Review BBC America’s Orphan Black: “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” (Season Finale)

[Warning: Possible spoilers ahead for this episode and any episodes preceding it]

Season finales are conceived to be memorable and in that sense Orphan Black‘s was successful. Its shock moments gave viewers many reasons for pause. If only those pauses were out of a desire to revel in the cleverness of plot points, over attempts to shake away the unpleasantness of seeing this and that depicted on screen.

I enjoy grey area shows where nothing is black and white, so ethically questionable decisions in fictional works aren’t known to turn me away. That being said, the sudden, drastic choices some of the clones make here, forever changing their characters, are decisions too sinister too soon, and they repel me from a first season I had otherwise continually enjoyed. Instead of slowly embarking down dark paths Sarah and Alison leap straight into them. This goes against a path of natural, gradual progression towards darkness for the weaker, quick reversal of personality. Thus big finale moments are created, but minus the pay off of having these character changes be inevitable and worked up to by events leading up to these moments.

Worse, because it’s the finale, my unease towards this episode is what will stick with me in the months until the show’s Spring 2014 return. Instead of remembering the strong dimensions of the show that would have previously dominated my memory of watching it (mainly the cast, led by breakthrough powerhouse Tatiana Maslany), I’ll only remember the following three aspects, which I have pinpointed as the culprits for my taking issue with this finale. The first two might have been allowable and looked past on their own. The same cannot be said for the third,-Sarah’s impulsive, harsh deed- which I cannot excuse and which still has the gravity to turn me away from the show all together, despite my current plan to give Orphan Black a chance to redeem itself next year.
 

1. Lack of Felix

  • I will admit this is more of a personal qualm than an actual problem, but Felix was really poorly underutilized in this finale. Every scene he is thrown into seems out of pity: Sure, Felix can make a brief appearance here, but the catch is he’ll have little to say or do beyond standing/sitting in the background for back-up as Sarah’s loyal brother. We’ll make his apartment the impromptu home base/safe haven for Sarah’s fellow clones, but he’ll be pushed out and left ceding his own place to them a ridiculous number of times. In essence, his willingness to come to their aide on behalf of Sarah is not appreciated but assumed.
  •  

  • And speaking of Sarah, after being informed that Felix was, like her, arrested by the police, she didn’t include him in her terms to Art as one of the people that needed to be protected if she was to confess her “secret” (she only requests guaranteed safety for herself and her Felix talking his way out of the slammerdaughter, Kira). Art wants an explanation as to why she shares an uncanny resemblance to his former police partner, Beth, as well as a murder victim and a suburban mom. Sarah is willing to spill that information without the assurance of Felix’s freedom, despite the fact that his only crime was helping her. And if her lawyer hadn’t interrupted the police questioning, she would have gone through with leaving him in the lurch, too.

 

2. Alison lets neighbor, Aynesley, die

  • Alison standing by as Aynesley is strangled, her scarf caught in a garbage disposal*, goes along with Alison’s established proneness to paranoia, as well as a track record of instant, unfiltered reactions to presumed threats (the hot glue gunning incident with her back when Aynseley was alivehusband, Donny, comes to mind). She becomes cold and unfeeling in these situations, so that she can commit what she then believes has to be done to keep her and her children safe. However, the assumptions by which she acts in this instant turn out to be false conclusions. Aynesley was not her monitor and she should have been 100% sure of her former best friend’s guilt before allowing her death to take place, unhindered.
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  • And what a death. Unabashed and dirty, the camera never turns away. The audience has to consider the full gravity of this “no time to think about things” decision, and that Alison’s instinct was to do nothing, changes one’s whole perception of her as the stressed but steady “soccer mom”. She also stands out for being the only one to sign Doctor Leekie’s contract, out of a compulsion to do anything to have her life return to normal. Since her life was never normal to begin with (as a clone, she was always being observed) it’s not about to become so now. What Alison truly desires is a return to the delusion of normalcy. By her coldness towards Aynesley, she proves how far she is willing to go to get it. Maybe this isn’t the greatest stretch for her character to take this route, but it certainly is the worst.

 
*I have seen limbs lost by garbage disposals on TV before but strangulation may be a first.
 

~ SIDENOTE ~

Alison’s inaction let me to make two other TV pop culture connections.

