Orphan Black: “Parts Developed In An Unusual Manner”
C+

Orphan Black: “Parts Developed In An Unusual Manner”

After finishing “Parts Developed in an Unusual Manner,” I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t satisfied. Just about every storyline came crashing together, revealing new relationships and complications that would have been inconceivable even two weeks ago. We got our first in-depth look at the villains who have been lurking in the shadows while pulling their conflicted minions’ strings. Even said minions got their time in the spotlight; not only did we find out the extent of Helena and Paul’s orders, but we got insight into why they’ve been following those orders blindly. We learned more about Sarah’s childhood, the police department’s inches from the truth, and Cosima made her move on Delphine. I mean, besides for a lack of Alison, what’s not to like?

The most impressive part of Orphan Black has been its attention to subtlety. Concepts that could have been straight-up hokey became character studies, and there was enough humor throughout to remind us that the show was self-aware.  But subtlety flies out the window this week as the nefarious men behind the curtain are revealed. Delphine pushes Cosima towards Leekie so blatantly she might as well literally do it, Thomas’ faux-spiritual guidance is paint by numbers Religious Nuttery, and just in case we didn’t get that Olivier is a creep, he has to actually start unbuckling his pants to show off his tail-penis (a phrase I never wanted to write). Most importantly, the more time we spend with Dr. Leekie, Olivier, and Thomas, the less threatening they feel. We’ve seen all these guys before: the power-hungry scientist, the fanatical right-hand man, the religious fundamentalist. There’s no personality there beyond their basic character functions. While past episodes have used our expectations against us, or peeled back more layers to find more complex motivations, “Parts Developed in an Unusual Manner” paints these villains with such broad, stereotypical strokes that there’s hardly any room for true suspense. To be fair, Orphan Black has spoiled us rotten on the tension front. But I’ve gotten so used to sitting on the edge of my seat that getting comfortable is the last thing I want.

It hardly seems like a coincidence that the least interesting scenes are the ones without much of the clones. Tatiana Maslany must be exhausted from appearing in just about every scene, but her attention to individual detail has made even the most ordinary scenes riveting, and her absence is sorely felt. I know I was supposed to care about Olivier interrogating Paul, but I just kept hoping Sarah or Helena would burst in to give the scenes some life sooner rather than later. I know the police department needs to catch up to the rest of us, but there’s only so many times Art can furrow his brow and ask, “what are we MISSING?” before it becomes a narrative drag (so let's hope the last thirty seconds propels this plotline forward). And I know Felix needed to be the one to do recon on the neolutionists’ Hunger Games-lite dubstep club, but – okay, no, that was awesome. At the very least, Felix and I feel similarly about the neolutionism plot: “Oh. There’s an -ism.”

But while the episode was less satisfying than usual as a whole, there were several individual scenes that I loved. Sarah and Cosima’s Skype sessions of the week serve their usual expositional purpose, but they’re much more interesting for letting the women switch roles this time, with Sarah telling Cosima to be cautious and Cosima shrugging her off. Cosima can say she’s pursuing Delphine for information all she wants, but Sarah’s half-exasperated, half-amused “yeah, right” proves she knows exactly what Cosima’s after. This kind of familiarity would have been unthinkable even two weeks ago; it’s a testament to how well the show’s plotted out the clones’ bond that it feels natural now.

Perhaps the most intriguing new development comes from Mrs. S, who decides to honor Sarah’s request to learn more about her past. Mrs. S doesn’t have all the answers, but she does have a sepia-toned scrapbook with hints about Sarah’s origin story. Mrs. S worked at a safehouse in Brixton, helping women, refugees, and occasionally a child that needed hiding, or “a child in the black.” Sarah was not only one of these children (an “orphan black,” if you get my drift), but she was apparently so in the black that she had to be whisked out of the country to avoid serious consequences. Ergo, Toronto gained an Irishwoman, a clone, and Felix. It’s a sure bet that we’ll meet the man who brought Sarah to Mrs. S., and I’d be surprised if Carlton doesn’t turn out to know why Sarah is “different from the others.”

Speaking of, the episode’s most surprising twist is that Helena completely steals the show. I’ll admit it: when a dying Helena stumbled off into the night, I was satisfied enough with her part in the story that I would have been fine having her story end in that alleyway. Now, I’m so relieved she made it out of there because her scenes have some of my favorite moments all season. Regardless of her larger role in the series, Helena became a much more nuanced character in this episode with the help of several brilliant character moments. Whether she was haphazardly scooping Jello, pinning Sarah with just her foot, wandering through Paul’s apartment with almost childlike wonder, or castrating Olivier with mercenary efficiency, Helena came to play this week. If the other adversaries were as nuanced as she is, we’d really be in business.

Stray observations:

  • Confession: I almost wanted to give this episode an A just because “I Got You Babe” was perfect.
  • Also: Helena dancing with Olivier's tail.
  • Why on earth does Paul assume their apartment is the safest place to talk? Wouldn't that be the first place to get bugged? I know it's the monitor's job to well, monitor, but it makes no sense that the neolutionists wouldn't keep all eyes on the subjects regardless.
  • I also don’t buy Paul and Sarah being in love as much as I did for them being reluctant partners/fuck buddies. In fact, I'm super disappointed. Discuss!
  • Liked that there was no “wait, you’re gay?” moment with Sarah and Cosima.
  • On a related note: Cosima’s “let’s just admit what this is really about” was smoother than any pickup line has a right to be. Delphine must be really into this neolutionism bullshit to turn that down.
  • Maslany’s (apparently) Ukranian accent is definitely hit or miss, but I’m never more impressed by her physicality than I am when she’s playing Helena. (Alison’s a close second.)
  • I can’t wait for Alison to meet Helena. She’d probably be more horrified by Helena’s hygiene than the fact that she’s an unstable assassin bent on her destruction.
  • "She's blinded by science." "Yeah, well by everything I've found online, she's right." Seems legit.
  • "I also had a pleasant day. I went working and shopping."
  • "Okay, fine. I thought you might want a blowjob."

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