Though grasped by their various obsessions, whether it be money, freedom, family or the abstract progress of Neolution, most of the players in Orphan Black forgo complexity in favor of unrelenting desire. This philosophical avarice is a through line from clone to Club to those in rapt pursuit of them all. Everyone needs. The tactics used to maintain or sate these needs have, as the series has gone on, become closer and closer. Brutality. Blackmail. Yet, as the series’ final season finds its stride in “Clutch of Greed,” it’s because of a tactical reconsideration. Restraint reigns, and we get a taste of consequences.
Sarah Manning (Tatiana Maslany) awakens once again at Dyad, captive of Rachel’s kinky lapdog, Ferdinand (James Frain), and forced to see her sestras and family… safe? Frain’s delivery is always cartoonish, but in this episode he’s like the villain in a movie where the hero is a dog. Thankfully he doesn’t slow clap for anyone, though he does get pissy when Rachel’s newfound serenity supersedes her knack for ball-busting masochism. Rachel, bedecked in an outfit I’d call haute colonial (all white ruffles, wealth and intimidation), offers freedom for Kira (Skyler Wexler) in exchange for what Dyad was doing to the clones before all this started: non-invasive studies, a few tests here and there, to figure out why Kira is so much closer to an X-Man than your average clone’s daughter. If that sounds way too good to be true, it’s because it is.
Yet, Sarah agrees. At least on the surface. What choice does she have? The only people not in the clutches of Neos are Helena and Donnie (Kristian Bruun), the least crafty pieces in this chess game somehow having fallen off the board. Helena’s branch-impaled babies are safe because they’re also basically X-Men, with a Wolverine-like healing factor, allowing her to exchange a whispered secret with her clone-crush before leaving the hospital in a delightfully stabby escape.
Besides these outliers, the rest of the cast conspires to make Sarah sit down and play nice. She’s shown video of Alison being held hostage by Art (Kevin Hanchard) and his partner-cum-Neo-plant, Maddy (Elyse Levesque, a great new addition to the cast). Levesque is confident enough to quip with the mainstays, dominantly slinking around Hanchard with arms usually draped over her prey.
Cosima also Skypes in to make the case for cooperation, as she and Charlotte (Cynthia Galant) dink around in Revival. The two dodge tropes (pacifying drugs disguised as vitamins!) until the grown clone eventually meets her captor, the ultracentenarian PT Westmorland (played by the sleek and creepy human vampire Stephen McHattie). His tastefully decorated and heavily guarded home comes with animal skeletons and an old-timey score ripped from a creepy “lost age” videogame like Fallout or Bioshock. He offers Cosima a full-time position at Revival, searching for God by tinkering with nature—a deal with the Devil as potent as Sarah’s with Rachel.
Sarah’s deal means they’ve sold out Kira—but they’ve got a plan. The series has treated Kira mostly as a prop all along, and “Clutch of Greed” culminates in Wexler’s first real acting opportunity, but she seems to be aiming for something far too childish. Her previous experience on the show has been looking vulnerably at her mother with her cherubic face and lack of personality, so being the crux of any plot decision seems beyond her scope.
Nevertheless, the OG Sarah squad has found surveillance wizard and lamest clone MK. She’s here, obviously, to solve problems with her magical skills—she’s a get-out-of-jail-free character. She exists only as a plot device, and the episode inches precariously close to confirming my pre-season theories on the final tally of clone death.
Her plan involves Sarah playing dress-up once again to filch Kira from her hunky teacher (Simu Liu, looking at you), which is increasingly amusing because of the costume design. Whenever a clone goes undercover as another, the wig quality takes a hilarious nosedive, and it’s a sweet reminder of what excellent work the costume and hair team does separating the clones from one another in the usual course of the show. Once the plan is underway, the silly plot gives way to some of the most fun action Orphan Black has had in a long time.
An exciting long take tracks Sarah escaping Ferdinand’s spying eyes until she reunites with MK. Another technically savvy shot follows, showing MK and Sarah switching clothes, as they swap positions and props between whatever green-screen tech brings their faces together. As soapy as this show can get, the creative team’s giddiness whenever it can do some visual bragging via cool clone interaction continues to be unparalleled.
Then the fun must come to an end. Points must be made, and in Orphan Black tradition, they must be made as glaringly as possible. For all the episode’s sneaking, ruminating and overtures of compromise, the brutality of extremists driven by their needy emotions returns. Sarah’s uncompromising fantasy of freedom only harms, while Rachel’s slithering secrecy seduces—all roads leading, of course, to Kira. Her answers are here and, as the superhero comparison continues, she decides to discover her potential her own way: The conclusion of “Clutch of Greed” feels eerily similar to an origin story.
Read all of Paste’s episodic reviews of Orphan Black Season Five here.
Jacob Oller is a writer and film critic whose writing has appeared in The Guardian, Playboy, Roger Ebert, Film School Rejects, Chicagoist, Vague Visages, and other publications. He lives in Chicago, plays Dungeons and Dragons, and struggles not to kill his two cats daily. You can follow him on Twitter here: @jacoboller.