Orphan Black: The Weight of This Combination

“Count your sisters.”

After a first season that was damn near perfect television, Orphan Black’s second season followed with an almost equal awesomeness, suffering at times from a lack of focus and, in later episodes, being weighed down by its own mythology. With the addition of Project Castor to the mix, I was worried that the focus of the show would shift more than I wanted it to, that the heart of the show would become the complex history of Projects Castor and Leda. If this episode is any indication as to how the rest of the season is shaping up, I needn’t have worried.

After a season that saw our main clones driven apart by problems in their separate spheres (Alison’s alcoholism, Cosima’s disease, Helena and the Proleatheans, Sarah and Dyad’s quest for Kira) “The Weight of This Combination” brought us right back to where, in my opinion, the show should always be: the relationship between our three main sisters. They were so isolated last season, but here they were in almost constant contact. More so than ever before, they feel like a sisterhood.

With Helena

The episode opened with one of the cutest dream sequences I’ve ever had the pleasure to see. Welcome to Helena’s head where everything is surprisingly bright and cheerful and Beach Boys music plays on a loop. Helena’s happy place is being surrounded by her sestras, her brother sestra, and Kira, of course. She’s pregnant, cupcakes cover every surface (thank you, Alison) and Cosima is a Ukrainian folk costume. Because…well, do you really need a justification to see Cosima in a Ukrainian folk costume?

Of course, this is Orphan Black, so anything happy is immediately followed by something dire. In this case, Helena’s actual reality. Trapped in a wooden crate with an imaginary talking scorpion. I should have something profound and insightful to say about the scorpion. I really should. I don’t. It does seem like this isn’t the first encounter Helena’s had with the imaginary talking scorpion. She’s been in situations like her current one far too often and it serves to reason she’d develop a coping mechanism like an imaginary friend. Why she went with a scorpion who calls her “kiddo” is anyone’s guess.

While Helena was physically separated from her sisters, she was the only thing on Sarah’s mind. Sarah was laser focused on finding Helena and getting her back. She stormed out of Mrs. S’s after her confession that it was she who handed Helena over to Castor and put herself and her sisters at grave risk when she pursued the issue with Ferdinand. She may be a slightly psychotic murderer, but Helena is family and there are no lengths Sarah won’t go to to protect her family.

At Dyad

So much happened at Dyad I seriously don’t know where to begin. Delphine has taken over in earnest this time. She’s finally earned my trust and, in a weird way, breaking up with Cosima was how she did it. If she really was out for something sinister from the sisters, wouldn’t she want to keep Cosima close in order to keep manipulating her? Instead she is following Cosima’s direction from last season. To love one of the sisters, she must love them all. And in order to protect them all, Delphine needs to stay focused on the task at hand. I predict that, unless the unthinkable happens (please no), they won’t be apart for long. The puppy followed the explorer the whole way.

Delphine’s first act as the new Rachel was to get Sarah to pretend to be the old, two-eyed Rachel in order to insulate Leda from Topside’s ‘Cleaner’ Ferdinand. As complicated as that sounds (and was), we got to see Sarah pretending to be Rachel and to interrogate Alison pretending to be herself, so it was worth it.

Rachel and Ferdinand clearly have a past filled with not so pleasant things. By which I mean Helsinki. “Helsinki girls were eradicated in twenty-four hours. Six clones, thirty-two collateral.” What the? Apparently, Topside killed six Leda clones in 2006. Rachel’s not supposed to know about it, but does. And now Sarah does too. From what Delphine said, it sounds like the current Helsinki-esque plan to murder our main characters was a side project of Ferdinand and Rachel’s, not sanctioned by Topside. Which means the girls are safe for now. I think. This is getting confusing.

