Thursday, May 19, 2016

REVIEW: 'Orphan Black' - Sarah Sits Down with Susan Duncan to Discuss a Trade in 'The Scandal of Altruism'

BBC America's Orphan Black - Episode 4.06 "The Scandal of Altruism"

When Cosima admits doubts about finding a cure in time to save her life, Sarah makes a lone decision that exposes Kendall to those she's spent years hiding from. Art and Felix team up to protect Krystal from herself.

Orphan Black is a show that prides itself on producing big and surprising twists that completely uproot everything the characters and the audience thought they knew about this world. It's a very engaging way to tell stories. Over time though, it can get exhausting and predictable. It's a hard structure to keep up over a prolonged period of time. It largely just gives way to bigger and bigger twists until the ridiculousness of the present isn't as meaningful as the smaller and more successful twists of the first few years. The show is still struggling to rebound from the awkwardness of the Castor arc last season. That goes to show that one wrong move can seriously jeopardize the creative success of the narrative for a long time - even after the problematic story has finished. So, it's not surprising that the show decides to completely flip the script of who's really in charge of Neolution during "The Scandal of Altruism." The episode even makes sure the big reveal happens within a meaningful context for the clones. But it still just feels a little hollow as just the latest big reveal of what's really happening with all the craziness in this universe.

Again, all of this makes perfect sense. Neolution was able to make some significant advances with technology because of the clone experiments of Ethan and Susan Duncan. And now, that research has outgrown any need to keep the clone project going. That's devastating because the main characters at the heart of the show are the Leda clones. They have been passionately pursuing answers in the hopes of being able to safe each other from inevitable destruction. The stakes are high with their survival. It's only a matter of time before they all fall victim to the same illness. All of the Leda clones have drastically different personalities. And yet, they share so many similarities as well. Those bond them to each other. They are united in this cause because it's a way to save all of them from an uncertain future. Sarah and Helena are the exceptions to this danger. They are actually twins who don't have the same issues as the others. The reasoning behind that has never been properly explored. But it just goes to show just how chaotic and random this whole experiment is. Neolution has evolved since the early days of the Duncan's research. Yes, it's still meaningful to collect data from the clones to understand the longterm effects. But that's no longer the priority for anyone within Neolution except Susan.

"The Scandal of Altruism" forces many parties to come together for the first time in the hopes of being able to help each other out. Everyone wants Kendall and the genetic material she can provide that will help develop a cure for the defects of both Leda and Castor. Sarah and company can't trust Susan because she is the face of Neolution and they are up to no good. They recognize just how important Kendall's DNA really is. They need it to cure themselves. Neolution could use it to further all of their dangerous experiments. Cosima has seen firsthand how monstrous and manipulative they can be. It's an almost reckless abandon that Neolution has with its pursuits. And yet, this episode does a really smart thing in showcasing just how much the clones mean to Susan. Everyone else in Neolution couldn't care less. But to Susan they were the beginning of all of this and still provide so much valuable information. She wants to be their mother. She loves seeing what each of them have become. She likes how smart and cunning Sarah and Cosima have gotten over the years. She's more proud of them than Rachel - who was her own daughter! All of this love blinds her to the fact that her colleagues are planning a coup to oust her from power.

It really is a devastating moment this episode builds towards. So much of the tension revolves around whether or not Sarah and Cosima can trust Susan and Evie to follow through on their promises. Cosima wants a cure so she can continue to live in this world while Sarah wants the bot out of her cheek. Susan can provide both of those as long as she is given access to Kendall's original genetic material. She is still a ruthless individual who tosses aside her romance just for the chance to be with Kendall again. That doesn't sit well with Ira who will die without the cure to his defect. But Ira and Susan aren't the ones everyone should be worried about. That honor falls on Evie and Duko who will do whatever it takes to destroy any potential happiness for the clone experiment. Neolution wants to get out of the clone game. They have no need for it any more. They've made so many more meaningful advances elsewhere. But Susan kept holding them back. So now, they've successfully cut her out of the process.

This episode also provides a lot of answers as to whose blood was on Beth's hands before she killed herself. The Neolution mystery has been so compelling because it connects Beth's story back to the rest of the clone family. They are pursuing the same leads that she was. She got so close but gave up in order to protect her sisters. Beth was broken and couldn't handle the pressures of this world anymore. She discovered that Susan Duncan was still alive and was willing to take her out. She couldn't go through with it because of the great love Susan has for all of the clones. It was a situation that Evie and Duko put her in. The blood came from Evie. But that wasn't enough to change Beth's life and make things go back to normal. She had gotten so close to the truth that now she was putting everyone in harm's way. She couldn't handle that pressure. That's why she killed herself. Her pursuit for answers got her killed. And now, it seems like death is coming for the rest of the clones as well.

Neither Leda nor Castor have a way to save themselves now. Evie ends the clone experiment by killing Kendall and making sure no one can harvest any of her genetic material ever again. It's a devastating and heartbreaking moment. It was a big deal when Sarah found Kendall. She was the solution to so many of the clones' problems. And yet, that wasn't enough to guarantee the survival of this family. Kendall being Mrs. S' mother really didn't turn out to be that meaningful of a twist. Kendall had importance thrusted onto her but she wasn't much of a character herself. It's an emotional time because her death signals the end for all of the clones. But the show also wants to play that moment as Kendall saying goodbye to her daughter, Cosima. That really doesn't work because they didn't spend a whole lot of time with each other. It's understandable why Cosima is so shocked by this turn of events. Her lifespan is now limited. Her last hope of survival is gone. All her research has perished. She can no longer crack this grand mystery. She is no closer to understanding why the clones have this defect or how to cure it. Everyone is right back to where they started. But now, they are more defeated than ever before. Plus, Neolution is going to have even more power that will have nothing to do with the clones. And their plans for the world should haunt what the clones want from the rest of their existences.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Scandal of Altruism" was written by Chris Roberts and directed by Grant Harvey.
  • It's significant that this big turn of events happens in Episode 6 of the season. It means that the show still has so much story left to tell this year. How much more devastating can things get for the clones?
  • Cosima finally gets some clarity on what happened to Delphine. She remembers that she wants answers and decides to ask Evie for them. She shares that Delphine was shot dead in the Dyad parking lot. But without a body, it's hard to believe that that's the truth. Apparently, Krystal saw it happen so she might be able to provide more answers.
  • Speaking of Krystal, why is everyone so willing to keep her out of the clone loop? She has proven that she's not going to give up on this search for answers. She's walking into danger not knowing the full truth. That could have grave consequences. And what harm could she possibly pose if she knew everything about Sarah, Cosima, Alison, Helena and the rest of her sisters?
  • Krystal macing Felix was a very weird and awkward moment. It happened and it didn't seem natural to anyone. But really this whole subplot was largely just giving Felix and Art something to do while all of this danger is happening elsewhere.
  • Sarah and Cosima are going to need to rely on the support from the rest of the family to handle this loss. And yet, they can't rest for too long because now they have Susan and Ira to worry about as well - and likely Rachel and Charlotte too.
  • But hey, at least Sarah got the bot out of her cheek and learned why it was there in the first place. Neolution was trying to determine why she was immune to the defect by trying to make her sick. And now, that bot is in Cosima's protection as she steals it from Evie before everything happens with Kendall.