“You don’t get to sit this one out, love. None of us do.”
Since the season premiere helped to stabilize the show’s disparate storylines, this second episode has much more room to breathe and intensify—and it shows. There is still more going on in a ten minute span on Orphan Black than most shows touch in an entire season, but the first two episodes of this third season feel like they’re specifically trying to slow down the speeding bullet train without stopping it completely. Where the second season relished throwing more and more characters into the mix to really play up the chaos our clones have found themselves in, this third one lets some sit an entire episode out when they’re not needed, as with Delphine, Ferdinand, and Rachel this week. Delphine has particularly become a more interesting character even in just an episode, but her absence doesn’t leave much of a dent in “Transitory Sacrifices Of Crisis.” There is still more than enough happening, and if hitting pause on some characters gives others room to develop, all the better.
This holds especially true for the Project Castor clones, who get more time and space in this episode for us to distinguish between them a little bit more. As Caroline Siede said in her pre-air review, part of the Castor clones’ identities is that they have been brought up within a militaristic structure that doesn’t necessarily reward individual identities, so Ari Millen has to walk a tightrope in portraying them. While they need to register as different people, the Castor clones don’t look nearly as different from each other as the Leda ones, and they were all brought up with similarly stoic and ruthless values. (As always, Orphan Black’s stance on nature vs nurture seems pretty heavily tilted towards “nurture,” but that’s a whole other essay.)
So in “Transitory Sacrifices Of Crisis,” we get to know Rudy and Seth, who were evidently a package deal for much of their lives. Rudy, the one who spent time doing naked meditation in Marion Bowles’ basement, is the clear leader of the two. His walk is confident, predatory, focused. We see Rudy in his element as he leads a woman to his apartment, her giddy giggles a startling contrast to his quiet smirking. When she sits on the bed, ready, he pulls her up by the back of her neck, forceful and possessive. As they begin to have sex, Rudy’s mustachioed brother Seth creeps up the bed, eyes wide, almost panting slightly like an overeager dog. Millen has always had a distinctly unsettling energy on this show, his translucent eyes boring into whoever happens to be caught in his crosshairs at the moment, and doubling the effect with Rudy and Seth here as they stare hungrily at this woman is deeply disturbing. “We were always taught to share,” Rudy says with a chilling smile. (It’s very telling that the two times we see Rudy and Seth work together is pulling the same con: Rudy lures a woman back to an apartment, and they assault her together.) We don’t see what happens next, but we know even before she confirms it later to Art and Sarah that Rudy and Seth have no consideration for her boundaries at this moment.
Actually, having Art and the police station around again made me realize just how much “Transitory Sacrifices of Crisis” feels the most like an episode we might have gotten in the first season of Orphan Black. I mean this in both the best and slightly annoying kind of ways. On the “best” side of things is the fact that we have never known more about where Sarah and her sisters came from, but as Sarah realizes in this episode, she has never known less. “I’m grasping at straws,” she tells Art, and she’s absolutely right. She has no idea what she’s doing, or how to get Helena back, or where she stands in this entire mess. I immediately got déjà vu back to those first strong episodes of the series. Sarah’s unraveling the mystery right before her, because that’s all she can do.
Cosima and Alison’s storylines also hearken back to their first season ones, albeit in more advanced ways. Cosima, on a physical upswing that has everyone more concerned than relieved, goes into Dyad with Scott to ask after the original genome sequence. The doctor is seemingly upfront when he tells them the Duncans took that sequence and original donor information to their graves. Cosima seems to believe this doctor is telling the truth about what he knows, and if that’s true, she and Scott have a huge leg up as they go to decipher what Duncan left behind.
Meanwhile, Alison is as separate from the action as she can be in her suburban drama, but she’s also setting up a hell of a storyline for herself by buying up her teenaged dealer’s contraband business before he goes off to college. Sure, it’s incredibly ill-advised in the grand scheme of things, and yes, the “housewife sells drugs to secure votes” smacks of Weeds, but damn it, I just love the Hendrix marriage so much when they indulge their love for the illicit. Hopefully Alison will interact with the others in a more meaningful way soon. Until then, I can’t complain.