Castor Crisis

The Castor clones felt like a very minor presence, at least in comparison with where I thought they’d go with the whole thing. Still, season premiere. Plenty of time to focus on them later. Currently, the biggest issue I have with the Castor clones is that the only way we have of telling them apart is their hair and that they don’t have names. With Leda clones, it’s easy to tell who is who. They all dress differently, walk differently, talk differently, and apply their eyeliner differently. There just hasn’t been enough time to differentiate the Castors. So far we have Mark the Proleathean (unseen in this episode), the one in military uniform (presumably the same one we saw in uniform last season), mustache guy, and fauxhawk guy. You see my problem.

Despite my issues with identification, the Castor Clones make extremely effective adversaries. We don’t know what they want, which just makes them scarier. They’ve all had military training and they’re certainly the most physically threatening force the sisterhood has come up against. The Neolutionists and both factions of the Proleatheans were helmed by older men. The Castors are young and strong. Mustache kicked Mrs. S’s ass. Mrs. S! Not to mention Fauxhawk was able to spout out Sarah’s life story. How do they know so much? We have no way of knowing what they want, who (if anyone) they’re working for, or how many of them have teamed up to achieve their unknown purpose. Are Military and Mark in cahoots with Mustache and Fauxhawk? Do they all work for the same entity? How is Paul involved? What did they want with Crystal? Does that have anything to do with them obtaining Helena? Stay tuned.

Bits and Pieces

All season three episode titles come from Dwight Eisenhower’s farewell address, famous for warning against the influence of the military-industrial complex. Hmm…

Helena calls the imaginary talking scorpion Pupok, which is Ukrainian for bellybutton.

Delphine has straightened her hair and the world as we know it is ending. Bring back the curls. Do it now.

A new clone? Again? This one is Crystal. At some point we’re going to stop discovering new clones, right? There has to be a finite number of them.

Mrs. S. attacks Mustache with a pen much in the same way Sarah grabs a nail file when dealing with Ferdinand. Nurture prevails.

Clone Quotes

Imaginary Cosima: “I’m like way better thanks to science.”

Pupok: “No one said it was gonna be easy, kiddo.”

Felix: “It’s Delphine. God, she looks good.”
Focus, Felix!

Fauxhawk: “You’re a legend, Sarah Manning.”

Sarah: “I only trust my sisters.”

Mrs. S: “Don’t let her make it worse.”
Felix: “She’s going to make it worse. She will.”
I love his resignation. Felix knows Sarah.

Sarah: “She wants my help saving Leda and Dyad.”
Felix: “Jesus, don’t these people know you never even finished high school?”

Sarah as Rachel: “Rachel Duncan, über bitch.”

Alison as Sarah: “Oi oi, Rachel.”
Sarah as Rachel: “Shut up.”

three and a half out of four nameless Castor clones

sunbunny, who is probably not played by Tatiana Maslany


Mark Greig said...

RIP Delphine's curly hair. You will be deeply missed.

milostanfield said...

"Currently, the biggest issue I have with the Castor clones is that the only way we have of telling them apart is their hair and that they don’t have names."

That may continue to be an issue because that could be the whole point of the Castor boyz. They were (except for Mark?) raised self aware and in a military context. So they were all raised similarly, with all of the restrictions that such an environment would imply. Most of the Leda girls were, by experimental design, raised very differently and thus more individuated. "Brotherhood" will be very different and much more scary that "Sestrahood".

So Leda and Castor are two similar experiments with very different designs. But what are their goals? Castor is probably pretty clear: military. Supersoldiers, hopped up on Mr.T and who knows what other epigenetic nightmare concoctions, maybe even wired to think and act together. Leda I can't figure. Making clones and then turning them loose just to see what happens sounds more like pure science than corporate science for profitable gain.

Think I'm gonna dig up Eisenhower's speech and read it. We've gone from Darwin (science) to Bacon (ethics) to Ike's warning about the MIC (politics). Sounds like s*#t is gonna go down in the real world this time around.

We may get a clearer picture of what the Castors are about when Mark, the only one we know, and Gracie return. Does he really love Gracie and want to protect her and her child? Or is a switch gonna go off in his head and he turns Gracie, chock full of Helena babies, over to his military overlords?

