Sunday, 25 June 2017

Orphan Black (S5E3) - Beneath Her Heart (Review)


The Few Who Dare was good, Clutch of Greed was great but Orphan Black's fifth and final season hasn't really hit its stride yet. Episode three, Beneath Her Heart, is the closest we have come to the insane heights of season four and skilfully balances character development (yes, even at this late stage in the game), plot advancements with a sense of humour and emotion. It is refreshing that the series, 43 episodes in, has decided to now take the time to step back and consider the profound impact the unique scenario has had on the sisterhood in a more personal manner - the Hendrixes are first up to bat.

Following a brief moment of reflection on the devastating events of last week, an Alison-centered episode is quickly ushered in and provides some very interesting and satisfying results. Considering her value as a clone, her relationship with her family, the looming impact of Aynsley's death at her hands and her pill-popping and booze-taking past, Beneath Her Heart provides kaleidoscopic insight into the dizzying heights of Alison's life and the character, series and stakes benefit from it moving forward.


In what appears to be a stretch of episodes singularly focused on individual clones (Helena will probably be next, followed by Cosima, at a guess), Alison is first and it proves illuminating. Flashbacks and extended backstories help to power the episode and strike a faultless blend between the past and the present, doing enough to continue the story towards its conclusion but take a step back to contemplate one character and her personal struggles. Alison has continually been on the edge of clone club, with her suburban life often warranting a storyline of its own and mainly utilised to tackle the main, heavy plot with some much needed comic relief - but Beneath Her Heart reminds viewers that as well as the trouble faced by the sisterhood, she faces her own demons, low self-esteem and self-worth.

Early in the latest episode, Alison is reminds that, quite frankly, she offers very little in comparison to her sister, evoking a scene from season one that reveals she is needed almost wholly for her financial capability. She is starkly pushed to the bottom of the clone power play ranking, where she has remained for the whole series in all honesty - and it finally appears to be catching up with her; it kickstarts another downwards spirial of booze and pills, thrusting themes of worth and merit into the spotlight. Alison's problems may feel minor in comparison to life-and-death chase of Neolution vs Clones and all that that fuels Plot A - but Alison's individual struggle is just as important in understanding who she is as a character, and for Orphan Black to consider this so close to the end demonstrate just how important the characters are to everything they do.

These are themes and facets that the show has explored before - with the last stint seeing Alison wind up in rehab during season two - but it is appreciative that amongst the intensity and magnitude of the final season, we can focus on something inherently personal and intimate to one character. It operates as a reminder that the clones face their own personal nightmares and places Alison's relapse and subsequent recovery at the centre. It feels a wholesome area to explore and, aside from a slight revert into her murderous, sabotaging ways, it helps to humanise Alison further; more often than not, alongside the offish Donnie, she has been used as a comedic counterbalance to the series' grimness, but is now given a time to come into her own, with something far meatier to work with. It is startling that after all this time, Orphan Black can still provide insight into these characters and demonstrates their steadfast ability and focus on putting these women at the very forefront of the show.


As well as developing Alison, the show brings back characters of Orphan Black Past. Aynsley is a welcomed returnee and we finally get a glimpse into the friendship the pair held before the secrecy, conspiracy and suspicion crept in. Natalie Lisinska plays her brilliantly, with a nosiness but deep-rooted care and love for Alison shining through. One of this week's standout scenes is the sequence in which the two suburban mothers lie beneath the stars; it is beautifully shot, performed and written, exploring the meaning of life and existence in a heartfelt and intrinsically human way. It is a mighty and raw, intimate and more wider-reaching moment that is summed up perfectly in the glint in Maslany's eye. Beautiful, beautiful work all round.

Chad is an equally welcomed return and he shares a touching moment with Alison in which they assign blame for being a less than lovely friend/husband to Aynsley. Romane, one of my all time favourite Orphan Black recurring characters, make this annual pit-stop return and is a continued delight; if only Sarah Stubbs joined to complete the pack, we'd have the Bailey Downs team back together again. God, I miss Sarah Stubbs. I miss her a lot.

Alison is not the only clone in the frame this week though, and Beneath Her Heart deals with the heartbreaking aftermath from episode two's shocking ending. M.K's vigil was something truly stunning: a tender and sombre affair that felt appropriately intimate given the life Mika choose to lead. It is these careful, thoughtful details and flourishes that allows Orphan Black to excel as it does. Even during the devastating sequence, we discover how various characters - Sarah, Mrs S, Felix, Donnie and Alison - react to grief and suffering, something previous mastered in season four's The Antisocialism of Sex. Cosima is still stuck on Neolution Island and, disappointingly, not involved with the vigil - in fact, both Cosima and Helena are either missing entirely or relegated to flashbacks; a sacrifice the series makes to ensure progress towards the end goal continues at a healthy pace.

Finally, after five seasons of waiting, we get a Rachel vs. Alison scenes and we have a lot to unpack. Delivering a freshly severed head onto Rachel's desk, Alison goes toe-to-toe with the pro-clone and takes part in a good ol' power tussle. While the winner is not yet clear - Rachel orders The Neo Police to clear the garage and dispose of the bodies but afterwards shoots Alison a glance that suggests things are not quite over between them - the dynamic explored is an exciting one and I can only hope we have more scenes between the pair. It is another stand-out scene in an excellent episode filled to the brim with them.

Another one of the highlights of Beneath Her Heart is the impassioned speech from Alison on judgement and sisterhood, in front of all her snooty peers and doubters. It feels like a cathartic release after years of seeing poor Alison shunned after her rehab escapades and the writers excel in allowing her to pour out her thoughts and resentments. While I felt for Donnie, lying, probably unconscious while she spoke, the empowering scene made me love Alison even more and is high praise to Maslany and the writing team who let this bubbling and seething resentment directed at Alison by the Bailey Downs community finally come to a head. Oh, and can Donnie highland dance every week? His increasingly slurred movements and Felix's priceless "the weirdest people get one" reaction is testament to the comedic tone this show always incorporates and masters, even at the darkest times.

Beneath Her Heart beautifully and carefully dives into Alison's psyche to witness and consider how the events of the previous four seasons have impacted her on a personal, intimate level. It's a bold and brave move, especially so close to the end, that the show decides to place one individual so firmly in the spotlight - but it ends up delivering one of the best episodes of the series. Peeling the layers back on Alison Hendrix is a move that could have simply resulted in a filler-hour of television that interrupted the pace of the previous two episodes, as we propel towards our conclusion - but it instead becomes a masterful hour of television that blends the past and present, widens our understanding of Mrs Hendrix and excites us for further episodes; season five has finally got going and Mrs Hendrix has proved her worth.

Ain't No Mountain High Enough for Orphan Black, indeed. Long live Team Hendrix.


EPISODE GRADE: A


TTMMVPAAFAMRP (The Tatiana Maslany Most Valuable Player Acting Award for a Multi-Role Performance): Alison, obviously.


Reviews coming weekly...

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