Orphan Black: “Certain Agony of the Battlefield” Review

orphan-black-season-3This episode was pretty packed: lots of heartbreaks and revelations. We’ve finally crossed the midseason point and I think this episode clearly stands as our midseason climax. I was a bit worried when this season began that it was getting too complex for itself, but since then everything has been directed toward a more streamlined trajectory. And now, with “Certain Agony of the Battlefield,” I think we’ve hit an emotional peak.

Without further ado, let’s jump in.

First, let’s check in with Alison. Her soap and drugs business is clearly skyrocketing. We see her and Donnie jumping and sexy dancing on their bed, throwing money and glitter in the air, in what I can only describe as some hip hop video fantasy. Then their daughter walks in on them, and the two come crashing back down to reality. Alison has a meeting with “Jage”, her ex-high-school-lover and supplier. She’s got big plans to expand their business by buying her mom’s soap and smelly stuff company, “Bubbles”. Donnie’s enjoying the new cash flow by putting $10k down in cash on a fancy car. Not that that’s conspicuous or anything. What I love most about this is the palpable sexual tension between Alison and Donnie. Even though Jage is in the picture and Donnie’s a little jealous, that jealousy only serves to stoke the fire of his relationship with his wife. At least one of the clones should be happy. It’s totally going to last… right?

orphan black alison donnie


Gracie’s doing much better, and serving Felix and Mrs. S some tea. Her eyes don’t look bloodshot anymore, but they’re still going to visit Cosima’s lab to get some tests done. Cosima’s been coming into work late, presumably because she’s spending so much time with her new lover, Shay. Maybe it’s because she’s blonde, and in Orphan Black blondes can’t be trusted as far as you can throw them, but I don’t trust her. Cosima’s happy, but conflicted, about their budding relationship. She’s clearly still working out her feelings for Delphine. When Cosima finally meanders into the office, she finds Delphine sitting at her desk. Oops, yeah, probably shouldn’t have been ignoring Scott’s phone calls. It turns out that Delphine’s finally figured out that Sarah’s missing, and she’s found a connection between the Castor brain tissue samples and samples from Gracie. Everything that gets run through the lab gets directly uploaded to Delphine, or something, because of course it does. Oops again, Cosima.

orphan black rachel felixWhile the ladies are testing Gracie, Felix and Scott pay a visit to Rachel “The Cyclops” Duncan. Rachel’s doing some art therapy, and after torturing her a bit Felix leaves. They later realize that Rachel probably knows Duncan’s code, so we’ll probably see her again soon. It seems like Rachel’s feeling like she’s in her own special prison. She’s held secretly in Dyad labs, she’s physically confined to her wheelchair, and she can hardly force her mouth to form a word or two. Rachel’s just as much in a box within a box as Helena was a few episodes ago. It’s hard not to feel sorry for her, as she’s more or less trapped in her own mind. Part of me wants her to heal, but part of me is a little annoyed that the show is (at best) using disability as a prison or (at worst) a kind of cosmic punishment for Rachel’s abuse of the power she had that came from her place of relatively high agency and privilege in the Dyad program. I did love seeing Felix break down a little when questioning Rachel; he spends so much time babysitting and hanging out in the background that it was great to finally see the writers give him some emotional depth. For a character who is normally cool and nonchalant, his desperation to find Sarah was totally palpable, and reminded us that he’s got depth, too.

It turns out that Gracie and the Castor clone share a protein. That protein looks like it causes neurological issues in men, and infertility in women. Gracie’s been rendered infertile, which is totally overwhelming for a woman who’s just fresh from a life where her entire worth comes from being a human brood mare, but she takes it in stride. Maybe this will be a way for her to finally feel free from her Prolethean family.

Meanwhile, Sarah’s been trapped at the Castor compound in Maybe-Mexico, and is having some serious fever visions of Kira, Charlotte (the eight-year-old clone), and Beth. The Castors are doing experiments on her, giving her blood transfusions from Rudy (aka Scarface). The protein in the male line is some kind of sexually transmitted or blood-transmitted disease. Dr. Coady, the evil Castor mom, hopes that Sarah’s body will be able to fight it off. Coady’s been having the Castor boys keep records and samples of all of the women they sleep with so they can keep track of who gets sick and who doesn’t. She’s basically conducting civilian trials, rendering potentially hundreds of women infertile, in order to develop some kind of weapon to end war.

trojan horse vergilius vaticanus

image via wikicommons

It seems like the protein acts a bit like a Trojan Horse. During the Trojan War, after a ten year siege the Greeks built a giant wooden horse and sailed away. The Trojans pulled the horse into their city as a victory trophy, but that night, Greek soldiers hidden in the horse opened the city gates for the returning Greek army and decimated the city, ending the Trojan War. The computer virus by the same name tricks people into running it, then wreaks havoc on their system. Every time the Castor boys have sex with someone, they’re passing along the infectious protein. By researching the protein’s effects on unknowing participants, Coady’s basically sending out each Castor boy into the field as a mini-Trojan horse, with the hopes of one day perfecting it so she can totally end all war. It’s another nice homage to all of the source material by Virgil and Homer that the show draws from.

Major Paul is having none of this, takes control of the camp, and orders it on lockdown. He phones in to a superior who’s supposed to be helping him expose the twisted parts of the Castor project… but Paul seems to realize that he’s not actually going to send backup. It’s up to him to get Sarah out of the camp. He takes her to a tunnel that leads to the garages, but not before he gets knifed by a Castor clone. Paul knows he’d only slow Sarah down, so he locks the door behind her, telling her that she was the one that he loved, not Beth. He makes his way back to the lab, where he’s confronted by Rudy and Coady. Paul tearfully pleads with Coady to end the experiments, and she shoots him. But before Paul can expire, he gets a defiant look in his eye and drops a grenade. It blows him, the original Castor DNA from Abel, and the whole lab to bits. It’s unclear if Rudy and Coady made it out in time, and Sarah (still in the tunnel) gets knocked out by the shockwaves. As she regains consciousness, it’s Helena, returned from the desert to help her sestra, who helps her escape.

So much about this episode I really loved. We finally get some closure and a fitting end for Paul, and now we know more about the source of the health issues afflicting the Castor and Leda lines. But Sarah and Helena still have to get out of the desert, and I can’t wait for them to finally reunite with their sister clones. I really hope Alison’s story gets woven back into the greater plot. Right now she’s kind of off doing her own thing and it almost feels a bit fan-service-y to include her. On the other hand, this story is about the Leda Clones and their lives, not just the big conspiracy that they’re wrapped up in, and maybe including Alison is a way to maintain that balance. I also hope I’m wrong about Shay, but something tells me I’m not. There’s no way power-hungry, manipulative Delphine is going to let Cosima stay happy. At least Kira’s doing just fine and happy in Iceland. It’s a small consolation, I guess.

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