Orphan Black S1 Ep4: Effects of External Conditions

Being me, being you

With Katja’s killer still at large, Sarah continues to pose as Beth and makes a startling discovery. Alison takes Sarah’s place to keep her appointment with daughter Kira. And assassin Helena poses as Beth to find out more about the police investigation.

Identity swaps

Just when you think Orphan Black couldn’t possibly get any more convoluted, this episode features three of the four current ‘identicals’ stepping into the shoes of one of the others as investigations continue on three separate fronts.

Helena pretends to be Beth to infiltrate the police station for information on both her and the murder investigation. She playfully rearranges photos on an evidence board to make a Frankenstein’s doll and invites Sarah-as-Beth to meet with her.

Cosima’s investigations link Helena to Maggie Chen, the civilian killed by Beth.

Sarah learns from Helena that Chen was involved in creating the clones, and realises that Beth deliberately killed her to protect them all.

While Sarah has her hands full tracking Helena, Alison poses as her to keep her appointment with Kira at Mrs S’s. After some coaching from Felix, Alison is able to fool her foster-mother but not Kira, who immediately spots the imposter but agrees to keep it a secret.

With both her partner Art and boyfriend Paul now increasingly suspicious about her, Sarah turns in Beth’s badge and gun. In an alleyway, Helena collapses and is picked up by a mystery man in a van.

Another week, another genre

After the lighter tone of last week’s police procedural-style story, this episode is much darker as the plot shifts seamlessly to embrace the horror genre.

There’s a lot of exposition crammed in here. Cosima’s role as the group boffin confines her to dialogue which fleshes out Helena’s character and motivation, and brings Maggie Chen back into the wider mystery.

But this is more than compensated for by a sharp focus on the other three ‘identicals’.

Killer Helena becomes almost an object of pity, a woman whose extreme beliefs have been manipulated to serve the aims of someone else. Alison, who has up to now stood safely on the sidelines, is thrown into the game to protect Sarah’s interest in Kira. And Sarah herself is now fully invested in pursuing the mystery, the classic reluctant hero who can no longer walk away.

Underpinning all this is an acting masterclass by Tatiana Maslany. Her convincing portrayal of not only the multiple identicals but also the nuances of them impersonating each other is crucial to successfully maintaining our suspension of disbelief.

This week’s big question

Helena says Sarah is somehow different to the others. Alison, whose children are adopted, is surprised (and a little jealous?) when Sarah reveals Kira is her biological daughter. Is there a flaw in the clones’ genetic make-up which renders them unable to give birth? And, if so, why is Sarah different?

Clone count

At large: Sarah, Alison, Cosima, Helena.

Deceased: Beth, Katja.

Presumed dead: Danielle, Janika, Aryanna.

Orphan Black reviews

1.1 Natural Selection

1.2 Instinct

1.3 Variation Under Nature

This review was originally posted on Metro.co.uk.

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4 Comments on Orphan Black S1 Ep4: Effects of External Conditions

  1. Jed Bartlet // October 5, 2013 at 1:30 pm // Reply

    What I’ll take away from this one is Tatiana Maslany’s performance. It’s one thing to play lots of different characters, but when those characters start impersonating each other… that’s a whole different level of skill.

    That apart OK-to-good, but not quite catching fire for me.

    • I think that’s fair enough. Plot-wise, we’re in transition – shaking off the scene-setting background but not quite into the main thrust of the conspiracy plot. Maslany’s performances here are quite something, though

  2. Hi Tim –
    Love both this and your ‘daddy’ blog! Thanks for both of them!

    This is one of those shows that had me from the first few minutes, and not only because of Maslany’s performance. One thing that has bugged me is a scientific error – clones, like identical twins, would have unique fingerprints (Sarah and Alison might not know this, I suppose, but I’d have thought Cosima would – if she’s been researching their ‘condition’ it’s one of the first things she might have happened across.) As for Sarah being able to give birth, might this point to her being the original? (Though I’d have expected that to be someone older, somehow.)

    • Thanks Liz. 🙂

      I’ve wondered about why Sarah appears to be different. Maybe she is the original, but that seems like too obvious a twist so I’m expecting it to be someone older too, as you do.

      As for the fingerprints, that’s what I thought too. It certainly seems to be a point that has been much debated online, although it’s been such a minor plot point so far I’ve been willing to let that one go and just enjoy the ride.

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