Nestled among a season full of location changes, car chases, and road trips, this week’s Orphan Black eases off the accelerator. On another show, the calmness might be soothing, a hushed respite from the supercharged thrills. But on Orphan Black, even the calm unsettles. “Knowledge Of Causes, And Secret Motion Of Things” is far from a whisper. This show builds tension as well as it blows shit up. Despite the relative physical immobility of the characters (most of the action this week occurs in only a handful of locations), things are, as the title suggests, still moving. And while this episode probably contains the most comedy we’ve seen all season, doom still brews just below the surface.
In the absence of Helena, no clone seems more doomed than Cosima. This season, Cosima has been disappointingly detached from the world outside her Dyad lab. I realize it’s selfish to demand more out of Maslany’s already insane shooting schedule, but when was the last time we got to see Alison, Sarah, and Cosima all on screen at once? The clones have been pretty spread out this season, and Cosima in particular has been all alone in her lab with no one to interact with but shifty Delphine. (Don’t get me wrong, Evelyne Brochu and Maslany play off each other excellently—and are probably the only two people who could sell being all sexy and romantic during a serious medical procedure without it coming off as a silly cheese-fest.)
But, as much as I love clone-on-clone interactions, Cosima’s isolation works well in terms of shaping the character’s internal struggles. This week, Cosima’s central conflict comes to a head when she learns that Delphine once again has lied to her—by not telling her the stem cells for her treatment are Kira’s stem cells. Cosima has known since the patent discovery that forces have been trying to control her and her body, but here she realizes that even someone she sees as an ally has been stripping her of her agency. Delphine insists she has Cosima’s best interests at heart, but Cosima points out that it still wasn’t her decision to make: “This is my lab, my body. I’m the science,” she spits at a wide-eyed Delphine. It’s a rant that has been bubbling within Cosima for weeks now, as she has lost control in more ways than one. The disease is taking over her body—but so are the Dyad scientists who still treat her like a thing to be studied.
Cosima is both the scientist and the science, and this tension makes her arc this season truly tragic. And in the end, she knows she needs to ask Sarah for more of Kira’s stem cells, because they hold the key to her survival. But this time, it’s her choice—not Delphine’s, not Leekie’s. The heartbreaking hesitation in her voice as she calls Sarah to make the uncomfortable request is just another one of the dozens of nuances Maslany packs into her performances this (and every) week.
But Maslany shines most brightly as Alison this week—not to mention as the beloved clone-within-a-clone combination, Sarah as Alison, who we haven’t had the pleasure of seeing since the season-one potluck. Alison is in full Alison mode in rehab, making overly decorative nametags for the upcoming family day and knitting a pair of nine-fingered gloves for her new pal Vic. That unlikely friendship, however, is short-lived, as Alison overhears Vic talking to DeAngelis on the phone and quickly puts the pieces together.
One of the things I’ve always loved about Alison is how she defies the dumb housewife stereotype by being, well, not dumb. Alison’s intuition is almost always right, even when it’s slightly off. Remember: She first correctly suspected Donnie of being her monitor before Felix directed her toward Aynsley. Other characters might treat her like she’s a paranoid crazy person, but Alison always has good reason to be suspicious: Few characters in the Orphan Black universe are trustworthy, and blind faith in others has led the other clones into potentially dangerous situations. (Cosima has been duped by Delphine many times now, and I’m still not totally convinced Sarah should trust Kal, even if he does have a perfect beard.)
Because Alison, more than her clone sisters, has a dog-eat-dog mentality, she doesn’t hesitate to turn on Vic—calling in Felix to help her handle the situation. Delightful comedy ensues, with Vic delivering a ridiculously dramatic apology to Sarah full of nonsense about rocks and streams and flows before being knocked out by drugs slipped into his drink by Felix and crashing explosively into a pile of Alison’s craft supplies. As Alison and Felix are left to hide his unconscious body, Sarah assumes the role of Alison in the family day presentation. Maslany shifts gears manically between the two characterizations, with tight-lipped “um-hms” one second and an exasperated Sarah voice the next, resulting in an emotionally honest and hilarious scene: Sarah sticks up for Alison and calls Donnie out for his lies… confusing Donnie a bit since Alison seems to be talking about herself in the third-person, but confused Donnie is the best Donnie.
Rachel has always been one of the least interesting clones, if only because she’s not as richly drawn as some of her clone sisters who we’ve spent more time with. She came to us as a villain, another one of the Dyad’s sharply dressed, cool executive baddies. Both clone and enemy, Rachel has been covered in icy mystery, but this season, we’ve finally been given reasons to ask: Who is Rachel Duncan? Tonight, we finally see the character in emotionally resonant moments. She tearfully reunites with her father, who tells her what we learned last week: When the Duncans started interfering with Project Leda and planned to take Rachel away with them, Dr. Leekie had her mother killed in what looked like a laboratory fire.
