Orphan Black "Variable and Full of Perturbation" Review: Not Your Typical Identity Crisis
If nurture was at the forefront of last week's episode, nature, at least in name, was more or less the topic of discussion in "Variable and Full of Perturbation," as Ethan began reading H.G. Wells' The Island of Dr. Moreau to Kira, which is something he did with Rachel when Rachel was Kira's age. For those who are unfamiliar with the famous sci-fi novel, it's about a shipwrecked man who arrives on a remote island and finds a scientist—the titular Dr. Moreau—whose experiments involve turning animals into humans. The resulting creatures inevitably return to their most basic animal instincts, like running on four legs or hunting and eating flesh, and the story is a study in identity, morality, and interfering with nature.
Normally, I'd find this sort of on-the-nose metaphor off-putting, but since Orphan Black isn't usually one to bludgeon viewers in this way, I'll allow it. After all, what is this show if not a lesson in the positive and negative outcomes of scientific experimentation? What is this show if not an exploration of morality? This week, Ethan asked Rachel to forgive him for being glad that Leekie—the man who killed Ethan's wife and essentially kidnapped his daughter—was dead, and told Mrs. S that he'd be able to make amends for the part he played in the experiment if he was able to end the conflict between the clones and Dyad by saving Cosima. Rachel, meanwhile, stayed true to her nature as she announced her regret for acing overly emotional in response to her father's reappearance in her life. She requested their relationship remain professional, as if to justify the idea that feeling emotion is a sign of weakness rather than a normal part of human life.
However, The Island of Dr. Moreau and its themes were present throughout the episode beyond just Ethan and Rachel's fragile relationship. We saw Kira reading Ethan's copy of the book in the episode's closing moments, as the camera panned out to focus on the mobile that'd reminded Kira of Helena, who was MIA again this week. If there's one Orphan Black character who's definitely in touch with their animal side, it's Helena. She lets her emotions and feelings and cravings dictate her actions on a pretty regular basis.
And then there's the matter of the episode's main plot, which focused on the reveal of a new—and transgendered—clone.
While I'm not shocked the series went there, I'm pleased that it did. Many fans, myself included, have wondered if Orphan Black would ever introduce a new clone, one not played by Tatiana Maslany. I've actively rooted against the notion of a clone with a new face, mostly because I fear that it would somehow make the clones we already know feel less significant. I'd hate to see Sarah, Rachel, Helena, Cosima, Alison, and whoever else we've yet to meet lose their implied uniqueness. Such a development could strip those characters and the story of its newness, of its richness. But adding a transgendered clone brought to life by Tatiana Maslany? My, what a wonderful surprise you've gifted us with this week, Orphan Black!
I don't know that Tony—formerly Antoinette—is my new favorite clone, but he definitely added another layer to the show's ongoing debate about identity, and who and what makes us individuals. "What you're doing here is more complicated than sex or gender," Felix told him, which is true in the grand scheme of things, but doesn't diminish Tony as a character. Genetic makeup does not necessarily define someone, and the fact that Tony is so comfortable in his body, so sure of who he is, only helps to prove it. It's true that he didn't know he was a clone, but he'd been fighting an identity crisis long before he even knew there was an even bigger one looming, which might be why the revelation that he's a clone didn't send him straight to the nuthouse. "There's only one Tony, and you're not me," he told Sarah.
It's one thing for someone like Sarah—who's extremely bold in her convictions, and who exudes so much confidence that it sometimes borders on arrogance—to say that she's her own person. It's another for Tony—who probably spent a fair amount of time not being sure of himself or feeling comfortable in his own skin—to make the same declaration so easily. Tony and Sarah might share a lot of the same qualities ("You are so much like my sister," Felix noted after Tony said something particularly biting), but he's his own person and he's confident in who he is, and I like that Orphan Black chose to tackle the question of identity in a way that goes beyond the clones sharing DNA. It's the perfect argument for the clones being individuals.
While some might have a different opinion of Tony's struggles, I don't know that I'd say he's fighting a more difficult or more courageous battle than any of the other clones, because that would suggest that his war is more important than everybody else's. Sarah is trying to ensure her daughter's freedom while feeling guilty that Kira might be the key to the clones' survival. Cosima is bravely fighting for her life; this episode ended with her coughing up blood and convulsing on the floor. Helena is on a quest to save her unborn children, to fulfill her desire to be a mother. And Alison is doing her damnedest to keep the upholstery clean (okay, and to deal with her ongoing guilt over letting Aynsley die). Can we say that everyone's personal issues are equally important at this point, that no one character is any more important than another?
Orphan Black's first season focused heavily on Sarah and and her path toward Clone Club enlightenment while revealing just enough about the other clones to give them distinct personalities—for the most part, we only knew them in the context of their relationships with Sarah. But toward the end of the first season, the show's writers began fleshing out each character's world, and in Season 2 they've devoted a lot more time to their individual plights. Orphan Black is definitely stronger as a result, because even though it tells the story of Sarah Manning and why she's special—and we learned this week that Sarah's ability to have children makes her a failure rather than a success, because the clones were supposed to be barren by design—it's about much more than that. It's about our most basic human rights and instincts, and even if we can't relate to what it'd be like to suddenly discover we're a clone, we can identify with the feelings these characters are experiencing on a daily basis, like the desire to be treated as unique individuals or the need to feel like we belong somewhere.
– We always rightfully praise Tatiana Maslany's excellent performances, but can we all take minute to appreciate the work Jordan Gavaris has been doing this season? He was wonderful in Season 1, bringing a certain joie de vivre to Felix that helped illuminate the series in times of darkness. But he's really stepped up his game in Season 2, and he deserves just as much praise as Maslany for unearthing so many layers to a character like Felix, who was a mostly comedic figure at the outset. Not only has Felix become a fan favorite, he's now an integral piece of this complex puzzle. Orphan Black could not exist without Gavaris any more than it could exist without Maslany, and I think this Felix-heavy episode showcased that better than anything we've seen. As she left the loft, Sarah told Felix, "You're the very best of us," and I dare say that truer words have never been spoken.
– I didn't spend much time discussing Alison and Donnie, but they've now confessed their respective murders to one another. Also, we found out that Donnie's been storing Leekie's dead body in the trunk of the car for the last few days, because he is the worst accidental murderer in the history of accidental murdering! He even returned the murder weapon—Alison's gun—to the box where he found it instead of getting rid of it. It's like he's never watched a single movie or TV show. Come on, Donnie!
– Scott's reaction to discovering that Cosima was the clone was 100 percent perfect. I can't believe how much I've grown to love his character these last few weeks.
– Every episode that passes without an appearance from Helena is an episode where jello goes uneaten, and I simply won't stand for that. But more importantly, Kira asked Sarah if Helena was all right, and Sarah told her yes. Orphan Black isn't one to drop the continuity ball, but as far as I can recall, Sarah told Art to look into Helena's arrest and then we never heard or saw anything more from Art on the matter.
– Paul was MIA this week, and Rachel was not happy about it. "Paul's a ghost," is what Tony's monitor said. Where is he? What is he doing? Working out? He's probably working out.
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