You certainly can’t accuse “Variable and Full of Perturbation” of playing it safe. In a way, it may stand as the most daring episode Orphan Black has ever produced. Of course, the major downside to taking creative risks is that sometimes they don’t quite pay off like you hoped they would. With only two episodes left in its season, the show’s creative team has tossed in a late-in-the-game development in the form of yet another clone—a transsexual thief named Tony. What no doubt sounded good on paper, however, emerges as perhaps the biggest misstep in the show’s brief history.
The episode begins promisingly enough. We open on Tony and his partner, Sammy, in the midst of what looks to be a high-speed pursuit from the feds. In a bit that seems highly reminiscent of Reservoir Dogs, Tony takes a bleeding Sammy into a hiding place. Before passing away, Sammy instructs him to find Beth Childs and deliver a message.
Once Tony hits Felix’s apartment, however, the seams of this intriguing new character begin to show. Orphan Black has always been a show that celebrates the diversity of the human experience, with the various clones representing how nurture can breed vastly different personalities. That being said, Tony is straight up cartoonish in execution—a slovenly, abrasive stereotype prone to outrageously inappropriate behavior that includes walking about in underwear that draws significant attention to his crotch region. His presence reaches major ick levels when, in perhaps the most cringe-inducing moments in the show’s history, he attempts to come on to Felix and the two share a kiss.
Wow, where do I start?
In a show where characters cross, double-cross, and triple-cross each other on a regular basis, the bond between Sarah and Felix has remained one of the great constants. It’s a bit of emotional stability amidst the ever-changing status quo. To insert such a perverse flirtation into the episode feels more like cheap shock value than authentic character exploration. I’m certainly not opposed to the idea of throwing wrenches into the show’s strongest relationship, but this does not feel like the most dramatically effective way to do so. It comes across as more American Horror Story in its taboo-pushing gimmickry than the kind of economical, character-based storytelling that the show does so well.
Of course, it also doesn’t help that Tony’s story is not especially gripping, as his mysterious “message” merely turns out to be some info on the recently-disappeared Paul, a character who has largely proven to be fairly uninteresting in the broad scheme of things.
If the episode has a major upside it’s that we once again get a glimpse at Cosima’s personality beyond that of exposition machine. This subplot finds our science nerd cautiously reconciling with Delphine, but not before getting righteously stoned and gleefully winning a Magic: The Gathering style board/card game against her fellow scientists. It’s fitting then that, just as we’re getting to know the deeper layers of Cosima, she collapses into what looks like a deadly epileptic fit by the hour’s conclusion. Should have seen that coming…
The other promising storyline is the new dynamic between Alison (newly released from rehab), and Donnie, understandably traumatized after his accidental murder of Leekie. After Donnie initially tries to leave, stating it will be best for Alison and the children, Alison convinces him to stay and the two proceed to hash out their issues. Alison tearfully whispers an admission about Aynsley while Donnie loudly blurts out that he killed Leekie. Thus the two look into ways of covering their tracks. Now that—for once—the whole truth is out there in the open, I greatly look forward to seeing how the dysfunctional suburban couple will handle trying to (quite literally) get away with murder.
“Variable and Full of Perturbation” is not without highlights, but the addition of Tony feels like the kind of miscalculation that the show typically excels at avoiding. Certainly, in a series that has been admirably tight in its plotting and efficient in its pacing, this hour comes across as a strange experimental tangent that, frankly, should have been left on the writers’ room whiteboard until it was more effectively crystallized. Let’s hope this doesn’t derail what remains of the season because that would be a real shame.
Tatiana Maslany’s Emmy Moment of the Week:
As much as I admire Maslany putting in the effort to look and sound the part of a transsexual, it never really quite clicks the way her other performances have. As such, this week’s moment come courtesy of Rachel. During Rachel’s conversation with Ethan, whereby she outlines how their relationship should remain strictly professional, we are given flashes of Rachel demolishing her empty office. It’s not clear if this is depicting Rachel’s private reaction to her infertility, or simply a stylish way of allowing us to visualize the turmoil behind her icy demeanor. Either way, Rachel’s thousand-yard stare at the end of her fit speaks volumes about the hidden storm raging inside her.
Mark Rozeman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on “Twitter”: https://twitter.com/Mrozema.