Public Service Announcement 45 of 2015: Justified, Orphan Black

After being dropped by Five USA and spending a couple of years in the exclusive wilderness of “Sky Go box sets,” season five of unpopcult favourite Justified finally makes it to actual UK television on Friday (25th) night at 10pm on Spike (another one of the Five stable for those keeping track). The sixth and final season has already finished in the US, obviously, but late is better than never and I love me some Raylan Givens so I’ll be tuning in and doing weekly reviews as soon as I can.

Speaking of wilderness, meanwhile, in “perhaps the most bizarre scheduling decision in history” as described entirely accurately by our very own Jed, BBC3 has finally got round to showing season three of Orphan Black, starting on Sept 27th. On one view, three months after it finished in the U.S. isn’t anywhere near the longest delay we’ve seen, but showing it in daily double bills starting at 2.10AM on a Sunday morning (and then continuing with equally mad but slightly different times each morning thereafter) is actually crazy. Season three is arguably weaker than the previous two and its US ratings lower, but either show it at a halfway sensible time or don’t show it at all. This madness suggests that either BBC3 schedulers are lunatics or they’ve given up entirely on people watching on TV pending their proposed move online. The fact that all of OB season three is going to be available on iPlayer as of tonight lends credence to the latter theory, but why anyone would think experimenting with a tiny niche show like OB in this way would work is beyond me: it’s not going to teach the masses to watch online, since the masses don’t actually watch it. Which brings me back to lunacy being the most likely explanation. I hate double bills, I hate early mornings and I hate daily showings of anything so well done BBC3. I won’t be doing regular reviews this time around but I’ll maybe just do a wrap-up at season’s end.

Orphan Black s2 ep 10

* SPOILERS * SPOILERS * SPOILERS *

“Against all odds, you found your sisters and you fought for your own.”

But as the desperate, defeated Sarah surrenders herself to Dyad, the maliciously triumphant Rachel and the sinister Dr Nealon (a clinician so devoid of human feeling he makes the departed Dr Leekie look like Florence Nightingale), it begins to look like this is one battle even poor Grumpy can’t win.

Just as well Grumpy isn’t fighting alone, then, as the Blessed Kira once again proves herself the season’s MVP and summons the handsome Cal to her aid (oh Cal, I’ve missed you!), Cosima proves that Sarah isn’t the only one prepared to fight for her sisters and the Clonefather proves… well, I don’t quite know what he proves, but whatever it is, he gives both Rachel and I a BIG shock doing it.

It’s just the first of many BIG shocks, however, in an episode that happily pulls all the season’s pieces together, only to then blow them all apart. The also-handsome Paul returns (oh Paul, I’ve missed you too!), having been promoted to what seems like a much higher spot in the multi-conspiracy/mega-double-cross pecking order and with an entire regiment in tow. The oddly unreadable Marian helps spring Sarah, Kira and Cosima out of Dyad (the PENCIL, you guys – OWWWWWW), only to introduce us to another member of the family. And, after an episode’s worth of me wondering why we were still faffing around with Gracie now that Henrik and Crackpot Loonylands are no more, it turns out Gracie’s not actually the one we’re interested in. Well! The season’s most under-written new character is also the season’s most significant new character? Who knew?! Not me. And I don’t know how I feel about it either. Do we need more clones? Do we need additional male perspectives in such a refreshingly female-centred, feminist show? Hm.

It certainly ends the season with a bang rather than a whimper, mind you. The whole episode is, er, bang-tastic, in fact, packed as it is with surprises and excitement and bursting with ingenuity and confidence. Perhaps a little too much ingenuity and confidence, actually – the twists and turns in the script work brilliantly, but the more playful scene where Sarah and her sisters dance doesn’t quite. For me, anyway. As usual, Tatiana Maslany is wonderful throughout, and the different girls’ different moves are fitting, funny and sweet, but for the first time in one of these multi-clone scenes, I could see the joins: the super-imposition of the different Tatianas in the scene was very obvious in a way that it hasn’t been before. Still, one multi-clone scene not quite fooling me out of countless terrific ones over the past ten weeks is a pretty decent record.

