Orphan Black Rewatch: “Conditions of Existence”

Conditions of Existence
Written by Alex Levine
Directed by TJ Scott
Season 1, Episode 5
Original Airdate April 27, 2013
(Re-air date October 12, 2013)

What Happens: A man in a black suit tends to Helena’s wounds. Meanwhile, Sarah is skyping with Alison, who asks why she quit being a cop. Sarah ignores the question, but thanks Alison for helping with Kira. Alison replies, “She’s a special little girl… you are very lucky.” This is the second time luck has been associated with Kira in the series—Mrs. S previously pointed out that Sarah didn’t realize just how lucky she was to have Kira.

Alison gets into bed with her husband while Sarah showers in Beth’s apartment. Paul quietly enters the townhouse and surprises Sarah, who quickly transitions to Beth’s accent. They have sex in the shower; Sarah certainly doesn’t seem to mind this part of Beth’s life. In bed, Paul implores “Beth” that they need to “go away…pack their bags right now.”

Sarah has a dream? We see her hooked up to medical equipment and doctors are examining her in a scene out of a horror movie. She wakes up, brushes her teeth and chokes up a shiny implant of some kind. Clearly, Sarah wasn’t dreaming…

Orphan Black Conditions of Existence

Sarah performs a VSE and notices a mark on her arm, but not much else. She’s getting nervous and quickly dresses when Paul asks how she’s doing, and then states that they should go to Rio de Janeiro. Sarah instead heads to Felix’s apartment where she skypes with our favorite bespectacled clone. Cosima tells Sarah that the thing she spit up is part of an electroencephalogram, which is used to monitor brain activity. Alison (who is also in Felix’s apartment) chimes in, “We’re lab rats!” and they realize that each of them must have a monitor. Sarah assumes her monitor (well, Beth’s) must be Paul. Cosima pontificates about what happens when subjects being studied become ‘self-aware,’ and advises that Sarah shouldn’t let on that she knows—from a scientific point of view, Cosima would terminate the subject.

Alison walks in on her husband, Donnie, on the phone, saying that somebody is acting out of character. Alison asks about whom was Donnie speaking, he suspiciously replies that it was just a woman at work.

Orphan Black Conditions of Existence

Felix and Sarah search Beth’s townhouse for surveillance equipment; donning gloves, Felix informs Sarah he always “wears gloves when he burgles.” During the search, they agree that Mrs. S couldn’t be Sarah’s monitor, since it has been so long since they’ve seen each other. They stumble upon box in Paul’s closet containing a gun and evidence of a military past. After a thorough search, they eventually find a case of surveillance equipment in the wheel well of Beth’s Jaguar.

Sarah-as-Beth pays a visit to Trexcom—the company name on Paul’s business card—only to find an empty office. It’s a good fake out; a woman walks out and reminds Beth that the company downsized, then shows her to Paul’s empty office. Left alone, Sarah sets up the surveillance equipment on Paul’s desk. Paul returns and tries to instigate some sexy time in the office. When he starts to kiss “Beth’s” neck, he asks what happened to her scar. Sarah ties to cover by claiming to be using a new skin cream, but Paul coldly responds that he has to get back to work. Sarah leaves the office and Felix listens in as Paul watches an older video of Beth—checking for the scar—and asks his secretary to clear his afternoon.

Orphan Black Conditions of Existence

Alison rifles through Donnie’s (very large) closet while he’s out. Hidden in a draw she finds porn DVDs, one with the hilarious title Big Boob Blowies. In the shed, she finds a locked box and tries to open it with a hacksaw. Donnie returns and Alison does her best Brad Pitt impersonation, hysterically asking “What’s in the box?!” Donnie simply grabs it storms out.

Cosima is doing lab work with blood samples from the clones; she flirts with her male lab partner and asks him to check to see the disease from the sample was genetic. Last episode, it was possibly implied that the clones have a proclivity for marksmanship. Here, Cosima shows a talent for flirting to further her own agenda, as have Sarah and Alison previosly. Across the lab, Cosima notices a female student speaking very emotionally on the phone in French before apologizing and leaving. The woman leaves behind her grade sheet: Cosima is impressed to see all As and A+s.

Orphan Black Conditions of Existence

Sarah finds and reads several letters between Beth and Paul. She realizes that Beth loved Paul, but he didn’t return these feelings. She’s outside Kira’s school. Sarah finally reunites with Kira, who asks why she’s wearing such “crazy” clothes (meaning Beth’s attire). Walking back home, Kira asks about Auntie Alison. The camera POV reveals that somebody is photographing Kira and Sarah just as they arrive at Mrs. S.’s house.

Back at University (of Minnesota), Cosima follows the French woman to return her the grade sheet. The French woman, Delphine, explains that she was upset because her long-distance relationship just ended. Cosima informs Delphine she’s an Evolutionary Development (EvoDevo) student. Something does appear to attract these two characters to each other, Cosima’s sense of altruism matching up with the neediness Delphine displays.

Sarah and Kira are playing at Mrs. S.’s house. Holy crap, I think we’ve got our first genuine smile from Mrs. S. in the series. Sarah realizes she was close to Kira’s age when she came into Mrs. S.’s care, and she asks about her past, before Mrs. S. took her in. Mrs. S. asks about Vic, so of course the scene cuts to Vic being interrogated by his criminal boss about the cocaine Sarah stole. Because Vic is late in paying, they cut off his pinky finger.

Orphan Black Conditions of Existence

Alison goes to a strip mall and tells her kids to to buy candy at the pharmacy while she heads into “The Spy Guys” to by her own surveillance equipment. A wounded Vic is in the same pharmacy getting painkillers for his injury. He spots Alison outside, thinking she’s Sarah. Vic accosts Alison in the parking lot and she sprays mace in his face before shocking him with a stun gun. Vic may be a dick, but he definitely gets an ass whoopin’ in this episode. Alison calls Sarah to tell her about Vic.

