Orphan Black "Variable and Full of Perturbation" Review: Not Your Typical Identity Crisis

By Kaitlin Thomas

Jun 08, 2014

Orphan Black S02E08: "Variable and Full of Perturbation"

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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  • Ninjaandy Jun 15, 2014

    OK, so I'm not gay. I have no idea how gay people want to be presented on TV. But as a straight man, what I'm seeing is: a gay man whose entirely life revolves around drugs and whoring, two lesbian women with zero chemistry on screen that I'm supposed to believe care about each other, and now another lesbian with an obnoxious manner, who makes out with the gay man. Which, I don't know, seems like a stunt more than anything either character would actually want.

    If this show is trying to be "progressive" about homosexuality (as an interview with the producers elsewhere on this website indicated) I don't feel like they're accomplishing their mission. Granted the straight relationships don't really pan out either, with characters like Alison that are just as dysfunctional.

    But I feel like, if I were part of an embattled community that struggles for understanding and acceptance, I wouldn't want my primary representatives to be a gay stereotype whose lifestyle is straight out of Westboro Baptist's hate literature, a lesbian couple whose relationship is built on lies and emotional weakness, and an unconvincing transgender with a stupid, grating personality.

    It's been a great ride so far, but I think it's time for the producers to decide whether this show is about message, or entertainment. I'll tune in for the latter, but I'm not interested in the former.

    I don't know. It's like if a Christian TV show made all the Christian characters insipid, ignorant, science-hating, bible thumping Dawkensian caricatures, and then claimed they were trying to present positive representations of Christians. Good intentions may be there, but it's not exactly evident in the end product, is it?

  • Tasmina Jun 12, 2014

    It was interesting to see that they introduced a new clone, espescially a trans-gender clone, but even more interesting to me was the fact that they implemented Beth in the story again. One could think that her part in the story had come to an end. Beth has never been a character in the present so I shouldn't be choked that they kind of revived her again, and they still have the opportunity to do so again if they want to. They have used the Maggie Chen character in the same way in the past, so its interesting to see a character develop on screen that have actually never apeard on screen.

  • two4dashow Jun 12, 2014

    Just watched the episode again…for like the third time. I see that it wasn't one most people's 'greatest' list, but for me, it's one of the more flawless episodes. And by "flawless" I mean I've watched it now repeatedly and am still finding new things and haven't been aware that it's the same actress. (Some of the episodes in Season One, upon second watching were a little more awkward than I had originally thought.)

    And the dialogue in this show! Case in point: "Well you've got absolutely nothing I haven't seen before." Says Felix to Tony. Um…ya think???

  • AnoukvdZee Jun 10, 2014

    I do have to say that meeting Tony made me aware again that all the clones are played by the same person, but that does not mean that Tony won't be fleshed out better later, and I love Orphan Black taking these bold steps in (gender)identity.
    I join you in your shout-out to Felix, I absolutely adore him. I went from finding him funny to wanting to hug him all episode because funnily enough, he makes me feel as safe as he does Sarah during all the craziness. You can depend on Felix.

  • LesVogt Jun 10, 2014

    I have been so impressed, not just with the amazing lead actors and characters but with the writing as a whole, that even when I am unsure of where something is going, I have faith they will come through. They haven't let me down so far: Great character studies, serious philosophical and ethical issues, gender role reversals, multiple genres, lots of highly quotable dialogue, drama and wit.

    As far as Tony goes: I had less problem with the facial hair, which seemed about right considering, than the mullet which kept him looking too much like Sarah for me. Sarah has a masculine demeanor and she's a criminal too. So, basically, Tony is Sarah on testosterone. Still, it expanded the range of possibility and was a lot of fun to watch.

    I'm excited to see how they bring this all together in the next couple of weeks.

  • ABCRobbieB Jun 17, 2014

    Yeh I was going to say that about the hair, if he/she wants to look like a man when she's an attractive woman - why keep long hair? I still don't think I'd have liked the character, but if he/she had a shaved head it might have worked.

  • ILoveTVandDDsBB Jun 10, 2014

    I couldn't stop staring at Tony's goatee! Cosima rocks and would love to get baked with her and hope we get to see what's going on with seestra Helena in the next episode.

  • compfx Jun 10, 2014

    I do like the show, but it seems to me the writing is getting kind of sloppy. During the previous week's episode, two pivotal developments in the story were handled by having two of the main characters overhear other characters talking, divulging main plot points. I always thought this kind of plot device was more or less taboo, used only by writers who didn't know any better. Come on--these two characters just happened to be walking by while the other two were basically spilling their guts about secrets they had been so careful to keep hidden. And the big mouths didn't know any better than to spout off about their secrets in a way that they could be easily overheard. Were they just waiting for the main characters to happen to walk by, to reveal their big important plot points?

