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ORPHAN BLACK SEASON 5, EPISODE 1 RECAP: INTO THE WOODS (BOTH OF THEM), DARKLY

And we’re here! The Season 5 premiere of Orphan Black – “The Few Who Dare” – kicks off the final path towards the series’ end. There’s so much to love about Clone Club and all the other characters in this show – where it’s struggled at times, though, has been to weave a fully coherent story out of all the brilliant ideas tossed around in each season. (There’s times that “Orphan Black” reminds me of “The X-Files” and “Lost”, trying in vain to retroactively figure out a Master Plan where one never existed in the beginning.) So at this point, we’re looking and hoping for satisfying resolutions for the characters, and as a bonus, if the show can stick the landing story-wise? So much the better. Let’s see how things unfold …

We start back on the Island of Lost Clones, with Sarah still bleeding out from her fight with Rachel. Fortunately, she’s got enough assorted junk in her pockets to make MacGuyver jealous, so a tampon gets turned into a tourniquet. She also has a little juice left on her phone, so she calls Felix and lets him know that Mrs. S and Kira are in danger. Apparently rustic, deserted islands have amazing cell phone service, but that’s neither here nor there. In between her MacGuyvering and running up minutes on her phone, she’s also menaced by a Legit Island of Doctor Moreau Mutant Creature (L.I.D.M.M.C.), which she manages to evade. So Sarah’s back to what she does best – being a survivor.

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Over to Cosima, who’s recovering at the Neolution Hippie Commune. Delphine’s there for a hot minute before going MIA. Turns out that the price of giving Cosima her life-saving treatment seems to be Cosima’s research data, freshly stolen from her bag. A note from Delphine in the bag – “whatever happens, follow my lead” – isn’t exactly reassuring. A Neolution Hippie stops by to check on Cosima. Her name’s Mud, and she’s kind of like Willow from “Buffy” if she dropped serious amounts of acid every day. Still, she’s lucid enough to provide some cheerful exposition – the name of the Neolution Hippie Commune is Revival, P.T. Westmoreland is its founder, he’s 170 years old, and he lives in the creepy house up on the hill. Cosima takes this all in stride, and meets up with Wednesday Charlotte, who’s also there and understandably creeped out, too.

Over in the not-crazy part of the world, Alison and Donnie are in Helena’s yurt (located in woods that couldn’t possibly be the same woods as the Island of Lost Clones), looking miserable. Felix calls them, and tells them to hang tight. Alison doesn’t seem enamored of that plan. Donnie’s too happy making bird calls with Helena to care, and that sounds like way more dirty of a euphemism than it should. As they’re looking to leave, Alison gets captured by a Neolution commando, while Donnie runs. Alison finds herself whisked off to a windowless serial killer van in the woods, where she’s reunited with a reluctant Art and his psychopathic new partner Detective Maddy Crazypants, who’s the latest and greatest version of Neolution’s unending supply of snarky psychopaths working for the police. Detective Maddy and Art want to know where Helena is. Alison doesn’t know, which is surprisingly believable, because have you met Helena? Alison gets whisked away, presumably to similar trees on the Island of Lost Clones, but not before giving Art a hurt look of disappointment.

Speaking of the Island, Sarah finds a boat and possibly a way back home. She also finds disturbing signs of what the L.I.D.M.M.C. has been doing, like eating other creatures alive. Still, she circles her way over to Revival, wanting to rescue Cosima first. That’s where she finds that Cosima wants to stay. Cosima’s intrigued by the “crazy science” happening at Revival, and wants to know more. In particular, she’s heard several Revivalist talk about “the fountain”, and wants to know what that is. Sarah doesn’t quite get that logic, but respects it, and heads out on her own.

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Back to Donnie, escaping from Neolution commandos, except he’s promptly accosted by another one, because he’s Donnie. And because she’s Helena, she pops out of nowhere right when Donnie bumbles into his capture and starts kicking ass. Donnie inexplicably decides to help, which means that while the commando gets taken out, Helena gets a sharp stick in her very-pregnant belly. Ow. Donnie decides to get Helena to a hospital, and dammit, Donnie, SAVE THOSE BABIES.

Cosima, meanwhile’s about to also stab herself in the belly with a new treatment injection – surreptitiously provided to her by Delphine, before she heads off and away from Revival – that needs to go into Cosima’s uterine wall. Again, ow. She can’t quite bring herself to do it. Fortunately, evil clone Rachel chooses this moment to stroll in, and goes into full Syndrome monologuing mode while offering to do the injection for Cosima. “You and I are going to cure us all,” Rachel preens. Cosima whatevers her and takes the injection.

And, being the ubitiquitous sort of villain, Rachel’s also present when Sarah finally makes her way back to the boathouse alone, and then promptly gets blasted by a tranquillizer dart. As she’s falling unconscious, Rachel looms over her, looking like the cat who caught a dozen canaries. “It’s a new day, Sarah,” Rachel says, not sounding too megalomaniacal or anything.

So … a good, serviceable episode that did just what it needed to do. Pretty much all of the loose ends from last season are wrapped up (or at least addressed), and the table is set for the rest of this final season. A promising start, indeed!

Quick thoughts:

The Great:

“Stick in belly”. Oh, shit, is that all? For a minute I was worried. Jesus, Helena is tough.

Alison, as always, is a riot.

Felix: Where’s Helena?
Alison: She’s out hunting.
Donnie: Trapping.
Alison: It’s all categorized as hunting, Donnie.

“Helena was out murdering God’s creatures, and my husband abandoned me!” Good way to sum up Alison’s adventures in the woods that aren’t, um, the same as the woods on the Island of Lost Clones.

And: “Poop on a stoop. We don’t even know what the plan is!”

Mud – still can’t get over that name! – is a welcome addition to the show. “Tweedle Tall and Tweedle Small!”

God, Rachel’s Smug-O-Meter is dialed up to 11 already. It’s gonna be a great scene when Helena finally kicks her ass. (Still, she’s not nearly as insufferable as Evil Cho.)

Delphine provides what probably should be the show’s motto: “Follow the crazy science”.

The Not-So-Great:

Art’s saddling with Officer Crazypants. How many cops in this town work for Neolution as well? All BUT Art? Is it part of the standard law enforcement training program? Christ. It must be the worst-kept secret of all time. Also, yes, I know she implicitly threatened the safety of his daughter, but he rolled over awfully quick. It just seems like this was 2-3 episodes worth of story smushed into one, and the rushed aspect of it makes it weak.

Um, when my phone has 2% power and I’m on a deserted island? It tells me “No Signal” before promptly dying on me. That Magic Phone of Sarah’s gets better reception than Jack Bauer’s Blackberry on “24”. I know you’re trying to drive up the dramatic stakes, writers, but could you at least make Sarah’s call to Felix slightly believable?

The buildup for P.T. Westmoreland is either going to be great or a profound disappointment. We’ll see which it is. BUT JUST GET TO HIM ALREADY.

The WTF:

Donnie, it’s adorbs that you’re trying to help Helena fight the Neolution commando. But you do remember that she flat-out butchered the drug dealers who tried to kill you two seasons ago with a freakin’ paper cutter, right? Let Helena handle business, and maybe she won’t get stabbed in the belly with a pointed stick.

Next week – the return of Mrs. S! And MK!

-Mike

 

Orphan Black Season 4, Episode 10 Recap: Die Hard, or Maybe Just Get Maimed

Not only is this episode, “From Dancing Mice to Psychopaths,” the season finale, it’s the finale to the penultimate season! BBC America announced that Season 5 would be the series’ last, and I’m glad for that. Don’t get me wrong – I love this show! – but there are times during Season 4 where c0-Brain Mike and I wondered if this series was going to start meandering without any sort of endgame in sight. And lo & behold, we have it! We know now that it’ll have: a really NASTY villain; a mysterious puppetmaster who’s possibly immortal (!); and probably a major death or three. Because let me tell you, Season 4 ends on a dark note.

But before that – hey look! Ferdinand’s back! A little poorer (OK, a lot poorer) but not dispirited, he reawakens Rachel’s lust for power via some S&M and bondage. (Somehow, this motivational trend hasn’t yet made the cover of Fast Company.) Now that Evil Cho is out of the way – permanently (death by maggot-bot!) – Rachel drops any pretense of working with Sarah and the rest of Clone Club. She wants Neolution, and she’ll betray anyone to get it. Speaking of betrayal…

Over on the Island of Lost Clones, Mommie Dearest Susan locks up Cosima after their attempt to create new Leda/Castor stem cells succeeds tremendously. For Susan, the search for the cure is important – but not as important as seizing power by restarting the cloning project. Like Rachel, Susan sees an opportunity to pull Neolution back onto the path of cloning supremacy. Unfortunately for Susan, she doesn’t have Rachel’s ruthlessness and self-hatred – and boy, is THAT a wild combo of bad traits! Spitting like Joaquin Phoenix in Gladiator, Rachel (a clone herself, mind you) tells Neolution’s board that the testing of clones will not only resume – she intends to push the White Rat metaphor to its nastiest extreme, stripping the new clones of all rights and keeping them locked up. OHHHH, SHE’S CRAZY.

