Review: ORPHAN BLACK S1E05, CONDITIONS OF EXISTENCE (Or, The More They Talk The Less Interesting This Show Is And This Week They Talk A Lot)

Todd Brown, Founder and Editor
At this, the half way mark of Orphan Black, it is easy to see what the two primary weaknesses of the oft-entertaining (and hugely so) show are. First, with so much effort put into the Sarah and Beth characters many (read: all) of the support players are underdeveloped to varying degrees, some of them (read: Vic and Paul) critically so. Second, the producers seem to be operating under the assumption that the audience will find the story much harder to follow than it actually is without long stretches of exposition explaining things that the audience has - in actual fact - already figured out or would do so quite easily if you just showed them something rather than grinding all the action to a halt and making people talk about things that are already obvious.

Last week's episode focused on action, Sarah and Beth. It was arguably the best episode of the season. This week's episode focuses more heavily on a number of the support players - notably Alison, Cosima, Paul and (sigh) Vic - while talking an awful lot about things that are already perfectly clear by the time the characters get around to talking about them. It is very clearly not the best episode of the season.

The crux of the episode is this: If the clones are, in fact, part of some experiment then it follows that there must be some mechanism for monitoring said experiment. And the easiest way to do that is to plant an observer close to each of the clones. Guess who that is, in Beth's case? There are really only two options and one of them isn't in this particular episode at all.

Don't get me wrong here, this is a necessary direction for the show to move in - we're at a point where we absolutely have to start exploring the larger conspiracy - and they actually do a good job of putting Paul into an interesting moral conundrum in the process but, good lord, is it chatty. Chatty after an incredibly ham handed and excessively convenient 'was it or wasn't it' a dream sequence. Someone from the secret science medical team left a sensor in Sarah's mouth? Really? How does someone that incompetent have a secret clone experiment in the first place?

I am a firm believer in the 'show-don't-tell' school of story telling and this goes exactly the opposite direction while having a great deal of the telling-instead-of-showing revolve around characters who continue to exist to do nothing but spout exposition - Cosima and Alison, though that appears to be slowly changing for both - while Paul's big moment really has no punch because we haven't gotten to know him AT ALL and have no sense of what his relationship to Beth may have been. The sum total of Paul's presence thus far has been to come home from time to time, have raucous sexual intercourse with Sarah pretending to be Beth and then leave. We just don't care enough about him. Though he does a nice job of things at episode's end.

And speaking of not caring ... hello, Vic. Why are you in this show, again? It was nice they dismembered you as soon as you reappeared but kind of a bummer you survived. Even more of a bummer that you're back for the next episode, too. Sweet lord, they either need to do something more interesting with this character pronto or they need to kill him off in spectacularly bloody fashion. Nothing else will do.

So, where's the good? Well, mostly int he questions the episode opens up going forward. Is Helena working with or against the experiment, for one thing? If with, why are some clones being eliminated while others aren't? If against, why aren't people being pulled out or otherwise protected as the bodies pile up? What is the leverage the organization has over Paul and - presumably - the others who fill the monitor role? And what - as is increasingly clearly going to be a major issue - is Sarah's child, exactly? Why can she bear children when the other clones cannot? So, future promise, yes. But in the present, this episode was kind of a dog.
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  • DLSproule

    Talk about completely disagreeing with you! You say it's clearly not the best episode while I thought it is easily the best episode. You want to kill Vic off while I thought the Vic scenes were wonderful. He's so hapless and hilarious. For me, this is the episode where Orphan Black has finally started realizing its potential. As much a thriller as ever, but as funny as Buffy at its best. It has become my favourite sf show on TV.

  • Hey, disagreement is cool with me, getting different perspectives is part of the point of writing these things!

    But here are my two big issues with Vic, and I write this before actually watching this week's episode so for all I know some of this may have been addressed:

    First, I just don't like the actor and I haven't from the first time he walked on screen. Now, Michael Mando has worked a bunch in TV over the past couple years so clearly there are casting agents out there who like him and maybe this is a writing / directing thing as much as it is a performance thing but I find Vic to be wildly over the top in ways that are really quite negative. He's caricature more than character and he stands out quite badly when put next to the frequently excellent performances from Maslany in the show.

    Now, that's just a taste thing and I'm sure there are plenty more people - like you - who like his style and that's totally fine by me. The second issue, though, is a more substantial, story based one.

    Vic serves absolutely no purpose and he hasn't at any point after the first episode where he at least provided a bit of context for Sarah's background. Now he's nothing. He doesn't add to the story in any way at all and when it comes to comic relief, well, that's mostly what Felix is for (and Alison to a lesser degree) which means he's completely redundant there as well. This is a story with a LOT of balls in the air as it is between the multiple clones, the ongoing shooting investigation - which ties directly into the conspiracy - and the ongoing investigation into the dead clone. Plus we know that Beth and Alison definitely have monitors and it appears Cosima does, too. So all of that takes time to build and maintain, which is where the time needs to be spent. Unless Vic becomes an actual part of the main story - i.e. if it turns out he's Beth's monitor, which is possible - then any time spent on him is time taken away from things that actually matter. And if that's the case he should just be done away with.

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