Orphan Black's Guillotines Decide was said to be so shocking, transfixing, intense and electrifying that we had next to no promo pieces for it; we were without the usual episode poster, any promotional photos were very hard to find and not widely promoted and the only trailer we received was only of sound along with the above promises that the forthcoming episode was unmissable. Last week's Gag or Throttle provided the series with a kick it so desperately needed, revving the clone series forward towards its conclusion, and this 5x8 was set to continue that. Did it work then? Was Guillotines Decide the hour of brilliance it was touted as?
Largely, yes, it absolutely was. It has kept Clone Club on tenterhooks all week long (and the ratings should reflect the urge to tune in live); we were left holding our breath during this eighth episode, reeling as we head into the final two-parter and towards the end-point.
Three characters are dispatched in this latest hour, all with varying degrees of consequence and devestation moving forward. You'll get no names out of me just yet (pop back later in the week for that, to avoid spoiling it for those still catching up), but the most heartbreaking death at the end of the episode feels like the hardest hit Clone Club has been dealt yet. The schismatic turn of events after an episode of relative lightness and fluff is an irreparable one and is bound to change the entire game as we entire the final two episodes. The fall out will be large and looming and promises to kick things into the highest gear for next week's penultimate hour.
What's more calamitous about the episode's big death is how close the seestras become to finally breaking down Neolution for good. As well as the plentiful character development, the narrative genuinely seems to ben reaching its conclusion after a umber of revelations across the hour. As Mrs S explains to a newly-enlightened Rachel, the entire cat-and-mouse has required each of them to do their bit to 'chip away at the devil' and seeing each of their strengths utilised is a beautiful thing. The small but mighty clan, now one (if not two) players down, will reel from this loss long after the curtain closes on the series and the wide-spreading effects of the latest death (including their driven actions and selfless, protective sacrifice) will be felt by every single character - particularly considering their personal surrender for the sisterhood.
The shattering loss was executed splendidly too; the final word, so intrinsic to the character, wrapped up the episode on a satisfying, bleary-eyed note. In giving them a final moment of retaliation to the person sealing his/her fate, the character's journey felt like an appropriate one. While that second death, a cathartic release after the destruction by their hand across the previous few seasons, is a powerful one, they are rightly overshadowed by the more weighty death. Oh, and the episode's first death feels insubstantial in the moment, but on reflection could lead to some huge moments across the final two hours.
Guillotines Decide grows darker the deeper we go and Alison is a large part in steering the initially lighter tone that makes the final gut punch so sharp and hard-hitting. To the best of her ability, she (and the wonderful Donnie) lighten the tone that becomes so crucial to the balance later on - and (with her new do) delivers one of my favourite Alison moments of the season - "I'm not going to micromanage you, Donnie. Is that what you're wearing?". As ever, Mr and Mrs Hendrix make a tremendous comedic duo, but it only emphasise how little we have seen of them and how many opportunities it has prevented and missed by pushing them away for a few episodes.
Rachel's journey over the previous two (or three) episodes has been utterly fascinating to witness. A journey of realisation, growth and aligned understanding, she comes to heel and realise she has far more in common with them than she expected - but still wavers in her relationship and compatibility with Ferdinand. Maslany's performance is restricted and nuanced and we see a far more damaged Rachel than we have ever seen before; the remainder of her development will be interesting to view as the endgame presents itself.
Elsewhere, poor old Helena has a target on her back in the form of Gracie, working to help save Mark, who in turn is being pressured by the loathsome Coady. Helena's precious cargo are incredibly valuable to anybody who can lay their hands on them and it appears they will not stop until they can exploit her biology. One part of the fight may be coming to an end, but another is just beginning, as Helena is snatched (again) so close to happiness. Our poor Ukrainian angel/killer is another woefully underused character this season, and seems to be more of a chess piece, by design. With rumours that next week is our Helena-centered episode (after Alison's and Cosima's earlier this season), maybe we will finally be given something more substantial for one of Orphan Black's most beloved characters.