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And yes, her bionic eye is still giving her David Lynch Vision – which leads to one of several references in this episode to Neolution’s founder, P.T. Westmoreland, who literally wrote the book (he did! He wrote a book!) on Neolution and genetic theory about 100 years ago. Susan had suggested that Westmoreland himself developed Rachel’s eye, but how could that be if the guy lived decades ago…?

In any event, Sarah and Mrs. S are in the dark about Rachel’s motives until a visit by clone beautician Krystal (and subsequent impersonation of Krystal by Sarah) gives them a chance to quiz new Brightborn big-wig Dr. Van Lier. They realize what Rachel and Susan are up to, and Sarah strong-arms Castor clone Ira into summoning a helicopter to take her to the Island of Lost Clones, where she intends to bring Cosima back, Die Hard style. Yeahhhhhh, about that….

Wednesday Charlotte gets an increasingly ill Cosima out of the locked room and says they have to get to the boat. First, though, they happen to see Rachel viciously stab Susan! Holy Matricide, Batman! Wednesday Charlotte is going to need therapy for that. They quickly leave the house, but a) they’re not sure where they’re going, b) it’s dark and really, really cold, and c) by leaving, they miss bumping into Sarah!

Sarah’s Bruce Willis impersonation lasts about as long as my brain cells during Live Free or Die Hard. She finds a badly injured but still alive Susan, and Rachel takes advantage of her distraction to beat the crap out of Sarah with her cane, stab her in the knee (!), and grab her gun. This would’ve been 30 seconds in a Die Hard film, but it’s understandably traumatic enough to send our hero Sarah scrambling for her life!

Sarah calls Mrs. S for help, but whoops, Ferdinand is already in the Rabbit Hole safe house, keeping an eye (and his gunsights) on both S and Kira. Rachel outmaneuvered Clone Club big time in this episode. The only tiny bright spot is the return of Delphine! Creepy Uncle Joe from Rachel’s visions shows up to save Cosima and Charlotte, and he brings them to — a homeless camp on the Island? With medical equipment? And ominous glances from other bearded people? Where is this, Mulholland Drive? Fortunately, Dr. Delphine brings Cosima back from the brink with her, um, bedside manner.

The season ends with Rachel, now firmly in power, about to have her first audience with … P.T. Westmoreland. Yes, he’s alive! Maybe. Could he be cloning himself over the decades and transferring his memories, ensuring his immortality? Or is a fakeout?

The Good:

It’s great to see Rachel as a villain again. Let’s give the writers credit for slowly building her back up over the course of two years. She’s now very much aware what defeat and humiliation taste like, which makes her deadlier than ever.

I’ve mentioned several times that I’m sick of the Castor clones, but I’ll make an exception if we can get a spinoff featuring Ira, Rachel, and Ferdinand. “Is he wearing socks?”

The Hendrixes hiding out in the woods with Grizzly Helena: Alas, Alison “has the shits.”

Krystal refuses to believe that she has any resemblance to Sarah. Brilliant.

I love it when a clone impersonates another clone. It somehow makes Tatiana Maslany even more amazing.

The Bad:

NOOOOOO, not another “Man Behind the Curtain” trope! Geez McGee, I thought we were done with that after Lost. I don’t mind the concept of an immortal mastermind, but this episode gives us the intro and the payoff in the same hour. No setup. It’s a little too Deathly Hallows-ish.

The WTF:

Why in the world does Sarah go solo to the Island of Lost Clones, when she already knows it’s a hostile situation? It’s crazy. She could’ve left Kira with Felix. There’s no reason for her NOT to have taken Mrs. S with her, since this is the type of situation that S excels in. That’s just, well, dumb.

Next:

That’s it for this year’s recaps, but stay tuned! Mike and I will soon mingle brain cells and discuss our final thoughts on Orphan Black Season 4.

–Ken

Orphan Black Season 4, Episode 9 Recap: A Game of Clones

Oh, Evil Cho. Sigh. You really thought you were going to come out ahead of Clone Club that easily? One episode of triumphant glory, and … pfffftttt. Already kicked to the curb. Then again, it could be worse – at least it wasn’t Helena doing the kicking.

Anyway … onto the recap!

We begin with more weird visions. Rachel’s bionic eye is still glitching – not only is she still seeing digital visions of a swan, she’s now apparently tapped into a video feed of The Others’ winter resort on Lost. Seriously, if Hurley was sitting by a fire, it wouldn’t be all that surprising. Rachel’s visions get interrupted by Ira, who lets her know that they have visitors – Sarah and Felix, who want to talk about getting rid of Evil Cho. The meeting’s not exactly cordial. “Scarcely believed it, a Castor who favors slacks,” snarks Felix as they all gather, which pretty much sets the tone of the meeting.

Turns out that while BrightBorn (and Evil Cho) have Big Plans for going global, there’s a couple of inconvenient hiccups happening there. Two of the surrogate mothers there, rightly creeped out by what’s happening, decided to split and have gone rogue. One of them also took a video of doctors at BrightBorn euthanizing one of the Eraserhead babies and is threating to go public with it. Rachel wants to find the rogue mothers and have them spill their story to the press, along with the video. And they need to do so before Evil Cho and her minions find them first. Sarah and Felix are down with the plan, but they don’t want any further assistance from Rachel and Ira. Rachel agrees. Rachel’s also a liar.

Meanwhile, Donnie’s out on bail, and apparently all he can think about now that he’s a free man is getting laid. “I’ll make you see God,” Donnie so tastefully says to Alison. Ewwwwwwww. Donnie, we love you, but it’s not like you were doing solitary in Attica for the last twenty years. It was a weekend. Settle down. Mercifully, they meet with their attorney – Felix’s bio-sister Adele – before getting it on, and Adele’s already figured out that there’s plenty they aren’t telling her. Felix shows up to do some damage control, but by the time they’re confidently proclaiming that Dead Darkwing Duko is “on leave” and nothing to worry about, Adele’s had enough.

With Felix at the Hendrixes, Sarah enlists Art’s help in tracking down the BrightBorn mothers. One’s easy to find – she “committed suicide” at a halfway house. Art looks into it, and can tell pretty fast that it was a “forcibly assisted by Neolution goons” suicide. While he’s doing that, Sarah gets a call from Helena. Yay! Helena’s been slaughtering deer and roughing it in the wild, but she’s okay. Helena wants to know if her sestras are okay. Sarah says things are about the same as usual. Helena knows what that means.

Over at the Island of Misfit Clones, Cosima’s busy fertilizing Sarah’s eggs with Ira’s sperm with Susan Duncan’s help. Ewwwwwwwww, even if it’s scientifically necessary. While they wait for the tissue samples to reach zygote status, Susan gives Cosima the dusty Ye Olde Ancient History of Neolution to read. She does, with some interest. “It’s fascinating, for something written by a racist blowhard who thinks poverty is genetic,” Cosima says. Susan, surprisingly, takes this in stride. They discuss ethics some more, and it’s interesting to see that they’re able to see each other’s points of view. It’s also interesting to see Susan’s attitude towards Cosima – she gives Cosima a lot more respect than Rachel, even though Rachel’s ostensibly on the Neolution side.

Back to Sarah and Art. Doing some police posing as Beth, Sarah gets a lead on the remaining on-the-lam BrightBorn mother. They track her down to a ramshackle house in the little town of Tisdale – she’s given birth to her BrightBorn baby, who’s blind and would probably be on Evil Cho’s euthanization list if she hadn’t run. Art and Sarah tell her that she needs to come forward with her story. She doesn’t want to – she’s afraid of what might happen to her other child, a 10-year old boy. Sarah relays this to Rachel, who pretty much says blackmail her into doing what they want. Sarah refuses. Rachel’s not happy.

Not happy with Donnie and Alison’s lack of answers, Adele starts demanding them from Felix. He does a decent job of dancing around her questions, but when Helena suddenly shows up … awkward. “This is Sarah’s other twin?” Adele asks. “Who comes from a different country?” Hah! Her reason for being on the show might not make sense, but Adele’s still awesome. Helena and Adele get into it a little, and Felix needs to break things up before he admits the truth to Adele – or at least a small slice of it, anyway. “Adele, you are so beautifully unsullied by all this shit, and I’m not going to be the one who ruins that for you,” he says. Reluctantly, Adele realizes that it’s probably best if she extricates herself from the Clone Club drama, and she does. It’s a great scene.

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Sarah and Art are still with BrightBorn Mom. She hasn’t changed her mind about going public. When Neolution goons show up with guns, though, that makes her a little more inclined to change her mind. Also encouraging her is a surreptitious phone call from Ira – surprise – who’s waiting outside in a car to rescue her and her baby. Oh, and by the way, if she doesn’t come along? Bad news for her 10-year old son. While Sarah and Art deal with the goons, she makes the prudent choice and escapes with Ira. To say Sarah’s pissed is an understatement.

