Orphan Black (S5E9) - One Fettered Slave (Review)

It is darkest before dawn and following the death of Mrs S - one of Clone Club's most valued members - Hour 49 is a sombre one. We have arrived at Orphan Black's penultimate hour of television and, with the end well and truly in sight and so much ground left to cover, narrative progression is key. Neolution are in the process of being exposed and/or wiped out completely, while the seestras are reeling over their loss - and discover that Helena is missing, days from giving birth. It is a race against time now, to save their sister and avoid more blood being spilt.

In the footsteps of Alison's Beneath Her Heart, Cosima's Ease For Idle Millionaires and Rachel's Gag or Throttle, Helena is very much in One Fettered Slave's foresight. Arguably, Helena experienced the most different childhood to her seestras, Rachel aside: unlike them, she was aware of her uniqueness from a young age - as we learned in season one, she was raised in convents and by religious cults with the understanding she was the original, the light as it is put, installing her with a self-righteousness that initially made her such an enemy for the seestras. While I'd argue this Helena-centric hour isn't as satisfying as Alison, Cosima or Rachel's, it insightfully delivers some additional context for us to consider.

One Fettered Slave shines a spotlight on that mindset, providing audiences with an insight into her difficult childhood - including beatings from the convent's nuns and bleaching torture, leading to her blonde locks. It's been a question I'd simply put down to the nature versus nurture argument, but to see a young Helena put through so much distress makes her current journey all the more aching. Just give her a happy ending, Orphan Black, please! It further demonstrates Orphan Black's strength to, even at this late stage of the game in the final season, fill the gaps, strengthens and develops these characters; it is inspiring and a testament to their writing, characters and performances.

When we are not witnessing her childhood through flashbacks and her manipulation at the hands of the Proletheans, she is being held by Neolution days before the birth of her twins in the present. While a kidnapped Helena is nothing new, we are in dire straits at this point - so close to the end but so far from safety, meaning her biology (and life) is truly under the wire. Orphan Black has always struggled knowing what to do with Helena, often sending her off for lengthy periods and pushing her back in the fold when she is needed; thankfully, we get these last two episodes seemingly revolving around her, Sarah and the miracle bond they share.

 Sarah and the gang bundle together and use all their resources to plan a rescue mission for Helena - a definitive development since season one, when they were both trying to kill each other. Sarah, Felix and Kira, particularly, are still struggling to come to terms with the loss of Mrs S, with the episode opening at her funeral-come-wake; there is a sense of exhaustion hanging over this episode and works in reminding you just how much the clones have experienced in just a handful of months. You can tell the end is nearing at this stage - let's just hope the clones have more energy to take it on kicking and screaming.

Cosima (Delphine has wandered off, again) and Alison are very much on the outskirts of the episode. Not allowed to attend Mrs S' sendoff, they watch from the outside, sympathising for poor Sarah who seems to be having the toughest time of the bunch lately. Alison's remark of "she always has to be strong, it's not right" truly emphasises just the journey she has undertaken as a character, taking on the weight of the conspiracies and the brunt of the danger. "We'll pick her back up again", Cosima promises - we'll have to see whether they get the chance when the series wraps up next week.

Rachel continues her journey of enlightenment with one incredible moment standing out: "her name is Helena" she declares, as she attempts to wring out Helena's location. She has the largest target on her back now and she needs the help of Clone Club as much as they need her. It's sobering to think that both Helena and Rachel have previously been out to harm the seestras but their commonalities have ultimately thrown them together as part of the collective. 

You're more than welcome to skip this paragraph because you have heard it all before: Tatiana Maslany continues to do some of her strongest work on the show in this final season. Watching as Helena's eyes fill with tears, which in turn pushes her to perform a ghastly action, is nothing short of devastating and every ounce of emotion is captured in Maslany's nuanced turn. While she eventually lives to fight another day (or does she?), this truly feels like a cathartic release after years of torment and her troubled past, with Maslany infusing so much of the emotion and fragility into these moments. Of course, she's on hand as Alison to provide some lighter notes, including an instant classic - "bible-thumping little traitor" is a line I'll use every day from this one forth.

In all honest, One Fettered Slave is a little messier than one would hope the penultimate episode of any show would be. The scale of the intertwining conspiracies are finally untangling and the daunting task of wrapping it up, as well as delivering Helena her dues, result in a top-heavy episode, ready to topple at any given moment. As an avid Orphan Black supporter, I can let that slide - I understand that's not going to be the case for others and those not quite as invested as someone reviewing it week-in, week-out. The overwhelming ground left to cover means this one is all over the pace, trying to put audiences in a stronger position for the final part of the finale. 

One Fettered Slave's main death is a really heartbreaking one, but it is brushed off and moved on from so quickly we barely have time to mourn the loss. Likewise, while the loss looms large, the time-jump from S' death to her funeral feels rather jarring and is a determent to the season's pace and momentum. What happened in those (four) days between? Why do you think it's acceptable to cut out such a substantial amount of time at such a critical juncture? It really is a disservice to the tension cultivated over the previous few episodes by taking these unnecessary liberties that come off as somewhat lazy.

We do have some tenderly-directed scenes in the episode though; in the moment, the aforementioned death feels so personal and intimate, similar to Sarah's journey around Siobhan's house, a delicate and raw moment to distill from the otherwise drama-heavy narrative. It is clear the episode is directed by David Frazee, who brought us Gag or Throttle, due to a number of revived techniques present in both; the importance of lighting and the sharp zoom on Helena to inspire memories provide us with some terrific parallels, once again demonstrating the journey from enemy to friend to sister both undertook across the series.

Hour 49's writing is cluttered and stuffy but understandably so. I keep emphasising the sheer ground still left to cover, but tying these narrative strands up is like a fine juggling act - this episode stumbles on multiple occasions but feels like a sacrifice for the closing hour; getting this out the way now will hopefully result in a more satisfying series closer next week.

I wish we were heading into the final ever episode of Orphan Black on more aplomb footing; One Fettered Slave, as enlightening as it is with Helena at the forefront, is a little cluttered and partly interrupts the momentum following a bizarre time jump. We aren't given too long to mourn and some decisions are frustrating (Delphine's disappearing act after such a major blow for the family, mainly) - but it works in moving the pieces into position, ready for what promises to be a mind-blowing finale. Everything has fallen into place to deliver a thrillingly conclusion to the show. The final hour approaches...

Episode Grade: B

TTMMVPAAFAMRP (The Tatiana Maslany Most Valuable Player Acting Award for a Multi-Role Performance): Helena