Saturday, June 13, 2015

REVIEW: 'Orphan Black' - Sarah, Felix and Mrs. S Return to London to Find Answers in 'Insolvent Phantom of Tomorow'

BBC America's Orphan Black - Episode 3.09 "Insolvent Phantom of Tomorrow"

Sarah, Felix and Mrs. S take a trip with the hopes of tracking down the Castor Original. Donnie tries to save the family business when Pouchy defects, but it is Helena who manages to secure a "full refund." Cosima becomes suspicious of Shay, and Delphine takes matters into her own hands. But nothing will ever be the same again when Leda finally finds what they've been looking for.

Orphan Black has frequently used misdirection as a storytelling device. Making one explanation seem so easy to accept and then later revealing something completely different to be the truth. The show is building to its third season climax. These twists need meaning and have to have scope for the entire cast. Fortunately, the reveals that happen in "Insolvent Phantom of Tomorrow" seem engaging. It's also much more exciting to be getting some of the big answers now and letting the characters have big and emotional reactions to them in next week's finale.

It was always suspicious that the one page in Professor Duncan's book Rachel translated for Sarah spoke exclusively about Castor. At times this season, the threat posed by Castor overtook the necessity of Leda finding their own answers. The two sets of clones are connected biologically. That's what makes the big reveal that the Castor and Leda originals are actually the same person feel rewarding. That reveal promises that both sides of the genetic equation will be given some resolution by the end of the season. Sure, it helps immensely that Sarah and company basically abandoned their search for the Leda original in order to deal with either Castor, Topside or Dyad throughout the season. Those obstacles were apparent throughout the year. But it's still rewarding to see some answers on the horizon as they especially relate to the main characters.

It's also very interesting that Sarah, Felix and Siobhan are racing through London to find the Castor original before Coady and the Castor boys do when the true threat they face actually comes from Topside. Castor has been built up as the big bad for the season. They are the threat that poses the most immediate danger to the entire team. It's all because of their nefarious plot to sterilize women and use that as a military weapon. The Castor boys have been dying off all season long. That added urgency that needed to be dealt with swiftly. Even in this episode, it's revealed that Rudy is showing signs of the defect now as well. Mark may be the last clone standing by the end of the year. That's thrilling even though Coady is no where close to translating the code in Duncan's book.

Castor's motivations have been made abundantly clear throughout the season. Coady is doing whatever she has to do in order to create this weapon. She does have love for her boys but is still willing to experiment on them if it means creating a "better world." It's sick and twisted reasoning. But at least that reasoning has been described to the audience and the characters. No such explanation has occurred for Topside and what they truly want. Right now, they are just built as the nefarious and evil organization who wishes harm on the protagonists for no understandable reason. They've worked in coordination with Dyad in order to monitor the Leda project. They've also killed clones before after their monitoring and experimentation. But that doesn't exactly feel the void with a strong purpose. There's a sense of danger when Ferdinand, the Topside investigator from the premiere, suddenly returns to kill Siobhan's London contact, Terry. It establishes Topside as the threat Sarah, Felix and Siobhan will face in London instead of Castor. But it largely just serves as a re-entry point for that part of the show's conspiracy. They don't bring meaning or context to the events and twists of the episode. They just exist to serve as a danger for the characters to face for no explicable reason. That's a major problem.

Also, the show spent so much time in the past episode serving Shay up as some big red herring for the mole within the Leda project. In reality, Castor got their information from Gracie. After everything she has learned and experienced, she still loves Mark. Despite him passing the defect onto her, she still loves him. She has grown comfortable around clones. But that doesn't make this twist any more understandable from her point-of-view. The reveal actually forces the audience to go back and see if it's entirely possible that the twist actually makes sense. If she saw how important the book was to Cosima and Scott, I either don't remember it or it occurred offscreen. She did have access to the building and could know enough to be of importance to Castor. It's just weird after seeing all the progress she made living with Siobhan and Alison to have her make this big decision that will create more problems in the finale. Her love for Mark was important early on in the year. But it's not like she has been holding onto those memories with any kind of high regard in the last few episodes. Their love wasn't kept alive in the memories of the characters or the audience. So this twist does come about suddenly. It makes sense but it didn't logistically work as well as the show would have liked. Also, it was pretty clear early in the episode that something was up with her. She was more awkward than usual and was clearly saying goodbye to Helena. That made the twist even more inevitable.

But that didn't take away from the fun this episode was having. Sure, a lot of it was purely set up for the finale. But it was great seeing Siobhan sing for the first time. It was great exposing Siobhan's mother as the Castor and Leda original. It was great seeing the Helena-Donnie bond strengthen. And it was great seeing Helena try to hold things together but still revert to her old ways once Pouchy's organization threatened Alison's kids. It's moments like those that can make one more forgiving about the narrative misgivings of the show. The stage is set for the characters to converge with more answers than ever before. Sure, it will be chaotic watching the show try to balance Leda, Dyad, Topside and Castor all at once. That juggling act hasn't always worked out for the show. But it's still very exciting heading into the finale. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "Insolvent Phantom of Tomorrow" was written by Russ Cochrane and directed by Vincenzo Natali.
  • The intercutting of Siobhan's fantastic performance at the pub with Terry's torture by Ferdinand is a narrative trick used frequently in the medium as of late. It still works wonders pairing the triumph of one moment with the devastation of another. But I really just wanted to stay in that pub with Sarah, Felix and Siobhan.
  • So now, Siobhan is even more strongly connected to the clones than before because her mother is the original tissue sample for both Leda and Castor. What does that make her in relation to them though?
  • It's slightly terrifying seeing just how far Delphine is willing to go to expose Shay as the Castor mole. She was willing to stage a suicide if it meant protecting the project. That version of Delphine is drastically different than the one of the first two seasons. Did the change come completely naturally? Not really. It was a drastic shift over this season that wasn't given all that much nuance.
  • It's surprising just how casual Cosima is when she calls Delphine to inform her that she was wrong about Shay and that Gracie is actually the mole.
  • Siobhan's mother doesn't seem like a nice person. That should make things interesting for the finale.