Orphan Black season 1 episode 4 review: Effects Of External Conditions
Orphan Black continues its upwards trajectory with another surprising, exciting episode. Here's Rob's review...
This review contains spoilers.
1.4 Effects of External Conditions
Effects of External Conditions picks up straight after Variation Under Nature, not just in plotting, but in quality and strength of story development. I think it’s fair to say that despite a relatively slow opening, the show has significantly increased its pace with character and plot developments coming thick and fast. This week’s episode focused on the main clone plot, seeing Sarah (as Beth) investigating Helena, trying to understand why she’s taken to hunting down and assassinating her genetic twins. It was gripping, well paced, well acted and reinforced the quality demonstrated in the opening episodes.
The creepy, and somewhat graphic opening underlines the show’s intent for this to be an adult series. As I mentioned in my review of the opening two-parter, it's a boon that it treats its audience with a great deal more respect in terms of thematic content than most other television thrillers/sci-fi. Similarly, the fact that it’s still hard for the audience to guess what direction will be taken remains an advantage that the writers are seemingly eager to exploit. The boy’s fate just before the opening credits is a good example of how difficult it is to pigeon hole and guess the direction that Orphan Black will take. When the boy pops up a few minutes later it is genuinely surprising – and it’s the surprise that a child survives that for me makes Orphan Black edgier and more gripping than other shows (something that The Following, for instance, consistently failed to deliver).
I also really appreciated that the show concentrated on the Helena and Sarah relationship. This could have so easily been strung out over the reminder of the season, but to get answers so quickly injects pace and development and maintains the intensity of Sarah’s discovery. The focus on a main plot point changed the inherent structure of what we have seen previously (multiple, overlapping sub-plots) and reinforces a sense of unpredictability in how each episode will pan out. It’s in that pace and unpredictability that lies a real sense of Orphan Black’s ability to thwart audience’s expectations, reinforced by the show's inherent unwillingness to be categorized. I was surprised to see Sarah (as Beth) quitting her job, so fundamental had that Detective role been to date. It also leaves a question mark about several other characters that had been loosely developed over the last few episodes. It could be that this is an act of misdirection in itself – but the fact that the show is committed to enact change puts the audience on an unsure footing which, for the time being, is refreshingly different.
This episode’s highlight was the skilful manner in which the tension is gradually raised towards the show’s climax when the encounter between Sarah and Helena is juxtaposed with the meeting between Alison and Sarah’s daughter, Kiera. It’s a well-constructed and played moment that provides a sense of real consequence to the unfolding events, which considering the show is only four episodes old, underlines the importance and impact of Maslany’s performance.
With Sarah and the clones playing centre stage, there is little room for any other character development, with Hanchard’s Art remaining particularly one dimensional in his concern and action towards Sarah (as Beth). He can seemingly go from concerned and grateful partner to suspicious detective within seconds and thinks nothing of riffling through her things to find out the truth. Separately, these actions make sense, but together there seems to be a missing justification that ties his behaviour together. For the moment this is merely distracting rather undermining, but Orphan Black can only be a one-woman show (despite her multiple roles) for so long before other characters, more suitably rounded and developed will be needed to act as effective foils to Maslany masterly performances.
Despite the overall strength of the writing, there is seemingly one weak point. Has everyone forgotten that Sarah has supposedly died? There doesn’t appear to be any recognition that Sarah needs to be careful lest her ex-boyfriend will resume his hunt for her, which was such an important element in the opening two episodes. Yes things have moved on, and yes Sarah has more pressing worries but to seemingly discard a plot point so early on is disappointment amongst the shows obvious strengths. Maybe this is the flip side in maintaining a fast pace in that past plot threads are discarded so that the audience can be focused on the most pressing and immediate action. I hope not, and there is always some hope that this thread will re-emerge as the season progresses. For now it remains a small blemish on what has been a consistently high-quality show.
Orphan Black is available on iTunes, here.
Follow our Twitter feed for faster news and bad jokes right here. And be our Facebook chum here.