Thursday, May 12, 2016

REVIEW: 'Orphan Black' - Cosima Infiltrates Brightborn While Sarah Learns More About Adele in 'Human Raw Material'

BBC America's Orphan Black - Episode 4.05 "Human Raw Material"

Sarah's day off to reconnect with Kira quickly turns into a sleuthing mission aimed squarely at discrediting Felix's new ties. Cosima steps up with Donnie to further investigate the Neolution fertility research center. While Donnie bumps into an all-too-familiar face, Cosima makes a shocking discovery that leads her into a dangerous encounter.

This has really been a strong and interesting comeback season for Orphan Black. It refocused its priorities and stories to great effect. The pursuit for answers from Neolution has been much easier to keep track of than the challenging conspiracy alliances from last season. "Human Raw Material" is the first true dud of the season though. It's an episode that largely exists to hit its plot beats without offering any character insight to make the journey compelling to watch. The tension of the situations feel off as well. It was thrilling and satisfying to see Ferdinand strapped to a bomb last week. That was an engaging and rewarding viewing experience. But here, the most tense and precarious the story gets is whether or not Susan and Evie will catch either Cosima, Krystal or Donnie snooping around the Brightborn facility. That works for a few moments but it's again solely motivated by plot necessity and not understandable character reactions.

It's interesting to see Cosmia step up and be the one leading the investigation for an episode. As a character, she gets stuck in her lab trying to understand the genetics of the clones a little bit too much. It's nice seeing her out in the world and in a dangerous situation. Sure, her illness fluctuates from episode to episode. It doesn't seem like she has made a ton of progress despite having Kendal's original sequence. But it's still thrilling to see things get mixed up for a change. So much emphasis has been placed on Sarah and Beth this season as the main investigators. They are the ones actively going undercover and infiltrating the nefarious and shady corporations controlled by Neolution. The clones are slowly realizing just how vast this new conspiracy goes. But now, it actually gives Cosima a really engaging way to step up and help in this venture. As a scientist, she is the only clone who can understand the biology of what Neolution is doing in the Brightborn facility. That's an asset that helps the story dig deeper than it would have if Sarah or Alison played surrogate for Donnie and Felix.

And yet, it still feels like a horrible plan to have any of the clones snooping around this facility. They are all aware of just how much wicked control Neolution has. The top people in that organization know what the clones look like. All it takes is the right person to look at Cosima and know that something is up. None of the clones were able to go into the fertility clinic last week because Beth had already been then. And now, the stakes have been considerably raised and Cosima essentially walks into that danger hoping no one notices her. That's a little bit of a stretch that happens solely so the audience can learn more about Susan and Evie's goals with this program. But even that is really problematic as well. They become aware that a Leda clone is in the building. Susan even sits down with Cosima to uncover what she's doing in the facility. She then introduces herself as Susan and it still takes Cosima way too long to realize that she must be Susan Duncan. Sure, it gives Cosima the opportunity to see the gruesome experiments Neolution is undergoing in this building. For every perfect baby, there's another one horribly disfigured. But it all has the sole purpose of Susan presenting Cosima with a deal to trade Kendal for the cure to the defect. That has stakes for the future but it basically just feels like a routine twist to happen at this point.

All of the stuff at Brightborn is made slightly more amusing by the inclusion of Krystal. She was one of the more interesting developments to come out of the third season. It's an interesting idea to follow one of the clones for a period of time where she doesn't know about the others. That's a fantastic premise. Krystal is a fun character to center that around too. This episode is all about re-introducing her to the narrative. She has changed a lot. She has been learning how to fight and defend herself. But she's still the airhead beautician as well. That's a fun pairing of character traits. However, the show overly enjoys the conceit of Krystal somehow managing to get into this building in order to complicate Cosima and Donnie's mission. How in the world was she able to figure all of this out while completely in the dark? The rest of the clone family have had to rely on each other over a couple of months to understand it. That answer is never adequately explained. She's just simply a clone who is underestimated. But even that isn't as amusing as the show probably wants it to be. It's awkward when Donnie distracts her by giving her a massage. She knocks him out and that's the end of his story. That's a weird way to resolve things. Plus, there isn't a strong enough hint that Krystal will remain important. She's once haunted by the face of Castor. So, she will be important moving forward. It just doesn't add up to a whole lot.

And lastly, Sarah's obsession with Felix's new sister possibly being a Neolution spy is just a complete misfire. It's great that Felix has been given his own story this season. His personal arc has always been so closely connected to Sarah's. He deserves to be independent as well in this universe. But there's just no substance to this storyline. It only works if Sarah is ultimately right about Adele. She spends this entire episode trying to uncover the truth because Felix's new discovery is just too good to be true. But it honestly plays as a distraction. This has been a great season for Sarah. The pressure and tension have really escalated around her. Her future is so uncertain because of the bot in her cheek. And yet, all of that just goes away and she gets to spend a carefree day with Kira. She then becomes fixated on learning the truth about Adele. But it's just an awkward thing to do with the character right now. She should still be feeling the urgency to understand more about M.K. and Neolution. Instead, she essentially takes the week off because the show needed to focus on Cosima and Krystal more. And then, it's all incredibly pointless in the end. Adele is really Felix's biological sister. That doesn't mean she isn't working for Neolution. After all of this build up, there needs to be a big twist in order to justify its importance. But getting to that point has just been very lackluster and broad without informing anything about the characters in an intriguing way.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Human Raw Material" was written by Kate Melville and directed by David Wellington.
  • The show has always been very cryptic about Kira's connection to all of the clones. Here, it is explained a bit more in that she can feel their emotions from time to time. Her "dream" is more like a horrifying prophecy for the future. That can't be any good.
  • Susan and Ira are apparently a couple. Yeah, that was a reveal that was completely unnecessary and just a little incestuous considering Susan was the one who created the clones in the first place.
  • Felix is acting completely irrational as well. He gets invited over to dinner with Mrs. S and then just brings Adele over to the safe house too. That was such a stupid move that deserved to be punished (even though it wasn't).
  • Duko shows up again to inform Art about his new investigation into Alison and her connection to the drug world of the city. But more importantly, he notices the resemblance Alison has to Beth. But this story tease is largely just an excuse for Sarah to learn more about the dangerous things Alison and Donnie have been up to.
  • Donnie is a man who always needs a plan in order to do something well. When he's forced to improvise, it's never great. And yet, him distracting Krystal by massaging her was perhaps too broad for him. It didn't really work at all.
  • Everyone learns that Helena has left town. But no one seems especially worried about her - even though she's pregnant with twins.