“Dyad’s a hydra,” Mrs. S (Maria Doyle Kennedy) says in the closing minutes of “To Hound Nature in Her Wanderings,” referring to the Institute’s secretive, multipronged structure. The poisonous, many-headed serpent of Greek mythology is a similarly useful metaphor for the episode, which seems to sprout two new twists for each one it threatens to resolve. The episode is either a hideous plot dump or a heady brew of unexpected juxtapositions, and sometimes both at once, forging strange new alliances from the fragments of the season’s first half: between Helena (Tatiana Maslany) and Grace (Zoe De Grand’Maison), Mrs. S and Paul (Dylan Bruce), Art (Kevin Hanchard) and Felix (Jordan Gavaris), Angie (Inga Cadranel) and Vic (Michael Mando).
Structurally, the musical-chairs routine proves impossible to sustain. The cutting-room switchbacks required to hold the tune for nine—or is it 10?—narrative threads foil any chance at building momentum, and this in the absence of Cal (Michiel Huisman), Kira (Skyler Wexler), Rachel, and Leekie (Matt Frewer). Like Felix at his canvas, “To Hound Nature in Her Wanderings” appears almost punch-drunk, throwing around the material with vigor, but producing little more than a muddle.
That said, the episode’s recipe—toss characters together, blend on “high,” serve as a shooter—deserves credit for daring, and the successful elements are joyously demented. For instance, as Sarah digs into the archives of Cold River, a Project LEDA progenitor, Helena enjoys her own share of shooters at what may be fictional North America’s busiest day-drinking destination. In the course of an afternoon, she rebuffs one man; arm wrestles, dances with, and kisses another; and kicks a barroom’s worth of creepy misogynist asses, all while Paul and Mark (Ari Millen), the Prolethean minion, shoot the shit about clone surveillance. Happy Hour, anyone?
If Alison were here, I’m sure she’d raise her hand, but instead she’s trapped in rehab at New Path with Buddhist Vic, to whom she admits she’s “a bottle hider” unhappy about being in group therapy with “a bunch of drunk losers.” None of their exchanges quite manage the humor that the tempo of the writing, leaving a slight pause after each ostensible laugh line, would seem to expect. In fact, the entire Alison subplot has been lost in the wilderness since her stage career came to its ignominious end, and surrounding her with cold-fish characters like Vic and Donnie (Kristian Bruun) only washes out Maslany’s comic charm.
I haven’t even gotten to Art and Felix shuffling through evidence from Maggie Chen’s storage unit of horrors, or Mrs. S offering assistance and a thermos of tea to Paul, or Cosima beginning the first phase of her stem-cell treatment, or Grace promising Helena—oh, to hell with it, I give up. If there’s method to this madness, it remains obscure, and the construction of “To Hound Nature in Her Wanderings” itself evinces an understanding that few of these developments matter, at least not yet. Despite trying to pack in more plot than can reasonably be expected to fit, the writers devote a substantial proportion of this hour of Orphan Black to two extended interludes, as though to say, “Hey! Look! You can pay attention now!”
Of the pair, the meeting between Sarah and “Swan Man”/Duncan/Peckham offers prose rather than poetry, with his stilted scientific chatter reflected in editing that chops up the conversation and sprinkles it through the episode’s final third. Duncan, holed up with Mrs. S in a hoarder’s hotel of birds and newspapers and emotional damage, seems at once hopeful of reconciliation and resigned to sin. Indeed, having long since turned against Leekie, who murdered his wife and trained his daughter, Rachel, in her icy ways, what’s striking about Duncan is the tension he conjures between the quest for truth and the paying of consequences. He’s seduced by the power of knowledge and fallen in his proverbial bite of the apple, yet in seeking forgiveness, he offers only justification.
The other key sequence, in the episode’s opening minutes, is uncharacteristically tender, and I wasn’t sure it worked until I saw Duncan wringing his hands over a history of misdeeds. In search of Cold River, “the place of screams,” Helena and Sarah continue to build the rapport first displayed in “Ipsa Scientia Potestas Est.” Helena makes a shadow puppet on the wall of their tent and belts out a darling rendition of the Archies’ “Sugar, Sugar” in the car, while Sarah responds with the grudging sweetness of an elder sibling. As the women trade kind words in the tent, their faces framed half in shadow, half in light, and as the camera captures them from above, splayed out on sleeping pads with Sarah’s head near Helena’s feet and vice versa, the images convey their shared history of terrible mistakes and ultimate goodness. Sarah and Helena are, Orphan Black makes clear, nothing if not products of circumstance.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of “To Hound Nature in Her Wandering” is the failure to follow these images to their logical conclusion, the lack of trust in Orphan Black’s rich thematic core as an anchor for the narrative rather than the embroidery on its edges. We’ve known since “Governed by Sound Reason and True Religion” that Helena mirrors Sarah—“a yin and yang kind of thing,” as Henrik Johanssen (Peter Outerbridge) says. What “To Hound Nature in Her Wandering” expresses, in the moments it cares to express anything at all, is the notion that yin and yang lie within each of us, and that the totalizing forces of science and religion endanger this humane balance with doctrinal certitude. “Once you’ve gone too far,” as Duncan says, “it’s hard not to go all the way.”
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