Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Orphan Black: “Variation Under Nature”

Illustration for article titled Orphan Black: “Variation Under Nature”

After two episodes that were more like two halves of a meticulously paced whole, Orphan Black’s third episode feels more like it’s stuck on the first fast forward speed on TiVo. We get the answer to the “why are there so many of me?” riddle within the first thirty seconds as Alison spits at Sarah, “We’re clones, okay?!” The frantic reveal makes it jarring whether you guessed it, were spoiled by the ads, or were blissfully in the dark. Its suddenness is also a smart way to make the audience feel as immediately disoriented as Sarah, who stares off into the distance in shock as her clones buzz around her. Alison’s beside herself with paranoia while new girl Cosima asks Sarah about her childhood, seeming to have already accepted Beth’s death as collateral damage.

The depth of Maslany’s performance gets its best showcase yet with Sarah’s interactions with Alison and Cosima. They’re not the splashiest scenes, but the subtleties between each of the three clones are staggering. We see enough of their characters to understand each of them in an impressive display of “show, don’t tell.” We already know that Sarah is effortlessly cool but constantly vigilant; we now learn that Alison is a coiled-up trap waiting to spring, while Cosima is an observer who values hard answers above everything else. Even spending five minutes in that opening scene with Alison and Cosima also makes it clear how they had worked as a defacto trio with Beth, who by all accounts was relentlessly pragmatic. But spending five minutes with any combination of Alison, Cosima, and Sarah is thrilling because Sarah’s a wild card in just about every way. She doesn’t fit in with them, she doesn’t want to fit in with them, but as Cosima and Alison eventually make her realize, she can’t run away from them.

Maybe it’s because the clone scenes were so gripping that I couldn’t muster up the energy to care too much about the police investigation. While there have been some great character moments for Sarah in the station, I was never that interested in seeing this show carry on procedural threads. To be fair, though, it would have been really annoying to have Beth’s case drag on for too long, so no complaints here about Sarah/Beth getting reinstated so quickly. I also have no complaints about her first case being the German’s murder, since as Sarah/Beth bitterly pointed out to Art, burying a body next to an active quarry isn’t exactly a great cover-up. But the speed at which the case escalates within this single hour stretches the bounds of reality. The killer calls the station to give them the location of the shooting, Sarah straight up deletes the fingerprint records, they get a tip that leads them straight to the killer’s lair (which Art admits should have been a “flimsy lead”), bing bam boom, the killer’s a self-loathing clone! Cue the Bible verses.

Now, the episode sets it up so it seemed like the killer wanted to be found, but it feels more like the show was rushing to get to the reveal because there’s too much mythology left to let it play out any slower. It’s also not helped by the fact that they have to deal with the pilot’s most glaring problem: Sarah’s plan to steal $75,000 and run away with her daughter is a deeply stupid one. It didn’t matter as much before we were moving at such a head-spinning pace because, well, it was so much fun, and the unraveling mythology was more than enough. But this episode failed to sell me on the idea that semi-professional con woman Sarah, who strutted into a hotel as a German rock star to steal a mysterious briefcase, would resort to blatantly begging Art to give back the money. Sarah has her faults, but she certainly doesn’t lack for intelligence and cunning. She’s had an answer for everything except, “what exactly are you going to do after you grab your daughter?” The simplest in-world explanation is that she has a blind spot when it comes to Kira. But Sarah's so subtle with everything else that her clumsy interactions with Art are either desperation or weird characterization, and I can't decide which. She’s been smarter and more nuanced at conning in pretty much every instance that doesn’t involve getting her hands on this money.

So when Sarah decides to leave Kira and give the money back to Alison from whence it apparently came, I breathed a sigh of relief. Yes, it was inevitable. But I appreciated that the decision didn’t even come from a place of pure altruism, but something more complex: resignation. Sarah watches Kira play with Mrs. S. through the window while knowing that somewhere behind her is a world of pain and confusion that she’s only barely scraping through alive. Putting Kira in that situation would be a certain disaster. Don't get me wrong, the jury's still out on Mrs. S. I'm not sure how I'd react if there were zero clones involved and Sarah was just looking in at someone taking care of her daughter in a more conventional way than she could. But right now, she's entangled in the middle of a clone war with a homicidal genetics sister gunning for her. It would matter if she had millions of dollars; leaving Kira is her only option, for now.

And so Sarah turns and walks away from her dream of a happily-ever-after. Not a fun turn for Sarah, but at least it means Orphan Black can leave behind that albatross of a storyline and delve deeper into its mythology. However much this episode rushed along, that’s something to get excited about.


Stray observations:

  • Was the clone twist obvious? I have no idea, since I knew about it before seeing even a minute of the show. But I still maintain that the show paced the reveal extremely well.
  • So Paul's only good for sex. Makes sense.
  • Related: "She doesn't want to break up with Big Dick Paul! She can smell it in his musk!" Okay, Felix. Ever since Chuck Bass breathed it in between date raping, the word "musk" is off limits.
  • Still, I like Felix well enough. His reaction to the suburban mom tapping on his car window was hilarious, and his bond with Sarah is truly touching. I did groan a little when his first reaction to babysitting Alison's kids was to ask the boy if he wanted to dress up as a girl, but watching Alison's horror as he swanned out of there was pretty great.
  • Art and Deangelis poking around the crime scenes where the German was shot and buried – the backdoor pilot for Law and Order: Toronto?
  • I love that they let Sarah be terrible at being a cop. That’s one job that definitely requires more than swagger. Also, her total confusion with the police radio was just perfect.
  • That being said: poor Raj. Kid's gonna get his heart broken.
  • If Killer Clone is the first clone, I’d be surprised if her more than passing resemblance to the First Slayer is an accident.
  • "Oh wait, are you being Beth right now?"
  • "Well, this has taken years off my life…"