Donnie and Alison – after some fairly unspectacular Donnie-coitus that probably didn’t leave poor Alison seeing God, as promised – decide that going on the lam for a while might be a good idea. (AAAAAARRRRGGGGHHH. NOT A GOOD IDEA, DONNIE AND ALISON.) They start to pack. A Neolution goon shows up, and ties up Donnie. He tells Alison that he’ll stick a glitchy maggot-bot in her cheek unless she tells him where Sarah is, and what happened to Darkwing Duko. She refuses, and starts to pray. She’s a moment away from getting a cheek full of maggot-bot when Helena shows up and SHOOTS A FREAKING ARROW INTO NEOLUTION GOON’S NECK. Holy shit, that was awesome. “Where did you come from?” an astonished – and bloodspattered – Alison askes. “Beaver Falls National Park,” Helena replies. “Very peaceful.”

Evil Cho’s about to have her YUGE press conference announcing her Big Plans for BrightBorn. Rachel shows up. She tells Evil Cho that she still wants in with Neolution, and offers her the euthanization video and the remaining rogue mom. Evil Cho accepts. And then, in a moment that defies all logic, Rachel asks Evil Cho to reveal and admit to her evil plan … and she does it. No hesitation, she starts monologuing in all her glory. Of course, the pendant around Rachel’s neck is a video camera recording said monologuing … and the moment Evil Cho leaves to start the press conference, Rachel and Ira are busy sending the videoed confession – and the euthanization video – to every reporter at the press conference.

Bad move, Evil Cho. Bad move. Rachel played you. Like a fiddle. Which makes the moves she made earlier this season even more puzzling – why repeatedly threaten to eliminate Sarah, Cosima, and the rest of the ‘aware’ Leda Clones, but not actually do it? Why allow Rachel to hang around to cause damage, especially since it seemed it was obvious she was going to do so? If Evil Cho was a villain on “Game of Thrones”, characters like Littlefinger and Varys would’ve eaten her alive.

Or, in the words of another more brilliant villain …

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Then again, Evil Cho’s still around as well. Guess we’ll see how she counters Rachel and the other clones in the season finale.

Speaking of which, next week: More Helena! More Krystal! And is Delphine back from the dead? It’s going to be a hell of a finale …

The Good:

“Donnie Hendrix. You look like roast pig.” Awwwww. We so missed you, Helena.

“You did just mix mood stabilizers with gin, darling.” “That’s brunch.” I still have no idea why Adele is actually on this show, but her scenes with Felix this week were fantastic. I just hope the show can come up with a vaguely plausible and legitimate reason for her to be on this show next season!

The Bad:

Donnie’s “I need to get laid right now” bullshit. It was … strange.

The WTF:

A lot. Again.

The euthanization video. Why the hell would you EVER send that to Evil Cho and Neolution while you’re on the run? Having that is a death sentence. It doesn’t make sense to send it unless 1) you’ve already got backing and protection from someone like Rachel or 2) Because Plot. Sigh. Option #2 got picked for the zillionth time this season.

Evil Cho’s admission to Rachel made ZERO sense. That went beyond dumb. “Can you admit that you murder babies?” “Sure!” Again, Because Plot. There were more clever ways to get Evil Cho to admit that, and instead, we got the lazy version. It’s been a recurring and frustrating theme of this season – characters doing incredibly bizarre and out-of-character things just to advance the storyline.

 

 

 

Orphan Black Season 4, Episode 8 Recap: Challenge Rating 7

Three things come through clearly in “The Redesign of Natural Objects”:

  1. For the first time in a while, there’s a sense of hope. It’s tiny, and could vanish in an instant, but it’s there.
  2. Don’t mess with Mrs. S.
  3. Darkwing Duko plays D&D! Unfortunately, he’s a 3rd-level rogue who walked into a CR 7 encounter. See #2 above.

Let’s deal with these in turn. Item #1: The hope comes from a new idea conjured by Cosima, whose on-again/off-symptoms remind me of how Peter Parker’s Aunt May was either always on death’s door or getting romanced by Dr. Octopus. But I digress. Cosima, newly energized from learning that Delphine may be kinda-sorta alive, gets in touch with ex-Neolution boss Susan Duncan and twitchy sestra Rachel (thanks to M.K.’s super-hacking) and theorizes they could still get the combo Leda/Castor DNA, despite Kendall’s death: What about old-fashioned in vitro fertilization of a Leda egg with Castor sperm?

Naturally, Sarah would need to agree to this, and she does so, only because Cosima is so excited about it and, really, what other choice is there? Cosima is facing a death sentence, otherwise, as might the rest of the sestras – including M.K., whom we see with a nasty nosebleed. Shockingly, the basement of a comic book store isn’t really equipped for such a procedure, so Cosima and a ziploc bag of Sarah eggs will have to travel to Susan’s super-secret retreat. Susan is excited about this; Rachel sees an opportunity to kick out Evil Cho and put Susan (and herself?) back in control of Neolution. That’s not the only thing Rachel sees: Her bionic eye keeps displaying glitching digital visions of a swan (i.e., Leda), including one where it’s beheaded. But hey, everything’s fine!

Item #2: Don’t mess with Mrs. S: It’s obvious to everyone except Orphan Black’s main characters that Mrs. S might have a teeny desire to seek revenge for her mother’s death and go all Jack Bauer on Darkwing Duko’s ass. One positive development of Mrs. S almost-assassination attempt: She sees Darkwing Duko meeting with Alison! Oh ho. She informs the rest of Clone Club that Evil Cho may be using the Hendrixes to get to Sarah. And indeed, that’s exactly what’s happening. Jailbird Donnie will get his feathers fatally plucked by a skinhead with a Neolution tattoo (subtle – NOT!) unless Alison tells Duko where he can find Sarah.

Time out. If Evil Cho thinks the “self-aware clones” are such a threat to her plans to gene-modify the world, then, uh, why the hell did she let Cosima walk free the night Duko killed Kendall? I mean, if you really want Sarah Manning, why didn’t you – oh, I don’t know – threaten to kill Cosima unless Sarah revealed herself? I can understand letting Cosima go in order to warn the other clones to back off, but if you really want Sarah out of the way, you tossed away a pretty good bargaining chip. Okay, time in.

Sarah and Mrs. S convince Felix to chat with Alison (who is in rehearsals for the church production of Jesus Christ Superstar, a.k.a. The Plot Thread That Wouldn’t Die) and make sure she hasn’t been co-opted by Team Evil. Alison assures Felix that, aside from all her assets being frozen and Donnie being in an ugly orange jumpsuit, she’s peachy. However, when next we see her meeting with Duko, he puts her on the phone with Donnie, who is getting the crap beaten out of him in his cell. Pressured, she tells Duko that Sarah will be at the Rabbit Hole tonight.

Hours later, Duko is on stakeout outside the comic book store – and Skinhead Tattoo Boy is still beating up Donnie? Really? Isn’t that kind of a long time? Aren’t there lockdown hours? Does Wilson Fisk run this jail, because that would explain a lot!

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Tatiana Maslany as Alison, and Gord Rand as a fuzzy Duko

In any event… surprise, it’s a setup! Alison told Felix what was going on, so Sarah, Art, and Mrs. S ambush Duko inside the Rabbit Hole and force him to call off the jail hit squad. In one of the best scenes of the past two years, we see a very anxious Alison in the middle of Jesus Christ Superstar rehearsals juxtaposed with scenes of Donnie getting beaten up. Felix, quietly watching the rehearsals, gives Alison the “Donnie isn’t dead” code signal, and she’s able to smile and relax in a literal and theatrical prayer of thanksgiving. Nicely done.

Mrs. S is still in a Jack Bauer mood, so she shoos Art and Sarah out of the store while she hooks up the car-battery clamps onto Duko’s shoulders. DAMMIT, DUKO! THERE’S NO TIME! Sorry, got carried away on a 24 wave of nostalgia. It’s soon apparent that Duko knows bupkis about Neolution’s bigger plans; he’s a mere tool who was forced into doing Evil Cho’s dirty work because she’s threatening his niece. “You understand? It’s about family!” he pleads. “Oh yes,” says Mrs. S, preparing her favorite rifle. “Family.” BLAM! Darkwing Duko’s blood sprays across an Atomic Robo poster, reducing its value by 85%.

Oh, and what made Duko feel so at ease that he let his guard drop inside the comic book store? Item #3: Dungeons & Dragons! He saw Hell Wizard’s D&D tabletop! Hell Wizard nervously said that his party consists of of a 10th-level paladin, a 12th-level thief and a half-elf cleric named Albus Dimbledots. Duko compliments him on the party makeup but says that it’d be even better if it had someone who could turn into a dragon. Ah, great. Darkwing Duko is a munchkin.

Was a munchkin. Min/max that, you dire weasel!

The Good:

Felix’s sister Adele wasn’t annoying this episode! Still clueless about clones, she gets the night’s best line when she meets Alison and says she looks just like Sarah, “but with less anger and more hygiene.”

Also surprisingly non-annoying: Rachel! When Susan proposes she take up a hobby instead of worrying about the fate of Wednesday Charlotte and the other clones, Rachel suggests carpentry: “I can build us all coffins. Shall I start with the smallest first?”

Everything with Alison this episode was terrific. My breath was taken away again by the fact that it’s one actress playing all these wildly different characters. Kneel before our Taslanic majesty, fools!

D&D for the win, baby.

The Bad:

Evil Cho Incorporated is guilty of poor supervillainy, as described above. If they truly want to get rid of Sarah, they had better, earlier opportunities to do so.

