The episode of Orphan Black with the season’s most disturbing title so far, “Manacled Slim Wrists,” opens, of course, with the most disturbing subjects it could find: vloggers. Krystal Goderitch (Tatiana Maslany) and her friend (Cara Ricketts) run a delightfully vapid makeup tutorial/cosmetic conspiracy channel. Krystal has historically been a ditzy one-joke character, so seeing her rope in the equally underserved Art (Kevin Hanchard) and Scott (Josh Vokey) to her ultimately savvy schemes is a treat. Vokey nails some sharp lines (when asked if he’s normcore, he replies “The normest”) and the whole concept boosts the show’s energy tenfold, even when it hops over to the serious stuff.
This stuff, namely Sarah (Maslany) and Mrs. S (Maria Doyle Kennedy) now knowing Neolution seeks Kira’s genetic anomaly, also develops. Now their goal is to keep Kira (Skyler Wexler) away from Rachel (Maslany) and her ilk at all costs, even if it means making a kid down some ipecac. Some excellent comic edits and Maslany’s performance bridge the gap between Sarah and Krystal, as once again the clones decide to pull the ol’ switcheroo on an unsuspecting rube.
Well, until Krystal usurps the operation and decides to do her own dirty work. The cosmetics industry (especially the douchey Dyad subsidiary CEO Krystal’s been flirting with) doesn’t know what’s about to hit it. Neither does Vokey, who gets to be the virginal horny nerd to Ricketts’ kleptomaniac seductress. It’s a charming, if rote, detour, but its value to the series is questionable besides being another continuation of its philosophy that women are sexually dominant and men sexually submissive.
This also plays out in Krystal’s schemes, with Art and Sarah, playing the straight men, looking on, and is some of the funniest stuff Orphan Black’s done yet, mostly thanks to some solid scripting from David Bezmozgis and acting from Hanchard and Maslany. It can’t be easy to play both straight man and punch line, yet Maslany, given the chance, nails it. That these schemes unveil an actual cosmetics conspiracy about the delivery of the island’s experiments unto an unsuspecting public is just icing.
On said island, Cosima (Maslany) is jailed and Mud (Jenessa Grant) wears a bell as penance for her sympathy towards PT Westmorland (Stephen McHattie)’s murderous mutant. Grant doesn’t have the chops for the complexity asked of her, needing to balance the loneliness, wonder, and sunk-cost devotion of a cultish youth with the authority of a warden. Instead, the interactions between the two are awkward and stilted, with Maslany’s heartfelt delivery falling on deaf ears and wooden disposition. The island contains the show’s odd yet biting take on diverse casting, unceremoniously killing off Aisha (Sirena Gulamgaus) and hinting at a host of POC children serving as experiments for blood transfusions à la obsessive weirdo Peter Thiel. Westmorland’s creepiness factor gets a shot in the arm (pun intended) thanks to this unfortunate real-world correlation.
But it doesn’t stop there. We also discover that Westmorland’s name is really just John and “PT Westmorland” was simply the most British name he could think of this side of “Benedict Cumberbatch” when he decided to undertake this longevity long con. “Fortune and fiction, that’s how the patriarchy works” is a killer line slipped into a freewheeling, revelatory conversation between Westmoreland and Susan Duncan (Rosemary Dunsmore). The scam is unraveling, as it inevitably would when we discovered that the allegedly immortal scientist was researching healing and cloning methods. Nothing helps drive home the egotism of man like his knack for personal continuation at any cost.
The conversation’s baddie-adding trajectory creates an air of supervillainy, a collection of super scientists all possessing varying levels of evil intent for their fellow humans. To be honest, it’s the most exciting the show has been all season, and it’s just three people talking in an immaculately production-designed room.
The conversation’s consequences spill over to Ira (Ari Millen), the last of a series of male clones and Susan’s son/lover. The generally breathy and passive boy toy started glitching last episode, a fate befalling most of his brothers, and sees his motivations shift to accommodate this fact. Millen, in seasons past, proved himself an exceptional clone actor, so Ira gaining some long-needed complexity is a welcome restoration of Millen’s talent—especially considering the episode’s tragic conclusion. Tying the show’s weak links into its most vital plotlines is a brilliant move that revitalizes the proceedings with fresh blood while cleaning up sleepy side characters in a coup as dramatic as the one brewing at Revival. The mix of over-the-top evil—the kind necessary for a show with emotions and ambitions as large as Orphan Black—and broad humor works well, especially when they serve to flesh out the show’s giant stable of supporters—something the show must continue to keep this energy up as it tumbles towards its conclusion.
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.