Saturday, June 24, 2017

REVIEW: 'Orphan Black' - Alison Tries to Find Purpose and Regain Her Power in 'Beneath Her Heart'

BBC America's Orphan Black - Episode 5.03 "Beneath Her Heart"

Stuck on the sidelines with Neolutionists crawling all over her home, Alison seeks to return to her community center, but Bailey Downs has moved on from her. As she flounders to take back some control, the ghost of friendships' past rears its head.

It is crazy to think that there are clones on Orphan Black who have never interacted before. Clones of importance who have been aware of each other's existence for a long time but have never shared the screen together. They've never been in the same room at the same time. And yet, "Beneath Her Heart" reveals that to be true with Alison and Rachel. They are two completely different characters. But they share a lot in common as well. That's an amusing concept to explore throughout this hour. This essentially is an Alison spotlight hour. Other characters appear and things are seen from their perspectives. But this hour is primarily concerned with Alison and how she can help the people she loves the most in her life. She's had to sit idly by so far this season. That's not something she enjoys doing. She loves being active and in charge. On the surface, she could seem less essential to the overall clone experiment. She is just a suburban mom who is concerned about the activities in her community. At the start of the show, she was the picture of idyllic bliss being corrupted by all of this only to reveal that her life wasn't so perfect after all. People are constantly underestimating Alison Hendrix. One would think they would wise up by now. But no, they are still making that mistake. That's what makes Alison the best clone. She's such a compelling character who has such unexpected reactions to every single thing that happens to her.

"Beneath Her Heart" also requires the audience to remember every single detail about Alison's life over the course of the entire series run. That seems like a very daunting task because so much has happened on the show in general. Her killing her best friend by getting her scarf stuck in the garbage disposal was a crucial moment in showing just how powerful and dangerous Alison was. But so much has happened since that moment. It could be easy to forget that that happened because Alison was sleeping with Aynsley's husband and she thought Aynsley was her monitor. This is a show that has constantly been churning through plot. Alison stories have always been more hit or miss. They represent a different set of stakes in this world. One where success comes from a rousing performance in the local community theater. At times, it's made her detached from the core narrative of the show with the clones trying to understand their own existence. Everyone else would be dealing with that while Alison was struggling as a drug dealer. It's been a journey of ups and downs. And now, everything is coming full circle for her. After M.K.'s shocking death last week, all of this seems to signal another tragic loss for the show. But Alison does not die. Instead, this is a very empowering moment for her as she gets some clarity over her own life.

This episode sees Alison having to reckon with everything she has done since she discovered that she was a clone. That moment is actually seen for the first time too. When Alison first appeared, she was already aware of the existence of clones. She was already working with Cosima and Beth. And now, the show reveals just what her reaction was upon learning that she shares a face with several other people. Unsurprisingly, she denies it. She thinks Beth is just a crazy cop with an out-there theory that couldn't possibly be true. And then, she meets Cosima while high on mushrooms. That's a delightful moment. It provides the perfect cover for why no one else at her little party is suspicious about her covert phone calls or her existential crisis. It's simply her reaction to the drugs. She's questioning the meaning of the universe. She has much bigger questions than they do too. Wondering about the human condition means something different to her. She doesn't have the answers for where she came from. She doesn't know why she's a clone or what that means for her life. Over the course of the series, being a part of this family has been overwhelming to her. She struggles in the present day because she doesn't believe she has an identity outside of being a clone. One that can easily be controlled or discarded by Rachel at Dyad.

