Helena grows up and everyone pairs off on Orphan Black [S2E6]
Caroleine Siede reviews the latest episode of the BBC's clone drama
Sarah: “When I get back we’re going to get Alison out from rehab.”
Cosima: “Definitely. We’re stronger together. Go figure.”
Season one of Orphan Black united the Clone Club. Season two has seen it fall apart. Not out of animosity, but simply due to circumstances. Assuming Sarah and Cosima stick to their words quoted above, the rest of this season will likely be about the Clone Club coming back together to take on the Dyad Institute. But before that inevitable reunion, “To Hound Nature in Her Wanderings” has a whole lot of fun combining its fractured cast into unusual pairings.
If there’s one central figure in this busy episode it’s Helena, who seems to come of age over the course of a single day. Last season Helena was introduced as a violent sociopath, but there’s always been a strong sense of innocence running through her as well. She’s associated with objects from childhood: Jell-O, Barbie dolls, and fortune telling games. Like a violent Peter Pan, she’s locked in an arrested development. The Proletheans trained her to be a weapon but denied her the freedom necessary to grow up.
On her road trip, Helena finally gets to cut loose. She and Sarah camp out, play with shadow puppets, sing along to the radio, and hilariously drive each other crazy. For Sarah this road trip is about uncovering a clone conspiracy. For Helena it’s a chance to make up for the sisterly (or seestraly) experiences she missed out on in childhood.
Once Sarah unceremoniously leaves Helena behind in order to do some research, Helena decides to test out her newfound freedom with more adult pursuits. She finds a dive bar, orders every drink on the menu, sprains the finger of a creepy guy who hits on her, and finds herself an adorable boyfriend named Jesse (Suits’ Patrick J. Adams). Through this pairing, we get a glimpse of the vivacious person Helena might have become if her upbringing had been different. (And since Helena has had no adult life to speak of, she borrows from her clone-sters stories. She tells Jesse she was a detective/scientist then left to be with her family.) Overall, Helena just seems so damn happy in this episode. The fact that she snaps back into violent mode at the slightest provocation is a reminder that this is not the kind of life she can easily reenter. The damage runs too deep.
Having grown from child to adult, Helena agrees to take on a new role by the episode’s end: Mother. Last time the Proletheans wanted to make her part of their “family” they simply kidnapped her. This time they give Helena the illusion of choice: be reunited with her “children” (the eggs they stole from her which Henrik impregnated) or wait for her sister who may never show up. The story of women returning to their abusers is an all too common one. It’s heartbreaking to see Helena willingly leave with the people who have violated her so openly in the past.
Like Helena, Mark is an odd mix of violent adult and innocent child. Last week he nervously kissed Gracie on the cheek but a few weeks before that he murdered in cold blood. (There’s a pattern in how the Proletheans raise their children.) His one-on-one with Paul—the duo meet while tracking down Helena and Sarah, respectively—highlights the way he balances those two sides. He may be hunting Helena, but he’s doing so with a gentler touch. He lets her have her fun and get into trouble before he shows up with a token (Jesse’s hat) to entice her. Paul and Mark’s business-like meeting is an unexpected delight that nicely subverts the Prolethean vs. Neolutionist rivalry. Dylan Bruce’s wooden acting never lets us into Paul’s mindset, but Ari Millen has managed to make a compelling character with very little screen time.
Elsewhere in the male friendship category: Art and Felix play Nancy Drew! Art works best with a partner and since Beth’s death he’s been slotting just about anyone into the role. As the two non-clones in the Clone Club, this odd couple makes a certain amount of sense. Art’s no-nonsense pragmatism helps pull Felix out of the pity party he’s been throwing for himself ever since he got framed for murder by his sister’s ex-boyfriend. (Alright, maybe that pity party was justified.)
Speaking of odd couple pairings: If you asked me to list 100 predictions for season two, the idea of Alison and Vic becoming best friends in rehab wouldn’t even have made the list. Vic was far from my favorite part of season one, but Michael Mando has nicely reigned in the character now that he’s moving towards rehabilitation. Vic shows up in group therapy and offers Alison the thing she needs most: a friend.