In the seventh season finale of ER, “Rampage,” [spoilers ahead] Anthony Edward’s Dr. Mark Green is alone in an elevator when a patient starts arresting in front of him. This dying man had been on a shooting rampage that day, at least eight or nine dead, including at least one child at a foster home. His motive for all the violence was Green and Adele, the hospital’s social worker, taking his son away due to suspicions of parental abuse. He shot Adele at her home address and she becomes paralyzed. He killed his neighbor, who out of concern had brought his son to the hospital in the first place. Her son, now motherless, was injured. And the address he was heading to when the police caught him was Green’s house, where his wife and newborn child were. It’s a morally ambiguous scene, especially when carried out by one of the more moral doctors of the show, but as you watch the episode’s closing sequence of Mark charging the crash cart paddles and then setting them off in midair, not attempting to save the patient, simply letting him die, you know why. He was protecting his family, who came out unharmed but were without a doubt the man’s next target. Alison didn’t have any solid proof when it came to her suspicions about Anyseley.

Then there’s Breaking Bad‘s Walter White, who goes into the meth manufacturing business to make some money to leave his family after a terminal cancer diagnosis. These “pure” motives turn out to be enough for him to convince himself that he is innocent, but not the DEA. If they found out about his dealings, every dollar would be seized, his family dropped in the middle of a gigantic scandal. As a precaution against such a reveal, Walter selfishly moves to block any potential loose ends that might rat on his drug operation. [spoilers ahead for end of season two] This includes his crime partner, Jesse Pinkman’s girlfriend, Jane. Pushing her onto her back while she was under the influence of heroin in season two’s, “Phoenix,” he stood by and watched as she suffocated on her own vomit because she threatened to tell the DA about his meth dealings. There is nothing forgivable about this murder, which has a domino effect in setting off other disasters (Jesse’s mental breakdown, Jane’s father getting distracted while on the job, causing a passenger-filled plane to crash, etc.).

Even worse than Alison’s doing nothing, he deliberately pushed Jane on her back. If nothing else Alison can say she didn’t stick Aynesley’s scarf in the garbage disposal. Worse with Alison’s: she is not half as despicable as Walter White. I feel he has always been capable of turning into a monster but I wouldn’t describe her the same way. She shouldn’t have been able to just stand there**, no matter what her reasons for wanting the woman dead, especially while any doubt existed of her involvement with Dr. Leekie. Plus, Aynseley was moving away. If Alison has let that be enough and dropped it right there, instead of following Aynseley into her house, probably nothing would have happened.
 

** Walter shouldn’t have been able to not do anything either, but it somehow wasn’t surprising. No less horrific but not shocking for him to do, either.
 

3. Sarah shot and killed Helena

Sisters

Sisters

  • This was the worst to me. Helena was Sarah’s sister. Yes, she killed people, there is no denying or excusing that. But… if it weren’t for the circumstances of her upbringing, Helena might have been a very different person. That can be said of anyone, naturally, but a lot of her twisted actions can be traced back to a childhood of being mentally brain washed by Father Thomas. He manipulated her into believing she was the original clone, destined to destroy the others by some religious decree. And who was around to tell her differently? Sarah by no means had an easy life as an orphan. However, she did have a brother, and now a daughter, who loved her dearly and the effect of such companionship can never be underestimated.
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  • Helena only ever had a man who was using her to carry out his plans, a man, as revealed in episode nine, “Unconscious Selection,” she would have never met if her birth mother hadn’t left her in the convent. Amelia separated her twins with the intention of keeping them safe from the scientists who created them but Sarah, who was dropped in the foster system, ended up getting the better deal. Therefore Helena has legitimate reasons for being upset with her birth mother, only she reacts in the way she has been taught to respond, through cold violence.
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  • Truly, when she kills Amelia under the ruse of being Sarah using a wig***, it is a murder motivated by a recognition on her part of what she has become (a killer) and what she could have been (a mother like Sarah). This self-understanding started taking place after she meets Sarah. Suddenly she starts trying to be good, going against orders to come to Sarah’s aid during a rescue attempt of Paul in episode eight, “Entangled Bank,” and siding with Sarah over Thomas in, “Unconscious Selection,” before even knowing they were related. She even drops her kidnapping of Kira out of some newfound remorse and conscious. Kira recognizes this and goes on to tell her mom that Helena was not a real monster but Sarah isn’t listening. Helena wants to change, no longer purely a follower but a decision maker. This understandably means mistakes are being made as well. Because of her lifestyle as a trained assassin, these mistakes are on a grander scale. Sarah can’t take that.
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  • I thought that the realization of them being related meant we would see a Sarah next season who was going to farther help Helena recover. These predictions made Sarah’s decision to kill Helena all the more unsettling and upsetting, a betrayal of sorts. Helena was no threat to her or Kira, yet Sarah cannot forgive Helena for Amelia’s death, nor Kira accidently getting hit by a car. Maybe no one could have been forgiving in that moment of discovering the dying Amelia, but Sarah’s reaction is quick and deadly. The sisters had had each others backs before, withholding from harming the other due to some internal feeling of identification and connection with the other. Those days permanently end with this finale.