So, it's not surprising to see Alison relapse with the drugs and alcohol. She's full of self doubts and on the verge of making some terrible choices. It's just a mystery of how far she is willing to go in order to reclaim some semblance of her old life. She was happy before all of this started. And now, her family is constantly being threatened and she has lost control of her various community activities. She is just just someone who attends the events instead of the one who plans every single detail. She almost becomes that person again. She fills a water bottle up with drugs to get rid of the person who has replaced her. And yet, she decides not to do that. Instead, she finds Ramone and gets high with him. However, she's not allowed to enjoy the simplicity of that freedom. It's not long until crazy returns to her life. The audience knows that it is coming. Just like we know that someone is eventually going to drink that water. It's just a mystery of when it's all going to happen and with whom. Everything regarding the family at the moment seems to revolve around Alison and Donnie. The police are at their house getting ready to dig up the bodies in the garage because Donnie is the only person who knows Helena's location. That's information that has value. It keeps both of them alive. But it's so much pressure as well. Pressure that almost kills both of them. Alison has a choice over whether or not to drink the water. Donnie doesn't. He drinks it by accident but manages to emerge unharmed - though only after publicly humiliating himself in front of the entire community.

In the end, this hour just shows how strong and inventive Alison really is. She could force others to make life-or-death decisions to protect her and the life she has. Her family has made some major mistakes over the years. Choices that have come back to hurt not only them but the people they care about. They could force Art to kill for them. They could force Sarah and Felix to risk their freedom. But it's ultimately Alison who finds the solution to all of these problems. She knows that she has to face off with Rachel in order to get the power back. It's a remarkable scene. She has the leverage of Leekie's body even though it's moments away from being taken from her. She knows the attention a story like this would bring to Dyad and Neolution. That's attention that Rachel would rather not have right now. It could compromise everything that she and PT are doing. They want to focus on the mission and not what the public might be saying about their organization. So, Rachel agrees to keep things quiet. That puts the pressure off Donnie. He is still able to keep Helena's location a secret. It's fantastic to see Alison and Rachel spar like this. It proves Alison's value to Rachel. She can be just as ruthless as Rachel can be. They both have the desire to straggle each other to death. They know they can't do that without upsetting the current working order. So, everything will be able to go back to the way it was. It's a stunning achievement for Alison. But it also serves as clarity for her that she needs to get away to clear her head. She needs to escape from all of the clone conspiracy for awhile. On one hand, it plays as the show writing that character out for a little bit. As such, this is a great episode to send her off because it shows her value. And yet, she will be missed if the next few episodes really focus in on the conspiracy of it all. But it also feels genuine for the character. Plus, that final moment with Donnie is just so beautiful and heartwarming.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Beneath Her Heart" was written by Alex Levine and directed by David Wellington.
  • I'm bad at keeping track of timelines within shows. So, it was startling to hear that the events of this entire series have only taken place over a little longer than a year. It shouldn't be because I knew that everything has happened very quickly and successively for the clones. But it's still a lot of plot to have happened in just one year.
  • I had completely forgotten that Ramone is the same actor who plays Mischa on FX's The Americans. The two are such completely different characters too. Here, it's nice to see Ramone again and that things haven't changed too much for him. He has a new job but is still living with his parents. Plus, he's never wanted to do any harm to Alison or Donnie.
  • Cosima's first impression of Alison is her being high. That's just hilarious. It wouldn't be the last time the characters would see Alison drunk or high either. But it certainly paints a picture for Cosima. They still ultimately worked together. But it also extends their first conversation longer than Alison probably would have wanted.
  • Sarah goes to help Art in the Hendrix garage while Felix helps Alison at the big performance. Of course, they ultimately just are supportive faces. It's Alison who keeps Art from killing his new partner. And it's Alison who tells everyone off when they immediately start judging her after Donnie collapses on stage.
  • Plus, the moment where Donnie's performance goes awry is so weird. Why do people allow it to go on for so long once it's clear that he's about to pass out for some medical reason? And then, no one seems all that concerned about him. It's only Alison and Felix who rush to his side. The rest are just in their seats waiting for the next act to take the stage. It's weird.
  • Things haven't gotten too creepy or manipulative between Rachel and Kira yet. Right now, it's just Rachel clipping Kira's fingernails and giving her a pet mouse. It's a special pet. But it also influences Kira to potentially cut herself to see if she can heal quickly. That could be very dangerous.
  • And Helena is hiding out in a convent. That's surprising and completely random. This hour didn't need to end with that big reveal. Because it does likely means that the rest of the characters will need to find her next week.