Alison’s suburban world thrives on gossip, judgment, and competition. Vic explains it doesn’t have to be that way in rehab. “Sober smackheads are the best listeners.” He and Alison both know what it’s like to feel alone and abandoned. Freed from the pressures of perfectionism, Alison finally admits she might have a problem with pills. She even goes so far as to ask for Vic’s help on a craft project! Looks like rehab is doing Alison some good after all.
Given that nothing is ever what it seems to be on Orphan Black, it’s not surprising that Vic cut a deal with Angie to get dirt on Alison in exchange for the police dropping charges against him. But to his credit, Vic seems genuinely uncomfortable playing mole. Plus his presence tonight really helps loosen Alison up (just a bit, of course, this is still Alison Hendrix we’re talking about). I hope that at least part of their surprisingly sweet connection survives the inevitable fallout of Vic’s duplicity.
Before we jump into the revelations at the end of tonight’s episode, I want to spare a few words for Cosima. I feel she often gets the short end of the stick in these recaps, but that’s largely because her storyline has felt somehow inessential this season. That’s odd given that objectively Cosima’s plot has the highest stakes (quite literally life or death). Yet the fact that she’s so often isolated in scenes with Delphine and stuck with the scientific exposition makes her story feel more static then it should.
The addition of Scott—the overeager Sequencing Tech she used to go to school with—adds a nice jolt of energy to the familiar Cosima/Delphine dynamic. Elsewhere, Cosima puts on a brave face about her illness in a phone call with Sarah. She’s hopeful that a new stem cell treatment—which Scott all but reveals uses Kira’s baby teeth—is working. Then again, Cosima smiling though the pain and/or flirting with Delphine feels like largely familiar beats for the show. Vic’s pairing with Alison took the character out of her comfort zone. Hopefully Cosima will have a similar character shift soon.
Which leaves us with Sarah, who spends most of this episode engrossed in plot-stalling investigations in a creepy church basement. Many flickering lights later, she uncovers the fact that Ethan Duncan aka Swan Man aka Andrew Peckham aka Rachel’s dad aka the clone creator is alive.
The episode culminates as she comes face to face with her slightly senile maker (played by Andrew Gillies). Turns out, Mrs. S is protecting him and together they offer up the biggest info dump in Orphan Black history: Ethan and his wife Susan headed up Project Leda for the military. When their clone research was deemed an “ethical failure,” Dyad hijacked the project and brought the clones to term. The real threat, however, isn’t Dyad; it’s the Neolutionists inside the Institute. Ethan’s been on the run for twenty years because when the Duncans threatened to expose the project, Dr. Leekie killed Susan and stole Rachel.
There’s a lot to parse here, particularly the way Helena’s choice to return to her unborn babies juxtaposes with Ethan’s choice to shirk his responsibilities towards the clones. This episode, however, just lays the preliminary groundwork for those larger thematic discussions. Ethan sees himself as a pawn (“They stole my daughter.”), while Sarah sees him as the mastermind who abandoned the women he created when the going got tough. (“You know we’re not just a concept. We’re your consequences.”) His little girls are dying, she informs him. The Clone Club is strongest together and Cosima’s illness is a problem they all have to fix—including Ethan.
Season two of Orphan Black has been fractured and expansive, but tonight’s unexpected pairings help the show contract its world. The clones are (hopefully) headed for a reunion and Leekie is recast as the central villain. With four episodes left and a lot of table setting out of the way, I’m excited to watch this show barrel forward toward its climax.
Clone Club Conversations
- Another duo: Mrs. S and Paul have a tension-filled conversation in his car. She rightly points out that Paul is trying to serve two masters and therefore answers only to himself. She offers him friendship (and blackmails him about “Afghanistan”), which mainly gives Dylan Bruce another opportunity to be shown up by a much better actor.
- Maggie Chen better turn out to be the key to this entire show because she’s name-dropped almost every single episode.
- Leave it to Orphan Black to fit in a fart joke I really enjoyed.
- This Week In Tatiana Maslany Shows Off: She is really good at messing up the lyrics to “Sugar, Sugar.”
- Alison looks so proud when Vic mentions that she maced him in a parking lot.
- Apparently Patrick J. Adams is such an Orphan Black fan that he begged the creators to write him into the show. I have no idea if Jesse will make a return, but now that Vic’s back, anything is possible.
- “Somewhere within old man driving range.”
- “Namaste.” “Don’t do that.” “Okay.” Seriously though, Alison and Vic are amazing.
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