Truth be told, I’m something of an Orphan Black convert now. I wasn’t too enthusiastic about its return at the start of this season, and I’m still not convinced it’s as amazing as it thinks it is, but this run has been so much smarter and stronger than season 1: I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. With each of the clones now a fully-formed character instead of a collection of cliches, and the relationships between them deeper and more interesting, I care a lot more about what happens to them than I did before. Despite a few mis-steps and unnecessary tangents along the way (Hi Tony!), the world-building that has gone on around them is also intriguing and this great episode suggests there’s a lot more of that still to come. I look forward to seeing what the sestras come up with in season 3.

Orphan Black s2 ep 9

Hmm. After a couple of weeks off (not quite enough time for me to miss her, but there we go), Bozo’s back on screen and – terrifyingly – starting to sound quite sensible. The only possible explanation for this is that everyone else at Crackpot Loonylands is so demented they make her look sane but that’s an even scarier thought so let’s not dwell on it.

The hands-down scariest thought of the entire week and possibly the season, mind you, is the revelation that the Prolethian farm is one man’s personal propagation playground: for reasons best known to himself (because I don’t need any more things to freak me out) Henrik has been artificially inseminating all the women of childbearing age there, including his own daughter, with his own sperm. So, yes, all the kids in crazytown are his, his wife’s out recruiting more “broodmares” to add to the current herd, and Oh Dear God I’m going to have to stop talking about this now because EWWWWWWWWWW.

Bozo’s made of stronger stuff than I am, though, so she finds a way to deal with the Henrik problem that doesn’t involve closing her eyes, putting her fingers in her ears and rocking in a corner. I suppose I could say “Go, Bozo!” but it’s all so horrible that “No, Bozo!” is what I really mean. I understand the eye for an eye motif – or “i” for an “i” since we’re talking insemination – but is it wrong to wish she could just have shot him instead? In the gun and bullets sense, that is, rather than the giant needle in the unspeakable place one?

I say again: EWWWWWWWWWW.

I’m sure much of this is meant to be played for laughs – Helena certainly seems to be enjoying herself – but I was too grossed out even to giggle.

Also meant to be played for laughs, meanwhile, is Alison and Donnie trying to bury Dr Leekie under their garage and, in fairness, that’s a lot less unpleasant even if it’s more a mildly entertaining diversion than the super-hilarious super-fun the show seems to think. The unfortunate Vic, sent in by the appalling Angie, sticks his nose in, of course, and it’s nice to see Donnie finally getting a) a clue and b) a spine as a result, even if the sex scene means seeing a tad more of Donnie than is strictly necessary. Um…. bygones!

As usual, though, the episode’s best stuff is all about Sarah and the Blessed Kira. Once again, the teensiest person on the show proves to be the best and the bravest, and the scenes where she undergoes the bone marrow procedure with poor Grumpy distraught by her side are genuinely moving. I found myself properly tearing up. And flinching because – again – GIANT NEEDLE.

*shiver*

The high point of the episode comes towards the end, however. Sarah and Delphine are consumed with worry for Kira and Cosima. Mrs S is distracted by her ridiculous new hairdo. (Girl, pigtails? At your age? On guard duty? Come on, now.) And since Rachel is the only one firing on all her devious, evil little cylinders, she easily manages to manipulate them all, pulling off an utterly audacious, brilliant twist which is both completely shocking and completely not in the sense that I never saw it coming but of course it always was. Where next week’s finale will take this particular storyline, I have no idea, but I’m really excited to find out.

Orphan Black s2 ep 8

Another Bozo-no-show this week as Helena continued to do whatever it is Helena’s doing off-screen but, unlike last week’s great ep, I wasn’t too impressed with how the writers used the extra screentime.

At this stage, we already have enough clones, so the introduction of another one would have been entirely superfluous anyway but the introduction of Tony the Clony (sorry) was even more problematic, for a number of reasons. Firstly, one of the refreshing things about Orphan Black is its almost entirely female roster of principal characters. It’s about how a group of different but inextricably connected women cope with this outlandish situation and each other. The variety of female perspectives is one of its strengths and selling points; I’m not sure they needed to add a male one. But even if they did, I don’t think that’s what the way the ep was written actually achieved. Bringing in a transgender clone as a one-week bonus and then packing him off again didn’t really add anything to the story, especially since his two principal functions seemed entirely unrelated to the narrative. Sure, he delivered a message about AWOL Paul, but that was entirely by-the-by and, at the moment anyway, looks like it could easily have been worked in another way. No, Clony Tony seemed more of a figurehead than a character in his own right, there to remind us that Orphan Black is one of the most inclusive shows on tv and that Tatiana Maslany is immensely talented. Since none of this is a surprise to any of its audience, his visit came across as gimmicky rather than organic to the story, having an effect more akin to stunt-casting than anything else, which is both unfortunate and disappointing.

