“If you can protect them, I can cure them.”
When people worried about Orphan Black introducing male clones, this episode might be what they had in mind. After two episodes that managed to distill some of last season’s chaos down into something manageable, “Formalized, Complex, And Costly” shows the strains of trying to juggle this series’ many, many components. The Leda clones’ most significant scenes in this episode are all in service of the Castor plot, which is currently an echo of what we’ve already seen. The Castor clones also have a defect, they also need a cure, and they are also searching for the answers in their original. It’s not bad; it’s just boring.
Even keeping Delphine and Topside away for another week can’t help the clutter of reintroducing the Proletheans in a significant way. It’s not so much that it’s surprising to have them back. Gracie and Mark have always been hiding out on the periphery, so it was only a matter of time before the show devoted more time to them. Unfortunately, Gracie and Mark have never been all that interesting, and tying Mark back to Project Castor only barely helps. To her credit, Zoé de Grand Maison fully commits to Gracie’s expanded role, shading in her alternate fear and confusion. In one of her best scenes to date, Gracie goes to see her father’s friend Finch to grab whatever samples he might have, and when he asks for payment, she sets her unsettling wide eyes on him and tilts her head ever so slightly. “We Proletheans make fearsome enemies,” she says, her usually tremulous voice steady. “Do you want me to disturb my mother’s grave for your thirty pieces of silver?” So yes, there are some good moments here, but Gracie and Mark’s saga was never the most compelling story, and that still holds true in “Formalized, Complex, And Costly” despite the script’s best efforts to flesh them out.
There’s also the dreaded trap of the “retcon,” or retroactively changing a narrative to fit a later decision. Ari Millen was originally just cast to play Prolethean muscle Mark, but was later chosen to play the Castor clones thanks to his memorable performance. But the fact that Millen is a strong actor isn’t enough to wipe away some of the narrative inconsistencies that came out of his delayed Castor casting, however much Mark says he was sent to the Proletheans to retrieve “sensitive material” from Henrik.
I’m not sure exactly when they decided to make Mark a clone, but even as far as the sixth episode of last season, he and Paul had an interaction that barely makes any sense. In that scene, Paul finds Mark staking out Helena at a bar, waiting to make his move and bring Helena to the Prolethean compound. They shoot the shit, banter dryly about Sarah versus Helena, and who’s special enough to kill for, etcetera and so on. But unless that was some deeply coded banter, there’s no indication that Paul recognized Mark or vice versa, when this week proves they would have recognized each other immediately. This revelation comes courtesy of Dr. Coady’s interactions with Paul at the Castor base camp. Dr. Coady runs the program, Paul is the major, and he has “served with these men.” He knows them and they know him. Paul’s entire backstory has been muddled from the start, so while I’ve never been all that invested in it, I wouldn’t mind some clarity there.
Helena, meanwhile, remains in captivity (a sentence I have on retainer for copying and pasting, alongside these longwinded episode titles). It was surprising to see her and the equally mercurial Rudy interact so quickly, but I thoroughly enjoyed all forty or so seconds of it. “You’re the ugliest Mark yet,” she deadpans, and then invites him inside the cell to see what she’s really made of. Rudy grins, and then gets deathly serious. “Believe me, sweetheart,” he smirks, “there is nothing more that I would love.” It’s a wicked tease for an inevitably explosive confrontation, and I can’t wait.
Rudy is also still reeling from having to kill his brother, and gets the added sting of Dr. Coady (aka “Mom”)’s disappointment. But he argues that Seth was “stage 5 in the field,” and had to be put down—and then breaks down about it, regressing briefly into a thumb-sucking kid. Rudy is by far the most interesting Castor clone—which is another strike against Mark, who we’ve also known for far longer.
