'Orphan Black': Mingling Its Own Nature With It [TV recap, S2E3]

Goodbye Big Dick Paul, hello hopefully equally well-endowed Cal! Orphan Black introduces a new character this week and he adds a jolt of energy to an episode that otherwise slows things way down and examines what makes its characters tick.

Until the last five minutes of this episode (more on those later) very little actually happens in “Mingling Its Own Nature With It.” Sarah, Felix, and Kira break into a cabin and Sarah reunites with the aforementioned Cal; Kira intuits that Cal is her father; Alison hits a new low at the opening of her musical; Cosima learns a tad more about her illness; and Helena eats some food with the Proletheans. After two action-packed weeks, Orphan Black eases up on the plot and switches into character-drama mode instead. The result is deeply satisfying, even if the episode feels a bit uneven at times.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about Cal! I’ve been fairly vocal about my distaste for Paul (who is suspiciously absent for the second week in a row), and I wasn’t entirely convinced Sarah needed a love interest at all. After tonight’s episode, however, I’m Team Cal all the way. That’s mostly because Michiel Huisman offers some interesting layers to his performance and because Cal’s introduction brings out a whole new side of Sarah.

It’s slightly odd that for all the talk of Sarah’s miraculous ability to have children, the Clone Club hasn’t been more interested in Kira’s father. We learn tonight that the Cal and Sarah met when she was trying to con him, but seemingly fell in love as well. (At least Sarah only stole $10,000 when she could have taken more. If that’s not love, what is?) He’s soft-spoken, outdoorsy, and relaxed—the exact opposite of aggressive Vic and disciplined Paul. He built small drones to help with dwindling bee populations, but when his colleagues sold the technology to the military he wanted no part of it. Now he lives off the grid, trying to forget about the woman who stole his money and his heart. While I’m sure there’s more to Cal than meets the eye—there always is on this show—it’s easy to see why Sarah finally feels safe around him.

Interestingly the scene that gives the best sense of who Cal is happens with a minor character who will be dead by the end of the episode. Cal’s local cop buddy Tom stops by to ask if Cal’s seen a British woman, a little girl, and a “New Waver” who robbed a convenience store. Within this short, inconsequential scene, we learn everything we need to know about Cal: He’s the kind of guy who makes friends with cops, goes fly fishing, grows weed in his backyard, and has the uncanny ability to make people trust him, even if they don’t know why. “If I thought there was anything you should know, I’d tell ya.” It’s a partial truth and Tom knows he’s lying; yet he’s also willing to drop the matter on faith alone. That’s just the kind of guy Cal is.

Cal’s superhuman ability to make people trust him will either turn out to be the best or worst thing about him, depending on what his ulterior motives may be. Especially because he then turns around and does the exact same thing to Sarah. Terrified of being found by the Neolutionists or Proletheans, she’s ready to make a break for it in the middle of the night. “You can trust me. Can’t you stop running for a minute?” Cal says. He kisses her confidently but briefly and then pulls back and lets her choose what happens next. On sheer charm alone Cal is able to make Sarah—a woman who quite literally never stops running—stay.

Being around Cal reveals a whole new side of Sarah. Even though she’s the show’s protagonist Sarah’s always felt slightly opaque. Quantitatively we know more about her backstory and spend more time with her than we do Cosima and Alison, but she somehow feels less developed than her clone-sters. Tonight I finally figured out why: We often seen Sarah in action, but we seldom see her just living her life. I can easily picture an “average day” for Cosima and Alison, but I have no idea what Sarah’s life looks like when she’s not being hunted by two mysterious organizations.

What a difference a cabin makes. From the moment she breaks into Cal’s home, Sarah is more relaxed than she’s ever been before. In two lovely scenes set in a small attic bedroom, she opens up to Kira. Sarah’s deep sense of abandonment made her angry as a child and she doesn’t want her daughter to feel the same way. There are two sides to every person and she realizes Kira deserves to know the man who provided half of her DNA. In the safe space of Cal’s cabin, Sarah is finally able to be vulnerable.

