ORPHAN BLACK Recap: “Formalized, Complex, and Costly”

     May 2, 2015


Orphan Black is dishing out curious questions faster than it’s delivering satisfying answers, but it’s getting away with it thanks to the bevy of stellar performances and captivating characters.

“Formalized, Complex, and Costly” kicks off strong, picking up where “Transitory Sacrifices of Crisis” left off. Rudy just shot poor glitching Seth dead and Cal’s off to Iceland with Kira, so it’s up to Sarah and Felix to clean up the mess.  Orphan Black has played it pretty serious in season 3 thus far with all the talk of Dyad, Topside, the military, cures, original genomes, etc., so it’s nice to get a quick breather and see Sarah and Felix acting like a pair of bumbling criminals again, much like their earlier antics in season 1.

But of course the fun, games and pre-body-chopping shots don’t last long because then Art (Kevin Hanchard) swings by for an unexpected visit. I’ve been on the fence about Art for a good deal of the show. He made for a strong season 1 foil, and Hanchard does strike a nice balance between making Art a tough, no-nonsense cop while also selling him as a noble guy that Sarah could potentially trust, but why is he still around? “Formalized, Complex, and Costly” finally tries to answer that question. After repeatedly asking Art why he’s putting his job on the line for her, Art finally tells Sarah about his feelings for Beth. The detail feels like it was shoehorned in, but hopefully the writers don’t drop the idea simply because it’s been stated and opt to flesh it out more instead, giving Art even more purpose.


Image via BBC America

Thanks to Art, Sarah scores a lead on Mark. He’s with Gracie in a tiny motel waiting to pay Willard Finch (Nicholas Campbell) a visit so that he can get something super important that Henrik Johanssen (Peter Outerbridge) left with him, something Mark assumes is test tubes, slides and the answer to all of Castor’s problem. Yet again, Millen plays the clone game beautifully, but what makes Mark’s story one of the most successful components of the season thus far is Gracie. This isn’t just a fight to find the original genome, it’s also a lovers spat and the mix of business and genuine emotion makes the scenario especially captivating.

Thanks to the reveal of Castor, it’s impossible to completely trust Mark, but I’ve been rooting for him and Gracie to live happily ever after and his choice to tell her about his experience in the military academy felt like taking a major step closer to making that happen. But, of course, Mark held back one pretty epic detail – he’s a clone. Unfortunately for him, Sarah’s in town and while he’s busy torturing Finch into a heart attack, she’s revealing the Castor details to Gracie and one of the most curious twists of the episode is how Gracie takes the news.


Image via BBC America

I was anticipating Gracie moving over to team Leda, but instead she’s ambushed by her mother, Bonnie Johanssen (Kristin Booth). Before mama Prolethean walks in, Gracie was packing. Where was she planning on going? Off on her own? To meet back up with Sarah? We’ll never know, or at least not for now because Bonnie talked Gracie into coming home before she went off to track down (and kill?) Mark herself. It’s a wildly tragic storyline for the young lovers, but after spending an entire season with the Proletheans, I’m glad to see them back in play, especially because Bonnie seems even more ruthless than Henrik. At one point she also notes, “We have a purpose,” but what exactly is the Proletheans’ purpose? If they view the clones as abominations and want to kill them, why impregnate Gracie with Helena’s embryos? I suspect there could be some sort of sacrificial ceremony/stunt on the way, but that could just be the horror-centric portion of my brain taking over.

This episode also brings Rachel’s purpose into question. Since being empaled by a pencil, she’s been hanging out with Dr. Nealon trying to recover. In the middle of flipping through some flash cards, Nealon reveals the bad news. “Sadly the Rachel Duncan Topside knew has passed. Plane crash.” Then he throws in, “you’re more valuable than you know.” They’re interesting points, but they don’t mean as much as they could because it isn’t clear which team Nealon is playing for.

Another big reveal that didn’t hit as hard as it was likely intended to was Cosima’s discovery that the Castor clones are actually the Leda clones’ brothers. Perhaps it’s because the show uses the terms “brother” and “sister” so frequently already, but when Cosima made the big announcement, it certainly didn’t scream, “Wow, this changes everything!” Of course it probably will change everything, but as far as this episode goes, that wasn’t the big new detail that stuck with me most.


Image via BBC America

I suspect part of the problem is that the show is losing sight of exactly what the clones are trying to find overall. The original donors, original genomes, blood slides, skin samples, the code in The Island of Dr. Moreau, Kira – what actually holds the answer? I’m wholly invested in these characters so I’m along for the ride no matter what, but it’d be nice to see the writers start narrowing things down, tying up lose ends and perhaps even have someone find those damn gigantic canisters with Helena’s frozen eggs inside them that are just sitting in Felix’s apartment.

Episode Rating: ★★★★ Very Good

Sequencing and Analyzing:

  • “It’s a dead body, not a bag of weed.” – Art “Well, look away and it too will go up in smoke.” – Felix
  • “We are free of your people, but we are not clear of mine.” Poor Mark had it all wrong.
  • “We Proletheans make fast friends but fearsome enemies.” – Gracie
  • “If you can protect them, I can cure them.” – Virginia (Random Theory: Could Virginia possibly be Susan Duncan? It would explain why she thinks she can cure them.)
  • “You are the ugliest Mark yet.” – Helena
  • There’s no way the box Gracie got from Willard didn’t have anything important inside of it. There’s definitely some juicy details under that motel room bed waiting to be discovered.
  • In case you were wondering … Creutzfeldt–Jakob Disease: “A rare, degenerative, invariably fatal brain disorder … In the early stages of disease, people may have failing memory, behavioral changes, lack of coordination and visual disturbances. As the illness progresses, mental deterioration becomes pronounced and involuntary movements, blindness, weakness of extremities, and coma may occur.” (via The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke)
  • The Alison Report: Yet again, Alison’s storyline has absolutely nothing to do with the main plot of the show. She and Donnie have their moments and I still think their plan to gain constituents by selling drugs is absolutely brilliant, but their subplot isn’t as well-woven into the episode as it was in episode 2. For example, we get this fantastic, emotional scene between Rudy and Virginia and then all of a sudden in comes the goofy Alison music. A commercial break probably would have been more appropriate there.