Sep 30 2013 10:00am

Orphan Black Rewatch: “Variation Under Nature”

Orphan Black Variation Under Nature “Variation Under Nature”
Written by Graeme Mason
Directed by David Frazee
Season 1, Episode 3
Original Airdate April 13, 2013

What Happens: Picking up immediately after the second episode, we see Cosima, Alison, and Sarah in Alison’s living room. Some clever camera angles and editing make this scene nearly perfect in how all three versions of Tatiana Maslany are on the screen simultaneously. Cosima learns that Sarah is an orphan who came to Canada when she was 12. Alison is still upset about Beth’s death, but Alison is angry, scared, and resistant to helping Sarah. Cosima indicates Beth was not doing too well mentally and emotionally with the whole clone situation. Alison finally relents and says what we’ve all known since the show started, “We’re clones, and somebody is killing us off.”

Outside of Alison’s home, Felix is discovered by the neighborhood watch—specifically a tall blond woman. He attempts to enter the house, but is confronted by a gun wielding Alison. Sarah slaps Alison in the face for pulling a gun on her brother, but Cosima seems empathetic to both clones’ distress and tries to help Sarah understand the situation.

Orphan Black Variation Under Nature

Back at Felix’s apartment, he has a tough time believing in “Soccer Mom Sarah” and “Dreadlock Science geek Sarah” and the legality and reality of clones. They determine at least 8 clones exist, but Sarah says all she cares about is getting the money and Kira, despite her outward demeanor.

Later, Sarah later enters the police station hoping to get the $75K back from Art. Their captain beckons them into his office to inform “Beth” that she’s been reinstated, and sends them out on a “10-45.” Sarah has trouble putting on her holster in the ladies room, and later she is unable to call in to dispatch to acknowledge the 10-45 call—her confusion understandably befuddles Art. When they arrive at the scene, Sarah learns that a 10-45 is the discovery of remains—in this case the body of Katja. Apparently Sarah buried her deceased clone near an active quarry. Whoops.

Orphan Black Variation Under Nature

She calls Cosima on her pink Clone Phone* asking how easily they’ll be able to identify the Katja’s body. Sarah wants more help and Cosima says to bring the briefcase and they can talk. Back outside the police station, Art realizes Sarah’s been keeping her bullet clips in her back pocket rather than in her gun. He suspects that “Beth” is gun shy because of the shooting, and isn’t sure if he can count on her for effective backup. He temporarily puts “Beth” on desk duty and takes Detective Angela Deangelis on as his primary partner for the Katja case. So we have a few scenes where Sarah clearly is out of her element as police officer, and isn’t able to cover her inexperience off as easily as she could before while impersonating Beth.

*Borrowing this term from commenter ChristopherLBennett

Sarah meets Cosima in a bar and is still unnerved by their resemblance. The bartender thinks they are twins, but Beth asks if he’ll believe they are clones. Again, we see a seamless pairing of the same actress in two roles, both from a performance perspective and an effects perspective. Sarah and Cosima banter about their situation, Cosima requests the briefcase, and Sarah requests answers. Finally Cosima tells Sarah how the clones came together…

Orphan Black Variation Under Nature

Six months ago, Katja contacted Beth about other genetic identicals being hunted in Europe. Beth used facial recognition software to search drivers’ licenses in North America and found 2 matches: Cosima and “Soccer Bitch.” Cosmia adds, “Who is the original? Who created us? Who is killing us?” These questions are the driving questions for the series. She urges Sarah to continue impersonating Beth so she can use police resources to help figure everything out. Cosima’s term is “genetic identical,” rather than clones; interesting term and one that I haven’t seen before.

Back at the police station, Art informs “Beth” that they have an appointment at the gun range. Art is about to leave with Angela when he gets a phone call—a distorted voice tells them about Katja, that she was “She was just one of a few, unfit for family, horse glue.” Art and Angela leave, thinking perhaps they have a serial killer on their hands. Beth flirts with the IT guy to get access to her PC and reset her password. She then heads to the forensics department to get the results of Katja’s fingerprint test—she sees that they match her own (Sarah has an arrest record on file) and deletes the information while the forensics officer’s back is turned.

Angela and Art find the site where Katja was killed. They see the shattered glass from Beth’s car and discover the sniper blind where the killer hid. There are motorcycle tracks, as well as a doll’s head with bright red hair and a red spot in the center of the head. This is clearly the head of the doll seen in the previous episode in Katja’s hotel room.

Orphan Black Variation Under Nature

Sarah meets with Ms. S. in an open field and explains that she faked her own death for a fresh start apart from Vic. Mrs. S. gives Sarah a hard time, but agrees to a chaperoned visit with Kira—Foster Mom isn’t all tough exterior.

Sarah calls Cosima begging for more help, and lets Cosima know that Art shuffled her aside in favor of Angela. Alison agrees to teach Sarah to shoot a gun, explaining that she had learned from Beth in order to protect her family. Little bit of clone recursion there. Sarah brings Felix to babysit Alison’s kids while the two clones go a-shooting. After a few rounds, Sarah turns out to be a pretty goot shot. Were these clones were programmed as marksmen? During this scene, Alison informs Sarah that Cosima was the brains, Beth the police/technical assistance, and Alison the financial stability—i.e. the $75K.

