The concept of what family means has dogged Orphan Black since day one. Sarah Manning, con artist and runaway single mother, dodged her foster family and accidentally fell into another. She gained countless sisters—and one rarely mentioned brother—and developed intense and singular relationships with each that opened her world in ways she never could have anticipated. This season, she and her sisters found out they had a brigade of brothers in the Castor clones, who in turn answer to a presiding scientist whom they call “Mother.” Meanwhile, Sarah and Helena’s ability to have children makes them desired, or more accurately, makes them targets. The institute that created them never wanted them to create life of their own. And so everyone on Orphan Black—so named for children of “high interest” without a family—is grasping to find where they belong in this constantly twisting, dangerous world.

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Alison says as much in her climactic moment this episode, when she speaks to her constituents without her cue cards, as candidly as anyone can expect from Alison Hendrix, whose default mode is best described as “painstaking.” Her speech about learning to adjust when your family expands, making room in your house and heart, and being a “mother hen” is lovely, but hamfisted. Alison’s beaming breakthrough is intercut with Sarah and Mrs. S sharing a beer somewhere in Mexico, shaking their heads about that wild card Helena and echoing Alison’s speech so directly that it bends believability. (Also straining credibility: Helena’s relatively quick acquiescence to Siobhan’s forcible hug, when her betrayal resulted in her undergoing yet another cycle of horrific torture.) It’s a shame Alison’s triumphant moment doesn’t quite come off like it should have, because “Community Of Dreadful Fear And Hate” otherwise explores Alison’s evolving concept of family and friendship with so much more nuance than that clumsy speech.

Alison and Cosima have always existed on the edges of the show. This isn’t to say that their contributions to the show have been insignificant; it’s that their stories tend to take a backseat to the sheer drama of Sarah and Helena’s. Alison and Cosima’s reduced roles have been especially noticeable this season, as the Castor clones also burst into the fray, and Cosima’s breakup with Delphine kept her spinning through the cycles of relationship grief while Alison’s suburban drug dealing was rarely more than comic relief. “Community Of Dreadful Fear And Hate” plays off these expectations by leaving the Castor line out for the week, only briefly checking in on Sarah and Helena in their dusty Mexican bar slash halfway house, and handing the bulk of the action and emotional heft over to Alison and Cosima. It’s overdue, and a welcome change of pace.

Alison is the driving force of this episode, as a campaign event unexpectedly becomes the central hub for much of the story. Alison has always strived to retain a normal life, but as she realizes in “Community Of Dreadful Fear And Hate,” “normal” is whatever you want it to be. Before that epiphany, though, Alison struggles to balance the wildly disparate halves of her current life. On the one side is Jason (or “Jage”) and Vic’s former drug supplier (“Punchy”), waiting impatiently for her and Donnie to close a deal on her mother’s beauty shop and give them thirty thousand dollars. The ensuing mess is a predictable farce of switched envelopes, which is obvious the second Sarah Stubbs chirps that it would be a shame if Ali didn’t have all her signatures because then all this would be for nothing, and a flashback to Alison’s high school days when she was a cheerleader dating a slacker and trying desperately to please her mother. Connie (Sheila McCarthy) is just about what you’d expect of Alison’s mother. She’s chirpy and discerning, openly judgmental in a way that Alison both resents and has internalized more than she’d ever care to admit.

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After all the anticipation of waiting to meet Alison’s mother, Connie being so in line with the existing expectation is a little disappointing. Still, Tatiana Maslany is as meticulous with Alison as Alison is with…well, everything. Whenever her mother takes a jab at the Hendrixes, Alison’s face falls just enough to convey how much it still stings before she pulls herself together and bustles back into business mode. Her pained insistence that she needs Bubbles is particularly devastating; watching Alison use shady drug deals to get back into everyone’s good graces is all fun and games until you realize the desperation it took to get her there. I’m not convinced that Jason would tempt Alison away from Donnie when the Hendrixes have become such a stronger team over the course of the series, but I’m way less convinced that the shifty Justin would appeal so much to Connie, who snuck around her husband’s back for “stronger stock” sperm.

