Tonight’s episode of Orphan Black takes its name from President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s description, in his 1961 Farewell Address, of the “hostile ideology” of communism: “global in scope, atheistic in character, ruthless in purpose, and insidious in method.” Setting up Sarah (Tatiana Maslany), Felix (Jordan Gavaris), and Mrs. S (Maria Doyle Kennedy) to pursue “the Castor original” in London, marked by the misuse of a new clone, Crystal Godrich, by all concerned, it’s indeed an hour of cold-blooded calculations, embracing the realpolitik of expedient alliances, but from where I’m sitting there’s no ideology in sight. If “Ruthless in Purpose, and Insidious in Method” improves on the dire “comedy” of “Community of Dreadful Fear and Hate,” it nonetheless fails to suggest much more than madness in the method, as Orphan Black resumes its retreat into the realm of pure plot.
Despite the show’s penchant for calcifying the antagonistic relationship between science and religion, I’ve since come to appreciate last season’s attention to the power of ideas, as both Dyad and the Proletheans shrouded unspeakable acts in a layer of conviction. By contrast, “Ruthless in Purpose,” like much of the current season, offers little explanation for the characters’ choices. Dr. Coady (Kyra Harper) is prepared to travel to the ends of the Earth to protect her “boys,” for instance, but eight episodes in, it remains unclear if she’s concerned for the science or for her offspring; neither Harper nor the writers have managed to convey much more than Coady’s general nefariousness. Similarly, nothing in Delphine’s (Evelyne Brochu) arc to this point suggests any emotional depth in her protective posture toward Cosima. Suspicious of Shay (Ksenia Solo), disgusted by Rachel, and committed to finding a cure for her ex-lover’s condition, Delphine expresses all the right sentiments, yet her presence is primarily functional; she’s a narrative shortcut that the series uses to send Scott (Josh Vokey) and Cosima off the reservation at episode’s end.
It fails to suggest much more than madness in the method, as the show resumes its retreat into the realm of pure plot.
Within Clone Club, at least, interpersonal loyalty is a logical outcome of all the threats the “sestras” have faced together, and Helena’s return to the fold produces a few charming, keenly funny moments. The series has never quite figured out what to do with Helena, constantly tossing her to the wolves as a way of introducing new antagonists, but Maslany’s wry, flat delivery of “such beautiful clothes,” as Helena shows off an outfit in Alison’s distinctive palette of pink, purple, and turquoise, is proof enough of the character’s value. When she befriends Donnie (Kristian Bruun) a little later, as he explains soap-making in the back room at Bubbles, her loud, snorting laughter conjures up feelings of kinship, connection, and trust far more effectively than Delphine’s wooden statements of purpose. “You are funny man, Donnie Hendrick” is the kind of warm, unassuming detail to which the other narrative threads should aspire.
This may explain why I found myself so troubled by the episode’s treatment of Crystal. As the ditzy manicurist babbles on to Delphine about her near-abduction or confesses her trust issues to Felix, she comes to resemble no one so much as Helena, maintaining a certain innocence despite her brutalization. Though they’re polar opposites of sorts, the two women emerge here as tenacious figures, “one of a kind,” but both “survivors,” as Felix assures Crystal; with Helena sporting Alison’s clothing, they’re even dressed in similar colors. (Crystal also shares with Helena the honor of the episodes funniest line: Her “porn names,” “Bitch Mistress of Cum-a-Lot” and “Muffin Slowakowski,” are delightfully ludicrous.) The series thus ingratiates us to Crystal only to have Sarah, the queen of “family first” thinking, leave her behind, an unsettling decision that seems more to do with advancing the narrative than staying true to the characters. How can Sarah, still mourning Beth Childs, not respond to Crystal’s desire to know the truth? How is abandoning a “sestra,” even one with whom she has no prior relationship, Sarah’s instinct after all that the series has thrown at her? It’s her ruthlessness that constitutes the episode’s foremost surprise, and it’s an unpleasant one indeed. In two seasons of writing about Orphan Black’s unfulfilled potential, I’ve endured plenty of frustration, but this is the first turn in the narrative that might qualify as an unforgivable sin.
By the end of the hour, Rudy (Ari Millen) gets his hand on Duncan’s coded copy of The Island of Dr. Moreau, and Rachel, after dangling the promise of decryption, makes her escape, both motivated, as ever, by self-interest. As for Sarah, it may be that the final two episodes will force her to reckon with her choice, as Rachel’s subterfuge and Crystal’s victimization become clear, in which case the introduction of a new clone would register as more than mere device. But “Ruthless in Purpose” indicates that Orphan Black is now content to use the characters to churn through whatever twists the series has left, with little regard for the ideology, much less the psychology, behind their actions: an insidious method indeed.
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