Email Roundtable #54 – Orphan Black Once Again

This week, Kerri and Katie attempt to discuss the first four episodes of season 4 of Orphan Black.

Kerri: Well, Katie, welcome back to Clone Club. While we’ve lost most of the Castor Clones this season (thank god, or whatever higher power you pray to as a Neolutionist – science, I guess?), we’ve gained some Leda clones, namely M.K., aka Mika, aka Veera Suominin. We’ve also made it to episode 4, “From Instinct to Rational Control”, in this fourth season and we’re veering toward what is likely to be the story arc of this year, that of the Brightborn project and a new nemesis in the form of the luminous and way too perfect looking, Evie Cho. I know you planned on doing some “research” before staring this Roundtable, Katie. With that additional knowledge in mind, would you like to give a general rundown of where we are in this sprawling story, if that’s even possible?

Katie: Great to be back! I have done a smattering of “research” before our roundtable this time due to the fact that in previous roundtables I was a floundering in an angry fugue state, thinking “what the hell is happening now?” I’m feeling much more in control of the plot at the moment, so here’s a rundown of the highlights.

– After being tipped off by an anonymous source that the Neolutionists have located her, Sarah is back from Iceland with Kira, Mrs. S, and “The Original.” Mrs. S is busy hiding “The Original” and doing other cool shit like diffusing bombs, while everyone ignores Kira. I can’t say that I’m disappointed, as I find Kira storylines as enjoyable as digging up a rotting corpse from your garage foundation.
– Sarah discovers that she has a Neolutionist implant in her cheek, a disgusting worm-like DNA modification device that Cosima and Scott are busy studying (thanks to Allison and Donnie finding a similar worm in Dr. Leekie’s cheek after they dig him up from their garage.) Btw, Cosima doesn’t know that Delphine is dead (or not?), which is very sad for her.
– Rachel and another child Leda clone are being held captive by Susan Duncan, who was presumed dead. Rachel uses the child clone’s access to an iPad to contact Ferdinand, whom she was in love with, but the message is intercepted by M.K., the anonymous source that originally tipped off Rachel about the Neolutionists finding her in Iceland.

Oh boy, this season is as complicated as ever! Not yet mentioned are the storylines where Felix finds his biological sister and Helena and her pregnancy at the Hendrix household.

To sum up, Sarah is scrambling for her life once again.

What are your initial thoughts on Season 4, Kerri?

Kerri: That is a stellar rundown of what has been happening this season, not to mention a great reminder for someone who generally lets the the show lap over her brain like a warm ocean current. That’s not to say that I don’t find the show engaging, I just only have so much brain capacity for conspiracies and double-crossing. And since EVERYONE is always involved in a conspiracy of some sort and is double or triple crossing everyone else on this show, I choose to spend my energies elsewhere: namely hating on Kira, digging Sarah’s wardrobe choices and singing along to Jesus Christ Superstar with Alison.

I think this season started smartly, jumping back in time to learn more about Beth Childs and the way she fits into the overall arc of the show. In fact, I wish we had spent more time with Beth and Art in the moments directly after the accidental murder of Maggie Chen. I’m obviously not as interested in Beth, knowing her eventual fate, as I am with our current main clone characters, but I think positioning Sarah as detective (along with Art) as she tasks herself with solving the mysteries of Beth that remain (and there seem to still be a few) was a good direction for the show to take – especially because Sarah essentially WAS Beth for awhile, taking on her identity and boyfriend/handler. But, of course, because nothing is stationary for long on Orphan Black we seem to have barrelled right through most of that and moved on to the Brightborn fertility plot. I’m not invested yet in Brightborn but I think there could be something there. What I like about Orphan Black is that the Big Bads of the season (and Brightborn certainly seems to be positioned as this season’s Neolution) always seem to build on the existing infrastructure and the world-building that is already in place. We may not have heard of Brightborn until now but it feels like it very well could have existed in this world up to this point.

Things I am mostly already invested in this season: weird cheek bugs, Helena’s seestra babies, any and all pairings with Donnie (I could watch an entire show where he and Felix pretend to be a couple), Cosima science-ing (thanks for reminding me that she doesn’t know Delphine was shot), and Ferdinand, who knew?

Does this season seem funnier than ever to you?

Katie: Allison and Donnie have been consistently funny for the past two seasons or so – ever since they got their marriage back on track – but Donnie + any other cast member is also a hoot. Donnie + Helena has provided some tender moments as well. Shoutout to Kristian Bruun! Also, let’s take a moment to remember that it’s still just Tatiana Maslany playing all these clones.

Kerri: I think we’ve both expressed our frustrations with the show in one way or another, especially last season. The convoluted plot, especially, is something we’ve talked about and criticized. The humour is certainly something that keeps the show from drowning in self-seriousness. One of the reasons I think I’ve kept watching Orphan Black is that it is “fun” even while dealing with gross, scary and sometimes pretty heavy stuff. The fertility plot seems to be moving us back into a exploration about female bodies and agency which has always been one of my favourite (and smartest) aspects of the show. And, like you say, Maslany’s performances are incredibly varied and “lived in”, even when she’s playing someone that we’ve only just met. Is there something else that keeps you coming back for more even if the plot is veering in a million incomprehensible directions?