There’s a logic leap behind the trap to get Duko. Okay, Alison sends Duko to the Rabbit Hole. But why would they ever think that Duko would go alone? Or that he wouldn’t tell Evil Cho about Sarah’s hideout as soon as Alison told him? It’s a stretch, at best.

The WTF:

Still no Helena! But she’s back in the next episode.

-Ken

Doctor Who Review: The Curse of the Fugue

Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor has had a marvelous existence in Big Finish’s audio adventures. Through them, we’ve been able to see how this eccentric, passionate, and occasionally dour Doctor lived between his birth in the 1996 TV movie and death in “The Night of the Doctor.” Adding greatly to the popularity of these adventures was companion Lucie Miller, played by the superb Sheridan Smith. Outspoken, indomitable, and even caustic at times, Lucie was the perfect foil to the Eighth Doctor, balancing his melancholy as much as Sarah Jane Smith’s tenacity redeemed the Fourth Doctor’s recklessness. What really stood out, though, was that the character felt real.

Last heard in 2011’s “To the Death,” Sheridan Smith and Lucie Miller have returned in “The Curse of the Fugue” – and it’s like they never left. The 30-minute tale is part of Big Finish’s Short Trips range, where one actor reads an original story (as opposed to Big Finish’s full-cast audio plays).

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Alice Cavender’s story drops us into 1974 London, during an energy crisis, and where we find Lucie working in a nursing home. But why? Where is the Doctor? And is resident Cecille’s invisible friend a figment – or a messenger from the past with a dire warning?

The story takes a little while to develop, but that’s fine because it does an admirable job of creating a true 1970’s feel and establishing key characters like Cecille. It’s also fun to hear Lucie – who’s not at all happy about her apparent abandonment by the Doctor – casually sharing future news tidbits with the ’70s residents. An added treat is Sheridan’s interpretation of the Eighth Doctor. She handles both roles extremely well.

One thing I feel compelled to mention is that when Sheridan goes “Full Lucie,” it can sometimes be difficult for American ears to pick up everything she’s saying. But hey, that’s the character! Ultimately, “The Curse of the Fugue” is cause for celebration for all Lucie Miller fans. (And if you’re not familiar with Lucie Miller or the Eighth Doctor, I recommend listening to, say, “Human Resources” first.)

Additional: Big Finish is hosting a Short Trips writing competition this month! Fancy a chance at writing your own Doctor Who tale for the Big Finish website? Check out the details here.

Rating: 4/5 Braaaaaaaaaains.

–Ken

Doctor Who DVD Review: Invasion of the Dinosaurs (Great Story, Lousy F@#&ing Puppets)

Jon Pertwee’s fifth and final season as the Third Doctor is something that’s quite enjoyable to watch, if a bit melancholy. The tone of the season still has the same sense of swashbuckling, Steed-and-Peel Avengers-influenced derring-do of the rest of Pertwee’s time as the Doctor, but there’s also a sense of somberness to it. In many ways, it feels similar to David Tennant’s final run of specials and the four knocks – the blue crystal of Metebelis Three seems to be beckoning to the Third Doctor throughout his last season, letting him know that his time is indeed running out. And while it’s not the best of his seasons – the three middle seasons with Jo Grant were certainly his heyday of classics – with the introduction of Sarah Jane Smith to the TARDIS, it’s still an exceptionally good one.

Perhaps the best story of this season is “Invasion of the Dinosaurs,” a story than many classic Doctor Who fans have derided as a low point in the show’s long history … but that criticism is, in hindsight, unfair. Yes, if you ever wanted a poster child for why the special effects of the classic series were utterly atrocious, “Invasion” is the most obvious and easy story to point to. But if, as a viewer, you can get past that – and, admittedly, that’s a Very Big If for some – it’s one of the most surprisingly good stories broadcast during Pertwee’s time as the Third Doctor.

Why? Glad you asked. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Also, spoilers ahead – as much as a 43-year-old story can have spoilers, anyway!

“Invasion” opens with the Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith returning to modern-day Earth, where they find London virtually abandoned and under martial law. Mistaken by military patrols as looters (because OF COURSE THEY ARE), they learn that the city’s been cleared out because dinosaurs keep randomly appearing and disappearing on the streets. Why? And who’s responsible? That’s the mystery that the Doctor and Sarah Jane need to figure out, and it’s a mystery that eventually requires the full assistance of U.N.I.T. to solve.

dinoIt’s a story that’s kind of hard to neatly classify, despite the bonkers premise of time-traveling dinosaur invaders attacking London. In reality, “Invasion” is much more of a sci-fi espionage thriller/mystery – yes, really! – and it’s a surprisingly good one. “Invasion” is  a  complex, well-thought-out story, and unlike many of the typical six-parters of Jon Pertwee’s era, it doesn’t feel like it’s being stretched too thin. Much of the story involves the investigation into the cause of the dinosaur appearances, as well as the reason – and not everybody agrees on what’s most important to figure out first. Not even the Doctor and Sarah Jane are always on the same page, and while things invariably go the way the Doctor expects they will, it’s interesting to see the characters try to puzzle everything out.

Even once the basic mystery’s solved, it leads to further questions, and further problems, all of which are logical and fit the story . In this way, it stands out from many of the other six-part stories of this time frame, which typically resemble two separate stories stitched together with some plothole-ridden excuses of ideas. “Invasion” is  cohesive from beginning to end, and always manages to stay engaging and interesting throughout each of its episodes.

One of the big surprises in “Invasion” is how well-nuanced the so-called “bad guys” are in this story. Most Who villains of the Pertwee stories – and, for that matter, in “classic” Who, period – are pure evil, out to take over the world or destroy the universe, and the stakes of these stories are very clearly delineated into good/evil consequences. Here? Well, the main antagonists come in the form of Project Golden Age, a scientific group that has an agenda that seems oddly prescient: Humanity’s busy screwing up the world, possibly dooming it to extinction, and they want to set things right. That, all told, isn’t such a horrible mission. How they plan on accomplishing their goals isn’t exactly great – they want to send an elite group back in time and basically start humanity over, which would wipe out just about everyone in the modern world as we know it – but their basic premise of “making things right” is at least well-intentioned.

Also, most people in Project Golden Age aren’t even aware of the “wipe out humanity” aspect of the plan. So instead of a simple good/evil conflict, you have the Doctor and Sarah Jane finding themselves at odds with plenty of characters who are basically good people with inadvertently bad intentions. And it takes a bit more than a bit of Venusian Aikido to stop those good people.

It’s an interesting – and modern – twist. Fast forward the story thirty-some-odd years to another show in another country, and you could see pretty easily how “Invasion of the Dinosaurs” might be an episode of Fringe or the X-Files, without needing to edit much at all. Having Walter Bishop spout lines like “I posit that these dinosaurs are not being bred in modern times, but instead being brought here through a time corridor” … yeah. It’d work just as well now (and better with modern CGI effects, obviously!).

Most surprising in “Invasion,” though, is the twist of Mike Yates’ betrayal of U.N.I.T. – and of the Doctor! While Seventies Doctor Who really didn’t have much going on in terms of overreaching, season-long story arcs – at least not like it does in the modern era of the show – the recurring appearances of the U.N.I.T. regulars gave at least some backstory to the characters, and made them feel to regular viewers more friendly and familiar. You’d occasionally have the Brigadier grumbling about his wife, Doris, for example, or have a casual mention of Jo Grant and Captain Yates going out on a date, even though said date would never be shown on-screen. In the “classic” Who era, it’s probably as close as you get to character development like the Ponds, or Rose Tyler’s family. And U.N.I.T. certainly was a family.

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So to see Mike Yates take sides with Operation Golden Age, and essentially sell out the Doctor, Sarah Jane, and the rest of U.N.I.T. – it’s both shocking and sad. Especially since Mike is like many of the other “villains” of “Invasion” – he thinks he’s doing the right thing, just for the wrong reasons. And when he finally realizes that he’s not only wrong and will have to resign from U.N.I.T., but that he’s also deeply disappointed his friends, and especially the Brigadier … man, it’s heartbreaking. This is watching it with modern television sensibilities, too – one can only imagine how shocking this must’ve been for first-time viewers in 1973!

On a more positive note, though, watching Sarah Jane in this story is awesome. I think most Who viewers associate the character primarily with Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor, but it’s easy to forget how well Elisabeth Sladen worked with Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor as well. “Invasion of the Dinosaurs” is a solid reminder of the terrific chemistry that they had together – it’s only their second story, but they work with each other with a great, natural ease. The Doctor’s still more than a bit patronizing to Sarah Jane, but that comes with affection, and you can see her understanding that he’s mostly trying to be protective of her (not that she always wants his protection!). It’s also great to see Sarah Jane still in full-on journalist mode – hey, dinosaurs overrunning London just might be a front-page story! So seeing her trying to help the Doctor out while still getting the scoop, and while trying to navigate security clearances, both from bad guy General Finch and from good guy Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart … she’s got a lot to do in these six episodes besides say, “What is it, Doctor?”!

dino13Everyone else in the story is pretty good as well. Pertwee’s in fine form here – even though it’s his last season (and he knew it at this point), on-screen, he’s still radiating the same flamboyant confidence as always. (Particularly when he finally gets to unveil the Whomobile in episode four!) And Mike Yates’ betrayal gives the U.N.I.T. regulars meatier dialogue than “five rounds rapid,” which is great to see. In particular, the Brigadier’s staunch but sad disappointment in finding out Yates is a traitor is terrific. Meanwhile, the guest cast reads like an all-star cast of other great classic Who episodes – hey, the evil scientist is Nyder from Genesis of the Daleks! And General Finch is Li H’sen Chang from Talons of Weng-Chiang! They give the excellent performances that you’d expect, so between the script and the actors, everything’s firing on all cylinders …

… except the dinosaurs.

