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‘Orphan Black’ Review/Recap: “Formalized, Complex, and Costly”

Maya Reddy ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Tatiana Maslany in the Orphan Black episode "Formalized, Complex, and Costly." Photo Credit: BBC America.
Tatiana Maslany in the Orphan Black episode “Formalized, Complex, and Costly.” Photo Credit: BBC America.

Orphan Black’s opening scenes tend to be snappy, shocking, and to the point. They excite the audience, and offer a glimpse of the fast-paced tone Orphan Black embraces. Unfortunately, the opening scene for “Formalized, Complex, and Costly” doesn’t do much. Art (Kevin Hanchard) finds out about the dead body Sarah (Tatiana Maslany) and Felix (Jordan Gavaris) are attempting to hide, and it has a tense build. Unfortunately, the tension in this scene seems completely unfounded, as Art already knows so much about the clones, so it seems weird that Sarah and Felix would struggle so hard to keep the body of the now-dead Castor clone, Seth, out of sight. With no real stakes in this scene, there’s nothing quite shocking about it despite the dramatic music trying to tell its audience so. The purpose of the scene is clearly meant to entangle Art for this episode, and it does, which luckily is not unwanted.

The return of Art brings the return of several other previously established characters. Runaway Proletheans Gracie and Mark’s reappearance offers the viewers a glimpse into married life for the two. The two characters are pleasant to see again, but with the plot hinging on Mark’s ties to the military and his need to get stolen science Grace’s dad took, it drags and focuses on them for what feels like a bit too long. Another reappearance comes from Kathryn Alexandre, who plays the banished Prolethean midwife Alexis who was introduced briefly last season. Also serving as Tatiana Maslany’s double for clone scenes throughout the show, Alexandre brings a good understanding of the dynamics of the show, and is used sparingly but well in this episode.

One of the better points of this relatively dull episode—and the extreme focus on Mark and Gracie—was what appears to be Mark’s untimely demise. Perhaps it was unintentional, but with the rest of the episode dragging, it definitely was an abrupt moment that actually created the effect the show seems to have been trying to give all along. However, some skepticism into how dead Mark is can be allowed, when remembering Orphan Black’s history of not really killing off characters, thinking back to Helena.

As said before, Art’s return isn’t unwanted—Hanchard creates a steadiness in the show that helps keep focus. However, the big reveal for his character creates mixed emotions. When thinking about it critically, it doesn’t seem too surprising that there may have been unresolved romantic undertones between Art and Beth, but it’s still not certain what the purpose of this revelation means. Again, the big reveal is kind of underwhelming, it seems like the main purpose of this scene was to give Art a clear motivation for his involvement with the clones. The comparisons between Beth and Sarah were a little bit worrying, as far as the possible implication of Art developing feelings for Sarah. That would definitely be out of left field and would skew the dynamic between the two awkwardly. Nonetheless, Art’s plot in this episode still offers some of the most touching moments. Hanchard’s guilt in the scene where he reflects on Beth’s attempts to contact him the night she killed herself was done beautifully and is definitely a highlight of the episode.

Another character given quite a bit of focus in this episode was Rudy: one of the several Castor clones played by Ari Millen, who in the aftermath of Seth’s death, displayed an interesting perspective on this seemingly one-dimensional character. The depth in this character was revealed even more once he encounters Dr. Coady, also known as “mother,” played by Kyra Harper. The characterization of Dr. Coady as being anything but maternal plays well into the dynamic between her and Rudy, because he clearly has an unhealthy attachment to her. This can be seen even further into his childlike thumb sucking when she holds him as he grieves for Seth. Millen’s acting in this scene where he breaks down is another highlight of this episode, and offers a compelling look at Rudy who could’ve so easily been written off as one-sided.

The fact that two of the key moments of the episode are scenes not played by Tatiana Maslany is somewhat disconcerting. The focus is drifting away from the Leda clones, and it’s disappointing to only get brief glances at Helena, Rachel, Cosima, and Alison. Maslany’s acting is one of the key strengths of this show and it appears as if the material she’s given is lacking. Fortunately, it seems that most of the clones are in the build-up for their overarching plots. It would be nice if the progressions of their storylines were spaced out a bit better so the focus of this episode wouldn’t feel so jumbled. It’s not uncommon for Orphan Black to struggle with keeping track of all the storylines it deals with. Unfortunately, it seems with the addition of even more characters, the Leda clones are drifting away from focus even further.

Alison and Donnie’s plot is cute as would be expected. Kristian Bruun as Donnie, has great chemistry with Maslany but there is still a feeling of isolation from the other characters that pulls away from the plot. Alison didn’t interact with any of the other clones at all during this episode, and while the humor of the episode was there, it would feel even more cohesive if it tied into the plot of the rest of the episode in any way. Furthermore, the drug-dealing plot, while charming although not entirely unique (with it being reminiscent of Weeds or even Breaking Bad), doesn’t seem to have much of a direction. Hopefully with the glimpse into the next episode, this plot will have some sort of push into being relevant to the rest of the story sooner rather than later.

Cosima is another character that could use a bit more of a purpose to the plot. In this episode, she’s mainly there to offer the big scientific reveal. Again, it’s not entirely compelling considering the potential of her character. There is a glimpse into her newfound existential questioning that came from her brush with death, as she examined Seth’s brain. This appears to be a building concern for Cosima and hopefully will allow for a new depth to her because so far her purpose is pretty limited. Rachel on the other hand, although very briefly seen in this episode, very aptly offers a glimpse of what’s to come for her character. The therapy she’s undergoing, and the reveal that she has been declared dead by Delphine, completely takes away all the power for her. For a show that delves quite intensely into the autonomy of women, Rachel’s struggle to heal will surely look into her own autonomy further as it’s started in this episode.

The final big reveal of this episode that the Leda and Castor clones are siblings also seemed relatively underwhelming. It felt like the show was trying to make this scene appear far more surprising than it was. Unfortunately, this underwhelming feeling was prevalent throughout most of this episode, and it’s unreasonable for every episode of Orphan Black to be shocking and edge-of-your-seat entertaining, but the show’s effort to make “Formalized, Complex, and Costly” seem shocking did the opposite of its intention. If this episode hadn’t been pushed into such a rigid formula, it would have felt a lot less disappointing.

Overall Episode Grade: B-

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