Five episodes in, and BBC America’s Orphan Black is running wide circles around almost every other drama on TV right now when it comes to plot development. Rare is a line of dialogue spoken solely for the sake of being spoken, and rare is the scene that doesn’t directly tie into the plot in some way. This is a series that understands how to make its 42 minutes a week as engaging and exhilarating as they can be, and while Orphan Black may not be one of the best shows on TV, it excels in all the same ways those series do. As such, I can easily forgive most of what isn’t perfect.
The last scene of “Conditions of Existence” marks the mid-point in this season, and it’s about as far from the opening of the first episode as possible, with Sarah confirming that Beth’s boyfriend Paul is a clueless “monitor,” allowing a medical team into Beth’s bedroom to take blood samples and run EEG scans on Sarah while she slept. (Pretty fucked up, Paul.) Beth’s suicide was actually because she found out about Paul’s double-timing, and that the reason he would never love her was completely out of her hands. With the pressures of being a clone targeted by an assassin combining with the knowledge that her love life was a lie, Beth jumped in front of a train. It’s impressive the way the show really owns the Beth character; even if we’ll never actually get to know her, she isn’t just a crutch of a backstory.
How did Paul find out about Sarah’s impersonation of Beth? Because she didn’t have a mountain biking scar on her neck like Beth did. Without going into details, I have to point out how well Paul’s storyline worked in this episode to quasi-redeem a character that I thought was easily the series’ weakest link. Every scene of his only made me ask aloud – whether anyone was in the room or not – how someone could possibly be romantically involved with someone and then not notice when a completely different person takes their place, regardless of physical appearance. That’s still a relevant question, but it appears that Paul was going through denial in some ways, and clearly is more middleman than mastermind. He also followed Sarah while she met up with her daughter Kira for the first time in a year. That was a nice scene with the two of them, but Paul’s surveillance clearly shows he isn’t the sharpest Paul in the Paul drawer, as everyone knows you never fuck with someone’s kids. Especially not the woman you know to have been filling in for your fake girlfriend. Pretty fucked up again, Paul. Your military background should have raised you better.
It would be messed up enough if Paul was the only one with something to hide. But Alison’s husband Donnie is just as guilty, it seems. His strange phone calls — which apparently have only recently become suspicious, as this is the only time Alison has ever noticed them — and his hidden lockbox in the garage pretty much paint his hands red, but Alison isn’t able to figure out what he’s up to. Cool points to Donnie for trying to use Big Boobie Blowies as his decoy secret. I’m guessing he’s just like Paul, only they must have contacted Donnie after they’d begun to raise a family. I can’t imagine him being in that long of a relationship purely for work purposes. Of course, he only calls out Alison’s difference in behavior after she’s quick to turn him away when he paws her boob as a sexual advance. Pretty fucked up, Donnie. Alison has a nanny cam now, though, so we’ll see where this goes.
Alison is also part of the strangest moment in the episode. Remember Sarah’s ex, Vic? Well, he couldn’t pay back crime bossman Pouchy for the coke that Sarah stole, and so he gets his finger cut off. His head dazed from painkillers, he stops into a candy store, blood splotched on his shirt, pants, and the bandage that covers his injured hand. Of course, it’s the same store where Alison’s kids are buying candy. Vic gets an eyeful of Mace and a body full of Taser electricity when he confronts Alison, mistaking her for Sarah. It leads to a rather anti-climactic scene between Vic and the real Sarah where she pays him off with the $20,000 Alison had just given her. I like Vic for some reason, but I don’t see his constant involvement paying off in the end.
I also don’t know what’s going on with Cosima, whose storyline this week was mostly limited to meeting a French girl named Delphine, whose report card reveals her to be an ace at molecular biology and chemistry, among other things. Cosima already has a guy checking genetic markers of the clones’ blood samples, so maybe she’ll rope Delphine in somehow as well. There was possibly something slightly romantic about it, though homosexuality within cloned beings is a conversation for a different setting.
So what are our tidbits to remember from this episode? Foster mother Mrs. S. doesn’t know who Sarah’s birth parents were. Fe and Colin-from-the-morgue share a dark sense of humor. The killer clone Helena is being kept alive by someone named Tomas. Paul’s supervisor is someone named Olivier, and Paul asks several times if he is being tested once Sarah reveals Beth’s suicide to him. What kind of a corporation makes their workers spy on clones and puts them through highly elaborate testing evaluations? Is this the New World Order? Was 9/11 a government job? All the conspiracies!
I can’t imagine where this show will go if it gets a second season. This week, all signs of the police station where Beth quit last week were absent except for Raj needing some surveillance equipment back, which led to the Paul stuff. Perhaps that will come back into it at some point. I’d like to see Art come back outside of his cop element. But as long as the show itself keeps coming back every Saturday, I’ll keep my wishes to myself.