As Rudy cries about Seth in god knows what corner of the world, Cosima and Scott get to work dissecting him in theirs. It says a lot about Orphan Black that two scientists extracting a brain in a bathtub is one of its most purely fun scenes in ages. The sound effects team goes to town with some serious squelching, oozing, and cracking. Scott and Felix are horrified; Cosima is as cool as ever. She does, however, have an existential moment when she looks down at the blood and guts of Seth and muses, “is this what we are? Axons and neurons and a few pounds of gray matter?” It seems like Cosima will be tilting towards the greater unknown now that she’s seen the brink, much to Scott’s confusion. But as Felix says: “A good lab partner should be metaphysically empathetic.” Just imagine what Cosima would have done if she were looking down at a dissected Seth with the knowledge she gains later on—that Seth and the Castor clones are Leda’s biological brothers.
As Cosima and Scott tackle Castor from the lab, Sarah and Art go out on the road to track down Mark. As with any road trip, revelations come up along the way, some better than others. I’d say I’m not sure how to feel about the fact that Art was in love with Beth, but that would be a lie, because I hate it. Yes, it’s canon that the Leda clones are attractive, and magnetic besides, but the constant revelations that people have capital f Feelings for the clones are wearing thin. One of the reasons I love Scott’s place in the show—besides Josh Vokey’s very endearing performance—is that he is not helping the clones for any kind of romantic reasons. Okay, so he’s a science nerd who can’t resist a puzzle, but he also genuinely cares for Cosima as a friend. Scott’s just a good guy. Art could have wanted to honor his partner’s memory and do right by her without being in love with her. To be frank, him harboring romantic feelings for Beth—and seeing her “fierce” nature echoed in Sarah—is just boring.
Still, Art and Sarah have been a solid pairing from the start, and I hold out hope the show shies away from anything romantic to keep their relationship as a strictly platonic partnership. Kevin Hanchard does dogged determination like no one’s business, which Tatiana Maslany channels as Sarah slips in and out of playing Detective Beth Childs. Art also brings out the punk kid in Sarah just by virtue of contrasts. Even the hair and costuming reflects it. When he interrupts Felix and Sarah as they’re trying to hide Seth’s bloody body, Sarah’s hair is curly, her tank top ripped and disheveled. Sarah turning to Art in this hour of need makes sense, and it’s true that having a cop on their side will help. Hopefully.
This episode, just like the last one, ends with a dramatic confrontation between Sarah and one of the Castor clones. This time, Mark accidentally triggered a heart attack in Finch, who he wanted to interrogate, and so he’s not quite in the mood to negotiate. But Gracie’s mother heads him off with a furious list of all the ways he’s wronged them—and then she shoots him. Another episode, another Castor clone shot, execution-style. I won’t believe Mark’s dead until we see the body, but it does feel repetitive.
Maybe the best example of how much the show is scattering to the winds, though, is Alison Hendrix. Her new business as a soap slash pharmaceutical drug peddler is a whole lot of fun, but continues to have absolutely no connection to any of the plots at hand. No one’s even checking in on her—not even to warn her that hey, some male clones are looking for genetic material, you and your family should probably be on alert. On the one hand, being so separated from the clone conspiracies is a triumph for Alison in its own way. Though all she’s ever really wanted is a “normal” life, this new life independent of Dyad and with Donnie as her literal partner-in-crime suits her. In the grand scheme of things, though, it’s a misstep. Orphan Black needs to focus its energy towards the several greater arcs it’s set up, not create even more of these smaller worlds within worlds.
- Maslany’s body double Kathryn Alexandre also returns as the Prolethean’s ex-midwife, presumably because they felt bad her part was so small in the first place.
- Delphine told Topside that Rachel Duncan died in a plane crash, which seems like a pretty big and traceable lie, but hey.
- So many clones saying “sore-y”! Ari Millen’s so Canadian. It’s so great.
- Paul to Helena: “You won’t believe me, but I am sorry it’s come to this.” Yeah, don’t think that helps, but thanks, bro.
- “I don’t know where Helena is! I was cast out because of her!” “Yeah, I don’t give a shit.”
- “Mark’s gone dark.” “Ugh, that guy is such a pussy.”
- “You are the ugliest Mark yet.”
- “Can’t you just…look away?” “It’s a dead body, not a bag of weed.” “Well, look away, and it too will go up in smoke.”