In the “annoying” column is the returned use of Kira as the ultimate gambit. The first season was especially prone to defaulting to some bad guy threatening Kira’s life. It’s certainly realistic—the easiest way to get at the otherwise “legendary” Sarah Manning—but dangling Kira’s life in the balance just stops any other action or momentum dead. It’s gotten to the point where I just expect someone to snatch her up any time Kira wanders away from Sarah and out of the frame—which is exactly what happens when Rudy, more horrifying than usual with red X’s painted over his eyes, catches her in her blanket fort. The ensuing standoff with Rudy demanding “original tissue samples” that Sarah doesn’t have while Kira sobs is heartwrenching, and everyone involved acts their respective asses off for it, but we’ve seen this scene before, and often. So as much as I doubt that Cal taking Kira out of the country is a permanent fix, I do hope they disappear for at least a few episodes. It sounds callous, the kid really is a distraction, and Sarah’s quest to find Helena and “end this shit” will move much quicker and in more unexpected distractions without her.
Speaking of Helena: her continued torture continues to drag. I almost wish another clone was taken, just so Helena could do something more interesting than suffer when she’s already been through so much. Her waterboarding is one of the most upsetting moments of the series, and the fact that it only stopped because she’s pregnant should be lost on no one.
And speaking of clone bonds: as ruthless as the Castor clones are, though, we also get enough time with them to understand a little more of their bond, and it’s just as telling for the Castor program in general. Rudy and Seth truly do love each other. Rudy trying to “share” this woman with his brother is one way of showing how much he wants Seth to be happy; Rudy shooting Seth in the chest after he can’t stop “glitching” is another. Rudy kills Seth without a second thought—more of an execution than anything else—but the borderline tender way he says goodbye to his brother reveals the emotional heft of that split-second decision.
Seth’s “glitching” and Helena’s time at the Castor base also brings us more insight into the Castor line. The Castor clones have been subject to endless cognitive reasoning tests to take stock of and sharpen their skills. They have been trained as weapons, directed to torture, and taught to honor their orders above all else. (This might be why Prolethean Mark, who presumably went against orders some time ago and is now on the run with a pregnant Gracie, decides to burn off his own telltale Castor horse tattoo.) We also meet Dr. Coady (Warehouse 13’s Kyra Harper), a world-weary and hardened woman who never wanted kids, and then took over the Castor project and “had more than [she] could count.” Tellingly, Rudy and Seth refer to her as “mother.”
I wrote in my review of last season’s finale that the Castor clone introduction was startling and a little disappointing, since Orphan Black has done such a phenomenal job exploring themes of female agency that have rarely had room to breathe on television in such an expansive way. But I also wrote that the Castor line could have some equally poignant things to say about destructive standards of masculinity, and this episode certainly seems to be moving things in that direction. The contrast between Castor and Leda is clear. While Castor clones undergo military exercises and mental agility tests, Leda clones are subject to invasive physical examinations and (literally) manhandled. The Castor clones answer to their “mother,” while the Leda clones try to parse out the shadowy motivations of men, from the clinical Dyad doctors to Topside’s “cleaners.” Seth’s ”glitch” seems to be the Castor equivalent of the ovary-based illness to which the Leda clones can fall. There is no other show on television that’s trying to tackle gender constructs and expectations on such a detailed level, and for that, Orphan Black will always be more compelling.
- I hope Felix gets more to do soon, but he really was so great in this episode. Supportive of Sarah through her heartbreak at giving up Kira and gentle but firm with Mrs. S when she started to give up hope.
- Reader, I tried so hard to care about Paul putting his neck out for Sarah, and about Cal being a “war profiteer”and yet I very much do not. Whoops?
- I hope Sarah questioned Cal thoroughly about what he saw when Rudy killed Seth. Seems like that might be important later.
- I failed to give Tatiana Maslany full credit for voicing Helena’s scorpion friend last week, but yes, she voices the scorpion, and is (surprise!) really great at it. It kind of sounds like Cosima, if she were putting on a horrifying puppet show.
- Kristian Bruun is flexing his comedy muscles, and I am here for it. Especially loved his stupid attempts to relate to #youth Ramon (“oh, we have the stones. Ample stones”).
- Okay, the time has come to face facts: these episode titles barely mean anything, right?
- “I could beat her, Donnie. I could beat her like a French meringue.”
- “Where are these mangoes?”