Cosima, a world away from the (literal and metaphorical) shackles of Neo Island seems to be glowing and I continually hope and pray we are not being lulled into a false sense of security regarding her health. Seeing her free is an absolute relief and witnessing her happy tears - in the arms of Delphine, returning from wherever she scampered off too - is, again, one of my favourite moments of the entire series. Speaking of Delphine, teaming up with Mrs S has presented us with a new terrific dynamic that is super refreshing - it's wild to think we've never really seen this two kick-ass together. It feels so right. Evelyne Brochu continues to bring her all to season and I hold out we get many more in the final two episodes, while Maria Doyle Kennedy provides her best ever performance.
Speaking of returning, and taking a brief moment away from the LEDAs, Felix and Adele are back. Again, frustratingly sidelined by less important, newer and insubstantial characters across the season, it is great to see them back at their best, in time for the final stretch of episodes. Felix's exhibition also offers a hint at another LGBT happy ending in the form of Colin The Morgue Man, and that final approval from Mrs S fills me with a lot of happiness. Furthermore, Felix's speech, about his galaxy of women, may go down as one of the most referenced, loved and celebrated moments of The Final Trip, for all the right reasons - expertly written and wonderfully delivered by Jordan Gavaris - with an added poignancy considering where the episodes takes us...
Sarah, on edge as ever, provides the bubbling intensity of Guillotines Decide: considering its earlier promise of a transfixing, intense, electrifying (etc) episode and the comparatively lighter start to it, her edginess and discomfort with the quietness (especially following last week's explosive revelations) is reflected in and by the audience. It gurgles away, under the surface - carefully and considered - at a slower pace than we are accustomed to, before dropping the deaths and twists and turns on the audience in the final fifteen minutes. It's rather masterful actually, in part thanks to Tatiana's performance, particularly as Sarah, the writing and directing.
Aisha Porter-Christie and Graeme Manson's script is a lesson in tension and bravery. Orphan Black has pulled the plug on a handful of characters before (Paul, Kendall, Leekie, Mika, Susan and the whole Castor line-up say hey) (from the grave, obviously) but to take out a major character this close to the end changes the whole set-up, right at the wire. As well as mastering the tension, building it suitably over the episode, they craft one of the finest speeches the show has seen: Felix's 'galaxy of women' speech accentuates the elements of Orphan Black that work the best, placing it into a powerful and moving package, just shortly before the world collapses in on them. Guillotines Decide's theme work is wonderful and that helps provide some optimism moving forward, after a rocky season.
Going back to those final moments, Aaron Morton seals it with an absolute beauty from the director's chair. He covers a lot of ground over the course of the episode, dividing the time appropriately and allowing the visual to marry up with the tone of each scene. For example, Felix's art exhibition feels suitably cluttered, representing the different personalities and the life of the LEDA clones, while the final death is homely and suited to the character. Orphan Black's direction has gotten tighter and tighter over this last season and Morton juggles the various strands effectively.
Guillotines Decide successfully attempts to undo one of The Final Trip's biggest mistakes: it feels like the first episode in forever that every major cast member gets a look in. We have appearances from each prominent clone, every supporting characters gets their moment to shine (including Hellwizard, with his sickbeats and pretty damn impressive rap skills), with Felix's art exhibition becoming the perfect playground for that. By aborting some of the minor characters who have weighed season five down, we get to spend precious time with the ones we love and care for, righting the wrongs of the latest batch of episodes.
Guillotines Decide isn't the perfect episode, with just a couple of flaws that prevent it rising to excellence; on occasions, it is heavy-handed, with a lack of subtlety weakening the elements that should come as a massive surprise; the previous mentioned trailer probably did more harm than good and while it was all the things it promised to be, it felt ever so slightly underwhelming given its relatively soft and supple opening; and the Helena-and-Gracie scenes felt underdeveloped, as if they didn't have time to grow and progress into much.
Other than that, Guillotines Decide is one of the season's greatest. It's intense and harrowing, brilliant at developing characters and progressing the narrative (even at this late stage). It is a perfect balance between the light, fluffy moments and the handful of killer blows landing at the curtain call, featuring the entire ensemble at their very best. We say a number of goodbyes, one completely harrowing, and sets us up for the final two (TWO!) episodes excellently. One Fettered Slave, can you top that?
Oh, and why haven't Delphine and Felix taken shots together before?
Episode Grade: A-
TTMMVPAAFAMRP (The Tatiana Maslany Most Valuable Player Acting Award for a Multi-Role Performance): Sarah Manning