Creating a More Perfect Human Being: Orphan Black, “The Stigmata of Progress”

I haven’t been able to figure out where this week’s Orphan Black got its title, but it’s a gripping visual nonetheless: forward momentum, but the kind that leaves a scar. The Clone Club has already lost so much blood, several embryos, and one eye, and had about as many things implanted. This week centers around two especially interesting implants: Sarah’s Neolutionist bug and Rachel’s eye.

Spoilers for 4×03 “The Stigmata of Progress.”

I’ve got to agree with The A.V. Club that this was an uneven episode: Sarah kept running into different clones on her way to figuring out how to get this damn freaky bug out of her cheek, with everyone else’s plotlines acting in service of hers. Of course, she has the most pressing obstacle, but what we wind up with is everyone else kind of littered in her path instead of doing their parts and then returning to their equally compelling arcs. I’m hoping that we’re still in the setup part of the season, especially as we’ve now caught up with almost all of Project Leda (that we know about); the pieces are being set in a game that will hopefully be more entertaining than the Descent game that Kira flung off the table at Rabbit Hole Comics.

Orphan Black 4x03 "The Stigmata of Progress" television review Rachel

Clone Count: 7

Rachel is back! Dyad’s former HBIC is still recovering in her bizarre prison, but at this point, she hasn’t seen her mother in six weeks. Instead, she’s been stuck with little Charlotte, who not only was cloned from the original Project Leda batch but from Rachel herself—so, her “daughter” of sorts, plus… a brother?? That’s right, one of the Castor clones made it! Ira is much more detached than his brothers but no less creepy, raised in hiding by Susan Duncan after she abandoned Rachel.

The core Clone Club is still working mostly in parallel, though their paths are starting to intertwine again: Alison and Donnie finally tell the group about that time he accidentally killed Aldous Leekie (whoops!), but it winds up helping with the current Neolution drama. In the midst of all this, Helena also performs a low-grade Clone Swap by getting trapped into impersonating Alison (thanks to her bathrobe and stiff attempts at an American accent, or at least American speech) when the cops come looking for info on the massacre at the warehouse a few weeks back. Meanwhile, Sarah keeps leaving poor Kira with other people, one of them being Cosima, who suggests nap piles on the couch for Kira’s weird visions instead of, you know, investigating them. (To be fair, nap piles with Cosima sound awesome.) Sarah did, however, take a moment to briefly celebrate with Helena over the phone about the news of her twins, though that was tempered by Helena saying she doesn’t want them to grow up like her.

No M.K. this week—as Dizzy tells Sarah, “You don’t find her, she finds you.” Damn straight. Speaking of doing her own thing, we know from previews that Krystal is going to show up in a fertility clinic sometime this season, but that’s about it for everyone’s favorite airhead clone…

Orphan Black 4x03 "The Stigmata of Progress" television review Helena impersonating Alison

Freaky Leekie

Easily the best scenes in the episode were Alison and Donnie, equal parts shady and suburban. Since Cosima can’t examine the bug in Sarah’s jaw without risking activating the bug’s self-destruct sequence, Alison comes up with an alternative: They’ll exhume Leekie’s body, because of course the leader of Neolution would have one of these modifications. Every moment of this plotline was pitch-perfect Alison, prim about even the goriest stuff: trying not to blow chunks at the stench of the satisfyingly decayed Leekie, then managing Donnie’s nausea while explaining the whole grisly business to Cosima. (They can’t hide how they got the bug because “she’s a scientist and a lesbian. She’s not gonna let it slide!”)

What Cosima was able to glean from Sarah’s implant is that the bug seems to have a nonorganic core surrounded by organic tissue, and that it’s latched on to a major artery (wuh oh). Dizzy, M.K.’s hacker buddy from last week, also has an unsettling theory: that it’s in the jaw so it’ll be closer to the brain. The rest they’ll hopefully find out from Leekie’s bug, though it’s unclear if it survived under all that concrete or if it’s as dead as he is. And here’s hoping Cosima comes to pick up the bug so we can get more cute Cosima/Alison moments like last season!

