[This is a review of Orphan Black season 3, episode 3. There may be SPOILERS.]
Whittling the Castor clones down to just two living brothers (that we know of, anyway) doesn’t make Orphan Black any less Castor-focused this week, as Cosima settles into the task of dissecting Seth’s glitchy brain and Mark takes his blushing bride to a cheap motel for some post-wedding celebrations. Those celebrations happen to include smashing an old man’s fingers with a hammer. Maybe it’s a Prolethean tradition.
“Formalized, Complex, and Costly” is packed with plot-driven dialogue, even if the plot itself hasn’t advanced much by the end of the episode. More so than ever before, Orphan Black is becoming a show where tuning out or leaving the room for a few minutes really isn’t an option for viewers who want to stay in the loop about what’s going on, and it may even be necessary to watch each episode a second time in order to catch all the details in the dialogue.
Amid all the science talk and military intrigue, Alison and Donnie’s little pocket of suburban drama is actually something of a welcome break. The two of them are currently starring in their own version of Breaking Bad: selling drugs to soccer moms in order to win voters for the school trustee position. It’s hard to figure out where this story thread might be heading, but it’s entertaining enough to earn its place in each episode.
Art returns to a fairly prominent role this week, though his visit to Felix’s studio starts out poorly when he finds blood all over the floor and a dead clone in the bathtub. There are some things that a throw rug just won’t cover up. Instead of arresting everyone, Art takes the day off work to help Sarah in her search for Helena, and along the way reveals that he and Beth were more than just partners. That explains why his loyalty to Sarah is strong enough to make him look the other way after seeing a dead body.
With Cal gone there’s not as much clone romance in the air, aside from Helena offering Paul the opportunity to score a hat trick with the Leda sisters. Of course, she also promises to kill him so it’s probably for the best that he turns down the proposal.
The main thrust of this week’s story is the search for the tissue samples from the original Leda and Castor donors, which are still missing by the time the credits roll. We do learn, however, that the Leda and Castor clones are biological siblings, which means that Sarah and Mark get a touching family reunion shortly before Mark gets chased into a cornfield and shot. That leaves just one Castor clone in the show, but there are probably more of them waiting in the wings.
Rachel returns in one short scene this week, seemingly only to remind viewers that she still exists. Getting stabbed in the eye/brain with a pencil has left her with a fairly serious case of aphasia, as well as being stripped of all her authority thanks to Delphine’s coup. As such, she doesn’t get much to do aside from look mildly traumatized.
Orphan Black definitely isn’t wanting for plot, but what it’s lacking right now is a plot that the audience can really get invested in. The search for the original donors feels less urgent now that Cosima isn’t severely ill (she coughs at one point, but that’s it), and Helena is geographically so far removed that the likelihood of Sarah finding her by wandering around and yelling at people isn’t looking too promising.
What the show really needs is a solid mystery to give its third season proper momentum. The pace of the story right now is something you’d expect in a show with 22 episodes per season, not 10, and Tatiana Maslany’s reduced screen time really highlights just how much of Orphan Black‘s strength lies with her performances.
Orphan Black returns to BBC America next Saturday at 9/8c.
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