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Season two of Orphan Black has been a pretty intense, moody and dramatic ride for most of its run. Though the show has consistently incorporated lighter elements into its storyline, let us not forget Blood Ties: A Musical and Helena’s various amusing quirks, what has driven the show this year has been the more emotional character moments and situations and the biggest plot points have dealt with Sarah’s evasion of the multiple groups/beings that pose a threat to her well-being. Sarah’s search for her daughter, Cosima’s illness, the exploration of Helena, and Alison’s downward spiral has all reeked of pathos. This, along with various extended looks into the disturbing Prolethean compound, has given the series a slightly more serious or dark tone for most of the season. (At times tedious. It’s no surprise that the first episode without any Prolethean material is the most upbeat) Following these intense installments, particularly last week’s episode, which contained a lot of emotional baggage, the writers take a markedly different approach to the storytelling with “Knowledge of Causes, and Secret Motions of Things”.
This is unquestionably the lightest episode of the season by far and while it does stand out a bit in its overall tone, it doesn’t feel completely out of place. The episode pushes the familiar comedic quality of the show to the forefront, while still holding on to the story’s high stakes. Despite the lighter tone, the gravity of the situations is not lost on us.
Of course, a lot of the change in tone and overall awesomeness of the hour has to do with Alison’s presence as a main player in the story. She is arguably the most engaging of the clones; it is a fun performance to watch, she is dynamic; she has fantastic chemistry with any other character, and some of the most glorious lines of dialogue on the show. I mean: “I am sober as a judge, Sarah. I need you to come here right now and clean up your doodoo.” That’s just golden. And while she is a predominantly ridiculous character, often verging on caricature, the writers always manage to instill the necessary amount of humanity/sympathy to keep us emotionally engaged and actually care for her. She is not just this over the top, Stepford Wife wannabe, but a woman who has undergone significant shifts in her life and is working towards some kind of normalcy. After all the hilarious moments of insanity that she experiences in the episode (confessing her crimes to Vic, her conversations with Felix, trying to move unconscious Vic, etc.) she has a sincere and deeply emotional reaction to what her life has become, reminding us of her humanity. Her confrontation with Donnie is heartbreaking, because the love and disappointment and utter sadness in both characters are clearly evident.
Also, it leads to the shocking and oddly appropriate ending of the episode in which Donnie is complicit in the accidental death of Dr. Leekie. He and Alison have more in common than they think. The scene is fantastic and so narratively and stylistically fitting, like the entire episode built up to this ending in which two separate branches of the story as well the two different tones of the episode, came together in this sublime, darkly comic moment. I just love how the writers put it all together.
In an episode with so many comedic highs, the dramatic instances strike hard. So in Donnie and Alison’s discussion and in that aforementioned scene the emotion of what the characters are going through is not played for laughs or humor and resonates with us. Leekie’s death is impactful not only for the story (it is the end of a significant character) but for the potential consequences this might bring. What will Donnie do now? What’s to become of him? How will the Dyad react to this? It is an incredibly serious matter. His goodbye to Rachel is surprisingly touching and effective, as is Rachel’s meeting with Duncan. Who knew Rachel has the capacity to feel?
The writers impressively handle various ongoing threads with apparent ease and the pace with which the story continues to unfold is quite remarkable. They just keep burning through story and, as shown in this episode, in unexpected and surprising ways. Last week set up Leekie as an important threat to Sarah and the rest of the group and ‘Boom!’ next episode he is dead and we are introduced to his possible replacement (yay Michelle Forbes!). The writers introduced the idea that Kira’s stem cells are being used for Cosima’s treatment and right away they address the issue and put it all out in the open. Duncan is introduced and immediately he meets with Rachel. So many of the disparate, open-ended story threads are tackled in this installment, with great success. Despite all that is going on, and the fast-paced quality of the story, the episode does not feel messy or overloaded.
“Knowledge of Causes, and Secret Motions of Things” is definitely one of the best episodes of the second season; it deftly advances the narrative and pushes into interesting and intriguing places. The fun and humorous approach to the story breathes a new energy for the few episodes left.
What did you think?