'Orphan Black' Recap: Every Experiment Needs a Control Group
When last we saw the clones, Sarah and Helena were road tripping, Alison was drying out, Cosima was searching and Rachel was screwing …
A crucial component of the Scientific Method is the control group — the part of the experiment that is isolated from the other variables to contrast with the experiment’s results. Seeds with soil and water turn into plants, while seeds left alone do nothing.
In an Orphan Black episode chock full of a lot of juicy scenes and reveals, “To Hound Nature in Her Wanderings” most fascinating discovery is the one implied rather than directly revealed: That in the grand clone experiment by Aldous Leekie, Rachel is the control group.
Sarah’s investigation eventually leads her to the “Swan Man” she was looking for, Prof. Duncan, who has been on the run as a part of Mrs. S’s shadowy organization for 20 years. He lays the whole mess out Sarah when she tracks him down.
The good professor has been living under the name of “Peckham.” The ravages of being on the run and age have blunted what once was a brilliant mind, but he still has enough marbles to give Sarah many of the answers she’s been seeking.
Sarah and her innumerable number of sisters were intended to be prototypes, simple proof that humans can be cloned. While a scientific success, the program was supposed to be shuttered on ethical grounds. Leekie and Dyad (described as a Hydra by Mrs. S - I smell Agents of SHIELD crossover!) took the embryos to full term.
Duncan and his wife took Rachel, planned to raise and nurture her as their own daughter and then expose the whole thing to the world. Leekie had other ideas.
Leekie killed Rachel’s mother, sent Prof. Duncan on the run and raised the little girl as the Neolutionist control of this clone experiment: self-aware from a young age and without compassion. Her actions in the boardroom and the bedroom have always been about power plays. Rachel is the living embodiment of control.
At its core, Orphan Black has been a commentary on the Nature vs. Nurture idea. Dozens of biologically identical beings were loosed onto the world, raised by differing hands producing a variety of results: a grifter, a cop, a teacher, a scientist, a mother and an assassin who loves a good fart joke. At the center of it all is the seed plucked out of the soil, Rachel.
Here is this week’s clone by clone rundown:
Alison: After a week away, Alison is back in the picture. She’s still an unwilling participant in rehab, biding her time until she can get sprung and resume her life.
Everyone’s favorite psycho drug dealer, Vic, makes his way into one of Alison’s group meetings and confronts her afterward. Vic has gone straight and is following the path of the Buddha. He’s also a confidential informant for Det. Deangelis, getting dirt on Alison in exchange for his legal issues going away.
Alison is wary at first, but after some basketball therapy and some help with Donnie, she opens up and trusts Vic. They’re going to do craft projects together for family day.
Cosima: The living search engine is responding to the new stem cell treatment well enough that the next step in treatment is around the corner.
Delphine and Cosima’s duet turns into a trio when Scott goes from a Skype friend to an IRL colleague thanks to the workings of Leekie. While scratching an intellectual curiosity of his own, Scott discovers that Cosima’s treatment, derived from the stem cells of baby teeth, has a familial link to the clones.
Delphine does the math in her head — the stem cells are from Kira — and swears Scott to total secrecy. There’s a lot more going on in that RV than origami and bad cooking.
Helena: Her story was the most uplifting and heartbreaking of the episode. In the span of a season Helena has gone from the most frightening character to the most sympathetic.
The road trip starts out both prophetic and idyllic. Before they bed down for the night, Sarah wants to know why all the mystery about Cold River and Helena says she knows that Sarah would abandon her once she knew where the “Swan Man” was. Helena is evasive when Sarah quizzes her about what happened with the Prolethians.
Helena breaks the tension with some shadow puppets and a well-timed toot. The next morning, Sarah unsuccessfully tries to keep a straight face as Helena half remembers the lyrics to The Archies’ “Sugar Sugar” during an in-car sing along. It really looks like the seestrahs have formed a real bond.
When they reach the church in the “Swan Man” photo, Sarah leaves Helena in the car without even the radio to keep her distracted. Quickly bored of waiting, Helena slips into a bar to find some entertainment of her own.
