TV Recap: Orphan Black S03E04, “Newer elements of our defense”

Mark (Ari Millen), a Castor clone, has been shot by a vengeful mother (Kristin Booth) and Sarah (Tatiana Maslany) is in dead trouble, hiding in a barn in the middle of nowhere. No backup, no hope and perhaps only the gods of screenwriting (in this case, writer Russ Cochrane) can get her out of there alive.

Welcome to the episode 4 review of Orphan Black.

These Proletheans are a vengeful lot aren’t they? Moreover, they’re well armed and there’s a lot of them (one wonders if there’s a Religious Cult recruitment agency?).

Mother brings her errant daughter Gracie (Zoe De Grand Maison) to the home of blind old Mr. Jonah (David Fox). He’s put-up the cult there after Helena torched their palatial Farmhouse at the end of season two. Jonah has some boundary issues though and quite happily gives Gracie’s womb a good feel because she’s pregnant. But not for long. Poor Gracie is out on her arse because all she was to her family was a walking womb for the child, created from an egg thanks to Helena, and her father’s sperm.

From creep factor we go to gun factor and Helena who’s been locked up all season. She’s learned that if she kicks up a fuss, she gets knock-out drugs injected into her system, but this time thanks to a hidden tourniquet, she’s out of the cell and still conscious. This makes life interesting for the military goons keeping her hostage. Her talking scorpion makes a welcome return and chastises her not to blunder around like an idiot while she reconnoiters the camp looking for an escape.

‘To escape first box’, Helena says, ‘one must know what next box holds.’

Russian dolls indeed.

Newly christened drug-runners, clone Alison and Donnie (Kristian Bruun), have unwelcome attention. The school board campaign is going swimmingly thanks to bath salts and assorted other drugs, but someone has been following Donnie on his delivery runs. Breaking Bad gets name-checked and they decide to get the drugs out of the house. But they have to hurry because the looming nemesis of kids swimming classes is almost upon them. These are people who it seems unlikely will see out the season in anything other than orange uniforms and shackles and are down at the bottom of the capability scale that Sarah is top of.

And yet, Alison, like her sisters Cosima, Sarah and Helena (all played by Tatiana Maslany) is still a more capable and strong character than her bumbling husband Donnie. This is a recurring theme through Orphan Black, and it’s a welcome change to the usual woman-as-set-dressing meme that has been around the entertainment industry since the year dot. Women tend to be portrayed as needing a firm hand from their male counterparts and are usually outnumbered by the opposite sex or relegated to girly comedies talking about fashion or babies. Even Joss Whedon, a vocal advocate for women’s rights, was only able to shoehorn two strong female characters (Black Widow and Scarlet Witch) into The Avengers, and there’s running commentary online around the absence of these characters in toys and action figures, dominated by the male superheroes of the team.

And it’s even more interesting that the “babies” meme has been so thoroughly subverted in Orphan Black, with the loss of clone Rachel at the end of season two via a pencil shoved into her eye. She’s now brain damaged and quite effectively out of the picture; in the closing moments of episode three it’s revealed she was “killed in a plane crash”, thanks to Delphine (Evelyne Brochu). But like all the clones, she may be down now, but it’s unlikely she’s out of the race.

This episode seemed to pick up the leads left in the previous episodes and weave them together a little better. Each clone — with the possible exception of Cosima whose sole contribution to the episode is going for a drink with Felix (Jordan Gavaris) — gets their time in the sun and the story seems less disjointed. It may be that episode breaks are less helpful to the overall story and a binge watch would make the overall tale a lot more coherent.

But that won’t be happening for another six weeks at least.

Next week: Sarah is in trouble (when isn’t she?), Helena is still locked up, Alison and Donnie are given a lifeline from the drug lord who has turned out to be Alison’s old flame and Cosima goes dating.

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