Orphan Black Variation Under Nature

Felix and Sarah return to Beth’s apartment and are hanging out when Paul arrives unexpectedly to pick up some clothes. After they argue a bit, Paul tries to seduce Sarah, who seems into it until she remembers Felix is still hiding out in the apartment.

At the shooting range, Art is impressed with Sarah’s accuracy. They review the case a bit, focusing on the tire tracks from the motorcycle and the doll’s head. Sarah gets a call on Beth’s phone about a motorcycle found that might match the tire tracks. The landlord’s mother points them to the room few flights up, whose resident owns the bike. Art makes a comment about the language barrier and Sarah replies, “My Ukrainian sucks.”

They peer inside the room and enter with their guns drawn. Sarah finds a bible with passages from Psalm 139 circled, matching a passage written in red on the wall. As they are reading the words, Sarah notices a gun in the window and pushes Art out of the way—he is wounded, but it seems like a superficial grazing. Sarah reluctantly heads after the shooter, chasing him or her across the neighborhood and through an alleyway while Art calls for backup. Sarah calls Art from a dumpster lot and is whacked from behind by a person in a green trenchcoat wielding a knife. In a gravely, eastern European accent, the person says, “Good riddance, Elizabeth Childs.”

Orphan Black Variation Under Nature

“I’m not Beth!!” Sarah yells. The attacker pulls back the hood to reveal another genetic identical, this one with long, frazzled curly dyed blond hair and a crazed look in her eyes. She pauses, giving Sarah the opportunity to grab a piece of rebar and stab it into her attacker’s abdomen. She drops the knife—engraved with a fish symbol—and runs off.

Art finds Sarah and runs to help her while the attacker speeds away on the motorcycle. Police and an ambulance arrive on the scene and treat Sarah and Art for their injuries. Later, Art returns the money to Sarah as a show of thanks and goof faith. Apparently, all Sarah had to do was save Art’s life. Sarah ponders whether or not she should take the $75,000 and run, even without Kira.

At the end of the episode, we see the killer clone extract the rebar from her side and tend to the wound—the camera lingers on a series of cuts and scars on the woman’s back, forming a wing-like pattern.

Orphan Black Variation Under Nature

Commentary: That latest clone is probably the deepest into make-up and personality change Maslany has had to make—she’s barely recognizable. Although it is only a glimpse of this new clone, she is the most radically different from Sarah compared to Cosima, Alison, Beth, or even Katja.

Sarah-as-Beth finally gets her money back and I think she would have even if she didn’t save Art’s life. She’s been proving herself fairly well as a police officer (despite going out on a call with an empty clip), and generally manages to hide her apparent forgetfulness by playing up the trauma “Beth” suffered as a result of the shooting.

Orphan Black Variation Under Nature

Poor Sarah, things get worse for her and she’s got to spin more lies and be more deceptive. She thought she got rid of Katja’s body, but now she’s got more covering up to do. And she was nearly murdered. Rough day.

The more variations of the genetic identicals we see, the more brilliant Maslany is revealed to be as an actress and the more impressive the make-up/costuming/wardrobe people on this show prove to be. The little physical things she does as Alison, the tightness of her body in that she’s trying to hold it all together, plus the abrupt speech patterns compared to the more relaxed, easy-going and almost flighty presence that is Cosima, do more than anything else to make the characters seem like distinct, separate, real people.

The biggest question coming out of this episode is who is the new Crazy Clone and why is her back all sliced up? It is clear that this is who called the police station taunting Beth, but when Crazy Clone finally confronts Sarah, she pauses and realizes there might be a deeper connection between the two clones.

Orphan Black Variation Under Nature

“Variation under Nature,” the title of this episode, is also the title of the second chapter of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species.

The momentum keeps moving pretty strongly and now with the Crazy Clone we just might have a true nemesis for Sarah, her Doppelgänger in the true, sinister sense of the word.

Clone Count (episode): 4—Sarah, Alison, Cosima, and the new Crazy Clone. 5 if you want to count the discovered body of Katja.

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

Orphan Black Variation Under Nature

Sexy Time: Sarah and Paul get close to each other and we can throw in a dash of voyeurism to the mix (in a sense) as Felix listens and peeks in on the two of them kissing.

Hey, it’s that guy/gal!: No new characters introduced in this episode. Strike that, no new characters portrayed by actors who aren’t Tatiana Maslany on this episode.

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. He sometimes wonders if he is a clone, but shudders at the thought of multiple versions of him mucking up people’s lives. His twitter handle is @RobHBedford

Christopher Bennett
2. ChristopherLBennett
The fingerprint thing bothered me. My understanding is that identical twins have different fingerprints, so clones should as well. I looked it up, and apparently twins usually have the same general type of fingerprint patterns, but not always, and even when they do, the details are distinct. Fingerprint whorls are determined by the random conditions of development in the womb, and the whole conceit of this series is that nurture shaped all these clones very differently. So having their fingerprints be nearly identical is something of a cheat.

