Orphan Black S1 Ep5: Conditions of Existence

Let's hear it for the boys

The sense of paranoia grows as Sarah and her clone sisters realise that even their nearest and dearest cannot be trusted.

Who watches the watchers?

Paul again surprises Sarah at home. After sleeping together, she wakes from a nightmare in which surgeons are operating on her. She realises it was real when she coughs up an electrode.

She and Alison become suspicious that the men in their lives are monitoring them, leading her to discover that Paul is ex-military.

Alison’s search reveals a padlocked metal box in the garage. When she confronts Donnie, he runs off with it but she later finds it contains a planted stash of porn. Donnie burns the original contents.

Sarah goes to Paul’s office to check on him and plant a bug, but he notices she is missing a scar Beth had on her neck. However, when he reports in to a man named Olivier he doesn’t mention this. He confronts Sarah and she claims to be Beth’s twin.

Alison goes to buy a spy camera but encounters Vic – now missing the end of a finger – who mistakes her for Sarah. Sarah has to pay him off out of Alison’s emergency fund.

Cosima continues to test the blood samples from Katja’s briefcase and suggests their monitors may be part of a ‘double-blind’, being kept in the dark about the experiment to avoid skewing results. She meets a French student, Delphine, and strikes an immediate friendship.

Conspiracy and claustrophobia

The conspiracy thriller at the heart of Orphan Black jumps to the fore as the focus shifts from the girls to their partners (Paul and Donnie), ex-partners (Vic) and potential partners (Delphine), and we start to peel back the layers of the mystery as to why the clones exist in the first place.

Sarah and Alison in particular feel the world closing in around them as they discover they are being watched and cannot trust loved ones. The girls are drawn closer together as they realise they have no one but each other.

Vic now knows Sarah is alive – an unwanted complication. Sarah-as-Beth is now exposed, to Paul at least. And the nature of Alison’s relationship with Donnie is changed forever as she starts to spy on him.

Once again, Tatiana Maslany’s versatility shines through when Paul surprises her in the shower. It takes a few seconds for Sarah to regain her composure and transition from her natural accent – she calls Paul an ‘arsehole’, a distinctly British insult – into Beth’s voice. Subtle but effective.

This week’s big questions

Paul was Beth’s monitor and it is implied that Donnie is Alison’s. Does that mean Sarah is also being watched? And is Cosima’s connection with Delphine more than a chance encounter?

In addition to Alison, Paul confirms that Beth couldn’t have children either. Why is Sarah different? Paul says he couldn’t leave Beth: ‘You think I had no choice?’ What hold does the mysterious Olivier have over him?

Orphan Black reviews

1.1 Natural Selection

1.2 Instinct

1.3 Variation Under Nature

1.4 Effects of External Conditions

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

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4 Comments on Orphan Black S1 Ep5: Conditions of Existence

  1. I thought this was better. But I’ve taken agin Helena in a big way, so if she doesn’t feature I’m immediately a bit happier. And I like the idea that no-one can be trusted.

    • Yeah, I know what you mean about Helena. She’s a bit of a cartoon villain with the crazy hair and the whole self-cutting thing.

      There’s a definite sense of the walls closing in in this episode, like we’ve stopped playing around and we’re now getting into the heart of the story. Looking forward to the next couple of episodes now.

  2. I once again enjoyed this episode – as you say, there’s a real sense of the plot accelerating now. Then again, I like the traditional narrative element that is Helena rather more than you seem to have. (I agree she’s a bit of a cliche, but I like shows like Criminal Minds where characters like her are a staple – it’s the detail that makes her interesting, you know?)

    Maslany’s performance continues to stun me. But I was disheartened to spot yet another science blooper (you can’t get dna from hair strands – you need to include the root bulb.) BTW, I don’t really think the fingerprint thing was minor: wasn’t it a key reason for Sarah continuing to impersonate Beth the cop?

    The problem, for me, with errors of science in a puzzle-based plot like this is that they make it much harder to figure out what’s going on – it’s as if the writers are constantly cheating on clues. And I like my science fiction and my fantasy to stay distinct from each other. (I love Once Upon A Time too, but this is not that…)

    • It’s probably not so much the writers cheating as being ill-informed, but you make a good point. You’re also right about the fingerprint issue being a reason for Sarah to continue impersonating Beth, but in the greater scheme of things I think I’ve just accepted it as a blooper-cum-MacGuffin to give Sarah a plausible reason not to run.

      I’m not really anti-Helena, more just commenting that she has been presented in an exaggerated way – much as Katja was – presumably because she’s a minor character relative to Sarah, Alison and Cosima, and therefore needs to be painted in broader brush strokes for the benefit of the viewer. (Funnily enough, I’ve seen some chat online which shows that some viewers hadn’t even realised she was actually a clone …)

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