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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Orphan Black: “The Weight Of This Combination”

James Frain, Evelyne Brouchu, Tatiana Maslany
James Frain, Evelyne Brouchu, Tatiana Maslany
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“Don’t turn your back on me—on your people.”
“You’re not my people.”

Last season, Orphan Black introduced so many new layers that it became difficult to understand what, exactly, might be going on. Its mythology twisted and turned corners so quickly that the show became a labyrinth that preyed on expectations. As the characters tried to find their way out of the labyrinth, it was just as just as challenging and frustrating for us as it was for them—which made for an equally exciting and uneven season.


Since the show rarely gives anyone a second to breathe, “The Weight Of This Combination” opens just about where the second season left off. Sarah has escaped Dyad with the help of Topside’s Marion Bowles (an absent but looming Michelle Forbes); Alison is trying to piece her life back together after rehab; Cosima is reeling from the brink of death and the discovery of Duncan’s clone sequence; Helena is under the custody of Paul’s Castor military branch, thanks to Mrs. S making a snap “wartime decision.” Rachel, who spent so much of last season running the show, is motionless in a hospital bed, recovering from the pencil Sarah shot deep into her eye. Meanwhile, the revelation of Project Castor’s male clone line is, as Delphine says, sending shockwaves throughout everyone’s lives. Since there have never been more storylines up in the air, and the Project Leda clones haven’t been this separate since we first met them, “The Weight Of This Combination” is necessarily scattered. It’s not nearly as strong a premiere as last season’s explosive chapter, which was a brilliantly efficient runaway train, but it’s still as focused of an episode as we could ask for after the second season’s chaos escalated to such dizzying heights.

While I expected and was excited for the show to keep up with its in-depth exploration of control and female agency, “The Weight Of This Combination” lays the foundation for this season to delve into a new theme: community. We’ve watched Sarah and her clone sisters forge a deep bond as more and more nefarious groups materialized against them, but it was hard to determine where everyone stood as last season hurtled towards a dozen different conclusions. That confusion has lead to this episode, with everyone trying to find out who they can trust, who they can stand with, who they would take into battle. And yet they still have to ask themselves: If this is wartime, is it even possible to have a community at all?

Fittingly, this episode’s most notable example of bonding under fire belongs to last season’s cliffhanger revelation: Project Castor. Unlike Project Leda, the Castor experiment had the male clones grow up together, and under a military umbrella to boot. While the two we meet in “The Weight Of This Combintion” are still largely undefined, they demonstrate the strongest bond of any pairing in the episode by a long shot. We don’t know their motivations, but at the very least, their deep love and trust they have in each other is undeniable. Whoever they may or may not work for, they work together—to kidnap other clones like Cristal and kill people who get in their way, sure, but it’s hard to deny that they’re an effective team.

The first male clone we get to know here is the one in Dyad’s custody, who has a blond Mohawk and a coiled intensity that releases itself in startling, childlike bursts of enthusiasm. His brother in crime has a thin mustache and a loping prowl that gives way to sharp pangs of frustration (and atonal shrieks in the non-diegetic soundtrack) when he doesn’t get what he wants. Both are focused, sharp, and deeply unsettling. It’s clear why Ari Millen scored this gig even in the little time we get with his Castor clones. His first Prolethean character could have been a mild one—and was even supposed to be a much smaller part—but Millen always let a flicker of fire peek out from behind Mark’s blank eyes. He brings the same hints at inner life to these other clones. When Sarah tells the custody clone that she kicked his brother in the face, Millen’s laugh and puppy dog shrug tell us more about him than the dialogue even does. The clone in military fatigues who opens Helena’s box at the episode’s end brings Millen’s current clone count up to four, which is a lot to tackle at once, but it makes sense. The Castor clones grew up together as a group, so it’s fitting that we should meet them as a group, too.

Meanwhile, Sarah has to contend with the fact that Mrs. S sold out Helena behind her back. As she tells Delphine, her priority is her sisters, plain and simple. Orphan Black has always leaned too hard on scenes where someone threatens Kira and gets Sarah to emote—there are even a couple in this episode—but those moments at least laid the groundwork for Sarah’s ferocious protective streak. Even looking at Mrs. S’ face, battered from her run-in with the mustachioed Castor clone, Sarah is horrified by what her foster mother has done. “That’s not your bloody decision,” she cries, helpless and furious. Tatiana Maslany—as always—turns it out for this emotional climax, letting Sarah fall completely apart before she brings it back together under a practiced mask of determination. Felix reminds us that he knows her best when Mrs. S worries that Sarah’s about to make everything worse and he just says, “oh, she will.” Sarah Manning has changed so much since we first met her, but she has never been one to let sleeping dogs lie.

So she goes to Delphine, who has a new sleek haircut and position at Dyad as “the new Rachel.” The promotion itself doesn’t make much sense—she’s a scientist with obvious personal ties to one of the clones—but I’m excited about it if only because it gives Delphine a real purpose on this show. Evelyne Brochu has done a lot with a very thin character whose personality morphed whenever the show required it to. It will be fascinating to see what she does with Delphine’s evolution into a duplicitous corporate boss who would press on Rachel’s wound to make her talk. I never quite bought Delphine and Cosima’s relationship, which was always tied up in Delphine’s confusing lies and Cosima’s declining health, but their breakup is beautifully done. Delphine explains that if she is going to honor her promise and love all Cosima’s clone sisters equally, she can’t also play favorites by dating Cosima. It’s brutal, but it’s true, and Cosima knows it. And so she chokes, “I love you” before slipping back through the door, closing it behind her. As sad as Delphine’s subsequent sobs are, it’s Cosima’s sad smile that sells the emotional toll of this breakup.