Rachel, it would seem, isn’t all that different from her less privileged clone counterparts. Leekie has lied to her and manipulated her just as he continues to do with Cosima. She likely has a patent embedded in her genetic code. Sure, she has been aware of her clone status for her whole life, but it seems like she hasn’t been fully aware of this crucial detail up until this point: She is property, just like Sarah and the others. It’s a powerful message when placed in the context of the series’ commentary on violence against women. The patriarchy’s pervasiveness means even women in power aren’t free from its controlling claws.
So after learning that her mentor has been puppeteering her all along, Rachel reverses the script and becomes the aggressor—not unlike two weeks ago, when she dominated Paul. This time, instead of sexual demands, Rachel throws threats and knowledge at her victim. With Leekie squirming, Rachel calls new character Marion Bowles (Michelle Forbes), who seemingly outranks Leekie at Dyad and has a problem with Sarah (who doesn’t these days?). The call reveals Marion’s plan to have Rachel help her off Leekie, but when she hangs up, Rachel decides to spare Leekie’s life. Her sudden compassion might seem uncharacteristic, but what’s happening here seems more like a seizing of the reins than a gesture of good faith. To take out Leekie is just to give in to Marion’s orders, so Rachel exerts her agency by calling the shots. And that’s perfectly in character.
Rachel’s scenes this week are the quietest of the episode: Most of the conversation with her biological father happens off to the side, drowned out by more verbal jousting between Paul and Mrs. S—who might be my favorite new duo on this show, because I really have no idea what either of them is doing, ever. And Rachel’s scene with her true father-figure Leekie is starkly serene. But it carries with it the heavy weight of shifting power dynamics—that secret motion of things the title alludes to.
It’s because of the moment’s tranquil tone that the subsequent and final scene works so well. Donnie’s accidental misfire straight into Leekie’s head is shocking—not because Leekie’s death is a particularly surprising development (did anyone really buy him as the show’s Biggest Bad, as Duncan wanted us to believe he was?), but rather because after 40-some minutes of building tension and rehab shenanigans, the sound of a gun at point-blank range is more than enough to send a jolt down your spine. The development is only interesting insofar as it opens up the seat for a new villain on the Dyad side of things—possibly this Marion woman.
Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter. On Orphan Black, it’s not the bad guys themselves who incite fear, but rather what they represent. When it comes to conflict on this show, it’s essentially the clones versus everyone else, because the battle is much more complicated than clones versus the Dyad or even clones versus Prolethians. Leekie doesn’t intimidate on his own, but the fact that he’s creating a synthetic womb—quite literally reducing women to a manmade reproductive organ—as a pet project? That’s scary shit. Especially since, as Duncan made clear last week, the whole purpose of Project Leda and its offspring projects was to create “little girls.”
Alison’s got it right: They can’t trust anyone.
- Thank you to Caroline for letting me step in this week. This is my very first review for The A.V. Club, and I was brave (read: stupid) enough to pick such a complex and dense show, so I hope I didn’t let the Clone Club down.
- Anyone else start screaming when Sarah and Kal left Kira alone in the RV while they got burgers? Fortunately, nothing bad happened, but seriously, when are characters going to stop leaving that little girl alone? At this point, they’re just asking for her to be kidnapped by the Dyad, the Prolethians, Helena, Mrs. S, a random stranger, etc.
- I’m kind of falling in love with Donnie? It’s mostly because Kristian Bruun nails the character’s comedic moments. That impression of Alison? Flawless. If this Leekie development means more Donnie screen time, I’m here for it.
- I could talk about Tatiana’s acting for days (“EGOT for Tatiana” is a text I sent earlier this week). But let’s not forget about Jordan Gavaris, whose performance is spot-on as usual. “I may have spiked his tea” is the episode’s best moment.
- I still don’t buy Paul as, well, anything other than chiseled, but especially not as the villain that he has maybe possibly been trying to be all along? Who knows? What is Paul? Do we care? At least Dylan Bruce kills his delivery of “I like pottery.”
- It probably goes without saying, but I miss Helena. More specifically, I miss Helena asking for her boyfriend.
- The song used twice in this episode (once for family day in rehab and then again when Donnie kills Leekie) is “Love is All Around Me” by The Troggs, and if you read way too much into the lyrics as I did, you’ll find some interesting nature vs. nurture musings.
- Speaking of music, let’s never take the series composer Trevor Yuile for granted. His jagged scores keep tensions high this week (and the super spooky, industrial sounds that comprise Helena’s theme music are just another reason I can’t wait for our favorite feral killer to return).