The goddamn puppet dinosaurs.

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Yes, the proverbial elephant in the room with “Invasion of the Dinosaurs,” unfortunately, are the dinosaurs … and yes, they’re every bit as bad as their reputation. Not only are they obviously puppets, they’re bad puppets, with primitive CSO overlay trying – and failing – to integrate them into the story. Every scene they appear in is utterly cringeworthy and laughably awful. There’s no way to take this seriously. Usually this era of Doctor Who was pretty good about knowing the limits of its next-to-nothing budget, but the dinosaurs show that the production team was clearly overreaching themselves this time – which is a shame, because if the story had been done with any sort of more conventional Who monster, I think it would’ve been a home run. I give them top marks for ambition, but in terms of execution, it’s one of the biggest failures in the show’s history. (I would love it if this could somehow get the “Day of the Daleks” modernized CGI effects options, which would probably allow viewers to see this story in a different light!)

Sigh.

Finally, “Invasion” represents a swan song of sorts for the classic U.N.I.T. era, which is both wonderful and bittersweet to watch. Already missing Katy Manning and the late Roger Delgado, U.N.I.T. was on the wane in its place in the Doctor Who universe, and “Invasion” is probably the last time we get to see the rest of its regulars – and the Third Doctor – operating at their finest. Yes, there would be more stories featuring U.N.I.T. over the next few years, but their impact in those stories isn’t nearly as strong. They’re basically off to the side of the main action in Pertwee’s final tale (“Planet of the Spiders”), and during their first few appearances in Tom Baker’s early season, it’s obvious that U.N.I.T.’s been relegated to an afterthought. “Invasion” is the story where you can see the curtain really begin to close, and it’s a good one to say a fond farewell to Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart and his team, who meant so much to the stories of the Third Doctor’s era.

So, despite the dubious reputation of “Invasion of the Dinosaurs,” I highly recommend it as one of the best stories of the Third Doctor. And if you’re watching it on DVD, some of the extras are great – the Doctor Who Stories: Elisabeth Sladen Part One feature has the late Lis Sladen talking about her auditions for Sarah Jane, and working with Jon Pertwee. Some of the stories she tells are familiar ones, but it’s still nice to have them all in one place, being told by Lis herself. Also, People, Power, and Puppetry is a great “making of” featurette where both Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts talk at length about the behind-the-scenes work that went into making “Invasion” … and that, yes, even during the making of this story, they were acutely aware of how bad the dinosaurs were going to be.

At any rate, if you’ve never seen a Third Doctor/Sarah Jane story … I’d seriously recommend “Invasion of the Dinosaurs” as the one to watch, even with the terrible puppets. Even despite them, it’s outstanding.

Rating: 4/5 Braaaaaaaaaains.

–Mike

Orphan Black Season 4, Episode 7 Recap: Rock Bottom

More than ever before, this season of Orphan Black has often been a matter of style over substance. Yes, we’ve gotten some big, juicy storylines, some really wild and awesome (and not to mention occasionally horrifying) ideas, and, of course, the tour de force acting of Tatiana Maslany and the rest of Orphan Black’s incredible cast. But more and more, all of that awesome goodness is often covering up fundamentally weak plot ideas that really don’t make sense. That’s not always a bad thing, but when it happens a lot, it’s a problem. And this season, it’s starting to happen a lot.

Our latest episode, “The Antisocialism of Sex,” is a fairly good example of this. It opens on a down note for pretty much all of Clone Club, with everyone feeling the loss of Kendall. Sarah knows that she’s the direct reason for Kendall’s death, and Mrs. S isn’t letting her forget it. When Sarah reminds Mrs. S that Kendall was her blood relative, too, the cold reply is “You came to me an orphan. That’s all you’ll ever be.” Ouch. Guess she’s still a little bitter.

Sarah’s response to this is to run, which makes sense on a certain level – she’s feeling guilty, she’s sick of being responsible for what’s happening, and she wants to cut loose and not think for awhile. Okay, fine. But abandoning her daughter Kira with Mrs. S … that doesn’t exactly make sense, considering how much she’s been bonding with her daughter lately, and how much just about everything she does is to protect Kira. And while going out and getting shitfaced drunk makes sense, going out to a bar, getting shitfaced drunk and snorting drugs and hooking up in a random threesome in Lindsay Lohan fashion is more than a bit overkill. We get that she’s hurting, but that’s using a sledgehammer to make the point.

Fortunately, Sarah’s two main companions for her Clones Gone Wild bar escapade are 1) Dizzy the ZZ top roadie/hacker, who was her recent contact for reaching M.K., and 2) Drunken Visions of Beth. Dizzy inadvertently keeps Sarah tenuously grounded (and inadvertently keeps himself from getting laid) by continuously bringing up Neolution-related topics. Specifically, he’s noticed that Sarah ditched her maggot-bot implant, and wants to know how she got it out. Her reaction is to call him a wanker and leave. Sarah heads to the train station – the one where she saw Beth commit suicide – and has an extended conversation with Drunken Vision of Beth. “You gonna follow me the rest of my life?” Sarah asks. And DVB’s reply of “Tonight’s our last night” doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, and neither does the rest of her continued pleas for Sarah to off herself.

Cosima’s not doing much better. Evil Cho’s malware surprise wiped all her research, watching Kendall die wasn’t exactly fun, and Darkwing Duko telling her that Delphine was dead was even worse. Scott’s brought her bad coffee and a good croissant, though. Awww. Scott’s awesome. The thought of starting over their research from scratch isn’t very appealing to Cosima, as she thought everything they’d done was just leading to dead ends anyway. She wants to start from a different angle – and if by “a different angle,” you were thinking “Sarah’s gross extracted maggot-bot in the glass specimen bottle,” you’d be correct. This makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is Cosima proceeding to lock herself in the basement of the Rabbit Hole and trying to stick the maggot-bot in her own cheek. Um, what? She says it’s sensible, but for someone who’s usually so pragmatic and all about the scientific method, and not rushing into things … this is beyond out of character. And bizarre.

Fortunately, for both Cosima and Sarah, Felix is on the way to save the day. (We’ll ignore the fact that his whole “we need to pull the family together, dammit!” attitude is also completely out of character with how he’s been behaving lately.) After hearing from Kira that she thinks her mommy is “following Beth,” he rushes off to find his sister and save her from her latest path of self-destruction. And while he’s hunting down Sarah, Fe gets the phone call from Scott that Cosima’s being equally self-destructive. No problem: Felix proves to be quite the multi-tasker. He manages to get Cosima on the phone first, and relays what Krystal told him last week – that hey, guess what, she saw Cosima was alive!!!

Sigh. Felix, we – the fans of Orphan Black – love you dearly, but …

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… you just remembered this now???? Yeesh.

Anyway, it keeps Cosima from self-implanting a maggot-bot. Felix then manages to find Sarah at the train station, and tells her basically not to follow Beth. “Oy, Sarah. This isn’t the way, is it? You’ve gotta be stronger than her, Sarah,” he tells his sister. He literally talks her off a ledge to self-destruction, which is kind of an amazing scene to watch. They hug, and after the weird awkwardness between Sarah and Felix that’s been going on since the start of this season, it’s a terrific moment.

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Meanwhile, Alison’s not quite as lucky. She’s planned a birthday party for Gemma, and she’s determined to make it perfect. So it’s safe to say that a police raid led by Darkwing Duko storming into her house during the party wasn’t exactly on her itinerary. Donnie gets slapped in cuffs and hauled off to jail on drug-dealing charges, no doubt because Evil Cho’s making good on her promise to make the Clones fully obsolete. (Earlier in the episode, Art also chose to beat the crap out of Darkwing Duko, which probably helped move forward the Obsoleting the Clones timetable.) Darkwing Duko chooses to gloat to Alison as Donnie’s hauled off … guess his “I really don’t have a choice” speech to Cosima last episode as to why he’s with Neolution is kind of bullshit. He sure seems pretty happy to be bullying around everyone associated with Clone Club.

Speaking of Evil Cho, Rachel’s still trapped on the Island of Misfit Clones (which seems a more apt description than Susan’s “Island of Dr. Moreau.”) And speaking of Susan, she’s returned to the island, where she informs Rachel about the coup d’état that just happened at Neolution. Susan gives Rachel some plot exposition about the formation of Neolution. Turns out a crazy rich white guy in the 19th Century really dug Darwinism, and formed a secret society devoted to creating perfect humans. Because of course he did. Susan and Rachel then get to conference call Evil Cho, who smugly informs them that she’s now in charge of Neolution, and the Leda and Castor programs are kaput. She also casually mentions that the self-aware Ledas need to be eliminated. Rachel tries to be teacher’s pet and reminds Evil Cho that a) she loves Neolution! Really! and b) she’d be a big asset in rounding up her rogue sestras. Evil Cho’s responds “Do you actually think Neolution would let a clone take a position of real importance?” Oooh, burn! (Meanwhile, I am sooooooo going to love it when Helena finally meets up with Evil Cho to teach her some manners.) Rachel heads off to get pouty with Wednesday Charlotte, lick her wounds … and, oh, by the way, her bionic eye starts giving her pixelated visions of swans. Weird.

