Mon
Oct 21 2013 9:00am

Orphan Black Rewatch: “Variations Under Domestication”

Orphan Black Variations Under Nature “Variations Under Domestication”
Written by Will Pascoe
Directed by John Fawcett
Season 1, Episode 6
Original Airdate May 4, 2013
Re-air date: October 19, 2013

What Happens: Donnie and Alison are asleep in bed; Alison wakes first and makes sure the spy cam is still set up properly. The previous night’s video shows Donnie getting up in the middle of the night and walking around the bed and staring at her, all Paranormal Activity style, before exiting the room. Alison is convinced that Donnie is her “monitor” and walks to the kitchen to confront him. He tries to tell her something about getting ready and washing the dishes, but she’s too furious to notice. As he walks towards the door, Alison picks up one of his golf clubs and whacks him in the face.

Back at Beth’s apartment, Paul explains that he was a private contractor before he was in the military, and that he’s “not doing any of this by choice.” Sarah asks about the medical experiments, Paul says the results go to Olivier, but he doesn’t know anything after that. She undresses to get in the shower, but leaves through the window to get away from Paul.

She calls Cosima on the Clone Phone, confirming Cosima’s theory that the monitors know as little as possible about the clones. Cosima shares her suspicion that Delphine, the French woman she met earlier in the lab, may be her monitor. Sarah warns Cosima to keep her distance; given Paul’s military background, the monitors could all be more dangerous than they realize. Alison then calls Sarah and asks her for help.

Orphan Black Variations Under Domestication

A brief shot shows Paul moping around the apartment and observing the GPS tracker he has on Sarah’s car. Paul mixes a ‘special’ cocktail in one of their liquor bottles for Sarah, and leaves her a voice mail that they should talk tonight.

Meanwhile, Alison ties up the unconscious Donnie in their basement, and it looks like, oh yeah, she might be torturing him. She keeps asking what was in the special box. When he plays clueless, she uses glue gun to pour hot glue on his chest and begins slapping him. I would NOT screw with Alison—beware the neatly put-together and quiet suburbanites. Sarah knocks on Alison’s door, interrupting the little torture scenario. The doorbell rings upstairs and Aynsley (Alison’s blond neighbor we saw briefly in the third episode) saunters in with a Tupperware container, her husband, and bunch of kids. Alison forgot about the neighborhood potluck party, despite Donnie trying to remind her before she whacked him in the head with the golf club.

Alison puts up an “off limits” sign for the basement, but Sarah tells Alison she needs to kick everybody out of the house. But Alison insists tht the party must go on: “I can’t back out of the monthly pot luck, it’s my turn…I have no bartender because my husband is tied to a chair.” While Alison runs the party upstairs, she tells Sarah to continue torturing Donnie, while pretending to be her. CLONE LAYERS! Sarah calls Felix, who is with a client back at his apartment, telling him he needs to come over to play bartender.

Orphan Black Variations Under Domestication

Alison’s friends realize she’s already drunk while Sarah dresses the part of Alison. She enters the laundry room and asks Donnie how the testing works. He claims to have no idea what he’s talking about, and says he got up in the night to watch cricket. Donnie yells at her when he hears voices in the house and tells her to take off the G-D blindfold. Sarah finally snaps and tells Donnie to shut up, and that Alison is the rock of the family.

Paul and Olivier are walking in the city; Paul prods Olivier for some answers and leeway about his situation with “Beth.” Paul doesn’t want “Beth” to get hurt, but Olivier says the most important thing is that she make her own decisions.

Delphine and Cosima are attending a Science lecture for Neolution and the guest speaker is Trashcan Man—I mean Max Headroom. Well, actually on this show he goes by the name of Dr. Aldous Leekie. That’s right, perhaps the biggest genre TV mainstay we’ve seen thus far: Matt Frewer is part of this show (and thankfully without the put upon Australian accent). It’s a smallish crowd, but has the feel of a TED talk, if on a smaller scale. He notices Cosima in the crowd and singles her out for a discussion about evolution and choice.

Orphan Black Variations Under Domestication

Vic breaks into Felix’s apartment, nosing around until he finds the open laptop with the directions to Alison’s house.

