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After last week’s fantastic episode Orphan Black follows up with a bit of a dud. While “Ipsa Scientia Potestas” does have many great moments throughout the hour, it doesn’t all come together to form an exceptionally successful episode of the show. Tangential storylines and secondary narratives give it a disjointed quality and bring down the more compelling aspects of the episode. Unquestionably, the Sarah and Helena storyline constitutes the most effective part of the installment and carries most of the emotional and dramatic weight. Despite some intriguing aspects here and there, the rest of the material (Cosima in the Dyad, Rachel and Paul, Leekie, the Proletheans, Cal and Kira) doesn’t hold up as well. Not to mention, the episode has absolutely no Alison material whatsoever, which automatically lowers an episode’s entertainment factor a considerable amount. Seriously, what is up with that, writers? Alison’s diminished role in last week’s episode was hardly felt, but with this episode’s lack of exciting storylines, it is a noted loss. I wouldn’t argue with a Cosima-less episode since her story continues to move in a slow pace and just isn’t as compelling as the insanity that is Alison’s personal life. How could they deprive us of, arguably, the most entertaining/fun character of the series? In addition to that, the writers also deprive us of any Mrs. S material, ridding the hour of another extremely dynamic player in the story. Mrs. S is one of the most increasingly intriguing and mysterious characters of the show.
As stated before, the absence of these characters would not be such a big deal if only the story were a highly engaging one. However, there isn’t much forward movement in terms of story, this is more of a transitional episode in which a new objective is introduced and some characters’ journeys shift courses. There just isn’t much to hold on to in the narrative, unlike the previous installment, which featured major developments like Helena’s escape from the Prolethean compound, the death of an important antagonist, insight on Mrs. S and more. “Ipsa Scientia Potestas” contains less of those significant moments than its predecessor and spends more time setting up future conflicts and exploring character relationships. And while a lot if it is seemingly interesting, it doesn’t provide the expected element of suspense and tension that an episode of Orphan Black usually does.
The Prolethean storyline doesn’t advance story, it deals mostly with the aftermath of the previous episode’s events, though it does effectively influence the tone and mood of the hour. The few glimpses that are shown are deeply disturbing and provoke visceral reactions from viewers; however, we don’t learn anything new about these people. This is just more of the same upsetting and unnerving behavior we have seen from them since the season began.
An exploration of Rachel’s relationship with the current men in her life sounds like a compelling idea, as one of the lesser known clones, we want to know more about her history and life, except that the most prominent person in her life at the moment is Paul. And he may be the most boring, uninteresting, and insipid character that inhabits this universe. At least Angie has some agency, regardless of how annoying she is. Everything to do with Paul and his vacant, expressionless face is a chore to go through. And when we get both Paul and Rachel, who is the most stoic and unfeeling of all the clones, together in a scene it just becomes a big pile o’ bland. Even when they are engaging in a weird, power play sex scene. The dynamic between Rachel and Leekie is much more interesting, seeing how they both are using Paul (who appears to have absolutely no agency/internal motivation whatsoever) for their own agendas and the series is beginning to show the strain in that relationship.
The episode does improve as the hour progresses. The conflict with Helena and Sarah takes a more central role and the tension definitely builds once Helena is free from her babysitters. There are some narrative contrivances, I mean if Helena really does want to kill Rachel and get away with it and whatnot, why does she keep leaving clues for Art and Rachel to follow her? Nevertheless, her escape does lead to the most tense and effective scene in the hour. In a parallel to last week’s gut-wrenching final moments between the sisters, Sarah arrives just in time to stop Helena from killing Rachel (effectively saving one of her clone sisters as well as Felix apparently) and deliver an emotional plea that solidifies their sisterly bond. The relationship between Sarah and Helena is now one of the most engaging aspects of the series. Who would have thought that the crazy killer from the first season would become such an affecting character and build a meaningful bond with Sarah? I love this weird relationship and am looking forward to exploring their dynamic now that they have officially joined forces.
As for Cosima and the Dyad, the big reveal that the original genome has been destroyed/lost, the patent talk, and the implications that come with that are just not interesting really. The show has always been more about the characters than the specific scientific/conspiracy aspect of the story so all the techy science-babble is somewhat tedious. The writers have to introduce some of these ideas/developments through clunky expository dialogue in order to continue with the story. They do go on to test possible treatments for Cosima, which is a definite plus and advancement of that particular plotline, which hasn’t been the most entertaining.
“Ipsa Scientia Potestas” is a necessary episode in terms of story and narrative, it sets up the next big mystery/quest for our characters, but that does not an outstanding episode make. While full of great and affecting individual moments (everything to do with Helena, Felix reacting to Helena’s craziness, Sarah bonding with her sister, Gracie’s horrible punishment) it doesn’t come together and transform into a great episode of Orphan Black. Some of the pure fun from previous installments is definitely missing. What did you think?