Katie: Orphan Black has its own vibe and its own rhythm. It tells complex stories about people who we don’t normally see stories about and does so in a funny, un-showy way. That’s why I keep watching. When the show veers into more typical TV storylines, I tend to get bored (ie. the military, the police.)

Is it just me, or do you also think that in addition to this season being more funny it’s also more gross? Those worms give me the creeps.

Kerri: The worms! Leekie’s decomposing head! Rogue dentistry! Yes, I think this season has definitely ratcheted up the ick-factor. Thankfully most of the gross stuff isn’t terribly violent so I can usually handle it.

You bring up an excellent point. A lot of the fun is squeezed out of the fact that the characters on Orphan Black are not conventional sci fi/action heroes. They haven’t lived in this world for very long and a lot of times they have to fake like they know what they are doing or know what’s going on in order to get anything done. They are all good at some things (Science! Organizing! Being cool! Eating!) but not one of the clones (or non-clones for that matter) adds up to the perfect hero. The last episode gave us an extended, hilarious sequence where Donnie and Felix pretend to be a couple at a fertility clinic and it also gave us a moment where Alison is mistaken for, and pretends to be, Beth. I agree with you, the show is at its best when these characters are put in unfamiliar, unexpected and often dangerous situations rather than when the show is exploring the lives of the characters who already KNOW how to live in these worlds. Maybe that’s why I’ve never been all that interested in Rachel. She’s so comfortable in these surroundings and she knows the inner workings of the clone world fairly intimately. My unfounded fear is that as the show progresses and as the characters live through really terrible and gross stuff we will get less of that.

Is there anything you hope will happen this season, something you hope the show will explore more or a character you would like to see return?

Katie:  I don’t like to make predictions with Orphan Black because generally whatever the showrunners come up with is much more intriguing and funny and gross than I could have ever hoped for – BUT – I will say, I would be interested to see some interaction between the clones opponents. Why aren’t the police further along investigating the Neolutionists? Why isn’t Topside aware of all the clones in the Greater Toronto Area (I’m thinking specifically of Krystal the nail salon clone)? I’d like a bit more information from the other side.

I would’ve like to have Helena stay in place for a little longer. I enjoyed her playing house so much. But whatever they decide to with her will be fascinating.

Kerri: Thanks for the reminder about Krystal the nail salon clone. She’s the perfect example of how Maslany and the showrunners start with a specific “type” for each of the clones and make them into something more fully fleshed-out in a matter of minutes. We saw Krystal infrequently in season 3 but she was one of my favourite non-main characters and would make for some more great “fish-out-of-water” storylines if she ever returned. The last time we saw Krystal she was forcibly (and unbeknownst to her) playing the part of Rachel in a medical room. We really have no idea what became of her though she is presumably still alive. Krystal is certainly at the top of my list of living clones that I hope make a reappearance.

As for the non-clone characters, there is a HUGE, potentially spoiler-y one that I think we will definitely see at some point this season. There are a lot of ongoing mysteries on Orphan Black but the big one looming over our heads from last season is who shot Delphine and if she is indeed dead. According to the Orphan Black wiki Delphine’s status is “unknown” so I’ll choose to believe the fans and hope for another appearance until I’m proven wrong (off-screen deaths of major characters rarely if ever happen). Also this (LIKELY SEASON 4 SPOILERS, BEWARE).  My suspicion is that we will see her again in a great cliffhanger and reveal this season. Like you, I rarely make predictions about this show, but I’ll make this decidedly un-bold one here and now.

Beyond that, I’m curious what happened to Cal. Is he still roaming around Iceland somewhere? I know Michiel Huisman is busy with Game of Thrones so his availability is/was likely limited but I can’t imagine we’ve seen the last of him. What about Gracie or Marion Bowles or Helena’s “boyfriend” Jesse (is she heading off to look for him perhaps?) or even Shay of the floppy hats and fake bohemian lifestyle? It’s amazing how many intriguing and (most importantly) still living characters have briefly infiltrated the plot and, then, seemingly disappeared. It would be great if they somehow fit back into the story in unexpected ways.

Katie: There is indeed a whole other world of Orphan Black that never makes it to the show… Maybe our questions are being answered there?? I’m talking about the Orphan Black comic books (created by the show creators.) I haven’t read them, but the show seems ripe for cross-platform publication since there is so much plot!

Any final shoutouts?

Kerri: Yes, in fact, I only just heard about the Orphan Black comics myself and apparently they do include some season specific spoilers, so you are probably right. But, I have SO MUCH TV to watch and so little time for anything else that I think I’ll pass. I mean, I don’t care about Cal THAT much.

I’d like to give a shoutout to Evie Cho’s foundation game. That shit ain’t Covergirl.

Katie: Shoutout to Felix’s bare butt. Always a welcome sight.

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