Orphan Black season 1 episode 7 review: Parts Developed In An Unusual Manner

Review Rob Kemp 25 Oct 2013 - 22:00

Does Orphan Black have too many ideas to cram into a ten-episode season? Here's Rob's review of episode 7...

This review contains spoilers.

1.7 Parts Developed in an Unusual Manner

Last week’s episode, Variations Under Domestication, was a strong instalment, boasting everything that is great about the show including acting, writing and a well thought-out, constructed story. Parts Developed in an Unusual Manner is still a good episode, but is lacking some of the finer qualities from the previous week. Parts Developed focuses on the clone plot and races though some quite significant story development at a dizzying pace. Two episodes ago, Conditions of Existence followed the very strong Effects of External Conditions and was also subsequently criticised for a dip in all-round quality. Coincidence? Or is it that when given time and room to breathe, Orphan Black flies, but when focused on and racing through the main plot arc it sacrifices quality for pace?

Lets revisit what happens by the end of Parts Developed. We find out a lot more about those involved with the clone plot, Olivier has a tail, Paul actually has feelings for Sarah (although his one-trick stony stare is still, disappointingly, not explained), Helena is back along with the introduction of her handler, Art is back and is about to discover Sarah’s identity, all pretence that Dr Leeke could be anything other than the big bad pulling the strings is dropped and the Neolutionists have a secret club. That’s a lot to pack into a single episode. It’s therefore impressive that it breezes along, going from one significant development to the next without being bogged down in exposition, (although if there was any pretence that this show could handle viewers dropping in and out, that’s surely gone by now!).

What does suffer is a general lack of logic and a few unusual plot choices. For example, if you were trying to stay inconspicuous whilst waiting for someone who’d just broken into a building, would you park in the middle of the road, blocking an entrance?  Similarly why have security cameras in a hush-hush underground club that contains a top secret organisation pulling the strings on unspeakable acts, when there’s no one bothering to watch them? Also, if you’re going to have such a club, is it really sensible to call it after the organisation? Deniability is obviously not an issue for the Neolutionists.

Okay – these are small niggles that are mere annoyances as opposed to fundamental mis-steps. It does seem though that Orphan Black struggles when it needs to cram a lot of story into a single episode. This need for pace does make me wonder whether being restricted to a ten-episode season has resulted in a rushed, somewhat uneven approach to the overall story arc. Although, if Orphan Black had had a full twenty-two episode run I don’t think we would have had such a lean and direct approach to the story telling. There have been numerous examples of recent twenty-twenty-four episode shows (Revolution, Arrow, Warehouse 13...) where the need to fill a season has resulted in laborious sub-plots and superfluous characters. I feel that the Orphan Black showrunners have made the right choice, but sometimes get caught out by having to resolve the many questions and cliff hangers posed by previous episodes. That is a good thing – no one wants another Lost or Alcatraz that promised so much, and posed so many questions that in the case of the former was resolved unsatisfactorily and in the latter – far too late. So what I am complaining about? Easy – when you have a show as strong as Orphan Black you want it to be at the very best all the time, and it’s just disappointing when it dips.

There are elements that I liked. Olivier’s tail hints of greater strangeness to come, reminiscent of Fringe’s freaky experiments. Maslany’s portrayal of Helena is as good as her other characters, if not in some respects better as her performance is at times truly creepy and so out of kilter from the generally respectable Sarah, Alison and Cosima that the breadth of her performance remains remarkable. I also liked that despite being still three episodes out from the season’s end, the presence of so many characters engenders a feeling that the disparate plot threads are starting to come together in a way that cranks up both tension and excitement for what the season finale may have in store.

But what I want now, is for Orphan Black to breathe and let it regain the heights it has so often soared this season.

Orphan Black is available on iTunes, here.

Read Rob's review of the previous episode, Variations Under Domestication, here.

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