Part of Delphine’s plans to keep the Leda clones safe is to keep any sign of struggle away from Topside’s cleaner Ferdinand (James Frain), a meticulous man who gets off on Rachel’s power plays and thinks nothing of manhandling clones like they’re livestock. His assault of Alison (dressed as Sarah, since Sarah needs to play Rachel) isn’t a surprise in the grand scheme of the show, but it’s still jarring, awful in its informality. Frain is perfectly oily in this role, letting Ferdinand languorously pull on rubber gloves before he suddenly shoves his hand up her shirt to feel her breast. Delphine, Sarah, and Alison can only blink in barely concealed horror as he smirks and asks “recovering from surgery?” It says everything when Sarah’s solution is to slap Alison across the face and spit at her in Rachel’s clipped tones—which is still better than Ferdinand’s fondling. Still, when Alison debriefs with Sarah and Cosima on the episode’s single conference call, she treats the incident as an unfortunate necessity. Just as Sarah agreed to help Delphine for the sole purpose of helping Helena, Alison agreed to play Sarah in this dangerous scenario for the good of the group. They are all absolutely united in their commitment to each other. When Donnie tries to tell her she’s never going to do anything like that ever again, Alison just dismisses him with a wave of her hand. His concern is sweet, but this is not—nor was it ever—his fight.

This clone bond is also what makes the revelation of Rachel’s secret plots all the more devastating. Rachel has been a fun villain, but one more defined by her sharp bob and no nonsense approach to both business and pleasure than any of her actual villainous machinations. Her worst moment—smashing Kira’s bone marrow—was immediately rewarded with the pencil in her eye. Now, we learn that she and Ferdinand were quietly setting an emergency protocol into motion. Ferdinand reveals to Sarah while she blinks at him through Rachel drag that Operation “Helsinki” is going to mimic a similar action taken in 2006, when six clones and “32 collateral” were eliminated in under 24 hours—and someone is already on his way to take out Alison. Faced with this betrayal, and the possible deaths of those she’s come to treasure the most, ultimate chameleon Sarah Manning just can’t keep it up anymore.


And so she snaps.

Having picked up on the social cue that Rachel and Ferdinand had something of a dom-sub relationship, Sarah tears off his belt and whips him with it, pushes him onto the bed, ignores his delighted giggles, and wraps it tight around his neck. “Do you remember our safe word?” Ferdinand gasps, thrilled. “No,” she replies, curt as Rachel but enraged as Sarah. There’s another essay entirely in how both Sarah and Rachel have used aggressive sex to control their circumstances and/or the men in their lives, but in this moment, Sarah is all desperate fury. She was backed into a corner the last time she was in Rachel’s apartment, and not being able to reach Alison makes her feel much the same way now. And so she grabs the problem by the neck and squeezes hard as she can, not letting go until Delphine barges in—a little too conveniently—right as Ferdinand is losing consciousness. They manage to get him to abort Helsinki, but I doubt this is the last we’ll hear about it.


As all this is happening, Helena is trying her very best to hang on to her sanity. The episode opens on a wide-eyed Helena opening a present at her candy colored baby shower, and there’s never a doubt that this is a fantasy. We get to see Helena’s sisters through her own eyes: Sarah in all black (and a Clash t-shirt), Kira in a fairy costume, Alison in country club attire, and Cosima in a traditional Ukranian folk dress and a flower wreath. Felix cooks up liver—Helena’s favorite—and Cosima is feeling much better, “thanks to science.” It’s such a lovely scene, which means there is just no getting through it without wincing about the inevitable drop—and sure enough, it is awful.

The sky darkens, her sisters disappear, and a slithering scorpion makes its way up to Helena’s face as she screams. The scene then cuts to Helena in the box—but the scorpion is still there. “It’s been a long time,” Helena croaks, signaling that this scorpion has scared and guided her through times like this one, when she was tortured and neglected. As always with Helena, it’s a heartbreaker. I sincerely hope the show’s promotional push is accurate, and that Helena will rise out of this season snarling that she is not their weapon, because this default setting of having people kidnap and torture her has become its own hateful cycle. At the very least, Helena has something now that she never had before—a family.


Stray observations:

  • Welcome back to weekly coverage of Orphan Black! Let’s all try to keep track of the plotlines, throw out wild theories, and praise how Tatiana Maslany even manages to make each clone cry differently together, shall we?
  • As much as I’m excited to have Scott stick around a while longer, it seems a little unfair of Cosima to respond to his wanting to leave with Duncan’s sequence. How is a nerd to resist?!
  • Unless I missed something, it’s unclear as of now whether Mark grew up with the other Castor clones or if he’s an outlier like Sarah. Either way, intrigue!
  • We’ll see how this plays out, but I’m pretty unimpressed with the show placing so much on Sarah’s commitment to her sisters when it (poorly) introduced a brother last season. Is Tony ever going to come back in a significant way, or was he a one-off stunt?
  • Also: pretty dumb of Mrs. S and Felix to stay in their respective homes, which at this point might as well add neon signs reading “HERE THEY ARE!!”
  • Loved the sequence of Felix getting Sarah ready to play Rachel, especially because it’s set to Grimes’s fire track, “Go.”
  • James Frain is excellent and I’m excited to have him on this show, not least because I may be the only person on this earth who saw him and Maria Doyle Kennedy in the same episode and went, “Reunion of The Tudors!!”
  • “Did you sleep with Paul Dierdon?” “He was my monitor. What do you think?”
  • Felix, speaking for us all: “Oh hey, it’s Delphine! God, she looks good.”
  • But I am nothing if not an equal opportunity ogler, so let’s hear it for Ari Millen’s pull-ups, everyone!