Oct 7 2013 9:00am

Orphan Black Rewatch: “Effects of External Conditions"

Orphan Black Effects of External Conditions Effects of External Conditions
Written by Karen Walton
Directed by Grant Harvey
Season 1, Episode 4
Original Airdate April 20, 2013
(Re-air date October 5, 2013)

What Happens: The episode opens on a sink spattered with blood as Helena dresses her stomach wound from the confrontation with Sarah-as-Beth in the previous episode. Screechy music and shaky camera matches the crazed personality of the newest clone on the scene. As the camera pulls back, a young boy walks in on Helena.

After the credits, Sarah knocks on Alison’s door and brings her suburbanite clone up to speed on the events since they last met: money, impaling Helena with rebar, and Sarah’s daughter Kira. Alison is surprised that Kira is Sarah’s natural daughter; both of Alison’s children are adopted. What’s left unsaid (but writ all over Alison’s face) is that clones should not be able to reproduce.

Orphan Black Effects of External Conditions

Sarah then Skypes with Cosima and asks about the odd handled dagger Helena dropped. Felix butts in to the Skype session and Cosima and Felix address the elephant in the room—nature vs. nurture. Felix gives us a clone count of his own: the crazy killer clone and the 4 European clones she murdered, detached and suicidal Beth, his crazy stepsister Sarah, science girl Cosima, and soccer mom Alison. This adds up to 9 clones.*

*My clone count at the end of each of these recaps includes only those we’ve met physically.

Alison pushes her kids and husband Donnie out of the house to be on call for Sarah; she is prepared for anything, with her gun, her wine, and the clone phone close at hand. Meanwhile, Sarah-as-Beth meets Art at the house where Helena entered and did her stitch-work or “self-surgery” as Art calls it. Art questions the boy’s mother, and the boy himself, asking what the crazy intruder looked like. The boy points to Sarah, which Art takes to mean that the intruder was a woman of about her build, but Sarah knows that the kid means her crazy duplicate, Helena. Sarah gets down and speaks to the boy in hushed tones and grabs a piece of paper from him.

Orphan Black Effects of External Conditions

Sarah takes a break to confirm with Mrs. S. that she can see Kira later that night. Mrs. S. stresses that Kira is really looking forward to seeing Sarah, while in the background, Kira paints a picture of Sarah.

Back at the police station, Art updates his colleagues with status of the “unsub” (unknown subject) who attacked Sarah and himself, and we learn more about the body of the German (Katja) found in the quarry. As Art puts it, they’ve got “a calculated female killer who likes to play games.” Beth is paged out of the briefing to pick up a call at her desk from Helena, who wants to learn more about Sarah.

They have a lead on the unsub. Hold the phone, Art just smiled! Holy crap, Art smiled! As Beth and Art depart, Helena enters the police station pretending to be Sarah pretending to be Beth. That’s a three-layer clone sandwich folks! (Admittedly, she’s just trying to appear to be Beth, so this could be considered a two-layer clone impersonation.) Helena hangs out at Beth’s desk and picks up the phone with Paul on the other end of the line, whom she asks to come pick her up from the station.

Orphan Black Effects of External Conditions

Art, Beth, and Deangelis arrive at an abandoned church, where a filthy damaged bed is found along with markings on the wall that match other evidence found in Helena’s wake at the other crime scenes. Sarah realizes she isn’t going to make it to see Kira and calls Felix, who is busy painting in the nude. Sarah’s idea is to ask Alison to impersonate her and visit Kira in her place. When Art, Deangelis, and Sarah get back to the police station, they realize somebody’s been playing games on the evidence board, and Sarah realizes somebody was at her desk. (pssst…it was Helena). The IT guy Sarah flirted with previously, Raj, complements Sarah on the cleaned-up look, confirming Sarah’s suspicion.

Alison is very hesitant (shock) to impersonate Sarah, until Felix points out that Sarah is out there risking her life so Alison’s kids don’t become orphans. Again, Felix wins the scene when Alison tells him she’s done some acting in community theater. As Alison tries to wiggle into the part of Sarah, Paul shows up at the police station to get Beth because of Helena’s call. Art saunters over to “Beth” and Paul, tension rises.

