Exciting and terrifying as Orphan Black tends to be, it was a bit of a disappointment for me this week when Orphan Black‘s fourth episode this season ended up being… a little boring? The season started off with Sarah fighting for her very survival on a strange island, followed by a problematic death and a shocking twist, and was topped off nicely by a screamingly suspenseful Alison-centric episode. Yet “Let the Children and Childbearers Toil” wasn’t focused on any particular clone and, in fact, ended up talking a lot about characters I didn’t particularly care about.
Spoilers and a trigger warning for frank discussion of human experimentation after the jump!
This episode was more or less about backstory. Sarah and Mrs. S corner a hapless scientist, Dr. Elizabeth Perkins, and con her out of her ID so that they can sneak into a facility where Mrs. S believes that a Neolution defector is being held. When they’re in, they find out that said defector is Virginia Coady, the woman who ruled over the Castor clones and the villain of Season 3. She’s been drugged and imprisoned against her will and only talks when Mrs. S dangles the promise of freedom in front of her. She tells them that long ago, she, Westmoreland, and another scientist were working on human experimentation together, but the science was extremely crude and the subject on which they were experimenting began growing tumors and eventually had brain damage and physical deformities. The other scientist protested this, and the two scientists were separated.
Meanwhile, on the island, we learn that Susan Duncan is alive and in the care of P.T. Westmoreland. She’s the other scientist, and Westmoreland separated them by giving the Leda clones to Susan and the Castor clones to Coady. The failed subject is strongly implied to be the “creature” on the island who terrorized Sarah and is still terrorizing the other inhabitants of Revival. We end with Felix reminding Kira that we don’t know what Rachel wants to do with the data she collects on Kira.
This episode could have potentially been about two things: parent-child relationships and human experimentation and the results thereof. Sarah and Mrs. S. find an in with Perkins by learning that Perkins’s own daughter is suing her and refusing all contact with her, and they stage a mother-daughter fight in front of her to get Perkins to sympathize with and open up to Mrs. S. Along the same lines, Sarah has a real fight with Kira over Rachel’s data collection, and Kira refuses to talk to her. Partway through the episode, Sarah stops by the convent to check in on Helena and the two of them talk about Helena’s future children, and at the end of the episode Sarah has somehow gotten to the point where she tells Felix they have to trust S. Similarly, Neolution’s human experimentation is shown to have bad results, and we’re supposed to be more afraid about Kira and Rachel’s shenanigans. However, we never got enough screentime to really delve into either the parent-child issue or the human experimentation issue, because we spent most of our time with Westmoreland, Mud, Susan, or Virginia Coady. If this backstory were really necessary, wasn’t there a better way of delivering it to the audience — maybe a way that included more of our main clones? Cosima could have pieced together the story from what she found in Westmoreland’s basement and told the other clones, or Sarah and Helena could have interrogated Coady together (I would have loved to see Helena face Coady again, after what Coady did to her in Season 3).
Furthermore, I don’t think a lot of this backstory was really necessary. There was no real reason for Coady or Susan to be alive — their continued place in the plot takes away from the explosive end to Season 3 and Rachel’s character moments in Season 4, and our clones could easily have found out that human experimentation was bad without the villains of seasons past telling them. I’d say they’ve seen enough of Dyad and Neolution’s experiments to know that well enough. And instead of getting some vague implications that Sarah and Kira’s relationship was in trouble, I’d rather have a Sarah-centric or even a Sarah, Kira, and Mrs. S.-centric episode in which to hash out the complicated issues in their multigenerational tangle of conflicts.
However, I’ll admit that most of my frustration is because of the placement of this episode. A backstory-heavy episode would have been fine in an earlier season, or even in the first or second episode of this season, but this far into the final season (which will have ten episodes total), it just seems unnecessary. This is our last season with the clones and their family, and every moment not spent with them, getting the end of their story, seems like a waste of Orphan Black‘s time.
At the end of this episode, Felix’s biological sister Adele shows up again, and she says that Mrs. S. has recruited them to go to Switzerland and figure out where Neolution’s funding is coming from. It’s wildly out of the blue (and it’s very deus ex machina to have Adele just say that she knows all about Clone Club), and it seems designed to take Felix out of the picture just like the show did with Alison last episode. Orphan Black‘s heading into its finale, and I’m rooting for them to stick the landing. But I’m afraid that they don’t know what to do with characters like Felix, Alison, and even the pregnant Helena, and are taking the heart out of the show by sidelining them. I guess we’ll see if the season gets back on track next episode.