And speaking of weirdness, everything gets capped off with Kira playing Minecraft (yay!) and promptly getting hacked by M.K., who tells Kira that she has a message. Oh, boy.

All in all, a fairly depressing episode that manages to end on some high notes. Hopefully we’ve bottomed out for this season, and things start looking up for Clone Club!

The Good:

“What’s your story?” “Well, I’m a clone. There’s twenty-two of me going around out there.” Yes! Dizzy kicks ass. I hope we see more of him this season.

Donnie’s not the brightest bulb sometimes, but you have to love his sweet, steady devotion to Alison. She may not be thrilled by his invitation of Pastor Mike to the slumber party, but he knows she’s hurting, just like Cosima and Sarah. He’s genuinely trying to help her, albeit in his own bumbling way.

“Yes, it’s fortunate you found such an ineffective means of suicide, Ira.” Rachel succinctly says what we’ve all been thinking anyway, except I think she actually meant to say “unfortunate”. Because it’s what I would’ve said. But whatever.

The Bad:

I’m still trying to figure out why everyone on the Island of Misfit Clones dresses like an Apple Store employee.

So, the past three seasons of Orphan Black have hinged around the Leda clones being of supreme importance to Neolution, worth all sorts of murders and blackmail and skullduggery … and in one fell swoop, they’re suddenly meaningless? AAAARRRGGGHHH. This is when Orphan Black drives me crazy. It’s always about ridiculous extremes, just like Sarah’s Lohan bender. I can see Evil Cho downgrading the Ledas in terms of Neolution importance, but to arbitrarily dismiss them as obsolete? It’s short-sighted and doesn’t make sense.

Wait, Art beats the piss out of Darkwing Duko, and then an hour later, he looks fine when he’s busy arresting Donnie and taunting Alison? Wow, he cleans up nice.

The WTF:

A lot of this episode, unfortunately.

-Mike

Orphan Black Season 4, Episode 6 Recap: You’re Betamax

A gut-wrenching episode of Orphan Black! But is that a good thing, or is the series twisting the plot yet again because … well, they can? We’ll get to that as we discuss “The Scandal of Altruism.”

First, we have a Highlander-esque flashback! Beth is back in black (and blonde) as we, the audience, see what voyeur Art couldn’t: where Beth went after she left her apartment with the handgun. She plans to assassinate Mommie Dearest herself, Susan Duncan! There’s much more to come in this flashback, and it’s too bad the regular characters can’t watch this at home like us, because boy, these flashbacks would’ve come in handy!

We check in with a bunch of folks in rapid succession:

  • The Eww Couple of Susan Duncan and DNA-Boy-Toy Ira have a post-coitus discussion of their options, and we learn that Ira does have the same potential for “glitching” as the other Castor clones. Still, Susan sees hope for him “as long as Sarah listens to reason.” Uh-huh. Susan, you haven’t been paying attention to this series, have you?
  • Cosima tells Sarah all about her BrightBorn experience and the chat with Susan Duncan and Evil Cho. There’s a deal to be made, especially with the clock continuing to tick on Cosima’s life.
  • Over at the police station, Art quickly steers Detective (and Neolution spy) Darkwing Duko away from Krystal, who has come to complain about the conspiracy “targeting beauty professionals.” As misguided as she is, her quest for answers could cause a lot of problems for Clone Club. The solution: Felix poses as “Inspector Dawkins, from the Yard.” Krystal: “Which yard?” “Scotland Yard.” It’s one of the few bits of levity in a brutal episode. No room for Hendrix hijinks in this one.

Sarah goes to BrightBorn to talk terms with Susan and Evil, and she learns that each maggot bot is given a different task. Leekie’s maggot bot was designed to impede the onset of Alzheimer’s. Sarah’s bot was designed to make her sick. Neolution wanted to know why Sarah’s biology was different than her sestras’, so her maggot bot was playing Whack-a-Mole with her immune system to collect answers. Sarah has important info to share, too: Kendall Malone has cancer. However, this is potentially good news for Clone Club! Cosima and Scott can use the cancer cells’ reproduction to separate Leda from Castor in Kendall’s wacky DNA.

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Sarah’s condition from giving those cells to Susan? “We’re not saving Castor.” Thank you, Sarah! She’ll give only Leda cells so that Cosima and the other sestras can be cured. Ira isn’t happy that his Mrs. Robinson refuses to go to bat for him after all the times he’s, uh, batted for her, and he gets all Morrissey for the rest of the episode. Evil Cho and Cosima then remove Sarah’s maggot bot in a surprisingly risky operation, and we’ll very glad that Cosima was there to keep an eye on Evil. Hmmm, I don’t trust her!

Mrs. S isn’t happy about the planned cell swap. “You bartered my mother behind my back!” (Coincidentally, that’s the plot of the lost episode of Everybody Loves Raymond.) But things do move along: Scott begins harvesting the Leda cells while Susan and Kendall have an unpleasant chat. Then things go south fast! Kendall is nabbed on her way out of the meeting, Sarah tosses bleach on the cell samples and accuses Susan of pulling a fast one, and Cosima is in the grasp of Evil Cho. Susan pleads innocence, so the Kendall-napper had to be the scorned Ira, right? Nope! It’s Darkwing Duko, who takes Kendall to an abandoned field, where they wait….

We learn via flashback that Beth spared Susan’s life after hearing Susan say, “I’m your creator” and claiming that she loved Beth and all the Leda gals. Susan says that if Beth kills her, it won’t solve anything, it’ll give the script editors heart failure, and it’ll probably result in all the Ledas being killed. So, wonder Sarah and Art, where did the blood on Beth’s hands come from?

From Evil Cho, that’s where! She orchestrated the assassination attempt to knock Susan off the top perch of Neolution, and Beth beats the crap out of her when she realizes she’d been set up. Darkwing Duko stops Beth, but Beth believes Evil’s claim that the only way to keep the other clones safe (at least for a while) is if Beth kills herself and takes her crusade with her. Honestly, this part seemed like a bit of a stretch. If Beth knows that Neolution is going to keep manipulating  the clones’ lives – or worse – then what benefit is truly gained by her suicide?

In the present, Evil shows up at the field with Cosima in tow. Her plan is to kill Kendall and incinerate the body so that no genetic info can be retrieved. Essentially, Evil wants all the clones to go away and die. Direct genetic manipulation is where all the fun is! Clones? Feh. That’s competing tech, and obsolete competing tech at that. She tells Cosima coldly, “You’re Betamax.”

With that, Darkwing shoots Kendall in the head and sets fire to the van. Evil doesn’t kill Cosima – probably to avoid a revenge spree from Sarah – but before she leaves, she rubs a bit of salt in the wound: “Delphine Cormier was shot dead in the Dyad parking garage. Tell Sarah it’s over. Or Beth died for nothing.”

And that’s it. Any hope of a cure for the sestras’ condition is gone. Kendall is dead. Delphine is dead (maybe? I bet not). And Clone Club seemingly has no cards left to play. As I said, brutal. But not really fulfilling. There was no “wow” or “oh my god” moment in this episode.

The Great:

The fakeout with Ira. I fell for it, too, just like Sarah.

Krystal’s marvelous inability to understand why “Inspector Dawkins” was English if he’s from Scotland Yard.

The climactic scene in the field. It was framed and paced extremely well.

The Not-So-Great:

Let me get this straight: There’s yet another Big Bad to deal with? No sooner do we think we’ve reached the top of the Neolution/Dyad/BrightBorn pyramid than we find out that Evil Cho is really calling the shots.

The WTF:

I understand the need for super-secrecy, but is Scott really delicately harvesting cells on a table in Felix’s studio? Dude! You don’t know who’s been ON that table!

Okay, so this incredibly important research that Scott and Cosima were conducting that could literally save Cosima’s life wasn’t even backed up???  That’s an oversight that Krystal or Alison would make. Not Cosima.

By the same token, Scott and Cosima didn’t make sure to harvest any of Kendall’s cells prior to the Susan Duncan meeting? They knew what she wanted, and more importantly, they knew they couldn’t trust Susan/Neolution. Clone Club made a bunch of uncharacteristically dumb moves this episode, which is maddening because the stupidity was Because Plot Reasons, and not anything particularly believable.

So, after two episodes of “is Adele really Felix’s sister,” she just kind of disappears stage left. Again, there better have been a point to Adele’s introduction, and a really good one, because at this point everything involving her and Felix smacks of little more than timewasting episode filler.