That theme of vulnerability also plays heavily on Felix. He may be celebrated for his snarky one-liners and bold fashion choices, but Felix’s true role on Orphan Black is that of caretaker. He’s the glue that holds the Clone Club together, right down to providing a home base for them. Now that Sarah’s found a new kind of safety with Cal (and potentially a new father figure for Kira), Felix feels his whole world crashing down around him.

You can pinpoint the exact moment Felix’s heart breaks. Sarah wants to stay with Cal for a bit, “I think Kira deserves something. Something nourishing. For once.” Jordan Gavaris eyes water almost instantly. Felix has been the most consistent, positive force in Sarah and Kira’s lives, and suddenly a stranger has replaced him. Even worse, Cal’s biggest appeal is that he’s disconnected from the clone drama. For a man who just abandoned his own life to help with that clone drama, that’s a slap in the face. Sarah’s plan may be pragmatic, but it’s also incredibly painful. Felix’s decision to leave and not just play lackey to Sarah’s whims is one of his strongest character moments, and it’s helped along by Gavaris’ best performance to date.

With all that fantastic character development happening out in the woods, Cosima and Alison get the short end of the stick. It feels like the show wanted to do a Sarah-focused episode but wasn’t sure it could abandon the other clones completely for a whole week. So instead we spend a little time with each of them, which mostly serves to reinforce things we already know.

Through video diaries, Cosima and Delphine meet Jennifer Fitzsimmons—a previously unknown clone—and watch her transform from bubbly swim coach to corpse. They conduct an (incredibly gross) autopsy on Jennifer’s body and discover tumors on her uterine walls. It’s a step in the right direction in terms of combating Cosima’s illness and learning more about the clones’ fertility, but it’s also a reminder that the stakes are higher than Cosima and Delphine like to admit.

Alison, meanwhile, continues to repress her paranoia and guilt with booze and pills. We’ve seen these beats before, but she finally reaches rock-bottom here. It will be interesting to watch what happens next week once Alison picks herself up off the floor she hit (quite loudly) when she took a tumble off the stage during opening night.

All of which brings us up to those last five minutes. After a surprisingly relaxed episode, Orphan Black ramps up the action to close things out.

The part of the ending that works like gangbusters is the stuff with the Proletheans. With all that talk of family and fertility last week, the fact that Henrik drugs and marries Helena—while his other wives and daughters look on—isn’t exactly surprising. It is, however, horrifying. Particularly because his daughter Grace is disgusted that the bride is inhuman, not that her father is marrying a comatose woman. After the wedding he takes Helena into the basement—presumably for either a metaphorical or physical rape—and it’s one of the most effectively terrifying images Orphan Black has ever shown us.

Less effective is the scene that inevitably ends Sarah’s vacation with Cal. Rachel’s right-hand-man Daniel tracks her to Cal’s safe haven. He grabs Kira—who is conveniently outside alone—and then holds a gun at Sarah. I think it’s supposed to be shocking, but it’s mostly confusing as Daniel’s motives are too hard to track. Is his endgame to kidnap all three of them? Is his decision to shoot Tom to death business as usual or an example of Daniel cracking under pressure? (I always assumed the Neolutionists traded in bureaucracy and secrecy, not violent shootouts.) Even stranger, Daniel leaves without Kira or Cal and forces Sarah to drive the getaway car, which seems incredibly dumb. It’s an odd scene, made even odder by the fact that it ends with a seemingly random car crash. It’s a cliffhanger that has my interest piqued, but it also feels slightly rote after the mold-breaking character episode that preceded it.

On the whole, “Mingling Its Own Nature With It” isn’t perfect. Yet the character work with Sarah, Felix, and Cal is so good I still consider this a very strong hour. It’s refreshing to see that Orphan Black can still pull emotional punches as well as physical ones. If it has to slow things down to get there, I’m happy to follow along.

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