As this season’s subplots set themselves up, giving each of the sisters something to do, we see echoes from another biopunk show from some time ago and it’s leaving things on Orphan Black looking a little questionable.
Knowing now that there’s a parasite hibernating in her cheek, Sarah and Art trace Mika’s steps back to Dizzy, her hacker friend who first stumbled upon the video of a triggered parasite in Colombia. She tries to enlist Felix’s help, but his search for his family has him a bit petulant and in his own world. So she goes on her own to Dizzy, who doesn’t have much more than the name of the parasite’s victim to offer Sarah, but it’s pretty clear to them both that whatever Neolutionists are putting in people’s cheeks have little benefit to the body and have a direct link to the brain.
Allison decides to exhume Dr. Leekie’s body from under her garage in search of a parasite to give Cosima so they can help Sarah. This leads her to nearly getting caught by police who question Helena, pretending to be Allison, about the murder of the Portuguese mafia. But Helena manages to keep up the lie despite wanting to get back to Sarah now that she knows she’s carrying twins and wants help raising them.
Rachel, having spent six weeks playing mother to Charlotte at the Neolutionist compound, has gotten acquainted with another Castor clone, her physician Ira. The time spent here has been to Rachel’s benefit, rebuilding her damaged eye with cybernetics and letting her play mommy to the youngest Leda clone while she’s forced to reflect on her decisions during the Helsinki Incident (it references a comic that’s still running, so what Rachel actually did is unclear, but we know it involved a lot of Leda clones in Europe and Helena, so it wasn’t good). Susan, Rachel’s mother, the other Dr. Duncan, tries to rein in her daughter’s anger by telling her that Charlotte is cloned from her genetic material. Which has brought Rachel as close as she could get to what she wants most, the ability to reproduce. But it’s not enough to keep her from mistrusting Susan and Ira, and colluding with Charlotte to reach the outside world.
Art managed to track down a dental clinic that implanted the fatal parasite. Beth had been investigating the clinic to learn more about what she saw prior to killing Maggie Chen, and Sarah easily slides into her place and tries to con an informant at the clinic. Beth’s informant turns on Sarah and lines her up to be caught by Neolutionists. But at the last moment, Ferdinand, Rachel’s former partner, returns, slices the Neolutionist’s throat and delivers a message from Rachel to Sarah.
Orphan Black has always had visible ties to Dark Angel (rebellious main character who’s a different test-tube baby from the others; one sibling who falls to Christian indoctrination in childhood and kills those like himself in effigy; one sister who has built a suburban home life with a husband and child, yet is monitored by the people who created her; another sister who is dying from an advanced genetic disease that they all suffer from, though it’s still dormant in some). In many ways you can see the archetype of Sarah Manning in Max Guevara over ten years beforehand. But that’s not a problem, what is troubling is Orphan Black is now taking notes from Dark Angel’s second season, which effectively killed that property.
It’s not as bad as it sounds. Promise. But it’s worth pointing out.
Though Ethan, the original Professor Duncan, thought Neolutionists killed Susan it turns out she was with them all along and has continued her work with clones from within their organization. This was, she confessed, to help guide humanity down an evolutionary track to breed better humans. This is the same thing that occurred in the second season of Dark Angel with the organizations tweaked just a bit. It’s what eventually drove the show into the ground.
Without getting into the whole history of Dark Angel, here are the relevant bits: Dr. Sandeman worked with Manticore, a black project under the US Army, to breed super soldiers; after many trials and eventual successes with the X5 litter, Sandeman is believed to have died following a massive fire at a Manticore site; Max, Dark Angel’s main character, investigates Sandeman’s death to help her “brother” Joshua find their “father” and learns that Sandeman was never aligned with the Army but with the Conclave, a eugenicist cult that has infiltrated the government and corporations to influence the world’s evolution; and he’s still alive.
Though Sandeman seemingly had a change of heart and regretted working with the Conclave (it’s heavily implied but we never know for sure because the show was cancelled and the novels that followed never touched on it again), Susan’s story is exactly the same and the parallels between Neolutionists and the Conclave are troubling for two reasons: widening the scope of the story and distancing crucial plot elements from science.
It’s been hinted at in the past that Kira’s “special” from all of her clone aunts and Sarah. She’s had visions and intuition to help the group out of tight spots and there was that time she revived Cosima from the dead. So that she’s gone full fortune teller seems to keep in line with this, and it also takes a premise that tried to remain pretty well informed with science and pushes it to some place a little too crazy.
In the second season of Dark Angel, we also got this with children who were telekinetic and psychic. It felt out of place there too, but more so in Dark Angel since there were X5s in the first season with similar abilities. For example, instead of people who could see the future clearly, there were genius X5s who were mathematicians with the ability to parallel process, mapping out the probability of coming events rather than people who could see the future through magic.
The inexplicable had an explanation through science, then Dark Angel abandoned that. Orphan Black has taken the first steps into that territory, and that’s a problem.
Like Dark Angel, Orphan Black works best when the show is about Sarah trying to deal with Helena or Cosima trying to dissect their shared biology. It’s at its worst when it tries to widen the scope and pretend its an action-y romp with philosophy to hand out about bioethics or the lack of them.
But, it’s not the end of Orphan Black just yet. With Castors back in the fold, Charlotte being Rachel’s sort-of daughter and the parasite being focused on, there’s still a lot of science going on behind the scenes. If they manage to narrow the larger scope on that and get these subplots to pay off, the show won’t have to rely so heavily on its main star to make sure people are paying attention. I mean, she’s got talent, no doubt about it, but the narrative has to hold together too. And right now Orphan Black seems to pulling at its own seams.