Orphan Black Season 4, Episode 5 Recap: Krystal Klear, Baby

We’ve been throwing around the word “Cronenbergian” to describe the action on Orphan Black quite a bit this season, and for good reason. For the past three seasons, the show’s been mostly a sci-fi thriller series, with occasional dalliances into horror. This season, though? Much like one of its main themes – evolution – the show’s started evolving into something much more unsettling, becoming more of a horror thriller with some underlying sci-fi elements instead. And it’s not just the big shock elements, either. There’s an uneasiness permeating even the most normal scenes, of people just talking, or sharing a meal together, or doing something that should be just mundane.

In that regard, Orphan Black’s becoming a lot like Twin Peaks, taking on David Lynch’s penchant for making the ordinary quite profoundly disturbing at times. It’s hard to tell at the moment whether this tonal shift in Orphan Black’s narrative is something that’s just for this particular story arc, or for this season, or represents a more significant shift in the show’s overall theme … either way, showrunners Graeme Manson and John Fawcett deserve a lot of credit for pushing the boundaries of the show, and not just playing things safe as the seasons progress.

The latest episode – “Human Raw Material” – doesn’t quite open with anything horrifying, though. Instead, we get clone Krystal, still a bubbly beautician with a fondness for anything pink … but there’s a little bit of an edge to her now. She’s training in kickboxing and self-defense – turns out that her encounters with the Castor twins last season have left a mark on her, and she’s determined to find out who they were, and just what’s going on.

Moving on to someone who does know what’s going on (sort of), Sarah learns that Geneconnexion – the genetic matching company that brought Felix and his biological sister Adele together – is owned by Neolution. She brings along Kira as she tries once more to talk to him about Adele, but Adele happens to be there, wihich complicates things. Also complicating things is that Adele is really, really sweet with Kira. Nothing gets resolved, there’s a lot of uncomfortable tension, and Sarah winds up leaving with surreptitiously secured DNA samples from Felix and Adele so Scott can independently test them for her.

Meanwhile, Alison’s supposed to be infiltrating BrightBorn with Donnie, but she has other plans, so Cosima winds up being Donnie’s fake surrogate baby momma-to-be instead. Considering she can actually follow all of the biological technical talk at the place, it makes sense. She tries breaking off to do some snooping, but isn’t terribly successful at first. What she is inadvertently successful at is running into Susan Duncan (whom she doesn’t recognize!) and talk through some of the science of what BrightBorn is doing … and its ethics, or lack thereof. Cosima’s adamant that gene manipulations of embryos is a Super Bad Idea. Susan smirks and doesn’t care.

Suddenly complicating things is the surprising arrival of Krystal at the doors of BrightBorn while Cosima and Donnie are already there. Awkward!

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Turns out that the Clone Club decision last year to keep Krystal blissfully ignorant of Neolution wasn’t exactly the greatest idea. Since Krystal’s been left to her own devices, she’s come up with a half-baked crackpot conspiracy theory about what’s actually going on with Neolution and its various subsidiaries, which is painfully wrong, but also contains just enough hints of what’s right to keep her on the right track. In other words, she’s a loose cannon who could potentially do a lot of damage to her unknown sestras. And she certainly manages to freak Donnie the hell out when he finally lays eyes on her.

Over to Sarah, who’s sitting down to dinner with Kira and Mrs. S at their safehouse. Felix stops by, bringing along Adele. Not cool, Felix. Tensions immediately rise to Twin Peaks Palmer Family Dinner levels, with Sarah and Felix sniping at each other and getting progressively nastier until Felix actually starts throwing food at Sarah. It’s incredibly uncomfortable, and looks like it’s about to really spin out of control when Scott calls Sarah’s cell phone. Sarah listens, and then tells Felix that she had his DNA tested against Adele’s. Yes, according to Scott, Sarah says, the Geneconnexion results were right – Felix and Adele are biologically related. That revelation makes everything just as uncomfortable as it was before.

(I’m not convinced that Scott actually told Sarah that, by the way. Judging from the long pause before she tells Felix that tidbit of information, and the pained expression on Sarah’s face, it seems quite possible that she just didn’t want to add gasoline to an already raging fire.)

Back at BrightBorn, Cosima’s made progress in her investigation. Putting on scrubs, she’s managed to snoop around at last, taking pictures and collecting information. A doctor comes in – hey, can you help us deliver this baby – and Cosima finds herself looking at the ugly underside of BrightBorn, as she helps deliver GAAAAAHHHH HOLY SHIT WHAT IS THAT THING!!!!!! Sweet merciful crap, it’s the baby from Eraserhead, in all its malformed, hideous glory! All the speeches about ethics made by Cosima earlier come to fruition in one horrifying scene – and then Susan comes in, revealing her identity at last to Cosima. Uh-oh.

While that’s going on, Donnie tries to lead Krystal out of the way and off to safety, posing as masseuse, um, “Ronnie.” Zero points for originality, “Ronnie.” He manages to coax out of Krystal why she’s there, and that she thinks she’s the Snowden in a grand conspiracy theory. Of course, her conspiracy theory revolves around mutations related to cosmetics, like teeth growing out of people’s eyelids. It would sound weirder and more ludicrous, except this is Orphan Black. So it only sounds slightly weird. Donnie manages to let on that he knows more than he’s letting on, though, which kicks Krystal into Paranoid Mode, and she unleashes those sweet kickboxing moves of hers on Donnie and his groin. Oh, Donnie.

Susan has Cosima captured, but not imprisoned. They debate ethics again, except Susan starts countering with reality. Namely, original DNA source Kendall. Cosima says handing over Kendall to Neolution isn’t an option, but Susan points out that a lot of gene therapy could take place if they did have Kendall. And part of that therapy could include a cure for Cosima. Cosima’s lack of response to that speaks volumes.

Finally, some alone time for Sarah and Kira. In this week’s Stephen King moment, Kira reveals that she can sense the emotions of Sarah and her sestras, including “ones she doesn’t even know.” It’s an interesting reveal, even if it’s not terribly original. We’ll see how this plays out.

And having let Cosima go to consider her options, Susan Duncan goes for a swim at the BrightBorn pool, where Castor Clone Ira is waiting for her. She gloats, he smiles, and then … they start sucking face. Ewwwwwwwww, for three reasons. First of all, ewwwwwwwww. And that’s not because Susan’s much older than Ira; it’s that she’s for all practical purposes his mother. Second of all, Susan’s been shown thus far as being all about hardcore science – compromising scientific integrity for the sake of getting a Castor booty call seems more than a bit out of character. And third of all, ewwwwwwwww.

The Great:

Alison, on what Cosima should do once she infiltrates BrightBorn with Donnie: “I don’t know, Sarah things. Skulk around, look miserable, con people.”

“Is that a rocket ship?” Um, no, Kira. No, it is most certainly not.

“I look like a geriatric skateboarder.” “I have to go … shit.” And Donnie’s patronizing explanation to Cosima about how not to act like a lesbian, which leads to her dry “I’m just going to let that one slide” retort. Donnie rules.

The Not-So-Great:

Helena being MIA, except for a quick good-bye text to Sarah. Booooooo.

I know Sarah’s got a lot going on, but her bitchiness to Alison is kind of out of left field. Alison doesn’t pull her weight? Um, who’s financing the majority of Clone Club’s activities? I’m pretty sure it’s the Hendrixes. And I found it even stranger that Alison didn’t throw that right back in Sarah’s face.

I’m really not sure what the point of the whole Adele storyline is. If Adele is some sort of Neolution operative, or represents something/someone else with Very Bad Plans, then she’s so obviously a bad guy – and should be to every in Clone Club, with the exception of the emotionally blindered Felix – that it’s almost laughable. There seems like there could be so many better ways to handle that character, and that type of storyline. And if she’s not someone with Very Bad Plans – and is genuinely who she says she is – then it’s not terribly interesting, or advancing the story much. Let’s hope this is all setup for something completely out of left field in an episode or two, and not just this year’s version of “Alison Needs Something To Do So School Elections.”

The WTF:

Wait, repeated mentions by Krystal of “the blonde French doctor.” It’s possible that Delphine’s alive???

Susan Duncan and Ira. Again, ewwwwwwwww. The Flowers in the Clone Attic vibe goes WAY beyond creepy.

Hey, Master, You’re So Fine: Ranking the Incarnations of the Master in “Doctor Who”

In a season that proved to be brilliant in so many ways, one of the highlights of Doctor Who this past year was the return of Missy – or, as the character’s usually been called through many, many appearances on the show, the Master. Fighting the Doctor (and saving him, when she’s not busy trying to kill him), fighting Daleks, simultaneously helping and tormenting Clara – Missy reminds the audience with mad style why she and her previous incarnations have always been the Doctor’s best frenemy. (Even if Davros might have something to say about that.)

But is Missy the best incarnation of the Master? Come find out! Here, we take a look at all of the regenerations of the evil Time Lord to grace the televised episodes of Doctor Who, ranking them from worst to best.

7. Eric Roberts

I always dress for the occasion!

Yes, the star of such classic films like Best of the Best, Part 2, Sorority Slaughterhouse, and High Heels, Low Standards once was cast as the Master. And yes, it was a trainwreck. The sad thing is, everything starts out okay – he’s originally Bruce, the EMT driver, who the Master’s ‘essence’ possesses, and that’s not too bad. But then, he becomes Terminator Master.

RobertsMaster1

Um, okay.