She lines up her own amped-up variation on the old “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” on the bar. She picks a fight with Carl the Goat, bar patron who gets a little too fresh, before Jesse, the not goat-like tow truck driver, steps in to defuse the situation.
Helena is instantly drawn to the man who was both kind to her and offered her pork rinds. Helena loves her some odd snacks so they hit it off immediately.
She tells Jesse wild stories based on the lives of her seestrahs; then engages in a little flirtatious arm wrestling.
All the while, Prolethian Mark and Dyad’s Paul are in the back of the bar splitting up the spoils of war. Mark will take Helena, Paul gets Sarah and their respective masters are happy.
Helena experiences genuine tenderness for probably the first time in her life when Jesse takes a break from being beaten in arm wrestling and has a slow dance, followed by a kiss followed by animalistic making out. It’s hard not to flash back to last week’s Mad Men during the tender parts of this scene.
The bliss and passion can’t last forever. Carl with has been steaming the whole time she and Jesse were flirting. He cuts in on the dance and releases the savage inside Helena. She cold-cocks him with a billiard ball then goes after his eyes like he was a Ukrainian nun, sparking a brawl in the bar.
Jesse tries to plead Helena’s case as she is led away in handcuffs. Sarah leaves the church to witness the scene and locks eyes with Helena as she is pushed into the police cruiser.
No charges are filed, but Helena is still cuffed to a chair while her paperwork is processed. The desk officer tells Helena that her sister has come to pick her up. Expecting to see Sarah, Helena meets Prolethian Gracie instead and the prophecy is fulfilled.
Gracie tells Helena that the eggs that were harvested have been fertilized and she needs to go back to the Prolethian compound so they can be implanted (and so Gracie won’t have to carry the embryo as a fallback).
Helena is seemingly on the fence about having a baby of her own until Mark meets her at the door with Jesse’s hat, which he lifted during the fight, saying Jesse wanted her to have it. Feeling betrayed and abandoned for the second time in an hour, Helena asks to be taken to her babies.
Sarah: The deeper Sarah goes exploring her nature with the clones, the tougher it becomes to like her. In the episode alone she uses Helena, Bell, Felix (who is out on bond?), Cosima and Duncan to her own investigative ends.
Her mission to save herself and her daughter is all consuming. For Sarah there is no “I” in team, but there is “Me, me, me, ME!”
Sarah leaves Helena in the car as she scams her way down to the archives of the now-defunct Cold River Institute.
Scientists at Cold River had been conducting the kind of experiments that would make a Nazi blush since the early 20th century before it was finally shut down. Sarah sifts through the boxes of horrors archived in the church paying close attention to the ones Duncan was most interested in during his visits.
There are gaps in the records that Maggie Chen stole, but luckily Bell found them and brought everything to the Felixcave to piece together. After getting a lead on where Duncan hiding out thanks to Bell, she ditches Helena and goes on the hunt. To give Sarah credit, she does ask Bell to try and get Helena released, but Helena was still treated like an asset devoid of usefulness rather than the seestrah who walked arm-in-arm out of the sniper’s nest.
She gets to Duncan’s place where Mrs. S greets her with a 9mm pistol and hot tea. Mrs. S helps care for the professor now and explains what she knows and what the audience has suspected for a while to Sarah.
As Sarah has her revelatory conversation with Duncan, Mrs. S goes outside and meets with Paul who shadowed Sarah to the house. Mrs. S knows all about Paul, his shadowy past in Afghanistan and that he is playing a dangerous game serving both Rachel and Leekie. She suggests that Paul jump to her side to seemingly protect Sarah and Prof. Duncan.
During her conversation with the professor, Sarah talks about the dire sickness she and the other clones, especially Cosima, face. Thanks to her previous interactions, it’s hard to tell just how genuine Sarah’s words of affection about Alison and Cosima are or if she’s just telling Duncan what he needs to hear to reach her own ends.
Duncan sets Sarah’s wheels into motion when he tells her it’s been Leekie in control the whole time.
Next time: Do you smell salt?
Craig Wack wonders who would win in a fight: Helena or Agent May? Please follow his Twitter.