Orphan Black Revisits Its Most Beautiful Relationship: Alison and Donnie
(Episode 5.03)Photo: Ken Woroner/BBC AMERICA TV Reviews Orphan Black
Something beautiful about Orphan Black’s matriarchy is how seriously it takes the Hendrix family’s suburban drama. In fact, in the “previously on…” montage that precedes “Beneath Her Heart,” as much screen time is given to Alison (Tatiana Maslany) and Donnie’s (Kristian Bruun) benign community activities as is their more illicit ones, like dealing drugs (which made absolutely no sense at the time, let’s admit that now) and manslaughter. Or, you know, whatever the legal definition is for idly watching your rival/neighbor be scarf-strangled via garbage disposal. Probably something that starts with the word “negligent.”
The point is, Orphan Black values their normality. They had the uncool life that all the clones now would (and possible will) kill for. When it’s revealed that Alison met Cosima (Maslany) for the first time while on a mushroom trip (complete with sitar music and the tired gags accompanying it), it’s another justification for why the show’s most delightful suburbanites don’t belong in this weird world, but have adapted more than anyone. Time-jumping between first contact and the present, in which the setras mourn their fallen, gives us proper context for Alison’s addictive crisis when it rears its seductively colored capsule.
Alison continues to be my favorite of Maslany’s performances in the show, stuffing the most stringent and emotionally complex of the clones into a tightly wound master manipulator. The series seems to imply that all suburban mothers are like this, and if my mom’s group of hooligans down at the Applebee’s is any indicator, the series is right. Alison balances her troubled faith with the vengeful self-preservation that’s seen her through events that’ve killed far more qualified individuals. Plus, she’s funny as hell when she’s not searching for an escape by chemical means.
This episode is a Hendrix-centric one, focusing on their marital and personal issues a Neolution-riddled police force searches their home in the hope that it will pressure Donnie into revealing where Helena is so they (the Neolutionists) can get her superhuman Wolverine babies. Meanwhile, Donnie is trying to go do a dance in a kilt. Got all that?
Alison does come to terms with many of her old loose ends, including that time she let her friend die in a fashion/kitchen accident, as well as the teenager that sold them drugs (and also up the river). She gets drunk and high and tries to force the same on others. Donnie, in all his bumbling sweetness, continues supporting his wife as subserviently as he can, allowing her to solve her problems while he cheerleads nearby. Their relationship hasn’t changed much since their introduction, but it’s certainly become a richer palette than the pastel punch line they started as. The episode’s problems are all solved a bit too easily, and the drama is never quite as tense as it needs to be, but it’s never enough of an issue to take away from its entertainment value.
At the end of all, the proceedings amount to some great character moments between the husband and wife while Art (Kevin Hanchard) helplessly watches his new partner, Maddy (Elyse Levesque), literally jackhammer her way through all of Donnie and Alison’s secrets. Levesque continues to steal every scene with her biting delivery while enforcing the tight squeeze of Neolution’s fist upon the clones.
Speaking of which, the other clones have little to do, and their presence is a sad reminder that Orphan Black is, at this point, far too convoluted and interconnected to air a contained, elegant bottle episode. Sarah wanders around petulantly while Kira (Skyler Wexler) dabbles in the science of genetic mutation under Rachel’s care.
Their irrelevancy aside, “Beneath Her Heart” is an important episode for Alison’s psyche, its emotional gravity leavened by some of the goofiest, most cartoonish gags in the series’ annals (including the revelation that Donnie is quite well-endowed). She’s allowed to make peace with her past wrongs, appreciate her exciting life and look forward to the dawn of a new normal. Exorcising demons has never had so many pratfalls or moms putting the “high” into “high-functioning.” It may not be a particularly plot-pushing episode, but I’ll savor any chance to linger with the most well defined character (and relationship) in Orphan Black before she leaves the series to its soap opera finish.
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.