What a difference a week makes.
Where “Variable And Full Of Perturbation” was too enamored with its own tricks, “Things Which Have Never Yet Been Done” steps back, takes a deep breath, and plunges back down the rabbit hole. It’s inevitable that a show as complicated as Orphan Black periodically needs to refocus, or at least take stock of where its characters have ended up, not just in a physical sense, but an emotional one. It can even be as simple as a video conference call between sisters. Even that tiny scene gives this episode an emotional core that was lacking last week as everyone spun off in their own disparate directions. Once the emotional stakes have been established, “Things Which Have Never Yet Been Done” finds its center by making everyone an active part of their own stories. Time is running out; it’s time to stop talking and make some actual moves.
Director TJ Scott highlights this theme throughout with several gorgeous shots of everyone at the most crucial moments of their decision-making. The earliest is in the Hendrix’s garage, the camera set deliberately low to the ground. Donnie watches Alison jackhammer through the concrete floor, the dust billowing up around them, a symbol of her sheer defiance in the face of a seemingly impenetrable problem. The Hendrix family has gone through some serious turbulence since we’ve known them. (I’m pretty sure the kids have never had a scene that doesn’t end with someone shooing them away from something unsavory.) Now, “married murderers” isn’t exactly where I saw their future going, but the decision to make them commit is an exciting one because it at least forces them to cooperate, for once. Last week they talked in circles around each other, stuck in bed or on the couch, separate from everyone else as they worked through their feelings in fits and starts. Yes, they’re still largely apart from the other clones in this episode, but the crucial difference this week is that they take action. Besides, Alison is just relieved to have a clearly defined problem that she can fix—even if that problem is hiding a body. As the two work together to bury the evidence, we get to see more of why they were drawn to each other in the first place, and what makes them tick outside of this whirlwind. Kristian Bruun and Tatiana Maslany have never had better chemistry than they do this episode. Maslany seizes the opportunity to see what happens when Alison truly lets loose, and Bruun sells the hell out of Donnie’s triumphant, “have a shitty day!” Donnie is still so very dumb (“there’s eleven, esé!”), but it’s so much more intriguing to make him an active part of the story than tangential and oblivious.
Meanwhile, Helena stands on a desolate hill, the grayness of her future a stark contrast to the farm blazing with flames just on the other side. It still smarts that no one’s asked after Helena’s absence, but it’s at least satisfying to check in on her after two episodes away. Helena has been the epitome of the clones’ right to choose their own fates. Her upbringing was marked by people ripping her choice away from her, imposing their own wills on her vulnerable conscience, and molding both her body and mind to their own liking. The Proletheans harvesting her eggs is a horrifying violation that can’t actually be all that surprising to Helena. She therefore tries to make a choice within this prohibitive framework—to bear her children, gladly. The script also makes the smart choice to surround Helena with Prolethean children. Helena’s most defining characteristic (besides her healthy appetite) is her desire to be part of a family. She savored her bond with Sarah, marveled at her beautiful niece, and even played nice with her inherited brother. It makes perfect sense that she would embrace the prospect of creating her own family. It makes even more sense, however, when she sees through the shiny happy people routine to the disturbing framework of Henrik’s mass reproduction plan lying right underneath, and that the betrayal of yet another prospective family letting her down is her last straw. Helena looks around at this sad, washed-out farm of broken dreams, and decides she’s had enough of being someone else’s plaything. She even urges Gracie to realize the same (“if you don’t want to have my babies, don’t have my babies”). The sequence of her prepping Henrik for a retaliatory rape is surreal, giddy, disturbing—just like the breathless moment when she sprints up the hill, surveys her damage, and smiles. We’ve never seen her this satisfied before, but then again, we’ve never seen her take control of her own fate like this before.
In the end, though, this episode belongs to Rachel Duncan—and it’s about time. She feels so new that it’s easy to forget she was introduced the equivalent of a full season ago. After all, Alison felt familiar about thirty seconds after we first met her in that shed, flipping the knife she brought to cut oranges for her kids in a way that was somehow both casual and threatening. But Rachel is a deliberate enigma. Always knowing that Dyad was observing her made her develop armor against intrusion, which also means that getting a window into her psyche has been necessarily harder than it has been with the other clones. Marion philosophizing on Sarah Manning’s singularity is exactly the kind of push she needs. Rachel’s lips grow ever thinner with fury throughout her scene with Marion as she realizes that she will never be as intriguing to Dyad as that unrefined miscreant. If Rachel’s not the special one, what was the point of taking her away from her family at all?
As Rachel watches her home videos, over and over and over again, it becomes clear that the thought is more than she can bear. It’s exactly the sequence I was hoping for with Rachel—a focused cracking of her façade with deep emotional stakes. Just as with Alison’s steady unwinding earlier, Maslany takes her time with Rachel’s unraveling. Rachel prowls into the viewing room, crosses her legs, sips her martini, surveys her childhood self with a critical eye—and breaks into a smile. That closeup on her grinning laugh, bubbling up from a place even Rachel didn’t know possible, is a season highlight. It’s stunning in every sense of the word—the defining moment last week’s office smashing tried and failed to be. And so she stands in front of a picture of Sarah and Kira, a little drunk and a lot furious, and she decides to make a move.
There are a few brilliant things about Rachel’s impression of Sarah. First, it shows Rachel’s acumen for scheming, like how leaving her laptop open to a “CONFIDENTIAL” email is a jarring move of stupidity until it’s not. Then, Scott employs a tricky piece of direction. Sarah sprints back inside and the camera pans up to Kira’s floor, and it feels like we’re following Sarah’s journey up. Instead, we’re actually following the camera up to where Rachel is already moving in. The fact that the Rachel reveal is still a surprise when we knew she wanted to impersonate Sarah is a testament to how perfectly Scott’s direction, Alex Levine’s script, and Maslany’s portrayal come together to sell this moment. Rachel’s Sarah is just too brisk. Her accent is just too stilted, as her aristocratic lilt pokes through with, “make sure the elevator’s secure.” And yet her stabbing Felix with the needle is a total shock. Rachel’s gambit doesn’t just work because her wig is on point; it works because it’s a very Sarah Manning move. This is, after all, the first time Rachel Duncan’s ever gone off script.
- Let me throw this one to the class, because I’m honestly not sure: did Helena burn everyone alive?! (EDIT: Several commenters have pointed to a HuffPost Canada piece that says a scene where Helena helps the kids escape had to be cut for time. A relief, but still confusing in this episode as it stands now.)
- (Speaking of which: Tatiana Maslany’s stand-in Kathryn Alexandre makes her first onscreen appearance this episode as midwife Alexis…so maybe it’s also her last. Whomp whomp.)
- The only thing better than Donnie’s dumb suggestions for getting rid of Leekie’s body (“let’s drop it in the lake, with weights!”) is Alison’s furious rejection (“do we have a boat?!”).
- Really enjoying Cosima and Duncan’s blooming friendship, even if I must resent him for that creepy infertility via autoimmune disorder.
- Poor Delphine. The first real leap she takes for Cosima—warning Sarah there may be a Dyad plant at her own risk—is also a total flop. At least we know which side she’s on now…?
- As predicted: zero mention of Tony. Let’s hope his clone phone rings next season.
- Josh Vokey’s Scott is now one of my favorite parts of this show. How can you not smile at his giddy, “this is just killer”?
- Also: Ari Millen’s Mark is the perfect combination of earnest and unsettling (and ex-military, as is apparently required of intriguing new dudes).
- I tried, but I’m officially over these episode titles. If I need to copy/paste them, they’re too long, show!!