There has always been a difference between Project Leda and the Clone Club: Project Leda is the secret initiative that created Sarah Manning, her identical twin, and their genetic doubles and then sent them into the world so that their nature and nurture could be observed (and, once in a while, manipulated). The Clone Club is the tight-knit group of Leda clones—Sarah, Alison Hendrix, Cosima Niehaus, and, now, Helena—who have laughed, danced, cried, and lost together, (mostly) united against the Dyad Institute.
But now, with the start of Orphan Black season 3, the Clone Club must work with Dyad to protect Project Leda from those who would wipe it out completely. When a creepy member of Project Castor tells Sarah to “count your sisters,” he’s not just letting her know that one has gone missing—he’s making her think about every member of Leda.
Orphan Black 3×01 “The Weight of This Combination” smartly catered to the fans’ favorite aspects of the show, including the introduction of two (!) new characters for star Tatiana Maslany to play, and the always-entertaining scenes where members of the Clone Club must impersonate each other. But first, we open on a technicolor bridal shower for Helena, who found herself impregnated with her own fertilized eggs by Proletheans at the end of season 2. (If you need more of a season 2 recap, io9 has a handy illustrated guide to all the craziness that happened last year.)
The fact that Helena is wearing a pink dress, Cosima is dressed in Ukrainian folk garb, and there’s a Ukrainian version of the Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” are all clues that this is, unfortunately, just a hallucination for the poor, kidnapped Helena. The only real thing was all the sweets she got to dive into—but even those translated into a scorpion crawling out of her belly. When she awakens in a box so tiny it induced claustrophobic feelings for me, the scorpion is still there. Its name is Pupok (Ukrainian for “belly button”) and it is also voiced by Maslany because she is just that talented. (Though I would probably draw the line at Maslany voicing an inanimate object. Depends on the object.)
That’s all we really see of Helena in this episode, as she’s trapped in that box for 48 hours by a mysterious woman and several Project Castor clones. During those two days, the rest of the Clone Club must balance their search for their missing sestra with managing Topside, the mysterious cabal controlling Dyad, who’s coming in for a Project Leda checkup.
This news is delivered by Delphine, who has straightened her hair and transformed from monitor to the new Rachel Duncan, who is incapacitated after—oh, you know—Sarah shot a pencil into her eye. Topside is suspicious about the recent kerfuffle raised by Project Leda and wants to make sure its subjects are still being monitored by Dyad. Seeing as they can’t know about the unfortunate pencil situation, Sarah must convincingly impersonate Rachel to Ferdinand (James Frain), the “cleaner” who has been sent to check up and take care of any existing issues he might find. And Sarah can’t do this alone.
Despite being bonded tighter than ever after season 2, the Clone Club is still somewhat fragmented. Helena’s missing. Cosima is still recovering from the illness that is slowly killing her (but has been kept at bay thanks to stem cells from Sarah’s daughter Kira). And Alison is back home after her “rehab” stint, still dealing with suburban dramas. One of my favorite things about Alison is that even with the shadow of Dyad and Project Leda, she hasn’t let it upend her day-to-day life. She still cheers at soccer games, drives the school bus, and decides to run for school trustee just to stick it in the face of a neighborhood rival.
But of course, Alison can’t stay away forever, and she is brought back in for the episode’s best sequence: After Ferdinand seems mostly convinced by “Rachel” (there’s a moment in the elevator where I thought he caught a glimpse of Sarah’s hair under the blonde wig), he demands to interrogate Sarah Manning. And so, we get Alison wearing a bad wig and spouting “Oi oi!” in an even more awful cockney accent, and it is absolutely wonderful.
These harrowing scenes are where the Clone Club must play along with Dyad’s rules in order to protect their lives. Because if Ferdinand finds something amiss with Project Leda, he’ll just set up a do-over of “Helsinki”—which we later discover was Topside wiping out a bunch of clones and collateral at once. How do we find this out? Oh, when Sarah intuits that Rachel and Ferdinand have a past, invites him over to Rachel’s apartment, and gets the truth out of him thanks to some old-fashioned kink and conveniently forgetting their safeword. It’s impressive that Sarah can impersonate the other Leda clones so well as to convincingly act like them in the bedroom as well as in public.
One of the episode’s most fascinating transformations wasn’t even by Maslany. Delphine has fully embraced becoming the new Rachel, which includes prodding information out of the real Rachel about Helsinki. Once she knows what Rachel and Ferdinand had been planning, she and Sarah blackmail the cleaner into calling it off. So, Leda is safe for now. As Delphine promised Cosima, she is loving all of Cosima’s sisters equally. Though, pressing her thumb into Rachel’s healing eye socket in order to extract that information… that’s a very “the end justifies the means” situation. In short: Delphine has become a boss-ass bitch.
However, she still has some heart. While discussing Rachel’s recovery with Dr. Nealon, Delphine seals her new position of authority by removing emotional attachments. This conversation…
Delphine: “Can I count on you, Dr. Nealon, to put Project Leda above its individuals?”
Dr. Nealon: “Neither of us can afford to play favorites, now can we?”
…leads into Delphine visiting Cosima to break up with her. Their last exchange—Delphine sending someone to check up on Cosima’s health, Cosima choking out, “I love you” before fleeing, Delphine collapsing sobbing the moment the door is closed—are chilling to watch.
Part of the bargain for Sarah impersonating Rachel was for her to find out where Helena has been taken. Her investigation takes her to Mrs. S’s house, where her foster-mother has been beaten up by a Castor clone. Mrs. S also confesses to turning Helena over to Paul so that he would give Marion Bowles (from Topside) information, so that she would agree to free Sarah and Kira from Dyad last season.
Sarah is understandably upset, screaming that that wasn’t Mrs. S’s decision. Their last exchange before she storms out is particularly telling:
Mrs. S: “Don’t turn your back on your people.”
Sarah: “You’re not my people!”
Sarah has made her choice. Ironically, both Sarah and Mrs. S’s bargains were made for individuals over the greater good, but I doubt Sarah can see that right now.
Maslany does pop up as a new clone, albeit briefly: giggly blonde Crystal, who the Castor clones tried to kidnap. Whether she’ll pop up in future episodes remains to be seen, but I doubt she’s going to be part of the Clone Club. Pupok can join, though!
With the introduction of the government’s all-male Project Castor in the season 2 finale, we have the opportunity to observe the same individual-versus-group conflict through the opposite sex. However, Castor revelations were light in the premiere. While we saw several different Castor clones interrogating Mrs. S and breaking each other out of jail, we don’t know much about what distinguishes them from one another (aside from their facial scars and questionable mustaches). Vulture did point out, however, that all the Castor clones seem to share a measure of pathological instability. I’m not yet sold on bringing in a whole new army of clones, but I’m open to seeing what the show does with them.
Interestingly, this episode title was pulled from Dwight D. Eisenhower’s farewell speech, while season 1 quoted Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species and season 2 borrowed from Francis Bacon. The full Eisenhower quote is “We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.” I don’t expect the Clone Club to be able to be allies with Dyad for long, but this premiere did a great job of showing where the spheres interact, and which characters’ priorities match up or threaten each others’. That weight will likely shift sooner rather than later.