Orphan Black recap: 'Variable and Full of Perturbation'
Donnie tries to clean up his act, Duncan reveals his research, and Felix makes a new friend.
The spirit of man is a capricious thing, at least according to the tile of this week’s Orphan Black. The quote, “Variable and Full of Perturbation,” comes from Francis Bacon’s
fanfic about philosophical treatise on inductive reasoning, Novum Organon, and reads in context: “the spirit of man (according as it is meted out to different individuals) is in fact a thing variable and full of perturbation, and governed as it were by chance.”
Parsed for those not obsessed with 17th century science, Bacon argues that logic is difficult because people’s ways of reasoning are affected by their experience, and even their innate nature. Hardcore Bacon-philes will also notice that the last clause of this quote was the title of the fourth episode of this season, “Governed as it Were By Chance.” Maybe the Novum Organon well is running dry.
Alternatively, Orphan Black is toying with the idea of imperfect repetition. We have clones, but their spirits are different. We have plot points — Allison’s accidental murder of Aynsley, for instance — that recur in weird permutations — Donnie’s accidental murder of Dr. Leekie. And with the death of the not-so-good Doctor, we’re left flipping through the list of possible big bads — Rachel? Marian? Cosima’s disease? Not to put too fine a point on it, but we also have our very own new clone: Tony, the trash-talking trans man from Cincinnati. How’s that for variable?
So while Orphan Black might seem to be running through the old, it’s finding some new material within it. And Given the big arrival of Tony — and therefore, Tatiana Maslany with a beard — it’s time we thought a little about the testosterone flowing through the our clone-ridden world. In the name of our and Fe’s lord “holy Tilda Swinton,” we’re booting up the Tatiana and Friends Memorial Testosterone-Fueled Ranking And Sass Machine (TFMTFRASM), just to acknowledge the wonderful work done by the show’s overlooked male characters.
1. Tony, Because You Can’t Fence This S— In
We meet him first in the pre-credits sequence running from attackers, but Tony gives his own best introduction in conversation with Arthur: “You’re Tony?” “No, I’m Harry freaking Potter.” And here is Maslany, done up with a beard, jutting out her jaw — though, as Felix later discovers, he’s got “absolutely nothing I haven’t seen before”. Tony’s friend, Sammy, got shot by men with descriptions that match those of Dyad assassins. Sammy tells Tony to talk to Beth Childs; Tony tells Arthur and Felix that Sammy has a message for her. Of course, Arthur and Felix know Beth’s fate, and spend most of the episode trying to extract the message from Tony without shattering his illusions about being the only person with his own DNA.
This standoff quickly turns into a slow burn between Felix and Tony, with both Maslany and Jordan Gavaris giving it their all. Tony quickly narrows in on Felix’s insecurities, calling him a party boy and insulting his lack of chest hair, but Felix seems more than game to play along. After all, he’s got one piece of information Tony doesn’t know quite yet — “you are so much like my sister,” he says with a dangerously flirtatious smile. (Later, to Sarah, “he’s got some of your worst qualities”)
Props to Orphan Black, however, for allowing a clone’s realization of their clone-ness to land easy for once. Tony bumps into Sarah in the hallway, and quickly realized what his mom meant when she said “they made a mistake at the IVF clinic.” He passes along Sammy’s message, to tell Beth to “keep the faith” and that Paul’s a ghost — possibly connected with Sammy in that still deeply-classified fiasco in Afghanistan, which has somehow become a lynchpin for a lot of the show’s mythology.
2. Felix, The Sister-Kisser
Before Tony heads away for the rest of his sisters — hopefully to return, definitely not to be forgotten — he gives Felix a goodbye smack on the lips. It’s a tender moment with all kinds of fascinating implications, given how important Felix has become to the great clone family. In this episode, we get to see him both bond with Tony and provide regular support to Sarah. We don’t see him in my personal favorite pairing with Alison, or as the sarcastic ballast to Cosima and Delphine’s lesbian love spiral, but we’ve come to rely on Felix’s general support in almost every occasion.