Crazy Helena calls Beth’s desk phone while adding more engravings to her back; she stresses the importance of a face-to-face meeting. She sends Sarah an e-mail, which includes a video-taped confession of Helena as Beth admitting to Maggie’s murder. Maggie knew Helena and it seems Beth killed Maggie to cover up the clone story. When Beth and Paul depart outside the police station, Cosima calls Sarah with some information about Helena. Cosima thinks it’s a bad idea for Sarah to meet Helena especially when she realizes the symbol on Helena’s dagger matches a brand on the back of Maggie Chen’s neck, the woman whom Beth shot. Chen and Helena might be part of the same religious cult and Helena is a major wild-card, to say the least.

Orphan Black Effects of External Conditions

Felix and Alison-as-Sarah arrive at Mrs. S.’s place while Sarah goes to meet with Helena. At the same time, Art and Deangelis examine evidence & clues about Helena and they discuss, briefly, the problem of Beth. Art gets back to Beth’s desk and does some snooping and discovers, in addition to a picture of Paul and Beth with Paul’s eyes crossed out, the address where Sarah is going to meet Helena. As Sarah is making her way through the apartment building, she leaves a message on Art’s voice-mail as Sarah admitting she’s Sarah, saying that Art is the only person she can trust. Fair point, when you think about it. Although Art has been a hard-ass to Sarah-as-Beth, he’s at least acting consistently as guy who wants the right of the thing to be done.

Kira is reunited with her mother, or rather, Alison as her mother. Before Kira can tell Alison she knows she isn’t Sarah, Felix pulls Mrs. S. out of the room. Just as Sarah admits her identity to Art, Alison admits the truth of who she is to Kira, saying that she and Sarah are sisters. Alison asks…begs Kira not to say anything about it to Mrs. S. When Alison-as-Sarah and Felix leave, Alison manages to get Mrs. S. to agree to allow Sarah to walk Kira home from school.

Orphan Black Effects of External Conditions

Sarah finds Helena in the middle of the apartment kneeling in prayer. She tells Sarah “God sent her…Maggie helped make you…saw the light, came to our side…the others are poor copies of God’s image as human beings.” Sarah realizes Helena thinks that she’s the original. Helena wants to “save” Sarah. Art buzzing up to the apartment’s intercom distracts Sarah as Helena continues to be creepy-crazy-batshit-insane. “Maggie helped make you,” Helena says.

Art is knocking on the door shouting for Beth, Sarah’s only option is to encourage Helena to leave through the window. Art thinks Beth is crazy for going into the place alone, which turns out to be Maggie Chen’s former place of residence. Back at the precinct and at the Captain’s desk, Sarah tries to resign, but gets brushback from her captain and Art, though she does hand in her badge.

Orphan Black Effects of External Conditions

Helena stumbles into an alleyway, falls down and is picked up by a man in a white van wearing a ring that bears the same fish emblem as Helena’s knife and the brand on the back of Maggie Chen’s knife.

Commentary: We get into more of a police procedural in this episode, but the wild card of the series gets a full introduction as we learn a bit about Helena. For as much as the clone situation has disrupted the lives of Alison and Sarah, Helena is something that cannot be predicted. I still believe Cosima finds this all fascinating and if anything, is somewhat intrigued that she’s so close to this situation which keys directly into her scientific mind and background. Sarah, meanwhile, goes to great lengths to keep a few steps ahead of Art and the police investigation of two clones—Helena and Katja.

Once again, Maslany’s acting prowess takes the stage as Helena is perhaps the most distinct clone of the bunch. Granted, the blond dye-job and curls help, but the facial tick and feral kinetic energy she’s holding inside gives her the demeanor of a caged animal. The scene of Helena at Beth’s desk really established how uncivilized and unmannered Helena is compared to her genetic identicals. Her performance, wardrobe, and make-up come together to make otherwise very attractive woman difficult—or at least uncomfortable—to watch.

Orphan Black Effects of External Conditions

The religious implications of cloning come to light through Helena; she’s seemingly part of a group that sees the clones as abominations. We see just the tip of the iceberg of this subplot, but if Helena is a representative of a group, I certainly wouldn’t want to join.