Yes: Alison’s mother wanted the best for her child, and so she tried to find a donor that would be more of a (stereotypical) winner than her husband. It’s never safe to assume that someone is telling the truth on this show, so who knows if we can trust Connie’s disbelieving reaction to seeing Cosima, or her refusal to hear Alison out on that whole clone thing. At the very least, Dyad’s in vitro experiments may be even more dubious than we even thought if they were just sneaking clone sperm into unsuspecting women’s uteruses. Another day, another woman’s body disrespected and used for someone else’s gain.

So while Alison tries to keep all the pieces of her life together (not to mention all the pieces of her husband together), Cosima tries to figure out which pieces of her life she can trust. There’s Shay, her new paramour who is still somewhat of a mystery except for her evident love for massages and standing tubs. Again, there’s just no knowing on this show who anyone can trust until they turn down an opportunity to be evil, but it would be aces if Shay were just an incredibly supportive woman and not just another honeypot situation for Cosima—especially because the last one has turned into such a nightmare. Delphine has reemerged this season as yet another shadowy antagonist, but it’s hard to deny that the role suits Evelyne Brochu. Her increasingly creepy ways of showing her concern also bring her face to face with Shay, and the ensuing faceoff lets Ksenia Solo rip into some serious disdain: “Whatever you’re doing, it isn’t cool.” Delphine’s clipped response (“I really don’t care”) shows exactly where they stand, but is extremely uncool, so it’s encouraging when Cosima refuses to give her ex an inch. Again, if Shay turns out to be a nefarious power player this could all be for naught, but Delphine tracking Cosima to a private residence under the guise of securing a urine sample is absurd and invasive, even if she justifies it under the umbrella of, “this is for your own good.”

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Cosima, understandably freaked out, then goes about trying to get Alison to donate some urine for the cause while she figures out Delphine’s true intentions. Just like with Alison’s doomed envelopes, it’s clear the second Alison tells Cosima to come and get the sample herself what is about to happen. Alison, wrapped up in drug drama, misses several opportunities at the event, causing her new campaign manager Felix (of course) to push Cosima into impersonating Mrs. Hendrix. But Cosima isn’t suited for impersonation; she doesn’t have Alison’s thirst for the spotlight or Sarah’s uncanny chameleon abilities. So her Alison impersonation is half-assed at best, limited to blinking and smiling and not throttling Felix. But the significance of her efforts doesn’t escape Alison, who ends up genuinely touched by how much Cosima and Felix would put themselves out of their comfort zones just to help her secure a position they know nothing about. Then, Alison’s refusal to help Cosima with the sample is its own kind of help in its own way. Cosima is still sick, still without a cure, and Dyad’s resources are her best shot. She can stand up for herself with Delphine without letting her pride get in the way of jeopardizing her own health. It seems particularly cruel to have her body break down—blood ribboning out into the bathtub that was supposed to be a temporary sanctuary—the second she opens up to Shay about her illness, but so is the Orphan Black way.

Also under the cruel category, now and forever: Rachel Duncan, smiling when she realizes she can decode her father’s cipher, but refusing to share what she knows with Scott until she can tell Sarah herself. This inevitable meeting will feed into this season’s pattern of pivotal one on one confrontations: Sarah versus individual Castor clones, Cosima versus Delphine, Felix versus Rachel, Sarah versus Helena, Cosima versus her own miraculous and tenuous body.

Stray observations:

  • Felix trying to find bangs that say “sad, sexless marriage” is hilarious, if only because of last week’s beautiful and straight-up hedonistic scene with the Hendrixes making it rain. I really don’t think “sexless” is their problem.
  • Another new family development: hearing Sarah call Mrs. S “mum” for the first time.
  • Alison’s supporters must really support her if they’re willing to wear those hats.
  • Sorry, Connie: Donnie changing his name for Alison makes me like him so much more.
  • Rachel’s exasperated eyeroll when Scott goes into game explaining mode is just perfect.
  • Speaking of which: a moment of appreciation for Josh Vokey, who is consistently delightful as Scott, but who managed to throw a note of focused menace into the mix when Rachel rolled her eye (sorry) at the game and Scott stopped dead to let her know she had to learn the game for appearance’s sake, and also, she has no choice.
  • Finally: Marci Coates sucks. Down with Marci Coates!

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