    Anyway, this episode was likewise rather sloppy. The male clone was completely unconvincing. Maslany was just a girl in drag. Does trans mean that the person just has certain parts stapled on and not others? The show creators, it seems, took pains to hide the girl boy's breasts at the beginning, to try to make the girl look more manly. But then, when she/he lies down, there they go, popping up. The whole thing was completely unconvincing. I think the show's creators should have left the male clone out of the story or worked much harder on making her/him seem at least somewhat convincing.

  • BosleyMcGilla Jun 09, 2014

    Don't like Tony for the simple reason that Tatiana Maslany is hot and now I'm having strange feelings... just kidding. What if hot Paul were to get some implants and walk around in a dress for the rest of the season, that would be odd.

  • KateSullivan Jun 09, 2014

    I've come here because people are yelling at me in GOT....

    I think I agree with the overall point that this wasn't actually the best episode, but I think it was more because Orphan Black was trying to distract us from the fact that it was actually a set up episode for the end of the season. I mean, you even look at it, so they give us Tony to talk about, but his whole point only had one piece of relevance, that we can go back to thinking about Paul the way we did at the end of Season 1. Only maybe he is even more of a good guy than we were willing to give him credit for (after some thinking, he's a spy for some government isn't he? Presumably the U.S. government since he was in the Marines and it would make sense if Dyad appeared to be doing something suspicious). And given, my memory of Cosima and Delphine's dinner with Leekie in Season 1, she was able to find some research that actually may have raised red flags. I actually have serious doubts that the guys who came after Sammy and Tony were Dyad like Art think, I actually have doubts that it was Prolethians either...like that this might have been just Season 3 set up....

    Hey, what on earth is Ethan's game plan here? I really don't trust him. Weirdly, I think I would trust him with Kira, like he seems to maybe be on board with a Mrs. S sort of plan but then he is also sort of treating Sarah with more the kid gloves you'd expect him to treat Rachel with. And he could also be insane. I can get how a person like Amelia or Ethan would initially really like Sarah and be sad they missed out on her life, but I can't help but sort of laugh at the idea that all of these people might have a different opinion once they get a load of her Ukrainian twin.

    A random observation, Dyad actually did a really good job choosing monitors for the particular clones. I mean, Alison's world was fairly insulated so, it makes sense they would reach out to Donnie, but the rest like "fit" the lives the particular clone was living. Delphine works in well with Cosima's life (I sort of wonder who her monitor was before), Paul could play the part of Beth's boyfriend very well and look in place, Sammy seemed to match up with Tony whether he was Tony or Antoinette.

    Also, I wonder if Amelia and her running away caused the "failure" in Sarah and Helena (and does anyone else when they think Helena's name, think it in the way Sarah says it?) Like that it isn't in fact the default, but something done to the babies in utereo but she ran away before it could be done.

  • klotensen Jun 10, 2014

    I've come here because people are yelling at me in GOT....
    No. Nobody was yelling, I saw your comment and the replies. Very nice and courteous actually. Be glad you didn't spoil me, I would have yelled for sure.

  • ogechiwosu Jun 09, 2014

    Also, I wonder if Amelia and her running away caused the "failure" in Sarah and Helena (and does anyone else when they think Helena's name, think it in the way Sarah says it?) Like that it isn't in fact the default, but something done to the babies in utereo but she ran away before it could be done.

    That is my theory as well. Amelia's taking off with the twins left them fertile, which was a big no-no. Basically, Kiera was not supposed to happen. Rachel hates that, obviously.

  • snappy2310 Jun 09, 2014

    It's OB so it's always awesome but this wasn't my favourite episode. To me it seemed the purpose was to start some new storylines/directions which was the case for Alison & Donnie, Rachel, Cosima, & although he didn't appear, Paul.
    A few points:
    *No Helena again =(
    *I was surprisingly put-off with Sarah playing such a minor role here. It just didn't feel right without her being central, or at least secondary but Cosima, Alison & Felix/Tony had stronger stories going on.
    *I just started liking Rachel after she showed some emotion & now that's gone again. I wonder if that was the writer's intention here, to mess with us a bit? If so, kudos I guess.
    *Normally don't have much time for Cosima but really enjoyed her story, with Scotty & Delphine.
    *Did Cosima die?!? (downloaded ep & no preview for next week - which is how I like it.)
    *Alison & Donnie's murder confessions - just gold.
    *Sorry but I hope Tony's exit proves to be permanent & that he is simply part of introducing a new storyline which might reveal more about Paul. I actually had this worry at the start of the episode that we were expected to believe Tatiana as a man, I actually said to my housemate 'has OB jumped the shark? He, she better be trans!!' I think the writer's could've kept the guy-clone card up their sleeves for a while yet, felt a bit cheap & very out of the blue at the start - at first I thought we were watching a flashback with Beth undercover until I noticed the beard.
    *What was scribbled all over the book when Kira was reading? All the secrets?
    *Helena next week please!!

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