Meanwhile, Felix arrives at Alison’s home and Sarah laughs at his suburban get-up. Similarly, he points out the “thing” on her head, Alison’s trademark headband. Aynsley and her husband Chad are talking with Alison when Felix makes his way upstairs. Chad is amused by the “awesome” gay bartender. Alison retreats to the basement, drunk and crying mistaking Donnie for her monitor. She admits to Sarah that she’s known Donnie since high school. Alison passes out, so Sarah now has to play the part of Alison at the party upstairs.

Orphan Black Variations Under Domestication

An outside shot shows Paul sitting in his car, watching people continue to enter Alison’s house. Clearly, pot luck parties are big deals in suburban Canada.

Back at the Science lecture, Delphine and Cosima are chatting while Dr. Leekie is speaking with people across the room, signing books. The two ladies go up and introduce themselves, and Delphine seems quite smitten with Leekie. When Cosima tells Dr. Leekie she’s an EvoDevo student, he gives her his business card. Cosmia and Delphine each swipe a bottle of wine and leave giggling. Outside the lecture hall, Delphine and Cosima part ways after Delphine kisses Cosima on the cheek, much to her delighted surprise.

When Sarah comes up to the party, Felix initially thinks she’s Alison. He shares his suspicion that Aynsley is Alison’s monitor. Felix seems to be enjoying himself until he turns around and sees Vic entering the party. While Sarah goes up to meet with Vic, Paul stealthily enters through the back and takes note of everything in the basement. He pauses on a photo of Alison’s family before spotting a passed out Alison on the couch and hearing Donnie struggling in the laundry room. Paul spots the laptop connected to the spy camera on the table, which shows Vic and Sarah. Vic prods Sarah for information about faking her death and this new suburbanite identity, when Paul walks into the bedroom. Paul tries to alpha-male the situation, but Vic pulls a gun on Paul. Paul suggests they go to the garage and talk.

Orphan Black Variations Under Domestication

As the trio try to leave, Aynsley stops “Alison”—she needs to talk because she thinks her husband Chad is having “another affair,” and she’s worried that people are talking. Sarah-as-Alison says that every marriage has its secrets. Aynsley realizes “Alison” has changed her shirt, and thinks perhaps something happened with Paul.

Out in the garage, it isn’t long before military man Paul turns the tables on street thug Vic, beats him up, and takes the gun. Paul is loading up a nail gun, and wants to know everything Vic knows about Sarah. He asks if Sarah had a twin sister and puts the nail gun to Vic’s head. When Sarah walks in, Paul instructs, “Close the door Sarah Manning.” Sarah tries to talk Paul off the ledge, explaining that Vic doesn’t know anything about the clone business. Sarah promises Paul she’ll tell him everything. One of Alison’s kids barges in then Sarah shoos her away, which gives Paul the opportunity to shoot Vic’s hand with a nail-gun. Sarah kicks Vic out of the garage, telling him it ends here between them. Suddenly Aynsley walks in, and is surprised to see Sarah-as-Alison, whom she thought she just put to bed. Paul reaches for his gun, but Sarah grabs his hand and tells Aynsley everybody has secrets.

Orphan Black Variations Under Domestication

Later in the Hendrix bedroom, it has been a long day for husband and wife. Donnie finally admits it wasn’t just porn in the special box—there were also letters from an old flame; he had an affair earlier when he and Alison were briefly broken up. Donnie tells Alison she was right, she is the rock of the family and begs forgiveness.

At Paul and Beth’s apartment, Paul grabs the liquor bottle he earlier doctored instructing Sarah to talk. “Clones…Genetic Identicals.” He realizes she’s being honest and switches the doctored bottle for another, taking a swig before offering it to Sarah.

Orphan Black Variations Under Domestication

Cut to Delphine who walks into a hotel room all dressed up. She reaches the bed and Dr. Leekie walks out of the bedroom, whispers to her, and kisses her neck.

Commentary: Holy crap did a lot go down on this episode. (Frankly, with only 10 episodes in this season, that sentiment is fairly common). Most of the action takes place on one relatively confined location: Alison’s Pot Luck Party.

