“Nobody’s got any idea. We’re just…poking at things with sticks.” – Cosima comma everyone.
At this point, Orphan Black has created such a complex and dense world that I’m starting to feel a very real fear that it could collapse under its own weight. To be fair, this doesn’t come from anything the show’s done, but rather the fact that the “previously on Orphan Black” prelude has ballooned to a solid minute of backstory. Despite a few plot holes here and there, though, there’s been nothing yet to suggest that the Orphan Black team has anything less than a firm grip on its mythology. “To Hound Nature In Its Wanderings” also demonstrates one of this show’s best traits: no matter how chaotic the big picture gets, Orphan Black is always careful to keep it grounded in its characters.
Yes, there are several huge revelations that come to light, but they all come out of a series of odd couple pairings that keep things on a smaller, more manageable scale. Almost every character gets to face off with an unexpected scene partner this week. Even besides the twists and turns they come across, there’s a sense throughout the episode that “To Hound Nature In Its Wanderings” is cashing in on a season and a half of meticulous character work. There’s a special sort of thrill that comes with seeing characters you’ve grown to love interacting in new combinations, like with last week’s scenes between Felix and Helena. While that instance served no other function than to see how much fun that interaction would be, though, this episode’s unlikely pairs push past mere novelty into further development for all characters involved.
First, there’s Art and Felix. I appreciate this pairing so much, if only because it shows how people just outside something as earth-shattering as a human clone conspiracy might actually react. As a detective, Art can’t resist following a mystery this big to its conclusion. As a person who got swept up as collateral damage (“demoted from babysitter to bait”), Felix can’t resist getting totally trashed. All they have in common is sharing knowledge they shouldn’t have, and really, that’s all they need to make a compelling team. Alison and Vic are a similarly jarring match, but I’m not sure they work quite as well as they’re supposed to even before the final reveal that Vic is going undercover for Angie. Maslany and Michael Mando play well off each other, and yet Vic still doesn’t feel like he fits in this world. Still, Alison needs a friend even as she eats her “humble pie.” It would be nice if Vic could prove he’s actually changed by becoming someone she could depend upon, but if Alison has to root him out through one of her patented thin-lipped rages, so be it.
Cosima’s surprising pairing this week is long overdue, as well as the perfect example of why her story has been the weakest to date. Before her halting heart-to-heart with Sarah over the phone, Cosima has never had an emotional scene with another clone. Any vulnerability she’s had has been limited to Delphine or the lab. Don’t get me wrong; it does make some sense. Cosima’s a scientist who’s only ever tried to connect to her clone sisters through their shared genetics. Still, it feels like a waste not to see Sarah’s initial confrontation with Cosima. It would have been much more interesting to see how Sarah initially handled herself when she asked Cosima about her illness and if it could affect Kira than it was to see Cosima recap the event to Delphine in between “geek monkey” speak. Cosima and Delphine’s relationship is an endlessly fraught, fascinating situation, but there’s a moment during Sarah and Cosima’s phone call that’s a thousand times more emotionally resonant. Sarah asks if Cosima’s going to be all right, and Cosima has to catch her breath. She’s honestly surprised at the question, both that Sarah would ask it with real concern, and that she doesn’t know the answer. That’s the kind of emotional resonance Cosima’s arc needs.
In one of this episode’s more clever subversions, the most obvious odd couple is also the one that separates almost immediately. Sarah and Helena’s road trip to find their creator could have spanned an entire season. Now, I would have loved more episodes of the twins giving each other sisterly shit by day and sleeping head to toe in an embryonic echo by night. (I also could have watched a solid forty minutes of Helena wailing oldies at Sarah, but I accept that this is a narratively weak scenario.) A prolonged road trip mystery would have been an incredibly entertaining story arc, so cutting it short is a bold move—and it pays off. Now that Sarah and Helena are in sync than ever, the show rips them back apart to throw them into new problems with new characters, to create even more dynamics to explore.
Helena, experiencing her first real day of freedom in the history of ever, wanders off to a bar. The camera pans across her line of drinks, which amounts to “one of everything.” Lest we think she’s been defanged, though, she sprains a rude guy’s finger without so much as a blink. A kind bar patron backs her up (Suits’ Patrick J. Adams, an Orphan Black superfan). Helena trades him her White Russian for his pork rinds, and an improbable friendship blossoms. This interaction is Helena in a nutshell—somehow childish, curious, lethal, and hopeful all at once.
And so they take shots, and arm wrestle, and take more shots, and arm wrestle. Adams’ Jesse is rather clean cut for this ostensibly blue-collar bar, but his wide-eyed fascination with this mysterious girl and her even more mysterious accent is infectious. Helena improvises what she thinks any woman might say in a bar, using elements from the women she knows to create an alternate, more acceptable life. She was a police detective like Beth and a brilliant scientist like Cosima, who lost her family because of a drinking problem—possibly like Alison. Now, she says with a certain pride, she’s having adventures with her sister. And so they take another shot, and go to do another round of arm wrestling, when a song starts up with a gently strumming guitar. Jesse lights up, grabs Helena’s elbow. He looks at her without an ounce of fear or apprehension—and he smiles. No one’s looked at her like that before. Not even her sister could stomach looking her in the eye as they drifted off to sleep. Helena’s first dance is shot like a middle school romance, from their slow shuffling and tentative glances through dreamlike lens flares, all the way to their fumbling, frantic makeout on the pool table.
