After a slight bump in quality last week, “Scarred by Many Past Frustrations” finds Orphan Black steering straight back into old issues. As a whole, the episode works to streamline its various stories, with only three major plotlines being explored this week, but the result still ends up feeling oddly listless and meandering, with a string of new developments that appear only to set the show up for further disappointment.
Perhaps the best indication of the series’ troubles is the fact that two major clone characters (Helena and Sarah) are now locked up in the militia prison. If Season Three of Lost taught us anything, it’s that trapping characters in cages tends to reflect the mentality of the creative team at work. And, indeed, what seems on the surface to function as a long-awaited confrontation between Sarah and Helena plays more like the writers treading water before the next plot point. That’s not to say there’s an honest attempt at probing further characterization, as Sarah delivers a lengthy monologue to Helena about the guilt of abandoning Kira in her early years. It’s a decent beat and Maslany handles it like gangbusters, but it also feels like a sentiment that would have wormed its way into a conversation way before the show’s third year.
Not that Sarah’s sacrifices or emotional vulnerability matter in the long term as—in the installment’s most thrilling sequence—she helps Helena escape her cell only to be abandoned by her sister, who leaves her imprisoned with a cold, “now we are even.” I’m not the smartest guy in the world, but even I was able to decipher that this entry’s title refers to Helena, a character who has been scarred by so many betrayals and lies that she can’t let herself believe Sarah’s claims about trying to rescue her. That being said, given how much Sarah has done for Helena, especially in last season, her cold-blooded actions don’t quite feel as motivated as they should be. I’m sure there will be a reversal in the next episode, though I fear that would only make this twist seem all the cheaper in the long run.
Also knocking down the episode’s score is the lack of Alison and Donnie. I’m well aware that certain viewers are not responding to this particular plotline, but—for me, at least— Alison’s Walter White aspirations have provided a great sense of frivolous fun in a series that often feels a bit weighty and dour. Inversely, no doubt to make up for her relative absence last week, the episode features a lot of Cosima as she ventures on her first blind date with a spirited woman named Shay. The date goes very well and the two hook up back at the apartment.
While Orphan Black’s dedication to servicing LGBTQ representation has always been one of its more admirable qualities, I would be lying if I said I was horribly intrigued by this relationship. To be fair, the show has never been on its best footing whenever it explores the clones’ love lives, with the Sarah/Paul romance being one of the weaker parts of year one. Considering the sheer amount of plotlines occurring this season, however, checking in on Cosima’s relationship status comes across like a real momentum killer. And though the inclusion of a photographer snapping pictures of the two certainly plants the idea that there might be more going on than meets the eye, I hope this doesn’t mean that Shay is a wolf in sheep’s clothing—not because I’m invested in the relationship, mind you, but because it would be a blatant repeat of Cosima’s relationship with Delphine. Moreover, such a reveal would only make Cosima seem a bit thick, as she would have fallen for this con twice in a very short time.
The final major plotline concerns the status of Gracie Johanssen who, after being expelled from the Proletheans, seeks out Detective Art Bell. Bell subsequently takes her to stay with Siobhan and Felix. What plays out are moments of character development awkwardly coupled with comic relief, wherein Siobhan’s heart-to-heart with Gracie about her husband’s tragic death transitions into Gracie dressing in more risqué clothes to go clubbing. A repressed religious girl like Gracie suddenly deciding to instantly jump on the rebellion train less than a day after leaving her cult doesn’t really make much sense beyond the fact that, well, it’s amusing. Not wanting to let her out of their sight, Siobhan and Felix arrange a homebound dance party. Gracie has barely had time to enjoy being drunk for the first time before she collapses in pain. A quick examination of her by EMTs reveals her eyes are dangerously bloodshot.
Meanwhile, Art stops by the home of Patty, the young girl that the Castor twins sexually assaulted in the second episode. The woman shows she is suffering from the same “bloodshot eyes” syndrome. Taking into account the meticulous ways in which the Castor clones keep track of their sexual partners makes it readily apparent that the girls are suffering from some kind of warped STD. Without proper context, however, such a twist provokes little more than a “wow, that looks like it sucks.”
“Scarred by Many Past Frustrations” continues to build upon previous plotlines while also swerving the series down different avenues. The ultimate result is a mishmash of twists and turns that feel not so much shocking as mandated. Given that the season is now entering its midpoint segment, the episode might simply be suffering from a case of “set-up-plot-points” syndrome. With each new development, however, the ever-expanding mythology only works to distance the series from its initial, simpler charms. Unless the creative team can find their second wind in the latter half of the run, this season of Orphan Black might turn out to be the year that the once-promising series collapses under its own plot mechanics.