Alison goes further beyond the edge of sanity, each episode makes it more clear that she’s dealing with the most upheaval in her life. It was a very rash decision to whack her husband then interrogate him, but as she’s unraveling, her control is slipping. Note the passed out drunk Alison when Paul enters the Potluck party. And boy, who knew Potluck parties could be so damned big? This typifies the life Alison has been living and Vic and Paul (unbeknownst to her) barging into the party sums up the upheaval in her life as the Clash of the Clones’ Worlds continues.

Orphan Black Variations Under Domestication

I like the way a seemingly mundane and ordinary suburban party had much more going on in it than just a party. All the worlds the Canadian branch of Clone Club inhabit came together in Alison’s humble abode, in addition to Aynsley confessing her husband’s infidelity. And for the majority of these events, Alison is passed out drunk.

After this episode, I’ve learned that I want Paul on my side of a conflict. We learn more about his background and how he became involved in #CloneClub, and it doesn’t seem pretty. On the other hand, he and Sarah are close to being on the same page, which could make for an interesting pairing. Paul goes out of his way to protect Sarah from Olivier, though of course he’s doing this is as he’s also spying on her activities. Can we all agree how great it was to see him slap around Vic? Especially when Vic made a feeble attempt at playing Alpha Dog? “Poor” Vic has had both hands damaged severely at this point, you would think he’d learn by now to back down.

Delphine’s appearance in Cosima’s life was a bit too convenient, from the structure of the story being told. It is very obvious that she’s the monitor, but the final reveal of the episode—that she’s working with/for Dr. Leekie—makes it a little more interesting.

Orphan Black Variations Under Domestication

Other Random Thoughts:

  • No Helena in this episode and I don’t mind that at all. While the character serves a purpose and is portrayed well enough by Maslany, a break from her is welcome.
  • At this point I was annoyed by Aynsley, as she seemed to always be in the wrong place at the wrong time. That tends to happen with people who pry.
  • For all the people in Alison’s house this episode, the other few times we’ve seen her neighborhood seemed relatively empty.

Clone Count (episode): 3—Sarah, Alison, and Cosima

Clone Total (series*): No change from last week, still at 6—Sarah, Beth (deceased), Alison, Cosima, Katja (deceased), Helena
*I’m only counting those we’ve met in a physical sense, not just names on a sheet of paper

Clone Layers: For a big chunk of the episode, Sarah was playing Alison and pulled it off pretty well, even if Aynsley noticed the difference in wardrobes. Plus a muddled layer in that Vic thought Alison and Sarah were the same person.

Sexy Time: Felix with another “client.” Donnie and Alison get in bed, but it isn’t so much sexy time as bed time. A tease of sexy-time between Delphine and Cosima with a not-so-innocent kiss, as well as a closing bit of intimacy between Dr. Leekie and Delphine.

Orphan Black Variations Under Domestication

Hey, it’s that guy/gal!: Perhaps the biggest one of the series—Matt Frewer. If you’ve been watching any genre TV for the past couple of decades, you’ve seen his face. He was Max Headroom, he also portrayed The Trashcan Man in the television adaptation Stephen King’s The Stand, he most recently (as far as I know) had a recurring role as General Bressler on Falling Skies, and was also Jim Taggart (for some reason they saddled him with an Australian accent) on Eureka, and Moloch in the Watchmen film.

Chad (husband of Aynsley) was portrayed by Eric Johnson, who was on the first season of Smallvile as Whitney Freer, Lana Lang’s boyfriend at the beginning of the season. Also, he was Flash Gordon on that wrong-headed (I’m being VERY kind here) ‘re-imagining’ from the SyFy network, and a few episodes of Criminal Minds (a personal favorite show) as the brother of the character portrayed by Thomas Gibson.


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.

7 comments
Christopher Bennett
1. ChristopherLBennett
Yeah, this is where Alison goes off the rails -- though it's not over yet. I didn't care for the torture in this episode. I'm royally sick of torture as a plot device in TV. But otherwise the screwball-comedy aspect of the potluck with everyone turning up at once was kind of fun.

I agree about Delphine -- it was unclear how she managed to infiltrate herself in Cosima's life when it seemed to be entirely Cosima's decision to approach her. And it seemed to me that Cosima suspected her of being a monitor from the start, which was why she approached her, but it wasn't clear what made her suspicious when they hadn't even met yet.