I did like it that Sarah decided not to run. Her adversity is bringing out more strength of character and decency, which is good to see. Although we'll see later on that the same is not true for every Identical.

It took me a moment remember that Siobhan means Mrs. S. They rarely called her anything else.

What's impressive is that it's easy to tell the Identicals apart even in still photos. And not just because of the hairstyles -- their whole manner is so different.

The one area where Maslany falls short is that her English accent as Sarah is sometimes unconvincing. Her vowels are too North American. I can forgive it to some extent; after all, Sarah's been living in Canada most of her life, so it's plausible that she would've picked up something of a North American accent (Felix's more pronounced British accent seems like a conscious affectation, part of his commitment to his image). But you'd expect that when Sarah got emotional or lost control, some hints of her English accent would slip through the Canadian one, but we don't hear that happening.

I think we got one of the show's rare acknowledgments of its Toronto setting when Art said that Beth was supposed to be the liaison with "the non-English-speaking majority." Although that was odd in itself, since English is the first language of the majority of Torontonians, though it's a narrow majority. There is quite a diverse mix of languages spoken there, however.
Robert H. Bedford
3. RobB
What's impressive is that it's easy to tell the Identicals apart even in still photos. And not just because of the hairstyles -- their wholemanner is so different.
Exactly, the little ticks of Alison, in particular, just the whole body language of each is unique.
4. Jayms
I looked it up, and apparently twins usually have the same general type of fingerprint patterns, but not always, and even when they do, the details are distinct.
The prints would only need to be within a margin of error for a computer to make a match, which isn't all that hard to swallow when watching a science fiction show about identical clones. :)
Christopher Bennett
5. ChristopherLBennett
@4: But I'm talking about a similarity of basic fingerprint types, of which there are only a few, like whorl, arch, tented arch, right loop, and left loop. That's no closer a match than saying that two people both have green eyes or that they're both Native American. The odds that two identical twins will have the same general type -- e.g. that they'll both have arches on their right index fingers instead of one having arches and the other having whorls -- is about 75%, or a bit over twice the probability that non-twins will have the same general type. But that's got nothing to do with the specific patterns that differentiate individual prints of the same broad type. When it comes to that, the odds that existing fingerprint-identification methods will confuse two identical twins' prints are only about 1-2% greater than the odds that they'd confuse two random people's prints. (Source)

So by all rights, Katja's prints should not have been a match for Sarah's. It would've been a major statistical fluke for them to be close enough to be confused. Yet Cosima said that the similarities were strong enough that a match was likely and that the differences would be minor. Even if we surmise that the clones' designers did something to their genes to give them near-identical fingerprints, that would be an exception to the rule, yet Cosima spoke as if it were the way it always worked.

Sure, this is a fictional universe and they can fake the rules for the convenience of the story. But this one just stood out to me as a cheat for plot convenience.
Robert H. Bedford
6. RobB
I think the fingerprint similarity is one of the things that may have led to using the term "genitic identical" for these characters. A newish enough term that will allow for some hand-waving in the storytelling.
Christopher Bennett
7. ChristopherLBennett
@6: Which is still a pretty big handwave, since fingerprint shapes aren't genetic or even epigenetic, but environmental in origin. Like I said, it rings false to me because the show plays up the huge differences among the various clones, showing how epigenetics and environment can trump basic DNA, yet on this one point it goes against all that and pretends that DNA predetermines something that it has very little influence over in real life. Some breaks from reality are more convincing than others, and this one doesn't hold together for me.
Rob Hansen
8. RobHansen
I was surprised to learn that Sarah was supposed to be British since I'm a Brity and she sounds Australian to me. Maslany is great, but her accents are a bit suspect.
Del C
9. del
So far, Cosima seems to be the only one without personality issues, i.e., a tendency to nerves and violence. I wonder whether that will hold?
10. Cybersnark
A minor one for the "Hey, it's that guy!" file: the forensics officer is Tyler Murree, who I went to both grade and high school with.
Rob Munnelly
11. RobMRobM
I liked the episode but there were a couple of things that bothered me.

1) Allison turning on the backyard lights and screaming at Felix - I thought she was trying to keep everything quiet from her kids in the house?
2) Ditto re Sarah punching Allison in the face - wouldn't it have been problematic if she had a black eye or a split lip that she couldn't explain to her family - need to punch her in the gut, girl.
3) Another was Sarah's deleting of the fingerprint record. Incredibly coincidental from a timing perspective and I'm wondering what the fingerprint guy does when he never gets any response from the search re the fingerprints of the Jane Doe when no doubt he at least should get something confirming no results. But ...I'll accept the handwave because the scene is cool.
4) Final one -and it's a biggie - why is Sarah actually trying to save things with Paul (other than for the obvious reason, of course)? That's a huge trap that she's going to fall in at some point if she hangs out with him. Pick a fight and move on.

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