When Sarah gets back to Felix’s apartment, the mortician we met a few episodes back is just leaving; Felix says goodbye to him while wearing a silk green robe. When Sarah yells at him for shagging the man they conned into thinking she was dead, he protests that Colin was the nicest boy he’s met… “in 8 days.”

Orphan Black Conditions of Existence

Felix shares the recordings from Pauls’s office, including Paul’s conversation with a man named Olivier, who says, “Your role as monitor is not to interfere.” On cue, Paul calls Beth’s phone and says they have to talk. Sarah says no and hangs up. Seconds later, Paul sends the photo of Sarah and Kira to Beth’s phone just as Vic walks in on Sarah and Felix. Shit is really hitting the shit that already hit the shit-covered fan…and we are only on Episode 5 of the series.

Unaware of the clone situation, Vic thinks it was Sarah who blinded him in the parking lot. Vic says if he doesn’t have the money soon, his boss will do worse than cut off a finger. Sarah gives him the 20K Alison gave her earlier in the episode as “go away” money. Vic reminisces about their felonious background, thinking they were in love. Sarah says they were parasites. She tells him to take the money and leave, but Vic says it isn’t over. At that, Felix asks “Is every man in your life a complete wanker except me?” Sarah heads back to Beth’s townhouse.

Orphan Black Conditions of Existence

With Donnie out for the night, Alison searches the garage again and finds the black box with the lock left open. Inside is the Big Boob Blowies DVD she previously found in Donnie’s dresser. Meanwhile, Donnie is in a field on the phone with somebody, burning some paperwork. Alison is putting the finishing touches on her surveillance equipment as Donnie grabs a pillow to go sleep on the couch before Alison apologizes for invading his privacy.

Outside of Paul and Beth’s apartment, Sarah answers the Clone Phone, and Cosima talks her down from simply shooting Paul. Cosima recognises that Paul didn’t tell the whole truth to Olivier, which gives Sarah some wiggle room to get information out of Paul. Beth walks into the townhouse and Paul is hiding in the shadows. He can clearly see the gun Sarah’s carrying, and drawing his own gun, tells Sarah to sit. He runs down the things that he’s noticed about her odd behavior, throwing the photos of Sarah and Kira on the table. Getting no believable answers from Sarah to his questions, he points his gun at her and asks, “Where is Beth?”

Sarah sheds the Canadian/North American accent in favor of her normal voice, “She killed herself.” Sarah then tells Paul everything she’s done up to this point, that Beth killed herself and Sarah assumed her identity. Paul thinks this is a test. Sarah tells him she knows he was her monitor and she knows about the previous night’s medical tests. She also says she knows that he didn’t return Beth’s love. Paul thinks this is all a test. Sarah finally breaks Paul when she asks why, and he replies “You think I had a choice…they don’t tell us why.”

Orphan Black Conditions of Existence

Commentary: As I said up above, lots of threads came together in this episode, and the clones’ lives start to intrude on each other. Alison once again takes the cake as she thwarts Vic physically, and thanks to her money, gets him one step further from Sarah’s life. She’s once again the star of the episode, between the signs of her breaking under pressure in front of Donnie to the visible stress when she’s with her Clone Club sisters.

We learn more about Cosima in this episode, getting a glimpse into her student life and how helpful she’ll potentially be to gaining more information about the clones. Like her clone sisters, she’s certainly a charmer. But of the three main clones, Cosima seems to be the most altruistic. She’s definitely the most intrigued by the experiment.

Throughout these episodes, there’s been an undercurrent of fear driving the narrative, but the scene of Sarah-as-Beth during the not-a-dream sequence on the operating table really evokes a horror feel. Even though the clones have each other, I also felt there was a bit of isolation in this episode in that they went about their own lives and were left to deal directly with their potential monitors one-on-one.

Again, the title of this episode alludes to something associated with Charles Darwin.

Orphan Black Conditions of Existence

What exactly was Donnie burning while he was on the phone, anyway? The question of whether or not he’s Alison’s monitor is not definitively answered in this episode, but we now know for sure Paul is/was Beth’s monitor. What will he do now that Sarah’s revealed her true identity to him? This was a great end to the episode and just raises the stakes and completely reshuffles the deck of cards yet again. That Olivier character, though, he seems a bit creepy. (Hint: He’s VERY creepy).

Not as much from Helena this episode, which is fine. I can only take so much of her compared to the other clones.

Clone Count (episode): 4—Sarah, Alison, Helena, and Cosima.

Clone Total (series*): 6—Sarah, Beth (deceased), Alison, Cosima, Katja (deceased), Crazy Clone Helena
*I’m only counting those we’ve met in a physical sense, not just names on a sheet of paper

Clone Layers: Not intended, but Vic mistakes Alison for Sarah.

Orphan Black Conditions of Existence

Sexy Time: Felix with the coroner and Sarah-as-Beth with Paul.

Hey, it’s that guy/gal!

David Richmond-Peck, the man who portrays Olivier, looked familiar to me, he’s made the rounds of genre TV. Like many actors/actresses on this show, he was on a couple of episodes of Lost Girl. He was on two episodes of Fringe, an episode of Eureka, the re-imagined V as “Georgie Sutton” and most recently he was the Canadian UN Representative in Pacific Rim.

Rob Bedford lives in NJ with his wife and dog. He reviews books and moderates forums at SFFWorld, runs a blog about stuff, and contributes to SF Signal. If you want to read random thoughts about books, TV, his dog, beer, and hockey, you can follow him on Twitter: @RobHBedford.


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