Saturday, May 16, 2015

REVIEW: 'Orphan Black' - Sarah & Helena Find Themselves in Dire & Extreme Circumstances in 'Scarred by Many Past Frustrations'

BBC America's Orphan Black - Episode 3.05 "Scarred by Many Past Frustrations"

Helena and her seestra are reunited at the Castor camp when Sarah is captured. As Sarah suffers testing, Paul appears to chide her; but his allegiances are beginning to strain. While the Leda family worries about Sarah's absence, Gracie "breaks Amish" under the care of Mrs. S and an unwilling Felix. Cosima falls hard for an internet date, Shay.

Both Sarah and Helena find themselves in dire and extreme circumstances in "Scarred by Many Past Frustrations." And yet, they are reunited. Sarah's sole mission this season has been to rescue Helena from Castor. Both of them are now imprisoned by the military but they are together once more. Sarah is so happy. Even though she doesn't know what will happen to her in this environment, she is glad to see her sister once again. The feeling isn't mutual on Helena's side though. She has withstood the torture of Coady and her men all season long. She has been operating under the assumption that Sarah turned her over to these people to protect herself. The audience knows that that isn't true. And yet, it is still a very real and valid mindset for Helena.

Sarah is trying to reconnect with her sister again. Things have always been combustible between them. But now, Sarah is the one reaching out to protect that bond while Helena is the one who wants nothing to do with her. To a certain degree, Helena is institutionalized. It's not in the way that Coady or Sarah sees it. Helena has had to survive with no one to talk to or help her except for her imaginary scorpion friend. That creature is the voice inside Helena's head externalized under these extreme circumstances for the audience. It's the one pushing Helena away from Sarah. This episode doesn't mend the bond between the sisters right away. Helena is given a piece of the truth about what really happened that led to her capture.

And yet, it's still brutal and shocking when she choses to escape and leave Sarah to fend for herself with these people. It's a cold move that's more disruptive to the sisterly bond than any words or false assumptions. Helena chose to leave Sarah behind after everything that Sarah did to rescue Helena. Sure, Helena was successful in escaping while Sarah only got captured by these people. But it's still a powerful personal turmoil for both of those characters. The only way Helena could have escaped so quickly is because of Sarah. She helped get the materials to break the bar in her door while looking out for the camera to avoid detection. Sarah did all of that to save both of them. It is brutal for Sarah seeing just how easily Helena can and will kill a man. But she also accepts that as an inevitability of their escape. What's more personally destructive is Helena choosing to leave. Helena made that choice not out of fear that they wouldn't have been able to escape together but because she wanted Sarah to suffer like she has for the past few weeks. It's a decision that she does regret later on in her escape. But with the entire facility on the look out for her, it's much easier for her to continue ahead without Sarah.

It's devastating to watch. Everyone else back home is still living their regular lives. Some are starting to get worried that Sarah hasn't returned or made contact yet. But not enough time has passed for them to be truly worried that something has happened to her. Of course, something really bad has happened. But everyone else isn't capable of knowing that yet. It will be interesting to see what Helena does if she survives her escape and makes it back to Felix, Cosima and Alison. They will be just as upset that Helena left Sarah behind. But will Helena feel that guilt? Will she feel the need to rescue Sarah just as strongly as Sarah did at the start of the season? Those are exciting questions to have heading into the tense final half of the season.

The stuff happening with the rest of the characters isn't as suspenseful or engaging as the story happening with Sarah and Helena. Those two characters are the narrative center of the show right now. Everyone else is off on the edges engaged with their stories that still connect back to the center but aren't able to in this episode. Everyone else just needs to operate like everything is normal because they don't know any better about what has happened to Sarah. Art and Siobhan have their suspicions - which definitely get more urgency when Gracie and the girl Rudy and Seth slept with take a turn with their health. And yet, it's still a lot of time just waiting for that urgency to happen. Siobhan does reveal more details about her past and Felix has a handful of great reactions to Gracie staying at the house. The dance party isn't as good as the four sisters at the end of last season but it was still a delight to see two characters who typically don't let loose - Siobhan and Gracie - actually do so. And then, there's Cosima who's trying to move on from Delphine by going out on a date with a new girl named Shay (Ksenia Solo). It's a pleasant story beat that's just way too introductory to be all that exciting or important.

However, the show is also trying to position a change within a supporting character who also happens to be at the military compound. Paul has frequently been a character who the show simply doesn't know how to use. It's confusing to make sense of who he is loyal to and when. The twist this season was that he was working for Castor all along. Instead of that giving him more consistency though, it's only made things murkier - as he visits Sarah, listens to the sister's concerns about the project and actually demands that Coady doesn't hurt Sarah. It all hinges on the audience believing that there is still a connection between Paul and Sarah. And yet, there simply isn't. That character makes no sense. So the show trying to position him as a potential ally to Sarah on the inside who is starting to question the morality of the mission isn't an earned moment. It just makes the character even more frustrating and confusing - even though the reasoning is sound (watching Sarah under these circumstances will need to be different than Helena).

Some more thoughts:
  • "Scarred by Many Past Frustrations" was written by Alex Levine and directed by David Frazee.
  • If Mark knew that sleeping with Gracie could potentially pass the defect to her, then why did he do it in the first place? If he truly loves her, wouldn't he have shown more concern for her well-being?
  • Who was snapping pictures while Cosima and Shay were on their date? That did add mystery to the story that definitely needed some momentum and urgency. It didn't add much. But it's still a question worth asking.
  • Apparently, Siobhan was married once but her husband died because he got into a drunken bar fight. That's tragic while still providing personal details to her character.
  • No Alison, Donnie and their burgeoning drug business at all this week. Their absence was noticeable but not too problematic.
  • There was also very little of the Castor boys this week too. Rudy and Mark have one scene each with Coady and Miller is basically just a background presence. So much is being built up around them and how important it is to protect them. And yet, not enough has been made about how they are so special to the army in the first place.