And then, Camp Megalomaniac Master, by way of the School of David Caruso Overacting.

RobertsMaster2

Riiiiiiiiggggghhht.

He’s not menacing. He’s not evil. He’s a joke. And given how good Paul McGann is as the Eighth Doctor in this wretched abomination of a story, it’s a shame.

SimmMaster6. John Simm

Anyway, why don’t we stop and have a nice little chat where I tell you all my plans and you can work out a way to stop me, I don’t think!

More of a shame is John Simm’s wasted run as the Master during David Tennant’s tenure as the Tenth Doctor. A brilliant actor – one need look no further than his brilliance on Life on Mars to see that – his performance as the Master starts out ridiculously well, right from the aftermath of his regeneration. The look of malevolent glee on his face as he wakes up, and realizes that he’s got the Doctor’s hand, and the TARDIS, and he’s won …

… it’s brilliant. And the gloating is well-deserved.

From there, though, it goes downhill. As he becomes Prime Minister Saxon (a storyline that honestly makes no sense), he goes from sinister to this weird, smug, frenetic “I’M EVIL!!!” mentality – it’s like he’s trying to out-manic the Tenth Doctor, and it doesn’t work. And that super-hyper “I’M EVIL!!!” portrayal carries right on over into his later appearances in “The End of Time.” I think if he’d gotten the chance to be cold and calculating – the yang to Tennant’s yin – he could’ve been great as the Master. As it is, he unfortunately just chewed a lot of scenery.

AinleyMaster5. Anthony Ainley

Peoples of the Universe, please attend carefully. The message that follows is vital to the future of you all. The choice for you all is simple; a continued existence under my guidance or total annihilation.

There’s a pattern here. Namely, first performances of a new Master that start out great, with things only getting worse from there. And for the most part, that’s true of Anthony Ainley’s turn as the Master. Taking on Consul Tremas’ body in “The Keeper of Traken,” his Master is absolutely superb in his next two stories – the Fourth Doctor’s swan song in “Logopolis,” and the Fifth Doctor’s debut in “Castrovalva.” He manages to combine the panache and the charisma of Delgado’s Master with the at-times unhinged insanity of Peter Pratt and Geoffrey Beavers … and it works. He’s more dangerous than his original incarnation.

After that, though? It’s a mess. When the Rani says in “Mark of the Rani” that “he’d get dizzy if he tried to walk in a straight line,” it’s a fairly accurate description of most of Ainley’s appearances as the Master. Lots of over-complicated, usually pointless evil plots that don’t make any sense, lots of metaphorical mustache twirling, gloating, and monologuing that would make Syndrome from The Incredibles proud. The dangerous Master we glimpsed in “Castrovalva” turns up all the dials to 11, and shoots straight into over-the-top bombast for the rest of his appearances with the Fifth and Sixth Doctors. He’s not menacing or dangerous, but just kind of an evil buffoon with delusions of grandeur … and it’s disappointing, to say the least.

Oddly enough, though, in Ainley’s last televised appearance as the Master in “Survival,” he dials back the Snidely Whiplash Overdrive Mode long enough to give what’s probably his best – and most chilling – performance. Infected by the Cheetah People, the Master’s no longer interested in crazy schemes and chewing scenery – he’s instead stripped down to something primal, and it’s fascinating to watch.

If he’d only been more like this throughout his time as the Master, I think Ainley would be remembered as one of the character’s best incarnations. Instead, we only have some glimpses and moments of a great villain – and, unfortunately, far more moments of a “meh” one.

JacobiMaster4. Derek Jacobi

Oh! Now I can say I was provoked!

For a Master who realistically only appears in two scenes of one episode, man, does Derek Jacobi own the role. He spends most of the episode “Utopia” in the chameleon arc-created persona of kindly, doddering Professor Yana, trying to help the remnants of humanity escape the clutches of the Futurekind. Upon switching off the chameleon arc, though, he reverts to his true form – the Master – and watching him so effortlessly switch from to “meek and mild” to “badass ruthless” in the blink of an eye is nothing short of amazing. For less than ten minutes, Jacobi’s Master takes control of the situation in “Utopia” and just utterly owns the Tenth Doctor.

It’s terrific to watch, and it’s a shame that this incarnation of the Master was so brief. (One can only hope that Big Finish somehow manages to work him in as the Doctor’s nemesis in their stories someday!)

PrattMaster3. Peter Pratt/Geoffrey Beavers

Predictable as ever, Doctor.

When the Master disappeared at the end of “Frontier in Space,” most regular Who viewers must’ve believed that would be the last they’d see of the evil renegade Time Lord. (Roger Delgado’s tragic death at this time certainly would’ve made this an understandable notion.) So it must’ve come as some surprise several years later during Tom Baker’s tenure as the Fourth Doctor that the Master reappeared.

But the Master certainly didn’t look as he did before, appearing instead as a hideous, rotting husk of a person. And gone was the suave, confident charm of Roger Delgado’s Master, replaced instead by pure, vicious rage. “Only hate keeps me alive,” he tells the Doctor at one point … and the words are spit with such venom, it’s chilling to hear them spoken. It’s a far cry from what the Master had been during Delgado’s time in the part, but it works perfectly, and Peter Pratt’s voice alone makes the character incredible to watch – and to listen to.

This version of the Master appears again a few years later as a foil for the Fourth Doctor in “The Keeper of Traken,” with Geoffrey Beavers replacing Peter Pratt in this incarnation of the role. He doesn’t quite have the menace of Peter Pratt in “The Deadly Assassin,” but honestly, that’s mostly because his makeup in “The Keeper of Traken” is a pale shadow of what was seen in that earlier story. But he’s still creepy and menacing, and his insane desperation to survive – and make the Fourth Doctor suffer – is still brilliantly nasty. (His more recent appearances in the Big Finish audio productions have been equally wonderful and nasty as well.)

2. Michelle GomezMissy-970x545

Say something nice.

Even though many avid Who viewers assumed that “Missy” might be the Master from the moment she appeared at the end of the Twelfth Doctor’s first episode, “Deep Breath,” it’s unlikely that anyone could’ve predicted just how great she’d be. She manages to take the unhinged, unpredictable insanity often seen in Ainley’s and Simm’s Masters, but keeps it from turning into camp, as they seemed to do all too often. If anything, she flips the “bananas” trope on its head at times – you get the feeling that her homicidally wacky behavior is often an act, and she’s far more calculating and devious – and in control – than she’s letting on.

Make no mistake, though – she’s definitely bananas.

However, one subtle nuance that Missy’s brought back to the ongoing Doctor/Master relationship is the friendship – such as it is – that she has with the Doctor. This comes across loud and clear in “The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar,” where it’s evident that they have a deep, rich past together, and however strange that history may be, they have great respect for one another. It’s a reminder of why the Doctor’s always seeking to redeem his mortal enemy, rather than defeat him, and why – while Missy/the Master always wants to eventually kill the Doctor – there’s a certain admiration that keeps her from, well, popping him like a balloon. Missy’s a terrific addition to the modern Who pantheon of villains, and I hope we keep seeing her in seasons to come.

DelgadoMaster1. Roger Delgado

I am the Master … and you will obey me.

Sometimes first appearances are indeed the best. So it should really be no surprise that the reason all of the other various Masters throughout the history of Doctor Who are held to such a high standard is because of how utterly brilliant the originator of the role actually was. Roger Delgado – cast to be the Moriarty to Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor – is nothing short of outstanding in just about every appearance he made on Doctor Who. (And there were quite a lot of them – Delgado’s Master is in every single episode of Jon Pertwee’s second season as the Doctor, and frequently in the two seasons after that!)

Charming, suave, and brilliant, Delgado’s Master was much the equal of the Third Doctor in every way. His schemes were grand and his ambition boundless, and it’s always entertaining to watch his character execute those mad plans with style. He also got the upper hand against the Doctor many, many times, and while he never ultimately succeeded in his schemes, he certainly scored plenty of smaller victories against the Third Doctor and U.N.I.T. along the way. And some of his failures were the result of his own ego and arrogance, rather than the Doctor outwitting him.

One of the big differences between Delgado’s Master and all of his other successors was his pragmatism. He wasn’t always out to conquer the universe, or kill the Doctor (although he certainly wasn’t adverse to those goals!). Sometimes, his goals were smaller. And much like the Rani would be in later years, there were many times he really didn’t care about the Doctor at all – it would only be when the Doctor would show up and interfere with his own Machiavellian schemes that the Master would try to kill the Doctor.

But there were plenty of times that he cooperated with the Doctor (sometimes willingly, sometimes not), and even with U.N.I.T., if it served his own interests. His Master wasn’t so much insanely evil so much as simply lacking a conscience, and that’s perhaps a distinction that elevates his Master above all the others. He had an immense amount of respect for the Doctor, though he was loathe to admit it. And even Jo Grant, the Brigadier, and yes, even Captain Yates and Sergeant Benton – they all got a nod of admiration from the Master here and there.

Make no mistake, though. Of all the Masters, his was the most ruthless. And he most certainly wanted the Doctor dead.

Roger Delgado’s Master is a joy to watch. The most insanely evil? No. The most villainous? Possibly. The most fun? Probably.

The best?

Absolutely.

-Mike