoebox of military history and a shady job won’t automatically make him compelling. And let’s be real: if monitoring Beth was Paul’s only job and he just figured out that he’s been sleeping with a totally different person, he really sucks at it. Come on, Paul! You had one job!

Then there’s the whole, “Paul’s falling for fake Beth” thing. If he is indeed “falling” for Sarah, Felix shouldn’t have to tell us as much. All the evidence we’ve gotten so far just suggests Big Dick Paul is falling for a less vanilla sex life. Tothing wrong with that, but it hardly looks like he’s been falling in love. To be fair, though, Dylan Bruce’s increasingly wooden acting may partly be to blame. Yes, his scenes are almost exclusively one-on-one with the titanic Tatiana Maslany, and yes, many of those are pressed up against a wall. But it's almost impressive that he can shout, “Isn’t it? ISN’T IT?” at the height of an emotional scene in perfect monotone.

At the very least, though, Paul’s part in the clones’ story has opened up an entirely new set of complications that promises to upend their world as they know it. The degree to which Paul burrowed into Beth's life is a startling wake-up call. The overnight experimenting on Sarah is personally horrifying in a way that the assassination attempts weren't, even if Cosima insists nothing invasive happened (at least not beyond the incredibly invasive act of hooking an unconscious woman up to who knows what). Alison immediately starts panicking about Donnie, so when she finds him rummaging through her things, she goes into full-on obsession mode. We don’t know anything about Donnie beyond the fact that he’s one of those perpetually harangued husbands that television seems to love, but if his little forest fire is anything to go by, Donnie’s definitely involved with something other than Big Boob Blowies. Whether he’s a monitor, a religious type, or something else entirely remains to be seen. Also in this nebulous category are Colin and Delphine, Felix and Cosima’s new romantic prospects, respectively. Morgue worker Colin could just be the “nice boy” Felix thinks he is, and Delphine could just be the promising(ly beautiful) student Cosima thinks she is, but it’s significant that both are introduced in this episode. From here on out, everyone is creepy until proven sincere.

Stray observations:

  • Your Tatiana Maslany Appreciation for the week: when Paul surprises Sarah in the bathroom, she's so panicked that she can't quite suppress her British accent in time to panic as Beth.
  • Another tip towards Sarah's singularity: Beth couldn't have children. (And I don't think Cosima will be having a pregnancy scare any time soon, so...)
  • This week’s “show, don’t tell” complaint also stretches to Exposition Expert Cosima. Are we sure her major isn’t “Anything That’s Had to Do With Science Ever”?
  • On the other hand, Alison's sweetly apologetic, "you're right, everyone's entitled to their privacy" while turning a surveillance camera on Donnie was pitch perfect.
  • I actually cackled when Sarah walked into the dark apartment and Paul turned on the light to reveal himself. Paul seems like exactly the kind of repressed psychopath who would sit in the dark for hours, just stewing in his own rage. Like Moriarty, or Doctor Claw. 
  • "Far be it from me to judge. I might be sleeping with my spy as well."
  • "He was...urban." "What the hell does that mean?" "Not white!"
  • "Oh, I forgot the rule that says your life is always more important than mine." "No, it's just way harder."
  • "Dude, that's complex."