Orphan Black Review: “Insolvent Phantom of Tomorrow”

(Episode 3.09)

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<i>Orphan Black</i> Review: &#8220;Insolvent Phantom of Tomorrow&#8221;

In the wake of several impressive installments over the past few weeks, Orphan Black’s penultimate Season Three entry, “Insolvent Phantom of Tomorrow,” finds the show unfortunately sliding into its old habits. The good news is that, unlike earlier entries this season, this episode appears to have more of a solid grasp on where its plotlines are heading. The bad news is that this more confident storytelling is not without its myriad problems.

The big shake-up this time around involves Sarah, Felix and Siobhan traveling back to London in search of the “prisoner” mentioned in the Moreau excerpt/nursery rhyme from last week. To make a long story short, their convoluted investigation leads them to the home of a crotchety old woman named Kendall Malone. Twist one—she turns out to be Siobhan’s mother and, by extension, Sarah and Felix’s grandmother. Twist two—she’s actually provided the genetic donation used to create the Castor project, thus making her the biological origin of both the Leda and Castor clones. And what’s the reason a woman was able to provide the genetic makeup for a slate of male clones? According to Kendall, she absorbed a male twin in the womb (“hell of a twist of nature,” she explains to her stunned audience). Yep. That’s… very… silly.

That’s not to say, of course, Orphan Black has not willfully trafficked in silly before. Season One did feature a prominent plot point concerning a henchman with a tail after all. Nevertheless, this latest twist does seem to exist more for the express purpose of reiterating the show’s female-empowerment angle. Certainly, in a show all about powerful women kicking patriarchy’s ass, it’s not too surprising that the big mystery surrounding the clones’ origin would all lead back to a gender subversion. Not that there’s anything wrong with that—Lord knows, sci-fi dramas that take on such an overtly feminist bent are a welcome relief. That being said, this particular plotline really runs into narrative problems in attempting to service its “girl power” ethos. Maybe it’s just the way the Kendall reveal is constructed, but the back-to-back reveal of “this is my mother! (gasp)/”this is the mother of all the clones!” (gasp) felt absolutely soapy in its execution. Add on the “I absorbed my twin” element and the whole thing comes across as a twist that was scrambled together in haste.

The commitment to girl power doesn’t jus stop there though. The first half of the this plotline effectively serves as a gigantic puff piece for Siobhan, as the trio end up meeting up with her old London contacts, hearing about her passionate love affairs and even listening in awe as she regales the patrons of a pub with a rock song. Maybe its just because a good portion of the show’s mythology portion does not capture my fancy, but I’ve yet to ever really connect with Siobhan in the way the writers appear to think the show’s viewers have. For one, beyond carrying a shotgun a few times, I have yet to get any tangible proof of Siobhan’s apparent “badass” nature. Moreover, the show’s tangent into “let’s show that actress Maria Doyle Kennedy has an amazing voice” is not quite as fan service-y as the infamous clone dance from last year, but it does run awfully close.

Meanwhile, upon looking through Delphine’s records on Shay, Cosima discovers that her girlfriend was once involved in the military. Having been burnt by this situation before, she admits to Delphine that Shay is probably the Castor mole. In a cruel twist of fate, Cosima later receives a phone call from an apologetic Gracie, who reveals that it was her who provided the intel to Castor in exchange for Mark’s life. Unbeknownst to Cosima, Delphine is so desperate to enact her revenge on her ex’s new lover that she immediately takes this opportunity to forcefully interrogate her, even going so far as to set up a situation where she can kill Shay and make it look like suicide. And though this ongoing story’s importance to the overarching season arc remains to be seen, I’m still having trouble seeing it as anything more than a thinly veiled obligation to service the Cosima and Delphine characters, as opposed to a necessary or dramatically rich exploration of the two’s relationship. Whatever the outcome, this subplot at least offers a legitimate escalation of their conflict instead of returning to the more turgid relationship drama that defined its earlier incarnations.

The real gem of the episode, however, is the Helena/Donnie pair-up. Now integrated into the Hendrix’s lives (she’s performing chores while singing along to The Turtles’ “You Baby” at the beginning), Helena’s story basically takes over the “completely-unrelated-to-the-main-plot-but-unmistakably-awesome” brand of subplots. The plotline commences after Donnie learns that, in the wake of his fight with Jason, Pouchy has decided to cut him out of the business and demands his pill supply be returned. As collateral, one of Pouchy’s goons picks up the “important” looking tank that contains Helena’s embryos. With Donnie unwilling to face Alison given his battered face, Helena ends up becoming his de facto ally. Donnie returns the supply to Pouchy but, to complicate matters, Helena arrives at the scene and Donnie is forced to pretend that she is Alison and that her accent is a result of a cold that “messes with syntax.”

Furthermore, Donnie is laughed away when he requests a reimbursement for the pills. Pouchy’s gang takes it one step too far, however, when they threaten to go after Alison and Donnie’s children if the two ever go back into business. Here, Helena’s mamma bear instincts kick in and she pushes Donnie out the door, locking herself in with those other poor souls. In a moment that clearly surpasses the Kendall Malone material in terms of “holy shit” reveals, Helena emerges from the warehouse carrying a machete and covered in blood. “I got refund,” she announces to a horrified Donnie and tosses him a bag filled with all of Pouchy’s money.

I could easily spend a good portion of this recap explaining how utterly awesome this subplot is, but this fact should be readily apparent just based on the above description. In any case, it certainly elevates what is unfortunately one of the weaker Orphan Black entries of this year. Perhaps in its attempt to set up enough spinning plates for the season finale, “Insolvent Phantom of Tomorrow” slightly overreaches, especially when it comes to the Sarah storyline. Then again, the Rachel subplot isn’t even touched upon this week, so the episode’s definitely not as choked full as it could have been. I certainly hope Sarah and Co. end up returning to Canada next week because having a series finale with storylines in two different countries would only crystalize the ways in which the show has become a bit too fragmented for its own good. Until then, we can only hope that this installment was just a momentarily lapse in quality. Or, at the very least, have one more scene of Helena dancing and singing along to ‘60s bubblegum pop.

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