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As a season finale “By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried” does an adequate job in providing closure and resolution to some of the season’s biggest conflicts and effectively laying the groundwork for the upcoming season. (Which has yet to be ordered.) It was an enjoyable hour full of the fun action, suspense, humor, and sentiment that have become customary for any episode of Orphan Black. It had various notable high points (Helena meeting her sestras, clone dance party, Cosima’s ingenious attack on Rachel, and more), but the series can’t help but be bogged down from its sprawling mythology and perpetually convoluted narrative at times.
The episode opens with an interesting stylistic approach, cutting back and forth from the events immediately following Kira’s abduction to Sarah turning herself in to the Dyad. It is effective and immediately imparts the episode with a frenetic and dynamic feel. Plus, it allows for a very unnerving and deliciously hammy closing line before the credit sequence: “My name is Sarah Manning and this is my unconditional surrender.” It is a great start, one that thrusts Sarah into an unfamiliar position and wastes no time in presenting the main conflict of the episode’s first half. This is a situation that Sarah cannot just weasel her way out of (as she has done so in the past) so getting her and Kira the hell out of the creepy Dyad facility quickly becomes an objective for the rest of the characters to tackle. And while this situation allows for some truly fun material, like the fantastic montage of Cosima devising a crude weapon to aid in Sarah’s escape and the shocking manner of which it is employed, some of the maneuvering to achieve the breakout does not go over as smoothly.
The Cal/Mrs. S teaming up and getting their respective “man on the inside” together is contrived and relies heavily on the idea that the identities of the people helping them would come across as huge revelations – which fails because there weren’t many options to begin with. As a result, what the writers were probably hoping would incite shocked gasps from the audience, instead elicits serious eye rolling. Of course it is Marian inside the car, and we knew we hadn’t seen the last of Paul (boo). Additionally, the incorporation of whatever Paul is up to, and Marian’s part in the greater conspiracy feels like the writers piling on even more clichés (Why do they have to talk with such vagueness when they don’t really have to? It is purely to keep us in the dark until the writers want us to know the exact details of things, that device is so contrived that it only breeds frustration.) on the already complicated and extensive mythology. (More on that later.)
Despite the tediousness of the scenes setting up Sarah’s escape, the episode maintains an agreeable pace and delivers excellent and intense sequences. The aforementioned ‘pencil to the eye’ is a great example of how good the writing is on the show. The way they introduced it as an innocuous game between Cosima and Kira and, while we saw where it was going – we get glimpses of Cosima sharpening a pencil and building the thing – when Sarah finally uses the homemade weapon the result is quite staggering. Ouch, that’s gotta sting. But it’s not just the more overt, insane moments that land in the episode. The second season has taken a very interesting direction with Rachel, revealing to us quite slowly how unhinged she is. Her scenes with Sara and Duncan work to show just how dangerous yet human she can be. Her interaction with Duncan is full of wonderful tension as they exchange difficult words, but does end up being heartbreaking for both characters.
But, let’s be honest. We all know the best, most satisfying moment of the hour is the long-awaited sister clone reunion, complete with dance party (quite an achievement in an episode where Rachel gets shot in the eye with a pencil, that would have made top moment in almost any other installment). This show is at its best when it focuses on the characters, so after all the action of the first act it is appropriate to unwind with such a gratifying milestone. Everything about those scenes in Felix’s apartment is perfection. Tatiana Maslany modulates her performance to each character’s unique personality flawlessly especially in the moments when Helena meets Cosima and Alison for the first time. What a great scene! Touching, heartfelt, funny, it was everything. I’d take a million clichéd storylines or overcomplicated mythology if every episode had a scene like this. And, sure, the dance party could read a bit mawkish and a little too cheesy, but I loved every second of it. Not only for Maslany’s distinct styles of dance that fit so perfectly for each character, but also for the fact that it had been so long since we had seen the Clone Club all together and this was a necessary high-note after so much doom and gloom throughout the season.
However, quickly after this blissful moment the episode devolves into predictable, plot twisty, season finale clichés and some of the more problematic material is introduced. First off, the very swift abduction of Helena, which happens under questionable circumstances; I mean it seems like she only stepped out of the apartment so she could get kidnapped. Was she really going to leave so soon after finding her sestras? But since Helena has stealthily crept into my heart this season, (and I assume into the hearts of many viewers) this was a big, effective gut punch, which adds weight and meaning to this specific finale ‘twist’. In fact, it is the only one I am at all invested in the slew of plot developments/surprises or cliffhangers that littered the episode’s final moments.
The discovery of Duncan’s code is a reveal that the writers built up to and paid off nicely when Kira presents the book to Cosima, but the implication that this will be a cure for Cosima’s ailment seems too pat and kind of a cop out from a potentially tragic, yet compelling storyline. Sarah meeting Marian’s daughter, an eight year old clone, is interesting and has potential for the future but for this episode feels much like a standard season-ending shocker – and it isn’t as much with all the talk about creating more clones in the Rachel/Duncan scene, we were set up for it. It’s the introduction of the military project Castor coupled with the existence of Marian’s organization that pushes the mythology a bit too far.
Not that it would be impossible for the writers to make something like that work, they have done wonders with potentially questionable scenarios and material (though the choice of Mark being one of the male clones is somewhat uninspiring), but the scope of the series is expanding too much too quickly. Though it is expected for the show to expand its universe as it goes on, this new direction is such a major game-changing development that it might change the fundamental fabric of the series significantly. It is yet to be known how this really will affect our characters and their lives, and sometimes change is a good thing to a television series (maybe I’m just paranoid and scared by a potential shift), however the show always falls apart for me whenever they focus on the conspiracy material, which is the way the final moments lean to.
Though Orphan Black began as a sci-fi, thriller driven by the mysteries encroaching Sarah Manning’s life, it quickly became about the characters and their specific experiences. The genre elements, though always present, served as a backdrop in which these character stories could develop. The season finale gives the impression that the sci-fi/conspiracy thriller elements are encroaching on the character stories, with ideas and themes so lofty that the writers might not be able to rein it in. Early in my season two reviews I pointed out how, despite being in these extraordinary situations, the characters’ struggles boil down to very simple, relatable ideas.
This allows for us to watch these insane storylines, latch on to the more simple, human concerns and just enjoy the over the top, genre hijinks of the show on a more superficial level. I don’t know if the series can sustain this dynamic with the course it is taking, but I’m definitely hoping it will. I am felling weary about Orphan Black’s future and the direction the potential third season might take, but the writers have provided us with two fantastic seasons of the show – each time complicating things further – and they have managed to hit deeper emotional depths with great skill as the series moves on. I would still like to see what they have in mind for the next season, not only for the strength of Tatiana Masnalny’s performance but also because I have really grown to love and care for the characters – not just the clones, but Mrs. S, Felix, and Kira as well.
What did you think?