In recapping Orphan Black these past few weeks, the major conversation I’ve been having with myself is in how to approach the Alison-Donnie-as-drug-dealers subplot from a critical standpoint. On a narrative level, as I’ve mentioned many times, the story sticks out like a sore thumb from the rest of the plotlines. On the other hand, that’s not necessarily a bad thing when I take into account all the problems I’ve had with this drearier, more meandering season as a whole.
With “Community of Dreadful Fear and Hate,” the show’s creative team wisely chose to spotlight Alison, dedicating almost the entire episode, save for a few tangential subplots, to the modern-day farce that is her present living situation.
As the episode begins, Alison has a lot on her mind. Not only is she trying to negotiate the purchase of Bubbles from her woefully unsupportive mother, Connie, but she’s also preparing a major campaign appearance while simultaneously arranging a payoff with a drug dealer Pouchy. That this volatile scenario is destined to end up a comedy of errors becomes readily apparent the moment it’s shown that the two manila envelope containing, respectively, the 30,000 dollars for Pouchy and a collection of signatures for Alison’s campaign are pretty much identical (you think someone as tightly wound as Alison would have the foresight to color coordinate).
Inevitably, Donnie makes off with the wrong package and ends up facing down a very irate Pouchy, who threatens to chop his nose off if he does not get the money in a timely fashion. Jason relays this message to Alison who is, at the same time, trying to deal with the fact that Connie now refuses to sell her the family business on the grounds that she does not trust her daughter’s life choices. This is based primarily on her decision to marry a pushover like Donnie. Seriously, with a mother like this, it’s no wonder Alison is so messed up.
At Alison’s side during this disaster is Felix, who is inexplicably now acting as her campaign manager. Considering last week’s installment had him going to a dark place during his interrogation of Rachel, it’s a bit odd to now see him acting as if none of those recent events have had any major effect on his goofball persona. Indeed, this is mostly explained away with the simple proclamation that he “needed a distraction.” Ultimately, I can’t pretend to be too bothered by this, as we finally get some fun Felix shenanigans after nearly six episodes of him being mostly sidelined—no doubt, to make real estate for the Castor mythology.
Whereas Felix’s incorporation comes across as a more contrived attempt at connecting Alison with the rest of the series, however, the inclusion of Cosima and her quest to secure a urine sample from her clone plays out much more organically. After another blissful night with Shay, Cosima is visited by Delphine, who warns her that the destructive proteins in her body are beginning to act up again and they require a urinalysis to gauge her health. Realizing the implications of this news, Cosima attempts to coerce a sample from the healthier Alison.
If Alison is the undisputed star of the episode, then Cosima is a close second. Though I remain uninvested in the specifics of Cosima’s relationship with Shay, I can very much relate to her dilemma in the abstract. Cosima is a character who has lived much of her life feeling alienated from those around her—partly stemming from her sexuality, partly because of her tenuous health and partly due to her own vast intellect. Between discovering her sister/clones and beginning a relationship with Delphine, Cosima appeared to find the sense of belonging that had previously evaded her. Now, in the wake of Delphine’s betrayal and the sisters’ separation, it’s understandable that Cosima would cling to the Shay relationship and deny her deteriorating health. To face this reality, after all, is to risk losing Shay. Certainly, Shay’s ambiguous reaction at the end, upon first learning of her lover’s condition and then witnessing a troubling bleeding incident, plays on Cosima’s fear of abandonment.
Cosima’s intrusion upon Alison’s already hectic day basically pushes the crazy meter to 11, especially after she shows up at the event to collect the sample and ends up being mistaken for Alison. With the real Alison working to procure the money for Pouchy, a frazzled Felix must improvise and dress Cosima up as Alison. Yes, it’s another clone-disguises-as-other-clones scenario, but this particular set-up benefits from having the “actress” in question being Cosima, the one clone who—unlike Sarah and Alison— has no real aptitude for this kind of work.
In the end, despite a proverbial avalanche of setbacks and complications, everything manages to work out—Alison gets the money to Pouchy on time and gives a genuinely heartfelt campaign speech about family and community. This momentary victory, however, is somewhat undermined when Connie congratulates her daughter only to again denigrate Donnie and encourage her to jump ship for someone like Jason. Incensed, Alison introduces her mother to Cosima as a tangible FU to her relentless need to control everything. In response, Connie mistakes Cosima for a “mulatto” due to her hairstyle.
I’m not entirely convinced that Connie could really be that dense nor that—given her obsession with perfection -she would be so easily enchanted by someone as clearly scummy as Jason. Three years of the show has certainly given me reason to question every character’s motivation. Connie could really just be a one-note quasi-villain, but I’d like to think the writers have something cleverer up their sleeve.
Speaking of Jason, the only other part where the plotline loses me is in its confusing exploration of Alison’s potential lingering feelings towards her high school sweetheart. Obviously, given that he attempts to kiss Cosima when she’s in Alison-guise, we know explicitly what Jason’s feelings are, but the episode plays a bit coy with Alison’s side. Despite Alison exploding at her mother due largely to her treatment of Donnie, it’s a bit strange to, in the same scene, have her ask Cosima if Jason’s lips are still soft. I would like to think, after everything they’ve been through since Alison’s bout with adultery in Season One, the two’s relationship is on firmer ground than this.
The episode’s switch in focus means that the Sarah/Helena storyline is regulated to only three or so scenes scattered through the hour. The opening of the episode establishes the two as having taken refuge in a Mexican cantina where they are met, much to Helena’s fury, by Siobhan. The remainder of the subplot focuses on Siobhan attempting to apologize and reconnect with Helena, which actually happens with disappointing ease. Meanwhile, in the episode’s other major subplot, Scott manages to succeed where Felix has failed and gets Rachel to reveal the secret codes embedded in the book, all while under the auspices of teaching her Agricola. Yay, for nerdy gaming!
In contrast to last week’s emotionally heavy installment, “Community of Dreadful Fear and Hate” explores the show’s lighter and zippier side. Perhaps it says something about my feelings towards the show that I find this to be my favorite episode of the season so far. Indeed, the show has made an impressive turnaround over its past two weeks and I’m now optimistic (fingers crossed) that it can reach its conclusion while sustaining the kind of confident grasp of character and plotting that the first half of the season so conspicuously lacked.