By Craig Wack | TV | June 8, 2014 |
By Craig Wack | TV | June 8, 2014 |
Last time we saw the clones, Sarah was fleeing, Cosima was fuming, Rachel was weeping, Alison was raging and Helena was missing in action …
The latest episode of Orphan Black, “Variable and Full of Perturbation,” is as good of an opportunity as any to talk about the incredible performance that star Tatiana Maslany has been putting in all season.
From a story perspective, the episode itself is fairly flat compared to the previous shows this season with very little plot progression despite packing a lot of developments into the last 10 minutes. However it’s a chance for the characters to catch up, showcasing Maslany’s near limitless talent with what is essentially a guest starring role by the actress who stars as five main characters on the show. Got all that?
Front and center is the introduction of Tony (Toni! Toné!), a transgender clone with a tough attitude and a neckbeard. Through a series of events linking back to Beth Childs, Tony meets with Bell who eventually leads him to the Felixcave.
From a plot perspective it makes sense because the Felixcave has traditionally been the first stop for any great clone adventure, but it’s also a clever way to help the audience frame Tony because every clone has had significant interaction with Felix. It also doesn’t hurt that Maslany and Jordan Gavaris have great chemistry on screen.
Wigs and makeup can only take you so far, Maslany’s background in improv shows because she puts in the detail work to make the characters feel like a different actress is in each role. The clones all have different personal tics: Helena chews with her mouth open, Alison moves with the precision of a dancer, Cosima’s posture is laid back to the point of being slouchy; Rachel is colder than January Jones.
Tony’s characterization was the most difficult clone to pull off so far. Maslany needed to portray masculinity without making Tony seem comical. The results were mixed at first but got stronger.
I’m not sure if Tony’s pre-credits reveal was supposed to be a shocker, but it wasn’t. It’s hard to disguise the fact that Maslany has a tiny frame. Hearing the familiar voice and seeing Tony’s partner, Sammy, dwarf him didn’t require much deductive reasoning to determine that we had a new clone on our hands. The choice of “Tennessee Waterfall” hair didn’t help, either, because it obscured with the facial hair, which was supposed to be the real surprise.
Once Tony was in the Felixcave, however, Maslany went to work. Tony paces around the studio like a cat, poking around in an effort to get the lay of the land. It’s an echo of his sister Sarah, who did much the same thing when she first got into Beth’s apartment. It’s a resemblance (and package) that is not lost on Felix.
Interrogation quickly turns to flirtation and a brief makeout session between Tony and Fee. It’s a layered bit of interplay with the male analog of Sarah and Felix both using every trick in their respective arsenals to drag the information they want out of the other. Felix walked the line of attraction and revulsion pretty well.
When Sarah and Tony final meet, Maslany’s detail work shines though. In the wide shot with Felix in the middle, the postures are noticeably different. The two characters smile differently (an art Maslany has perfected across all clones). Later, the Al Bundy pose while relaxing was an excellent finishing touch to the characterization.
Maslany’s performance wasn’t limited to just Tony and Sarah. The writers put Maslany through the wringer this week: Alison’s emotional roller-coaster with Donnie; Rachel’s destructive tantrum in the office; Cosima’s heartbreaking convulsions on the lab floor.
All the body doubles and camera tricks in the world won’t help if the performance can’t sell the idea that that all these characters are people whose biology is the same but their nurture has left an indelible imprint. Maslany’s attention to detail and body movement has sucked the audience in from the start.
Orphan Blackis just a couple of episodes from concluding its second season. The series has explored a lot of heavy areas - science run amok, gender identity, nature vs. nurture, woman’s control over her body, to name a few - all while maintaining a breakneck story pace. None of it works without Maslany’s unique ability to individualize each clone character and make the audience feel for each one.
Here’s this week’s clone-by-clone update:
Alison: As usual, she’s pissed as Donnie because he stayed in bed rather than picking her up from rehab or taking the kids to school. To his defense, Donnie’s had an eventful 24 hours.
Donnie gets higher on Alison’s shit list when she discovers he raided her stash of airline booze bottles and cuddled up with them overnight. They argue and throw liquor around until the kids come in to see what’s going on.
After Alison takes the kids away, she and Donnie clear the air. He professes his ignorance and subsequent anger about Leekie’s experiments. She tells him the full truth about Aynsley’s “accident.” He then goes all in, telling Alison about Leekie’s death and his current residence in their garage.
Alison goes into crisis mode. First, she keeps Donnie from abandoning the family. Secondly, she gets to chastise Donnie about his inability to hide the murder weapon.
Rachel: Paul dropped off the radar and Rachel is not pleased about the development. To ease her concern, she’s taken over Leekie’s duties and office at Dyad. She tells Delphine that Leekie died of a heart attack while on one of the company jets but counters that news with the info that Ethan Duncan offers all the clones a potential lifeline.
Delphine shows up at Mrs. S’s safe house with the news about Duncan. Sarah and Mrs. S are faced with the choice of sacrificing Ethan or taking Kira to have her bone marrow harvested at Dyad in order to save Cosima.
Ethan shows up at Rachel’s office (as if there were any doubts) with a list of materials needed to start synthesizing the cure.
Before Ethan goes to work, Rachel asks what made Sarah so special that she of all the clones was able to have babies. Ethan tells her matter of factly that Sarah was a mistake. The prototype clones were designed to be infertile, a choice that Rachel, on the surface, understands. The destructive fit she throws after he goes to the lab shows a deeper emotional response.
Cosima: The living search engine actually does some non-research activities and is adorable in the process.
She locks Delphine out of the lab as part of their lover’s quarrel - a snit that turns Scott the Lab Assistant on. She harvests stem cells from Kira’s tooth sent over by Sarah. She schools Scott and his Dyad nerd buddies in Cones of Dunshire. (“I don’t know if you are ready for that.”)
After a coughing fit, Delphine enters the lab to bring Cosima up to speed about Leekie and the progress of a cure for her. Cosima’s crisis mode response is to kick out the geeks, get stoned and have makeup cuddles with Delphine.
During the tender moment, Cosima gets Delphine to admit to the instances when she betrayed the clones to Dyad. Cosima threatens that she’ll use the dirt she’s dug up before playing with the nerds to ruin Delphine and then expresses her love.
The giddy first meeting with Ethan turns desperate when Cosima has her worst attack yet. She coughs up blood, lurches across the room and lapses into convulsions while everyone else scrambles to get help.
Sarah: Once Kira learn how to feed herself and earn money, Sarah won’t have much other use on the show other than being bitchy to people.
She snaps at Ethan when he inquires about Kira. She tells Kira that she pretty well abandoned Helena. Then Sarah throws a lot of shade at Delphine when she shows at the safe house.
She does bring Tony up to speed about his true nature and gets the message intended for Beth. Tony’s dead partner/monitor, Sammy, is linked to Paul, who started out as Beth’s monitor. Tony said Paul is a “ghost” with a military past and appears to be on the clones’ side. With purpose serves, Felix puts Tony on a bus to parts unknown with a green phone.
The episode closes with Kira and the novel, “The Island of Dr. Moreau.” Ethan was reading passages to Kira earlier, just as he had to Rachel all those years ago. He gave her the book right before he went to Dyad to play his role as pawn.
Ethan, showing he’s not as doddering or helpless as everyone believes, detailed his work on the pages of the book. Kira wakes up early and pulls it out of the drawer where she’s keeping it safe. There’s a sense of understanding on Kira’s face as she leafs through the pages, proving once again that the 9 year old is the smartest person on the show.
Next week: Helena’s back and she’s moved in with the Duggars.
Craig Wack needs a good shave. Please follow his Twitter.