Thursday, April 28, 2016

REVIEW: 'Orphan Black' - Sarah Pursues a New Lead While Rachel is on the Road to Recovery in 'The Stigmata of Progress'

BBC America's Orphan Black - Episode 4.03 "The Stigmata of Progress"

As Sarah reels from the shocking discovery of Neolution's biotech, she's desperate to find answers. She follows a lead into a harrowing encounter that requires the help of a reluctant new player. Mrs. S strikes an alliance with an old nemesis. Rachel receives a visit from her keeper and takes a fraught step forward towards recovery. Helena is mistaken for Alison when she answers the door to detectives.

Sarah has really been wandering into the unknown this season. Her pursuit of answers from Neolution has been all-encompassing of her being. She desperately wants to understand and eliminate this new threat to her family. But now, she's never felt more uncomfortable in her own skin. She can't trust anything that is happening because she didn't even know the Neolution bot had been implanted in her cheek. That was a chilling and tense reveal in the previous episode. And now, Sarah is trying to make sense of all of it. She doesn't care what this bot's purpose is. She just wants it out of her before it kills her - just like the man in the video. But instead of relying on the support of her family, she pushes them away in order to handle this on her own - which continues to put her in some very dangerous situations.

Sarah is more than willing to reach out for help. She desperately wants Cosima to tell her what this Neolution bot is and how to take it out. But Cosima is just as lost as Sarah is right now. She doesn't understand what this thing is. She's in the dark too. Mrs. S has a couple of leads on doctors who might be able to take it out without killing Sarah. But Sarah is too impatient to wait and see if that lead becomes anything. She needs to be an active part of her story. She needs to be the one to understand what is happening to her and how to fix it. That often leads to destructive behavior throughout this episode. She pushes Felix away when she needs his support more than ever before. Again, it's over something incredibly trivial in Felix finding his biological family. But it's still important in understanding Sarah's state of mind right now. She's not making rational decisions. She's acting impulsively in order to get this thing out of her. That uncertainty and tension makes for quite the engaging main story throughout this episode.

Sarah's pursuit of answers doesn't really bring her anywhere though. The man who showed her the video in the first place, Dizzy, doesn't know anything concrete about the device. Nor does he know how to get into contact with M.K. - who may be very helpful in understanding this situation. He gives Sarah a name which she, in turn, hands over to Art. He is able to put together a timeline of when this guy was in town and where he went. That points Sarah in the direction of a dental office that does implants. And that's where the tension of the hour really culminates. Sarah doesn't know what she's walking into. She doesn't know if anyone in this place can remove the bot for her. When someone recognizes her as Beth, Sarah immediately puts her trust in her because she claims she can help her. Sarah wants that so desperately that she falls right into a trap. She is forced motionless by this woman with the threat of more Neolution members on their way to help guide this experiment. It's horrifying stuff that seemingly has no way out for Sarah.

Of course, Sarah does make it out of the dental office alive. That's because Ferdinand makes his unexpected return to the narrative. He was a part of the show's overly complicated conspiracy elements last season. He worked for Topside which had something to do with the clone experiment. But the only really important character detail about him is that he hates Neolution. So, that makes him an ally in this situation even though he doesn't have a trustworthy aura to him. Again, it's somewhat a forced resolution to the story. It continues to showcase the brutality of this universe just in the hopes of survival. But it's also a pretty trivial character intervening in a moment where Sarah really needs it. It's a good thing that he does. But it's not likely that he'll be able to provide any more answers to the situation than anyone else. So, Mrs. S making a deal with him could backfire in any number of ways.

This episode also marks the return of Rachel to the narrative. She was a character the show really didn't know what to do with last season. She was confined to a wheelchair following Sarah's attempt to kill her in the second season finale. She's just now starting to recover. It goes to show just how little time has passed over the series so far. It's a somewhat frustrating detail because it seems like a lot of time has passed considering the amount of crazy things that have happened. But in the show's universe very little time has actually gone by. So, it's significant that Rachel is on her road to recovery thanks to her not dead mother, Professor Duncan, and latest Castor clone, Ira. The Castor clones were another frustrating element of last season. It's difficult to remember what actually happened to any of them by the end of things. Making them aware of each other and raised in the military was a decision that didn't work out so well. But here, Ira promises to be different in that he's a doctor who is seemingly committed to the Neolution cause with the new Professor Duncan. It's a reality Rachel is still struggling to accept. Her mother abandoned her for this cause. But now, she sees that she chose to raise another clone instead. It's hurtful. But it's also significant that when Rachel gets to send a message out of this place, it's to Ferdinand of all people. That connection will hopefully help bridge the gap between the stories down the line.

And lastly, it's just so amusing to see Alison and Donnie deal with the latest complication of that dead body buried in their garage. They have to dig Dr. Leekie's body back up because it may be the only way for Cosima to understand the bot that is in Sarah's cheek. It's an arduous process that is complicated by two detectives showing up in regards to those murders Helena committed last season. It's a pretty formulaic way to bring tension in this story. It's largely just Alison and Donnie digging up a body. The detectives' presence largely gives Helena something to do other than eat and tell Sarah about her babies. But it's still an amusing setup to see Helena posing as Alison. Plus, she proves herself more than capable of handling the situation without killing. Helena is trying to make a change for herself, her family and her babies. She's glad she's having twins. They'll be able to protect each other. But she also doesn't want them to grow up like she did. That's a horrifying reality that she can't bear for her child. That plot thread really doesn't go anywhere because the focus has to return to Donnie and Alison. But it's a meaningful tease nevertheless. Just like Dr. Leekie's body will be for Cosima. She learns what Alison and Donnie did those few months ago. She's surprised but welcomes a chance to understand this bot. The mystery of the situation is nice. But some answers could help bring some clarity and new tension to the story as well with this new piece of biotechnology.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Stigmata of Progress" was written by Aubrey Nealon and directed by Ken Girotti.
  • Felix's story about his biological family largely feels like an information dump suggesting even more twisted family revelations to come. His sister seems genuine enough - though a little kooky. But both of his bio parents are dead - which just sets up the big reveal later on that they aren't. Remember this is a show that killed both of Rachel's parents only to bring both back at separate times.
  • All of the stuff going on with Kira is very awkward and weird. She continues to sense things about the people around her and the future. But it's not clear what the show is going for. It's just to unnerve the audience a little bit because of the uncertainty of the situation. But it plays as yet another creepy child offering a mysterious declaration.
  • If Kira wasn't enough, Charlotte also seems like she'll play an important part of Rachel's story. It's because of her that Rachel gets her message to Ferdinand. But it also seems that she's suffering from the clone defect already.
  • No matter what happens Rachel is a part of Neolution now because she has that new eye that helps her see again. Ira is overseeing her treatment which looks like it's being productive.
  • If the smell from Dr. Leekie's body was so potent, why wasn't it starting to spread beyond the garage? Alison and Donnie won't be able to keep a lid on that forever. So, Cosima better get over there quickly.
  • Helena knows all the people who were a part of Alison's campaign. That's a surprising detail but also completely expected given her background. She's able to hold onto details like that.