 
*** FX’s The Americans has shown me how well a wig can be pulled off, looking both real and undetectable (ABC’s Alias had to resort to bright colors to get away with constantly changing Agent Sydney Bristow’s hair styles). When Helena dons a wig of her own and succeeds in stabbing her birth mother, did anyone else feel like it was a cheat? I know clones pretending to be other clones has been used before. Previously viewers have always been aware when such attempts at subterfuge were happening. This use of a wig to hide Helena’s identity was different: not a drastic, intentional change in behavior and speech on the clone’s part (Sarah watching video of Beth to get her accent right) but a disguise that predominantly leaned on a cheap piece of clothing. For surprise it worked but because the clones are all played by the same actress, it felt cruel to mess with our ability to tell them apart with an item that could be purchased.
 
 
So, while I will be coming back for season two, the question remains as to whether I’ll be sticking around…. I still go back to the fact that, for all the craziness the plot was allowed to have (reasonable sci-fi explanations available for any outrageous directions it chose to take), the clones were supposed to be grounded in human qualities. Sometimes they did wild things (Alison and her hot glue gun interrogation) but their go-to excuse of still tackling the realization of, “being a genetic copy of others” was effective (plus the hot glue scene was original and darkly comedic). After this finale, the clones have officially lost their privilege of using viewer sympathy to get away with committing questionable actions (or, technically in Alison’s case, getting away with choosing to do nothing).
 
Is it just me, though? Did you enjoy the finale, or do you have trepidations as well? And what is Orphan Black without Helena? Will the void she leaves be filled with additional clones (already met one new one this episode with corporate “proclone,” Rachel), destroy the show or allow it to further progress towards something more complex? Mourn Helena, discuss the finale, or ponder the future of the show in the comments below.
 

-pictures from here

 

Review BBC America’s Orphan Black: “Entangled Bank” (Season 1, Episode 8)

[Warning: Possible spoilers ahead for this episode and any episodes preceding it]

Is Orphan Black the greatest show plot-wise? Not necessarily (the occasional flip over to Beth’s boyfriend, Paul, or to the police’s investigation* drags), but that’s not why I continue to tune in. I watch for Tatiana Maslany’s demanding, skilled performances portraying the show’s various clones. It’s a demonstration of her talent, how often I forget and have to remind myself that this is the same actress taking on different guises, because that realization isn’t even considered while watching. One is simply too swept away in the story’s sci-fi basis to notice.
 
From a technical standpoint, as well, the seamless filming of Alison and Sarah, or Alison and Helena, on screen at the same time must be credited for not standing out as having been tampered with,** but instead drawing no attention to its smooth combinations of images that would be impossible without editing.
 
*Viewers surpass the cops so much in information that watching them investigate only creates pointless backtracking

** As logically it must have been, different takes snipped or shots blended together so two different characters played by the same person can share the same film space.
 

