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Orphan Black 1×04 “Effects of External Conditions” Recap

“Effects of External Conditions” opens with unfocused shots of our newest clone cleaning her wounds, and nothing is clear because nothing is clear when it comes to Helena.

The sci-fi mystery that underlines Orphan Black continues to be blended into the background throughout this episode- as the series itself so masterfully does- playing the clones off as a cop case; as well as it being the suburban housewife’s dirty little secret, and even, at times, it can be a downright hilarious, comedy among the madness, as Felix helps us see.

Sarah decides to continue to pay Beth this episode, so as to keep a hold on what’s happening to Helena, and so that she can keep the safety that being a cop is providing her with. She feels safe when she’s pretending to be Beth and although some of that probably comes from escaping her own skin for a bit of time, a lot of it, I also think, has to do with how Art treats her. He thinks Sarah is Beth, and it’s a little bittersweet when you analyze it, and consider just how much he cared for her. Art, more than anyone else in Beth’s life, had real concern and care for her, and they weren’t based in selfishness. Something that Sarah’s beginning to see and become attached to, as well.

Helena’s motorbike is found outside the house where she cleaned herself up, leaving behind a traumatized boy as well as a message for Sarah and the cops who find her trail. But beyond that, it’s also interesting to see how Helena is mentioned at the scene. Instinctively, the suspect is referred to as male, without further question beyond Sarah’s judgement that she falsifies. (“Our guy wears gloves. Guy’s what, military?”) Sarah was shocked when her attacker was revealed to be another version of herself, but I’m sure, in a more traditional show, she would have been just as shocked to have seen a woman pull off these actions.

Orphan Black has some pretty interesting points it’s making about gender, and this is just a subtle one. The programme  makes a point to show us so many different versions of people who happen to share the same DNA, and it’s an amazing representation of women: Sarah and her clones are scientists and mothers, cops and criminals. Body parts don’t make up a person, Orphan Black shows us, and doesn’t shove the idea in our faces, whether those parts be gender-identifiers, or identical genetics.

Helena’s message to Sarah comes in the form of a fortune teller, each scene portraying a new death, while the numbers lead to addresses – of which the last hasn’t been searched. So off Art and his crew go, finding a former hideout of Helena’s while she herself takes the time to sneak into the precinct and search through Beth’s computer. The address provides a lot of things to comb through, and so Sarah won’t be able to make it to dinner with Kira. Something that would be a problem, considering Mrs. S.’s ultimatum… If Sarah didn’t have a clone to take her place. (Something that leads to a great set of Felix/Alison scenes, the latter struggling to perfect her accent so that she’s able to sneak past Mrs. S. without raising suspicion.)

Sarah, meanwhile, is beginning to find out that Maggie Chen’s shooting wasn’t accidental. As Cosima tells her, “To extreme creationist types, we would be abominations.” And there we have it: the motive of our angry angel. Helena wants to redeem herself in the eyes of God, something that’s a problem for our favourite clones, when that redemption includes killing them off. And it’s especially a problem when Sarah discovers what Helena left behind for her at the station: a video with Helena-as-Beth admitting that she killed Maggie Chen on purpose, a piece of blackmail that forces Sarah to go and visit Helena.

So she does, scrambling through the apartment building that used to belong to Maggie Chen, while Alison takes her place with Kira- and fails to convince Kira of her identity. But oh is it a magnificent fail, the sheer talent of Tatiana Maslany shining through when Alison’s pretension of Sarah fades, and she’s left, in her American accent, with the look of Sarah in her clothes, but none of the right body language, or sounds. It’s amazing to watch, and just the start of Maslany’s incredible scenes where her characters slip into one another, and yet, remain so clearly recognizable.

“Effects of External Conditions” ends with Sarah letting Helena flee out the window, when Art finds them, bringing Sarah back to the station, where she proceeds to quit. Kira, meanwhile, plays along with Alison’s deception, the two of them managing to wrangle the possibility for more visits out of their deception.

As always, there are deeper questions on the horizon for Orphan Black. And this episode leaves us with these: how are Helena and Sarah connected? And how come Sarah was able to conceive Kira herself, while the rest of the clones, it’s hinted at, are sterile?

Memorable Quotes

  • Felix to Alison: “You’re a punk! Be one!”
  • By the way, Paul was actually featured in this episode, but he didn’t really do much, besides directly brood at Sarah/Beth, so we won’t worry about him just yet. Not when Art’s being far more interesting with his Skyler-White levels of calling out Sarah’s bullshit.
  • Sarah & Cosima on Helena: “She thinks we have a connection!” “Do you?” “Yeah, we’re clones.” Oh, yeah. That.
  • Sarah and Helena fun: “Where did you come from?” “God sent me.” “Right. So you don’t know, either.”