Sunday, 9 July 2017

Orphan Black (S5E5) - Ease For Idle Millionaires (Review)



Orphan Black has always operated on sturdier ground when it decides to focus in on one of its many plot strands; while it is undeniably thrilling to have a handful in the mix across the season, some of the poorer episodes - last week's Let The Children & Childbearers Toil, for example - becomes far too messy for the little show that could to handle. In this final season, we have so much ground left to cover that it could become very easy for the show-runners to throw everything at the wall in the hope that just some of it sticks, all in the hope of tying up some loose plot strands. In a number of cases, the busier episodes often register in the series' lower echelons for being too cluttered for its own good. Thankfully, Ease For Idle Millionaires homes in almost entirely on one part of its story, lead from the front by Cosima; unfortunately, it is the element I have the least interest in. However, in balancing the science with the more human aspect they always excel in, Orphan Black manages to craft a careful balance and delivers a solid episode to mark the half way point of The Final Trip.

Ease For Idle Millionaires is a speedy episode. When you think about it, the episode covers so much ground and is literally bursting with a staggering amount of new information across just 45 minutes. Kira's healing powers are explained (a plot point that has been looming over the story since season one), with more information on Rachel and P.T. Westmoreland's next big plan coming into the fold. As well as this, the forest's mutation is explored and more of Neolution's ugly history is dug up. Idle Millionaires uses its episode to reveal more to its audience but in keeping it almost wholly focused on just the one branch of its narrative, it feels like a rewarding and fulfilling episode - particularly in comparison to last week. This is how you streamline an episode to get the most out of it: it is chock-full of advancements and developments but contained in one part of the arch that prevents complication and messiness. Writer Jenn Engels gets a lot of the credit for this one.

In all honesty, the science of Orphan Black is often one of the weakest elements on the show. It is not that it isn't well thought-out or accurate but more so that it is the characters, themes and performances that we keep coming back for, opposed to the numerous science-led factions or experiments; so, this week's decision to infuse the strongest element of Orphan Black - its startling look at humanity, most notably through the character of Cosima - is a very smart one. 

Episode five's best scene comes at the end of the episode and places Cosima with a moral dilemma that heralds back to the nature versus nurture dichotomy that has dominated the series: should she wait for nature to make the call or put something/something out of its misery? For this reason, the morally-sensitive Cosima has always been one of the most endearing characters; while she is a scientist looking for results and cures, she never wishes to infringe on personal rights and boundaries, nor does she wish for the subject to experience discomfort in her search for answers and cures. In a science-heavy episode, Cosima's lead role helps balance what could otherwise be an overpowering and overwhelming episode rotating around the arguably weaker side of Orphan Black.

Because of this, a lot of the episode's success comes down to Tatiana Maslany's performance as Cosima - and it is one of her best this season. Cosima's humanity and sensitivity has always been a defining trait and Maslany provides a number of moments for that to shine through, delivering a sensational and harrowing performance. We can witness every ounce of pain she is experiencing in the moment and all the devastation in the world as she fights for what she believes in. It leaves her character in a precarious situation moving forward and Maslany will no doubt impress every step of the way (as she always, always does). She's terrific as Rachel and Sarah here too and while we are missing some comic relief at this stage (please come back to us Helena/Alison), next week looks set to change that when a familiar face rejoins us.

It is not only Cosima in the spotlight this week, as Delphine (and her great hair) make a welcome return. That moment we all assumed was a wedding in the trailer turned out just to be a fancy meal and classic Orphan Black willingly led us up the garden path. Delphine continues to be an incredible but slightly frustrating character, disappearing almost always, but providing us with enough incentive to keep us hanging on her every word; you fully, wholly and truly understand she is firmly in Cosima's corner but every now and then we get glimpses into the person she once was, and the character we fear she may become again - despite the very fair assumption that Cophine is end-game, it doesn't make their dynamic and back-and-forth all the more intoxicating. And what a treat it was to go back to the very end of season one, in the form of a flashback, to fill in some of the gaps (and the aftermath) of a moment that was otherwise papered over - in the thrill of the season two premiere, said scene was largely swept under the rug, so going back to that moment was incredibly satisfying. Evelyne Brochu doesn't always get the most from Orphan Black scripts but she sure as hell makes the most out of her fleeting reappearances in and out of the frame.