Orphan Black 4x03 "The Stigmata of Progress" television review Susan Duncan

In Service to the Greater Good

Meanwhile, in [REDACTED], Susan Duncan is explaining why she couldn’t be Rachel’s mother—she had to be a Neolutionist. She, and Rachel, are held to a higher purpose: controlling human evolution, creating a more perfect human being. It must really rankle with her, then, that Rachel has a bionic eye and Charlotte a leg brace. Susan is so focused on endless cycles of flawed evolution that she doesn’t notice what’s happening right under her nose: Rachel is using Charlotte to send messages to the outside. Most importantly, to contact cleaner (and ex-lover) and Neolutionist despiser Ferdinand. Siccing him on Neolutionists is one way of looking at the greater good.

Orphan Black 4x03 "The Stigmata of Progress" television review Charlotte

Magical Children

We don’t know too much about Charlotte, but here’s a new piece of the puzzle: She seems to have the same clone sickness as Cosima, from the sad scene where she coughs up blood on her and Rachel’s painting. She’s very calm about it, however, as it’s a normal occurrence.

You know who is also eerily fine with weird stuff? Kira, who has been spacing out with some seriously Firestarter expressions lately. I’ve been groaning at all the Magical Child tropes they’ve been heaping upon her, and it looks like it’s not going to let up. But please, someone explain why Cosima wasn’t panicked by Kira having a dream about all of her aunts setting her mother on fire. I’m gonna blame it on brain fog.

It would be wonderful if the writers diverted from Magical Child bullshit by just having Kira and Charlotte be quasi-sestras (putting aside the technical aunt/niece relation) and actually do little-kid stuff.

Orphan Black 4x03 "The Stigmata of Progress" television review Felix Adele sister

Sibling Rivalry

The truth is, if Kira and Charlotte did meet, they’d probably be the only quasi-siblings to have a mostly healthy relationship. Rachel clearly resents Ira; Alison still seems to be tolerating Helena more than anything else; and then there’s the Sarah/Felix/Adele rivalry. Yes, Felix seems to have found his biological sister shockingly quick. They share a father and an affinity for recreational drugs, though her mother didn’t find out about the affair until her father was on his death bed, and Adele seems more than a little unstable, spending her time pre-disbarment getting high with a virtual stranger. No wonder Sarah is mistrusting, though of course she doesn’t help her case by trying to drag Felix away from his family reunion to be a tool in more clone drama.

Orphan Black 4x03 "The Stigmata of Progress" television review

Worst Dentist Visit Ever

So, sans Felix, Sarah goes to visit Leslie, the dental assistant involved with the Neolutionists—which involves impersonating Beth again, though her English accent was definitely still noticeable. Because Beth had apparently met Leslie during her investigation; she sat in on the Neolutionist procedures to implant the bugs, it would seem. But while Leslie starts out sounding timid and guilty, once she has Sarah in the chair with her mouth forced open and a needle supposedly puncturing the bug, the crazy eyes come out. Thankfully the even more bonkers Ferdinand comes in with a sharp knife and a swift attack. “If she had actually punctured the bug, you’d already be dead,” he tells Sarah. Clearly the man knows his creepy cheek implants.

Other Thoughts

  • As much as I’ve developed sympathy for Rachel and her slow recovery from that pencil to the eye, I still have to applaud Ira’s passive-aggressive jabs at her facial hair (from pituitary gland therapy, poor thing) and other nonverbal I’m Mommy’s favorite taunting.
  • I get why Susan wants Rachel’s eyes to look normal, but I actually prefer her artificial eye to be all mechanical; it mimics the Neolutionists’ one-white-contact-lens in a great way.
  • “Now go rent a jackhammer.” “Maybe we should buy one.” Donnie has really come into his own on this show. I’m so glad they made him a central character.
  • Adele seemed weirdly interested in Felix’s birth mom; should we be suspicious?
  • It was surprising that Helena pulled out the names of Alison’s campaign managers out of nowhere… could it have had anything to do with Alison standing right nearby, looking like Nancy Drew trying to send out a psychic flare?
  • The male co-host on After the Black laid out this huge, adorably geeky theory about Sarah becoming some sort of super-soldier due to the bug and begging her sestras to set fire to her so she wouldn’t have to fight Kira, who is (in his thinking) the future of human evolution. He doesn’t have me 100 percent convinced, but I loved that he tried to unravel that. Feel free to do your own dream interpretation in the comments!

Photos: Ken Woroner/BBC America

All this talk of bugs in cheeks is just giving Natalie Zutter tonsil stone horror flashbacks. Read more of her work on Twitter and elsewhere.

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