Like many episodes of this show, more questions were raised than answered over the course of the 45 minutes the narrative unfolded. The biggest, to my mind is Helena. She’s an enigma, bizarre, but does seem to possess knowledge about the clones that none of the other members of Clone Club possess.

At this point, determining a favorite clone is tough, but I’m leaning towards Alison, but a lot of that could be down to her interactions with Felix. Either way, Alison is the bees’ knees.

Orphan Black Effects of External Conditions

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: A three-layer clone sandwich when Helena slinks into the police station pretending to be Sarah pretending to be Beth. We’ve also got the two layer sandwich of Alison portraying Sarah, the preparation of which with Felix provided a healthy dose of humor.

Sexy Time: We get to see a naked Felix, but this is just par for the course with him.

Hey, it’s that guy/gal!:

Janis Beckwith, the coroner and forensics team member is portrayed by Jean Yoon. Yoon is another cast member who was on Lost Girl, as well as Warehouse 13 in addition to playing the part of Dr. Montague in The Time Traveler’s Wife.

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.

Rob Munnelly
1. RobMRobM
Great episode. The Allison as Sarah "sandwich" blew me away - what great acting. I'm quite concerned about her ongoing ties to Paul. I can see troubles of several sorts coming if she doesn't cut him loose soon (and I haven't seen any additional episodes, so no spoilers).

Also was wondering whether Sarah really left a message to Al on his phone or whether she did it on her own phone for him to find if she turned up dead. If the former, she has burned big bridges which will blow up once Al checks his messages.

The fact that Maggie Chen is related to the clone plot is giving me a Heroes mid-season Season 1 vibe where everyone was connected to everyone else in the story to that point.

One additional reaction to the episode: The actress playing Kira is really good.
Robert H. Bedford
2. RobB
If you are concerned about similarities to Heroes, this show is far superior in how connections between characters are portrayed as well as the storytelling as a whole.

Allison as Sarah is just the tip of the iceberg.
Rob Munnelly
3. RobMRobM
Rob - I have no problem with Heroes Season 1, which included a truly amazing set of "can you top this" connections that ran for many consecutive weeks in the middle of the run, was truly excellent - at least up until the last episode of Season 1, which began to go off the rails. (I'm going to pretend half of Season 2 and the subsequent seasons never happened.) Comparing OB to Heroes Season 1 is intended as a compliment. Looking forward to all of the excellent OB connections to come.
Robert H. Bedford
4. RobB
3. RobMRobM
Fair point (I enjoyed parts of Heroes Season 1, too), but more often than not when I see people compare something to Heroes it isn't in the most positive of lights.
Del C
5. del
Did I get the wrong end of the stick a few episodes ago, or was the crime boss woman Beth was investigating another woman than Maggie-Chen-the-waitress, but one who looked like Maggie? I wondered then if there was another set of clones out there.
Christopher Bennett
6. ChristopherLBennett
I have the suspicion that part of what makes the clones so easy to tell apart is their makeup, but Helena's the only one where it's obvious what the makeup difference is (aside from the hair), because she's got that red around her eyes.

Just in general, I found Helena the least impressive of Maslany's transformations, because it's so drastic. She's so good at playing the more subtle differentiations in personality, voice, and manner that this one is just making it too easy for her.

Felix's best line here was when he said he'd have to perform "a full reverse Pygmalion" to teach Alison how to do Sarah's accent.

You say this one's more of a police procedural, but I like the way it ended with Sarah abandoning her police role altogether. At first, it looked like this innovative concept was being pushed into the standard TV-procedural model by having the woman Sarah impersonated just happen to be a cop, but that really turned out to be a red herring. Maybe that was the idea -- to use the initial appearance of a cop show to draw in the viewers, then move beyond it once they were invested in the show.

@1: Yeah, my interpretation was that Sarah recorded the message on her own (or rather, Beth's) phone, expecting it to be discovered in the event of her death.
Rob Munnelly
7. RobMRobM
Not to spoil but once I jumped ahead to the next episode my wife and I got fully hooked and we did two-a-nights to finish the season last evening. Fun times are a coming but it's going to be a bumpy ride.

Re @1, 6 - yes, we are correct.

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