Last week's shining inclusion was the examination of family ties, relationships and dynamics, and that continues well into this week; Sarah and Kira's relationship is finally on the mend and we can all breathe a sigh of relief; Rachel and Susan's power tussle has some new light cast over it, and watching them jostle for the upper hand is continually fascinating; while Ira, now firmly an outsider, is falling to the Castor glitch - once again working to show Cosima's human side, she is the first to snag on to Ira's deteriorating health and the implications of his death (one of the very, very few remaining Castors, we assume) are massive. Will Mark is arguably still in the wind, a potential death in the brotherhood could be catastrophic at this stage, no matter how minor Ira may appear as a character. Personhood and identity continue to play an important role in the show's thematic framework also, with some touching reveals about Cosima's parents and accepting who she is incorporated in superbly. The show has absolutely mastered these themes and continue to do so well into The Final Trip.

The first and only Orphan Black episode to be directed by a woman (Helena Shaver) is a terrific little piece with a number of flourishes to ensure the episode is a visually-engaging one. An uneasy notion is created as we worm our way through various set pieces on Revival, with that discomfort carried on through to the Neo dinner. We also get more insight into the beautiful production design, with some lovely sets appearing for the first time - the living quarters are explored in more detail too, as are the fascinating details of the yurts - and demonstrate the terrific work by the art department through the whole season. They are very often overlooked but their talent, commitment and dedication to this series does not go amiss on this blog!

As I say, Ease For Idle Millionaires is a good episode but it focuses on the element - the science - I find least interesting in Orphan Black; I far prefer the more intimate, personal sisterhood side of the series. With Cosima at the forefront though, and with the episode spliced with some enlightening flashbacks and some terrific theme work, there is more than enough here for Idle Millionaires to zip along at a brisk pace, dropping numerous plot reveals and delivering us to the mid-way point of The Final Trip, with more than a few bumps, deaths and plot twists on the journey. Episode six is always a notorious one (Paul's death, Kendall's murder etc) so with Cosima locked away, Helena in a covenant, Rachel taking a private helicopter to god knows where and Alison firmly missing in action, I'm bracing myself for a big one.


EPISODE GRADE: B+

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

"You gave me life. I know you can take that away. You can't take away my humanity"

3 comments:

  1. I'm bias as a Cophine fan, but I think it's good to note how beautiful the music, cinematography and dialogue was in those flashback scenes. Props to the director and all those involved. I also love how they finally went into a little more of Cosima's background, something that was desperately needed for her character development. There was also a sign of relief amongst fans that Delphine and Cosima finally had a much needed conversation in terms of their relationship, which I also tip my hat towards the writers.

    While I agree more or less with your science comment, I think artistically it was one of the best shot episodes, rivaling the first episode this season, and is personally my favorite, or second favorite episode in the season thus far.

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    1. I'll be honest, I was rushing when I first saw the episode this morning (work, boo!) hence the later than normal review, but I'm just about to sit through it a second time, so will be updating this on new/updated thoughts!

      It is definitely about time we delved into Cosima's backstory and I really enjoyed the flashbacks - I'm always so amazed at how well they match them - but I wish we had as many as we had throughout the Alison episode (Beneath Her Heart). The developments with Cophine was so satisfying though and I can't wait to see what else Delphine and Mrs S are up to.

      Cosima had some really incredible scenes tonight - the moment she revealed about her parents and her inability to tell them how ill she is broke my heart though, as it's not something I'd even consider - how could she tell them she is ill by design? Orphan Black is always so great at exploring the more subtle elements and implications I'd never even consider. I'm always so astounded at Orphan Black's dedication to developing these characters, even at this late stage.

      It's a really solid episode - not quite as strong as Beneath Her Heart for me (which is one of my favourites of the whole series) but definitely an improvement on last week. It really was phenomenal artistically - the Island has so many beautiful set pieces and, as much as I want Cosima off the island, it was great to explore it in more detail. How would you rank this season's episodes then?

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  2. I kind of have to let my Cophine feels settle down before I can make an accurate assessment of all the episodes, but in terms of engagement and hanging on to every word, this episode had my attention, and I think ultimately is my favorite thus far. Cosima is also my favorite, so her backstory and growth in character development (between her parents, Delphine, and ultimately her humanity) was a real treat for me.

    I think objectively in terms of episodes when considering all elements (writing, dialogue, acting, story, cinematography, music, etc.) it's the following.

    1. 5x01
    2/3 5x05 or 5x03 (I would ultimately choose 5x05 based on the dialogue/music/cinematography though)
    4. 5x02
    5.5x04

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