During Felix’s time with Tony, however, Orphan Black uses the introduction of a new brother to reflect back on the “best” brother’s own history. Felix has sympathy for Tony’s fluid identity, even correcting Arthur’s pronoun use. He bluffs off his connection to Beth as a typical rent boy-meets-cop story, but now it’s hard to imagine Felix as ever just a typical rent boy — or as totally happy in the identity he made for himself on the job. Was he always so dedicated to holding Sarah and his life together? Or has time with the clone club given Felix, and not just them, the gift of a family?
3. Donnie, Who Used Alison’s Gun
Donnie forgot to pick up Alison. Donnie’s kids are truant. Donnie’s lying under the covers hiding a drinking problem. But at least Donnie has Alison, who stops him from running away from their family, and “uses the c-word too.” Or at least Alison has Donnie, who makes her realize that the two have become co-dependent murderous mirrors of each other. Heck, they both deserve large awards and a spa vacation for the way their eyes light up at the realization that yes, their spouse also accidentally-on-purpose killed a member of the Dyad corporation.
But Donnie’s not nearly as good at cleaning up as Alison, who shakes her head and ticks her hands at the sight of the mess in his car, which is “not at all well-wrapped.” Sorry, Donnie, you’re just not as skilled as the game as your wife, no matter how much you apologize. Especially when you apologize for the wrong thing: “I always hated your mother,” he says. “Everybody hates my mother.”
4. Scott, Not as Good at Runewars as Cosima
The TFMTFRASM spit out a surprisingly high ranking for our favorite tertiary character this week, but when he’s gets to interrupt Cosima-Delphine tension with “wow, girl fights are mean,” it’s hard to forget our favorite sequencing tech. He’s not clued on all the details, but he might make the leap from the Dyad Runewars club to the clone club eventually — especially now that he knows that Cosima is 324B21, the subject of all the tests he’s working on.
Scott’s best asset, however, is the levity he brings to Cosima’s plot. His Runewars club provides the Cos a chance to prove her ultimate mastery of geeky board games (pillage!) and, perhaps, the energy to play her hand against Delphine (after getting high, of course). “You have to love all of us,” she says, backing that up with “I have enough dirt on you to destroy your career.” Though we’re not quite out of the woods: Cosima finishes the episode collapsed in the lab, vomiting blood, much worse than she ever was before.
Professor Ethan Duncan, Who Claims to Be Nobody’s Pawn
He just wants people to call him “Ethan,” ok? He’s awkward and British and sort of inept about social things, but he really wants to be part of the family — he’ll even read stories from The Island of Doctor Moreau. This, as Sarah points out, isn’t appropriate reading material, especially since H.G. Wells’s 1896 science-fiction novel deals with a crazed doctor, Moreau, who uses vivisection to mould animals into near-human monstrosities.
Back at Dyad, Rachel and Ethan chat over tea, after Rachel tells him that their long-awaited meet up didn’t really mean anything. Rachel wants to know why Sarah, the unmonitored one, gets to have babies. Ethan says that this was a mistake, that the clones were “barren by design.” We cut to shots of Rachel destroying her office in a fit of rage. “You couldn’t have created a reproducing prototype,” Rachel says, before whipping a reference to Moreau back at Ethan, “that would have been irresponsible…which is unforgivable.”
Ethan does end up with a job working with Cosima (and Scott!), where he’ll get to work on a cure for the clone most like himself — at least in her ability to geek out. But while we leave Scott at Dyad, we find Kira with his copy of Doctor Moreau. Its margins are covered in complicated, definitely plot-relevant diagrams. Yay, diagrams! Yay, secrets!
6. Paul is a ghost
Rachel finds his absence “inconvenient” and his silence “irksome.” He knows she hates to worry.
Paul’s not the only player left out of our Runewars-like tangle of interweaving plots — we don’t get a single scene with Helena, the other, possibly fertile sestra. But we do end the episode focused on the paper angels that remind Kira of our favorite Ukranian, so Helena’s definitely not out of the game for good.
With Tony’s introduction into the great Pantheon of Maslany creations, Orphan Black let us meditate on the great messy family on the heart of the show. That meditation only seemed to intensify the questions we already had — Cosima’s illness is worse, Paul’s problem in Afghanistan’s bigger than it seems, why does Mrs. S know everything? These better get answered in the next couple of episodes. Until then, it was good to spend time with Tony, who thinks he’ll like Cosima (make it happen!), but “that one with a soccer ball looks like douche” (please make it happen!).
Follow Jackson on Twitter: @MchenryJD