I have to admit, I didn't even recognize that Chad was Eric Johnson until I saw the photo of him in the review just now. And I'm probably the one person who really liked the Flash Gordon series. Oh, don't get me wrong, the first third or so of it was very weak, misguidedly trying to emulate Smallville, but I always thought it had strong leads in Johnson and Gina Holden. And midway through the season, it underwent a considerable improvement. It ditched the boring Earthbound stuff and shifted focus entirely to Mongo. It stopped trying to do action and spectacle that it simply couldn't afford and learned the right way to do low-budget science fiction, by focusing on story, character, dialogue, and ideas. The last third or so of the series was, I felt, excellent -- but unfortunately the first third or so had been so weak that it had already lost most of its audience and squandered any chance at a renewal.
Robert H. Bedford
2. RobB
So far the only misstep in this series, IMHO, is how they inserted Delphine as the monitor for Cosima.

The whole potluck thing was great because for all of the chaos it unleashed, it was a perfectly logical thing.

Poor Alison.

I remember Eric Johnson leaving Smallville so he could do that Flash Gordon show. Admittedly, I gave up on it after 2 episodes.
Christopher Bennett
3. ChristopherLBennett
@2: I can't blame anyone for bailing on Flash Gordon after those first few weak episodes, but that's the real shame -- the last, ohh, nine episodes, give or take, are a vastly better show, but by that point hardly anybody was watching. And the show's run on Hulu is over, and there's little chance it'll ever be on home video. (EDIT: Oh, wait a minute, Wikipedia says it is out on DVD! Cool, I'll have to get that. Maybe the first half-season will be more tolerable if I watch through it quickly enough.)

Anyway, back to this show, this is really where I lost all respect for Alison as a character. People who can't tell the difference between speculation and fact, who assume their first impressions are true and don't even consider questioning themselves, are just so irritating to me. And Alison wasn't just blindly clinging to an unproven belief, she was willing to torture her own husband because of it. I couldn't sympathize with her anymore after this.

I think I started losing respect for the writers at about this point too, since it's such a ludicrous, excessive direction to take the story. I've never shared the widespread modern belief that gratuitous darkness or awfulness automatically equals quality drama. Too often it's just a lazy shortcut, using shock value to conceal a lack of worthwhile ideas.
Del C
4. del
It's a hazard of this kind of head-trip show that you end up suspecting things the show-runners weren't actually intending. So I'm ready for that to actually be Delphine, but also ready for her to be a Delphine clone. Either way, there's no denying that Leekie knows something and is keeping it to himself, because there's no explaining away his pretence of not knowing Delphine by sight.

(unless what we saw was a Leekie clone... see what I mean about head trips leading to a complete chaos of suspicion)
Kradlum
5. Kradlum
Maybe you should start keeping a count of Vic's injuries!
Rob Munnelly
6. RobMRobM
Episode was fun, if far fetched in several respects. One thing to keep in mind is that Allison heard Donnie say very very suspicious things in Ep. 5 that can't be easily dismissed. She has pretty good grounds for suspecting that he is her monitor, albeit with some contra-indications (known her since HS, semi plausible response that his complaints related to someone at work) that should have supported more investigation and fewer golf drivers or glue guns.

I didn't have a big problem with the Delphine intro. Seems like that is a pretty small circle of lab people at UMinn and probably even fewer women. If the left behind grade sheet didn't get it done, something else would have.

Yes, Paul stepped up in class in this episode. His entry into the house (with drunk Allison making a pass at him, quietly watching Donnie and seeing and acting upon the laptop video) was priceless.

Aynesley is really annoying but she's been that way from the outset - when she harassed Felix while he was waiting for Sarah way back in Ep. 2. B*tch through and through. Of course, Chad's repeated openly hitting on Allison is pretty scummy too.

Loved the "Oh look, it's a gay bartender." "Shut up Chad and feed the kids."

@5: +1
Robert H. Bedford
7. RobB
5. Kradlum
If Vic was in the show a little more, I might have done that.

Aynesley's sole purpose on this show, I think, is to be the annoying "friend."

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