Seeing Double

Seeing DoubleSeeing Double

How the Clones Rate

  • Cosima is probably the least interesting, mostly because she is the clone most separated from the rest, a distance that corresponds with the fact that most of her conversations with her “sister” clones take place over the phone. She is also, despite her intelligence, turning out to be the least cautious one, falling for the person she believes is her monitor (spoiler: her suspicions are true). That is just setting herself (and every other clone whose protection depends on their united front of silence) up, knowingly being stupid and feigning ignorance to the gravity of her actions. Love can make you blind but the price of that blindness could be deadly, with other clones already being killed of without much reason, except perhaps that their meeting and investigating as a team is causing enough of a stir that one of the them had to be convinced to go rogue [see Helena]. The one perk of Cosima’s storyline is that it has opened up a spot for the great actor, Matt Frewer (Eureka, Alice), to step in as Doctor Leekie, leader of “Neolution,” where humans need not wait for evolution and adaptations to occur naturally but take charge with science.
  • When we first meet Alison, she clashed with fellow clone Sarah over their differences in lifestyle (stay at home mom juggling the paradigm “soccer mom” role vs. trying to run away from a shady past with a daughter previously left behind). Still, it seems their shared anger and stubbornness has broken through that initial dissidence, and it couldn’t be better timing for conciliation. While Sarah has been better able to cope and deal with these unexpected turns of events (used to things not going according to plan), Alison has been reacting to her fears without thinking, landing herself in a mess of a breakdown this episode that is far from private. Falling off the deep end with alcohol and paranoia of her husband or neighbor being her monitor, she’s making decisions she would have never made sober***. She could truly use an ally, as she recalls her transgressions and seeks Sarah’s aid (or more specifically an offer to stay at Sarah’s foster mom, Mrs. S’, home, completely embarrassed and wanting to hide from her kids and friends, who would make her address and take responsibility for her recent bouts of crazy).
  • Helena with Sarah's daughter, KieraIf it was “judge a book by its cover” time, I would say I do not like Helena‘s look at all. It is the most dramatically different from the rest of the clones, with blown out, dyed blonde hair. This reflects the obvious, that she is the most extremely different and mentally damaged of them all, but having her stand out takes away from the more nuanced variations in dress and hair that the other clones have. Then again, Helena is also becoming the most fascinating of the clones, with her conflicted feelings about who to trust and who to listen to. When she cut off that guy’s tail in episode seven, “Parts Developed in an Unusual Manner,” and then followed that up with some sick dancing at a club, tail in hand, I knew she was someone to watch. Maslany seems to have been allowed or directed to go nuts as Helena, and does so with a relish both insane and packed with energy. And now, since her interactions with Sarah and Sarah’s daughter, Kira****, Helena has become a bit of an anti-hero, because she’s starting to hesitate about following her mission. As the “original prototype” from which the other clones were replicated*****, she been told by some “cloaked in shadows” higher ups to destroy all of her replicates, but Sarah’s not dead.
  • Sarah, the likable, rebellious clone who takes on the main perspective from which viewers follow the story.****** Until the tragic conclusion, however, she took more of a back seat this episode to allow the other clones to split the spotlight.

 
*** To follow up hot glue torturing her husband in episode six, “Variations Under Domestication”, here she smokes pot and sleeps with her neighbor’s husband.

****As a detail, I thought it was interesting that Sarah’s daughter, Kira, recognized Allison right away when she pretended to be Sarah and wanted nothing to do with her fake mother yet listens to and feels a sympathy for Helena. This difference in response gives legitimacy to Helena’s claim that there is something different about her and Sarah, something that bridges between them and makes them “connected.”

***** At least that’s what she’s been made to believe. There’s no corroborating evidence yet, outside of her saying it to be so.

****** Unlike the other clones, who were already acquainted and knew what they were when she meets them, Sarah, like the viewer, is new to cloning. By needing to have things explained to her, the viewers are able to learn all the explication stuff by proxy in a manner that’s plausible (Sarah doesn’t know what’s going on so it makes sense that there would be long dialogues discussing the matter).
 

~ SIDENOTE ~

I have a soft spot for sibling relationships and Sarah’s foster brother, Felix (played by Jordan Gavaris), continues to light up the screen as the sibling trapped in Sarah’s mad situation, her only link to the outside world who she trusts completely, and the only friend she can count on to do every crazy thing she tells him to do with little convincing or complaint (impromptu bartending, babysitting, lying, etc.). He doesn’t even have to think long about her requests, which can often be ridiculous (putting together her fake funeral) or cause him to be brought to the attention of the police/her violent ex-boyfriend Vic. She’s his sister and without a doubt he has her back. This exists the other way around, too, in that she would do anything for him. It’s just a lot of “do for her” right now.

Foster Siblings Rock

Foster Siblings Rock


 

The Conclusion

This episode ends on the harsh note of seeing Sarah’s young daughter, Kira, getting hit by a car, a disturbing sight that doesn’t get softened for the awareness that this is a staged scene on a television show, where no children were actually harmed. Truthfully, knowing a child had been struck by a vehicle would have been emotionally impactful enough. The camera not cutting away from the haunting image felt slightly extreme, for shock factor’s sake more than story necessity.

And yes, probably this cliffhanger will lead to the discovery of some medical abnormalities, where doctors are in awe at how Kira was able to survive in spite of her injuries (because she will survive). And surely the question “how did a clone have a child in the first place?” will come up. But that image of that little girl… that image will never be forgotten
 
 
 
So while I’m a little frustrated by some of the directions this show is taking, I find I remain invested in the fate of the clones (and Felix) to be sure to tune in for tonight’s new episode, “Unconscious Selection.” But I’m curious how others felt about the episode. Any clone preferences? Share your likes and dislikes about Orphan Black in the comments below (and please, no future episode spoilers).

Orphan Black screencaps from here