One silly hope I have for this season is that we get to meet Alison's "Mom from hell". They've dropped a couple of hints about her. Depending on who the actress is, that could be hella fun.

Except for the "two clones playing two other clones at the same time and place" madness, this premiere was a bit less exciting than the other two premieres. One threw us and Sarah into the deep end of an unknown pool, Two had Sarah literally running for her life, and Three seemed more like setting pieces in place for the rest of the season. Should be quite a game once it gets going.

sunbunny said...

milostanfield - I've been working on a long outline detailing the mythology of of OB and a very long list of unanswered questions because it's all getting crazy complex and you hit a couple on the head. It's jumping ahead a bit but it's certainly not an unreasonable assumption that the point of Project Castor was to breed super soldiers whereas the point of Project Leda was never made clear. Last season, Duncan described the project's genesis as an "I wonder if we can do this, hey we can!, let's try it" sort of thing but keeping the sisters (and Tony) separate and unaware of their cloneage suggests that it was more psychological in nature, examining the nature/nurture divide. But this was never explicitly stated. The only thing we know is that Dyad "hijacked" the project after it was contracted out to them by the military and very possibly altered Project Leda's original intention.

As for Mark, Fauxhawk suggested that he may have been a plant in the Proleatheans all along (which could have been total bullshit who knows). As to whether or not he was self aware, either is possible at this point.

I can definitely see why they would want the Castors to look and act and be so similar from a writing perspective. Their lack of individuality dehumanizes them and makes them that much more scary. It's difficult from the reviewing perspective, however. :)

We absolutely need to meet Alison's mom. And I really hope we will. :D

Panda said...

Random thing to notice, but Jordan Garavis and Dlan Bruce's names were swapped around in the credits. Don't know if it means anything other than the fact that Paul only appears in a handful of episodes now, and Felix is in every one.

Great review, sunbunny and I echo what you said about trusting Delphine now. That scene broke my heart, and I hope Cosima realises how difficult it was for Delphine to do what she did.

Also, I love Delphine's new hair. It's slick and fitting given her new position.

milostanfield said...

"With the addition of Project Castor to the mix, I was worried that the focus of the show would shift more than I wanted it to, that the heart of the show would become the complex history of Projects Castor and Leda."

Hopefully, as long as Sarah remains Sarah, we won't have to worry too much about OB getting too story arc top heavy. Sarah's focus has always been her immediate loved ones, first Kira and her adopted family, and now Sestrahood. She will of course have to engage with the "larger" story but I don't see her focus changing. As a high school dropout she has too much common sense for that. But then her focus has grown larger over 2 seasons. It's neat that Sarah and Helena, the two twin clones, have grown the most.

In a way Helena has replaced Kira as the new damsel in distress, although they will probably resolve that quickly. I hope so. After Season Two Helena is my current favorite clone (sorry Alison). I just wanna watch her eating while being free!

A lot of ambiguity with the Castors we've met so far. "Count your sisters" was a warning, but what kind? After all, the immediate threat to the Sestras came from Topside not the Hairboyz. On the other hand the attacks on Siobhan (and Crystal) were horrifying. Such a shock to see Siobhan, always a pillar of strength, go down like that. So maybe the Boyz are just monsters (but so was Helena at first). Ambiguity.

(Warning - Out on a limb paragraph)
Also we don't know if the Boyz are still doing the Military's bidding. They (some of them?) could be renegades with their own agenda. Maybe they are trying to cure themselves like the Sestras. If so, Brotherz and Sestras could have common ground there (Kira, and Helena's magical Nitro cannister, I'm looking at you). Then again they could just be monsters. With all the unknowns and ambiguity in this ep, the writers could roll this in a number of directions. Ambiguity. Ya gotta love it.

Lamounier said...

Very good start. I’m among the many fans that were disappointed by season two, so I was really glad to watch such a confident season three premiere.