Poor Tony wasn’t the only one short-changed by this week’s ep though, as Cosima too fell victim to the odd gimmick. Her nerd-girl nerd-gaming with Scott and his friends was cliched but pleasant enough, mind you. It was her random pot-smoking scene with Delphine that felt, again, like it was there to make a point about how brave the show thinks it is – characters taking drugs! Heavens! – rather than actually having anything to do with anything. Delphine and Cosima love each other, we know this. What did the hazy helium-infused nonsense scene have to do with anything?

Much of it felt like filler just to get Cosima to her cliffhanger collapse, which could just as easily have happened at the end of last week, and after last week’s tip-top episode, I was a little disappointed: this one just didn’t measure up. But all was not entirely lost, since at least Grumpy Sarah (far and away my favourite, still), Rachel and Alison kept the rest of the plot moving.

Grumpy, Mrs S and the increasingly brittle Rachel (that voicemail to Paul sounded a lot more vulnerable than authoritative) reached an icy-cold, oddly easy deal to hand over the increasingly sinister Clonefather but the eccentric old scientist persona isn’t quite hiding the man’s fixation on the Blessed Kira. Is he grooming her to be the next phase in Project Lida? How long before somebody else finds the Dr Moreau book and works out he’s up to something?

Meanwhile, Alison and Donnie the WORST MONITOR IN THE WORLD found a way back to each other in blackly comic circumstances: involvement in someone else’s death and oblivion at the bottom of a bottle. Oh well, common ground is common ground. We’ll see what next week brings…..

Orphan Black s2 ep 7

No sign of Bozo this week, which means no trip to Crackpot Loonylands and a leaner, smarter, better episode as a result. There’s more than enough going on with Clone Club as it is, with the ep focussed on the rest of the girls (and their assorted allies) pulling together to help each other out.

In rehab, Allison drafts in Felix who summons Grumpy Sarah to sort the Vic problem: so much for my wish for Allison and Vic to become BFFs. It’s an easy – if no more than mildly amusing – opportunity for some broad slapstick humour but the best fun comes from Sarah playing Allison playing Donnie, much to her confusion and his chagrin. Any of the storylines in Orphan Black can flip on a dime, though, and this one’s no different: turns out Donnie is not only the WORST MONITOR IN THE WORLD, he’s also the most clueless. Literally. Which then leads to him confronting REDACTED which then leads to the second great Donnie twist of the ep – a final scene as unexpectedly, blackly comic as it is brutal. I didn’t expect them to go there, but they did. Wow.

While Donnie’s making even more of a hash of things than usual, though, Grumpy – the de facto President of Clone Club – is doing a better job than usual trying to save everyone’s bacon. As well as the rehab interlude, she dashes to the Blessed Kira’s side when it becomes clear “someone” is watching her and Cal (although lovely, sensible Cal seems way better at looking after his daughter than her “jump in first, give no thought to it later” mother, if you ask me). And, as if all these dashing rescues weren’t enough, Sarah also concocts a plan with Mrs S (are we trusting Mrs S now? Hm) to divide and conquer Dyad using the Clonefather and Rachel to burn it all down. Go Grumpy!

This being the Sarah we know and love, however, sense and success are both finite qualities. So when craven Cosima finds out what Duplicitous Delphine wasn’t telling her and decides that, actually, she’s ok with using her “niece” as a Dyad stem cell dispenser, Grumpy takes leave of her senses and loads the most self-possessed pre-teen on the planet into the car. By which time, the Blessed Kira has proven herself both more practical and a bigger bad-ass than her mum and her “aunties” put together. The little girl’s big moment (even if it was off-screen) was just one of the highlights of a fantastic ep; I loved it.

Orphan Black s2 ep 6

“Sugar.”

“Oh honey honey.”

“You are my clone-y candy girl…” Oh Bozo. Turns out all it took for me to enjoy you was for them to send you on out on the road with Grumpy old Sarah: twin sestras, shadow puppets and a spot of the Archies. What’s not to love?

