Alison and Donnie Shine (Again) in the Latest Orphan Black Episode

(Episode 4.04, “From Instinct to Rational Control”)

TV Reviews Orphan Black
Alison and Donnie Shine (Again) in the Latest Orphan Black Episode

As is the case with most Orphan Black episodes as the season nears its midpoint, “From Instinct to Rational Control” serves primarily as a vehicle to espouse exposition. This week, as Sarah winds her way deeper into the mystery surrounding MK, she ends up forming a very reluctant alliance with the skeevy Ferdinand from Topside who wants to use her Scandinavian clone to locate his beloved Rachel. What’s more—though there’s no doubt more backstory to come—we learn that MK’s real name is Veera and that she bore witness to the purge of multiple clones and their loved ones at the hands of Ferdinand and his ilk. I’m still on the fence as to how this year’s labyrinthine conspiracy will ultimately hold up, but MK/Veera’s lust for revenge does help bring a much more personal element to the proceedings, besides the standard corporate villainy that permeated previous years.

At the risk of repeating myself week-after-week, it’s the Alison and Donnie storyline that really gives the hour its spark. While out to lunch, Alison has a chance encounter with Beth Child’s (formerly pregnant) Neolutionist contact, who mistakes her for the late Beth (quick note: it speaks to how experienced Alison has become that, rather than flounder, she knows not to deflect when accused of being someone else and actually has the instincts to snap a discreet picture of the girl). Upon relaying this information, Alison is tasked with infiltrating a fertility clinic headed by a doctor connected to the Neolutionist movement. Because Beth’s previous appearance makes it impossible for Alison to go in incognito, however, Donnie and Felix must pose as a gay couple looking to get pregnant. Here, the show does a fantastic job at mining the comedy of this moment without ever diving down the rabbit hole of gay panic or exploiting stereotypes for an easy punchline (half the joy, in fact, is seeing Felix’s semi-horrified reaction to Donnie’s over-the-top preening).

This sequence goes one step further by having Donnie sent into a sample room in order to deposit his sperm in a cup. Left with only a gay porno mag, Donnie calls up Alison to have her verbally enact one of their role-playing fantasies, seemingly involving an airline passenger and an Italian flight attendant. In a bit of suggestive match cutting worthy of Hitchcock, the show cuts directly from Donnie’s moment of climax to Cosima extracting the white, stringy worm figure from Dr. Leekie’s body. It’s as if the Orphan Black creative team is working to actively test the boundaries of what they can get away with on BBC America. Ejaculation jokes aside, however, this subplot surprisingly also finds time to give Alison an emotional beat, as she’s confronted with an old friend who appears to have overcome her infertility and is now in her second trimester, thus dredging up old insecurities as to Alison’s own inability to have children. Though, that does also raise the question—where the hell have Alison and Donnie’s adopted kids been while all this is going on? At this point, such an intense level of parental neglect must be highly detrimental to their development.

Speaking of kids, now that she’s already pregnant, Helena ends up burying the case containing her frozen embryos. In general, this year has been very light on Helena and one wonders if the writers are simply at a loss as to how to incorporate such a big personality into the season’s storyline. Granted, pregnancy is an efficient way of sidelining her and giving Maslany a brief respite, but it’s still a bit disappointing that one of the show’s most crazed creations now looks to be left floating in the wind. Likewise, four episodes in and we’re still none the wiser as to Cosima’s current emotional state in the wake of Delphine’s disappearance. Once more, this might just be a distribution issue, but it’s a fairly significant plotline to go unchecked for so long.

More than likely, the next few entries of Orphan Black will work as similar table-setting, dolling out the story of MK’s revenge ploy and Rachel’s recovery until they (hopefully) converge in a manner that will make the build-up worthwhile. In that sense, “From Instinct to Rational Control” (and, indeed, the series as a whole) is a hard item to critique—after all, it’s near impossible to properly judge rising action until you have the whole layout to judge it against.

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