‘Orphan Black’ Delivers Betrayal and Butter in ‘Scarred by Many Past Frustrations’
Reunited and it feels so…well, it should feel good. Sarah and Helena are finally reunited, but not under the best circumstances. This week’s Orphan Black is tighter and more driven than the first four episodes, as “Scarred by Many Frustrations” sees Mrs. S. and Felix taking on a fragile new ward, while Sarah tries to convince Helena (and her scorpion friend, I guess) to help her break out of the Castor base, and Cosima makes a fun new sexy time friend.
It’s hardly coincidence that the best episode of the season so far ditches the Alison and Donny sitcom subplot in favor of focusing on the more emotionally rewarding (Cosima, Mrs. S and Gracie) and higher stakes (Sarah and Helena) narratives. For Cosima, getting over Delphine is still difficult, but thanks to Felix’s online dating intervention, she meets the lovely Shay — given this show’s history with shady characters, I don’t trust Shay. She’s too perfect, too soothing, too hippie manic pixie dream girl. I should be shipping Coshayma, but instead I’m shipping Cosima with that cool bartender girl.
The rest of the episode is more gripping, as Cosima’s plot (and whoever was taking surveillance photos of her date) provided a gentler counterbalance to the rest of the hour. The bulk of “Scarred by Many Frustrations” focuses on Sarah, now imprisoned in a cell next to Helena, as she tries to convince her “sestra” that it was Paul (oh, hi, Paul!) who made the trade that landed Helena in the cell.
Helena has proven herself irrational and narrowly-focused since we first met her, and she’s also proven herself quite clever and dangerous when needed. One of the things that makes Helena so great (besides all that eating she loves to do) is the way she’s often underestimated, as those around her mistake her stunted, sheltered upbringing and her thick accent for ignorance and childishness. Helena’s not just a tough cookie; she’s a smart one.
So it’s hardly (though still somewhat very) surprising when she betrays Sarah’s trust in the episode’s most riveting sequence. After faking a breakout scheme, Sarah is beaten by the guards and taken to the infirmary, where she succeeds in her real motive: acquiring a pair of tweezers for Helena to use for her actual breakout scheme. Helena’s plan is nothing short of brilliant and fierce. Helena’s been mumbling at that scorpion about butter for a while, making her sound sort of cuckoo, but there’s always a method to her perceived madness. She uses the tweezers to pick the lock on her shackles, then removes her pants and butters herself up before knocking out a couple of the bars on the small window in her cell door and sliding through.
But the real breathtaking moment comes when she leaves Sarah behind, revenge for Helena’s “institutionalization.” Now Sarah will know the life Helena has always known, and she’ll know what it’s like to be abandoned by one of the only people you feel a real bond with in this bleak world. Sarah and Helena’s bond is more exceptional, given their actual twin connection, which makes Helena’s heartache all the more painful. It’s also why she has second thoughts at the conclusion of her escape, but her scorpion pal (spirit animal?) urges her to leave Sarah behind.
I have a beef with the scorpion thing. The concept is clear — it’s Helena’s inner voice, her subconscious, the devil and angel on her shoulder at the same time, an avatar created out of trauma — but it’s not executed terribly well, and comes off as inadvertently funny.
Meanwhile, there is some brief levity in “Scarred by Many Frustrations,” as Art leaves Gracie in the care of Mrs. S. and Felix. At the age of 18, Gracie hasn’t experienced the same things as other teenagers her age, like concerts, kisses, cigarettes and skinny dipping — all things we often take for granted at that age. After a somber moment with Mrs. S. (who reveals that her husband was murdered), Gracie gives herself a makeover using some of Sarah’s old clothes, and decides she wants to go out.
Instead, Felix and Mrs. S. show her a fun night in, and Gracie spends the evening drinking for the first time (of course Felix would serve up some gin and juice) and dancing her butt off.
But that’s the only real joyful moment — soon both Sarah and Helena’s plot intertwines with Gracie’s, as we learn a dark truth about the Castor clones. Not only are they sick, but they’re apparently able to spread their disease to the women they have sex with. Paul discovers a log of their sexual conquests, which reveals a very lengthy list of women who are all likely infected with this disease. Gracie doubles over in pain, and just as Art discovers that Canadian Megan Fox is dealing with some strange STD that’s given her a serious case of double-pink eye (or something like it), the EMTs at Mrs. S.’s house discover a similar affliction plaguing Gracie’s eyes.
This is where Orphan Black gets really deep and thoughtful — the STD angle is a striking metaphor, and one that I hope they’ll expand upon in the remaining episodes of the season. While we’re only skimming the surface of it now, there’s a component to this new development that feels like it’s speaking to rape culture. Not only are the Castors assaulting women, but they’re giving them something else against their will: a bit of horrific baggage they’ll carry with them, possibly for the rest of their lives.
- Is it weird that I’m seriously shipping Mrs. S. and Art right now?
- Paul is questioning Virginia’s plan and seems very troubled by the book of sexual conquests he discovers. He also reveals that he made the exchange for Helena because he would rather have her locked up than Sarah — he justifies his actions by explaining that Helena is accustomed to living in confinement, and it’s the only life she’s ever known. Paul seems to be turning some sort of leaf here. Paul, your conscience is showing.
- Helena asks if Sarah will be her “sandwich.” She explains that in Siberian prisons, you choose a weak prisoner to take with you, so you can eat them when you need to. This is why you call them a sandwich. Bless you, Helena.
- I also love how Helena refers to the Castor clones as the “Mark-faced clones.”
- This week we also learn more about Virginia’s plan to save the Castor boys, which has something to do with using Sarah’s stem cells because Sarah is special.
- Speaking of Virginia — she’s a real Thanos, isn’t she? Thanos’ whole goal in the Marvel Universe is acquiring the Infinity Stones. We’re now at the end of Phase Two, and Thanos has zero of the six stones in his possession. He’s kind of the worst villain ever. Similarly, Virginia’s mission is to save the Castor boys, and she’s super horrible at it. Three (?) are dead now.
- Next week: Sarah hallucinates. Alison and Donny’s dumb sitcom returns. Delphine is sad.