Shame it didn’t last. Did we really have to split the yin and yang sisters up so soon? To send Bozo back into the arms/restraints of the Prolethians? Not. Fair. I suppose at least she got a bit of a snog before she went, but still: hurrumph. I want to see more of the sestras “having adventures,” not hanging out with religious crackpots.

Not that Grumpy was overly bothered with the loss of her travelling companion, mind you. Their scenes in the car together were light and lovely, but once Helena was gone, Helena was gone: quick phone call to Art, and Grumpy was back on the road, armed with a load of info about the seventh circle of hell, sorry, “Cold River Institute” and hot on the trail of the Clonefather himself. Who turned out to be hanging out with…. REALLY? Her?!

“She” is up to her neck in EVERYTHING.

And how on earth does “she” know about Paul and Afghanistan? When do “we” get to find out? Because Paul’s motives may be murky and his recent actions worse, but it does seem like the clone he’s working for isn’t the clone he wants: that delicious scene in the bar where he faced off with the Prince of Prolethia was highly intriguing. The brusque “Sarah’s off the table” combined with the arrested look on Paul’s face when asked if she was worth dying for, suggested – to me, anyway – that it’s not just business for him at all. Lucky old Grumpy: Cal and Paul keen on her? SQUEE.

While Grumpy and the big conspiracy plot moved along at top speed however, Allison – still in rehab – encountered a face from the past in a surprisingly endearing little sub-plot. I mean, the old Vic was not someone I wanted to see again, but the new one certainly seemed to click with the brittle Allison and it was nice to see her smile, even if it was in spite of herself. I hope he doesn’t let the wretched Angie get in the way of what seems like it could be a fun friendship. Or even something more? After all, it’s about time Allison cut Donnie the worst monitor in the world loose, no?

Although I can’t quite believe I’m suggesting Vic as a viable alternative. Just goes to show how much things have moved on since season 1 – this was a great episode for both plot and characterisation, with lots of lovely inter-clone moments (as well as the road trip, Cosima and Sarah’s phone call had a very sweet, sisterly vibe about it) and there’s a real sense that the wider story is beginning to come together as the clones themselves get closer. Best one of the season so far for me, but I’m looking forward to what else is to come.

Orphan Black s2 ep 5

Business Clone Rachel really needs to lighten up, no?

Putting the brakes on Science-y Cosima’s treatment? Framing Felix? Never cracking a smile? Eek. I’ve been trying to work out why she hates Sarah so much and I’m drawing a blank. She’s clearly jealous of Grumpy but why? Does Business yearn for grungy black clothes? Just buy some. Does she secretly wish for long, dark hair? Get to a salon. Does she just really fancy Paul? “Promote” him. Oh wait…

(I’m sure there’s some deeply incisive commentary to be written about the number of tv encounters I’ve seen recently where female characters in a position of power have used that to dominate their male employees sexually, but I don’t think I’m the person to write it, since I found Rachel’s subjugation of Paul uncomfortable and embarrassing to watch. Not because she’s a woman, but because it seemed a lot more abusive than consensual. Gender turnabout doesn’t make it fair play as far as I’m concerned but I’ll just leave it at that and move right along.)

Maybe Business is angry because Grumpy has a kid and Business can’t have one. Of course, the Blessed Kira herself is presently tucked safely away from all this nastiness and having a whale of a time with Cal, a man as handsome as he is wise. “There’s no reason why we shouldn’t have really awesome socks.” Preach, Cal. Preach. And I will just pretend there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for all that shady stuff we saw in your cupboard/locker thing because surely you are too lovely and too handsome to be evil. PLEASE.

Anyway, while Kira and Cal have fun with footwear, Grumpy has a new ally in the form of Bozo/Meathead – “Do not call me this.” Heh – and a new lead in the form of an old photo of a weird dude in a creepy hat. Who lives in “the place of screams.” Um…. Is that anywhere near the place where they lock you up in an underground cell and sew up your MOUTH? Because oh my GOD that is terrifying.

Despite Gracie’s fate and Rachel’s power games, though, Ipsa Scientia Potestas Est is actually surprisingly funny, thanks to the three “sestras,” and for the first (possibly last) time I actually liked Bozo’s scenes. Probably because I like Grumpy and Felix and they were in most of them, but let’s not over-analyse. Now that we’ve reached the season’s mid-point, things are coming together, the story’s heating up and I’m thoroughly enjoying the turn its taken. Good stuff.