One of the things that hurt last season was the lack of a clear arc. What was the story of that season after all? It was around Rachel Duncan, uber bitch (thank you, Sarah), but what was the end game or the big revelation? That Rachel was obsessed with Kyra? That Leekie killed Rachel’s mother? Who cared? I had the impression the writers had burned most of their mythology revelations on the first season and tried their hardest to put some weight on the second season stories, but eventually it all collapsed. The Castor organization, on the other hand, works better as a Big Bad for this series, while it raises interesting questions. Not only were the writers able to expand the mythology of the series through Castor, they also managed to build new intrigues that are actually intriguing. Well done.

Another improvement is how they handled the Dyad Game of Thrones. Last season was so confusing. Who was in charge? Leekie? Rachel? That Rachel monitor that got killed? There were so many double crossings and back stabbing, it was hard to follow. And then Topside showed up to make the chess game even more confusing. “The Weight of This Combination” reassures that Topside bosses really are the bosses, and quickly rearranges the game played by their employees, keeping it complicated but never confusing. For instance, we were introduced to a new player, Ferdinand, who was sent to review Dyad’s operations, but was in fact conspiring with Rachel to kill the Clone Club by using a protocol called “Helsinki”, who Rachel was not even supposed to know of. Delphine is able to turn the tables just in time to save the Hendrixes, stop Sarah as Rachel from killing Ferdinand and intimidate Ferdinand by some very uber bitchy blackmail. I loved it. Much better than most of the Rachel/Leekie debacle from last season.

Speaking of Delphine, she’s the third improvement this season premiere delivers. Last season three of the supporting players were big question marks (Delphine, Paul and Siobhan). The show suffered from too much ambiguity - no offense, milostanfield :) - and/or vagueness around those characters. It was hard to connect to them without knowing their intentions and agendas. Not this time. Delphine was awesome! She showed her vulnerable side when she cried over breaking up with Cosima, she ruled through the episode and she. was. evil! She freaking tortured Rachel. Wow. That was uncomfortable to watch, but, character wise, Delphine rocked. Complex and well written, now that’s how you build ambiguity on a character. Again, well done, show.

Lamounier said...

Improvements aside, let’s just praise Tatiana Maslany already. A friend of mine wrote the perfect description of this episode on her facebook page: Tatiana Maslany plays Tatiana Maslany so Tatiana Maslany won’t be caught playing Tatiana Maslany. Seriously, that scene rocked! And I liked how the episode kept Sarah playing Rachel. I miss Sarah playing another clone on a regular basis (mostly because Tatiana is so good at it) and now, with Rachel hospitalized, the writers have the perfect opportunity to do it again. Please, writers, do it.

Quick thoughts:

- Felix didn’t have much to do, except for being by Sarah’s side and doing her extreme makeover - clone edition.

- Cosima doesn’t look so sick anymore. It’s sort of convenient, but I’m all for Cosima not being ill through another season. Of course, it could also mean the writers will pull the rug from under us and kill Cosima by the end of the season.

- Kyra looks like... the actress is not done growing. It’s a little distracting.

- Poor Mrs. S. I like her. Please treat her well, Sarah.

- Poor Helena. I didn’t like the talking scorpion at first, but it was kind of amusing by the end of the episode.

- “Holy doddle, here we go.” Ha! Love you, Alison.

milostanfield said...

Great comments,Lamounier! Especially the part about Delphine. Of the supporting characters she has experienced the most (nonphysical) growth over 2+ seasons. If you like the actress you may enjoy "X Company", a WWII drama that she stars in.

I do like me some ambiguities but they do need to be resolved eventually, especially before new ones are introduced.

I'm getting the feeling the writers are trying to consolidate and simplify things a bit, but can't quite let go of some threads.

Anonymous said...

After watching all of season 3, my first thought about Helena's scorpion was the that old story about the scorpion and the frog? Where the scorpion stings the frog while the frog carries him across the river and they both die because the scorpion says it's just its nature. The scorpion is a pragmatic, trained part of Helena, or her learned "nature". It scolds her when she has opportunity to escape and hesitates to help people she now cares about. Maybe?