Saturday, May 23, 2015

REVIEW: 'Orphan Black' - Sarah Fights to Escape from Castor and Coady in 'Certain Agony of the Battlefield'

BBC America's Orphan Black - Episode 3.06 "Certain Agony of the Battlefield"

Paul digs and finds the ugly truth behind the Castor logbooks of names, pushing him into action. Felix is desperate for info on Sarah's whereabouts, and presses the still-ailing Rachel for any shred of a lead. In order for Donnie and Alison to take their money-making endeavor to the next level, she must introduce Jason to her unique business plan.

Love is a very powerful motivator. "Certain Agony of the Battlefield" showcases just how deep the love is between the various characters of Orphan Black. It is the one thing that connects all of them. Each character's desperate desire to protect those who they love is a powerful and universal unifying theme. It allows for some brutal and devastating sequences just as strongly as uplifting ones. This episode shows the strong history amongst these characters over three seasons now. The audience has a firm grasp on why these characters love each other. The show has shown firsthand the strength of these bonds and has then continually put pressure on them to make them more compelling. It's a typical storytelling device but a still powerful one nevertheless.

Sarah embarked on her whole journey this season because of her love for Helena. That bond is genuine even though it took a while to get there. The love between the two seestras is a very delicate thing. They just got into a good place at the end of the second season. And then, Helena was captured by the Castor people. Sarah has been relentless in her pursuit to save Helena. She did whatever she had to do - send Kira away, work with Mark, etc. - in order to achieve that goal. Only for Helena to turn her back on Sarah the first chance that she got. Now Sarah is enduring much more pain and experimentation than Helena ever did during her capture. Coady is hellbent on creating this cure for her boys while also figuring out a way to weaponize their defect. That's a pretty twisted core mission. And yet, she also feels justified in her radical ways. Sarah is the protagonist of the story but all Coady sees is a lab rat who can help her get what she ultimately wants. Coady doesn't see a person on that table. She sees the path towards making her dreams become a reality.

Sarah's only ally in this place is Paul - a man who see trusted once only to be betrayed. As I've mentioned several times before, Paul has always been a character that the show has struggled utilizing. His cooperation with Castor gave him a stronger direction to go in. Instead he has still walked the line of not showing where his true allegiances lie. He is the only one willing to help Sarah when all of these things are being done to her. It helps immensely that he has a solid understanding of who Sarah is as a person. He knows about her life. He knows about her love for her sisters, Kira and Felix. He has manipulated that love before. But now, he is just as much in the dark on what Coady is up to as Sarah is. He uncovers the truth behind all of her experiments with the Castor boys and it is disturbing. The boys are able to sexually transmit their deflect to anyone they have intimate relations with. That's why they keep track of every single sexual encounter and why those woman have suddenly gotten ill. And yet, it's still largely just Coady running experiments to better her vision for the future - no matter what the cost is to innocent lives.

The twist that Paul takes over control of the base from Coady and frees Sarah because he is in love with her isn't that great. Too often, he has been too big a mystery for that motivation to truly stick. He was at his most useful and understandable to the narrative when he and Sarah were reluctant partners (and occasional sex buddies). The idea that there was some kind of actual love between the two of them has never worked. So to try and pass it off again in Paul's final act doesn't make a whole lot of sense. The story was much better when it was simply "he saw the inhumanity and had to act against it." That was a simple explanation that doesn't get murky by adding love to the mix.

However, love was very much on display throughout this episode. So of course, it's understandable why Paul's declaration could help thematically link the episode together in a very strong and compelling way. It just wasn't completely necessary. It is teased throughout the hour as Sarah fades in and out of consciousness. She has some fantastic fantasy sequences with both Kira and Beth. Those two characters were so crucial in starting this whole journey for Sarah. It was because of Beth that Paul entered Sarah's live. Her jumping in front of that train kicked off this story. And now, it's being presented as Sarah and Paul having something so much stronger and better than he did with Beth - while not completely forgetting that Beth was the reason the two of them met. A lot has happened since Beth's suicide. Sarah still doesn't completely understand this grand conspiracy happening around her and her sisters. But it is still quite compelling to have Sarah and Beth interacting again. Sure, it is just a fantasy. It's based entirely on how Sarah views Beth and how she thinks Beth would respond in this situation. But it's still a powerful sequence that builds the motivation for the episode's final third.

Sarah is able to escape her confinements because she is able to pull out of her illness. Paul does aide in that mission because he is able to take over control for a brief moment. But the threat presented by Coady and Rudy isn't going away so easily. Help is not coming for Sarah and Paul. They can rely on information and assistance from Mark (who's being fueled by his love for Gracie and the horror of what he may have just done to her). But they have to be the ones to get themselves out of this situation. That leads to Paul making the ultimate sacrifice. He knows that he can't escape with Sarah. He was injured during an attack by Miller. He allows for Sarah to escape while professing his feelings and also making sure that Coady won't be able to use any of her research in the future. The tragedy of Paul's death also comes with the success of destroying the original Castor DNA sample and the rest of Coady's research. Sure, Coady and Rudy will likely survive that blast. They will still be coming after Sarah and her family. But in his final moments on the show, Paul made a firm position to protect this world, Sarah and her family. That was a noble sacrifice. It was ultimately a great sendoff for a not always great character.

Paul allowed for Sarah to escape this place. But she still felt pain from leaving him behind injured and aware of what his true feelings were. And yet, she still chooses to forge ahead and escape. That's what Paul wanted her to do. She knew about his feelings but that wasn't enough for her to forget about her own. She needed to stay alive and escape Coady and Rudy in order to be reunited with her family. But her story ends on a more uplifting beat. After the explosion from Paul's grenade, Sarah is knocked to the ground. And then, Helena appears - ready to embrace her seestra. The two of them are stronger when they are together. And now, they have the opportunity to do just that.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Certain Agony of the Battlefield" was written by Aubrey Nealon and directed by Helen Shaver.
  • Felix is so desperate to be reunited with Sarah that he tortures Rachel for any kind of information that she can provide. It's the only option he thinks is left. But that also comes with the sad realization of what Rachel has become in the aftermath of her injury. She has lost everything vital to her - her identity, her position in the company, her family. All she wants is to be free. No one can provide that for her. Felix notices that desperation and sadness and knows that she can't help him - which just adds to the overall tragedy.
  • Delphine is also back in town to add some more agency to the research Cosima and Scott are doing. If it weren't for her, they wouldn't have noticed the connection between Gracie and the Castor DNA. And yet, Delphine is still aching for Cosima and in pain by her choice to end that relationship. However, stalking her while she's re-entering the dating field doesn't seem like a smart idea.
  • Miller really was such a nonexistent and unnecessary character. He appeared in the background of the story. Ready to serve Coady in his army attire. He fought for her until the very end. But his death still wasn't vital or meaningful to the narrative. Now, there are only two Castor boys left - with the likelihood of either surviving the season getting increasingly smaller.
  • Alison and Donnie still largely continue to exist on their own show - a comedic take on a suburban couple getting into the drug business. And yet, it is still so great to watch. The two of them jumping on their bed in their underwear while throwing around money only gets better the more times you see it. Sure, things have the potential to go horribly wrong now that they are getting more committed to the trade. But there's still a willingness to go along with this story and what it's going to do because of how much fun Alison and Donnie are having right now.