Helena and Jesse’s accidental date is so simple and so charming that it’s devastating when Paul and the Prolethean’s henchman Mark set up camp across the bar to watch. Again, these are two characters that I never thought I’d see interact, and yet it’s a standout scene for them both. (The same holds true for Paul’s later scene with Mrs. S, which is as close to a verbal chess match as Paul’s ever gotten.) Dylan Bruce’s Paul has been disappointingly flat since the beginning, but I’m guessing Ari Millen’s unnerving blankness as Mark forced Bruce to inject more personality into the mix, and I can’t complain about the result. Paul negotiates the terms with a steady, gloved hand. He’s always been a cold person, but he reaches a new level when he declares, “you take your girl, I’ll take mine.” (Never forget that these women are just barter chips in the eyes of these men.) Paul looks especially cruel after Mark lets a little bit of humanity slip out amongst the hitman speak, saying he just wants to let Helena “enjoy herself a little.” It’s a nice thought, but the illusion that Helena could enjoy anything approximating a normal life shatters when she’s threatened. A man touches her and she immediately snaps back into that feral assassin we used to know. (Adams’ startled reaction at Helena’s professional caliber ass-kicking is pitch perfect.) After a brief road trip, flirtation, and downright adorable rendition of “Sugar, Sugar,” this abrupt regression is a reminder that Helena has had a hard life that won’t be easy for her to forget. Gracie convincing Helena to go back to the farm to see her “children” drives that point all too painfully home. Helena was raised to believe in devils and light, and that she contains both. Her fear of the Proletheans is no match for her belief in miracles.
But Sarah Manning has never believed in miracles, and her research of the Cold River Institute certainly doesn’t help. With its sepia-toned documentation of twisted trials and unspeakable science, Cold River gives Sarah the creeps in a way she can’t even articulate. This is the first time she—and I, for that matter—really thought about the history that preceded Project Leda’s successful experiment. Her research montage is sparing, but effective. All we need is to see the weathered photo of “Perfect Baby” (circa 1908) followed by quick shots of the ensuing deformed prototypes. Sarah’s known for a while now that she’s the product of a science experiment, but this is the first time she’s had to literally face what that means—and it makes her so, so angry.
It’s shocking when Sarah knocks on Duncan’s door only to find Mrs. S, but I’ve pretty much given up on figuring out what her deal is and will now expect her behind everyone’s door no matter how outlandish the possibility. So it’s a relief when she stands aside to let Sarah have five minutes with Duncan (Ethan Gillies), as it’s immediately more compelling than any vague clues we’ve gotten so far about Mrs. S’ Birdwatchers. As Sarah stares into the eyes of a man she’s built up to such mythic proportions, his timid frailty just fuels her fury. While Duncan’s making tea, tending to his birds, and trying to forget his living experiment, Sarah’s been fighting tooth and nail for everything she holds dear. “It’s my life,” she barks, voice hoarse with frustration. “And you gave it to me, so you’re going to help us.” Sarah tries every angle she knows to get through to him, from intimidation to sympathy to invoking familial love, but Duncan won’t budge. He trembles as he tells Sarah that he’s been hiding not from the Dyad, but from the Neolutionists within—Leekie—who blew up the lab and killed Rachel’s mother, the “brains” behind the whole operation. It’s not the most stunning twist that’s ever happened on this show, but it’s a betrayal on top of a betrayal…at least if it’s true. As Sarah, Helena, Cosima, Alison, and just about everyone on this show knows, the only thing we can be sure of this far down the black hole of Project Leda is that we can’t be sure of anything at all.
- Whenever I start to take Tatiana Maslany for granted, she gives the clones such perfect tics, like Helena lag messing up the words to a song in a way that’s so in character and adorable that I don’t even know what to do with myself. (Also, Alison’s determined throat clearing.)
- I know we’re all about Michel Huisman’s beautiful beard, but we should also stop to appreciate Patrick J. Adams tipping his trucker hat with a, “sorry about that, ma’am.”
- How long did Sarah think she was leaving Helena in the car? If she were a dog, someone would have called the police after ten minutes.
- So pleased the show acknowledged that if Cosima trusted Scott’s intelligence enough to decipher her synthetic sequences, he would also be smart enough to figure out what he was researching. So does he have Kira’s sequence? Or is it the original’s? And when will Cosima actually start questioning how much Delphine is telling her?!
- Zoe deGrand’Maison stepped up her game this week. Gracie replying to Helena’s accusation that she tried to kill her with a curt “yes, I did” was one of tonight’s best moments.
- Note that Duncan said they wanted “little girls,” not “little boys”—as I already suspected.
- “If you show up without my kids again, I will cut off your dangling balls.” All in favor of Donnie showing up without Alison’s kids again, say aye!