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Orphan Black: Season 4, Episode 5 - "Human Raw Material"

J.M. Suarez

“Human Raw Material” wasn’t a perfect episode, but it continues to build on the momentum from the season's excellent first episode.

Orphan Black

Airtime: Thursdays, 10pm
Cast: Tatiana Maslany, Jordan Gavaris, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Ari Millen, Rosemary Dunsmore, Kevin Blanchard, Kristian Bruun, Skyler Wexler, Josh Vockey, Lauren Hammersley, Jessalyn Wanlim
Subtitle: Season 4, Episode 5 - "Human Raw Material"
Network: BBC America
Air date: 2016-05-12
Susan: Our technique is more direct.

Cosima: You don't mean germline editing? Altering the DNA of an embryo is very risky. Any mistake and that mutation is passed on for future generations.

Susan: And that is why germline editing is illegal in most countries.

We're about a third of the way through the season, and "Human Raw Material" brings us the return of the always-entertaining Krystal (Tatiana Maslany), along with a continuation of the Brightborn plot. That they come together in this episode is both surprising and perhaps a bit too on the nose to completely work, particularly since the connection is tied to Krystal's theory that Dyad is tampering with cosmetics.

The fact that Krystal remains the one clone in the dark about being a clone makes her a target in different ways than her sisters, and arguably the one at the greatest disadvantage. Maslany’s portrayal of Krystal is always fun, and usually offers at least partly an escapist moment from the heavy plot that anchors the series. In making Krystal aware of her clone status, there's potential to lose some of that dynamic (although Krystal’s personality is too distinct to completely disappear), but it also seems impossible that she would remain clueless for much longer.

Having Krystal's path cross with Cosima and Donnie (Kristian Bruun) at a Brightborn orientation, the latter in a continued ruse as expectant father, along with Felix (Jordan Gavaris) and surrogate, is quite a coincidence. Cosima’s more concerned with finding out more about the science behind the corporation, while Donnie’s tasked with handling the Krystal situation. Although there could be no more bumbling character to trust with this assignment, Donnie, as always, tries his best. The interactions between Donnie and Krystal are, of course, very funny, but also lead to Krystal getting discovered at Brightborn and Donnie getting beat up by Krystal, newly-trained in self defense.

As Krystal and Cosima are both at Brightborn, along with Evie Cho (Jessalyn Wanlim), Susan Duncan (Rosemary Dunsmore), and Ira (Ari Millen), it would be impossible for the clones not to be seen by one of the others. That Evie's unable to distinguish between the clones makes her appear less powerful and in control that she initially seemed. However, the increasingly creepy and disturbing Susan (who's revealed to have a sexual relationship with Ira, as if the Oedipal stuff wasn’t already on full display) makes up for any deficit in the villain quotient this episode.

Susan’s confrontations with Cosima are as upsetting as expected; she's clearly a brilliant scientist, but one who's rationalized away her humanity. In essence, she’s almost a cautionary tale for someone like Cosima. Here's hoping Cosima doesn't get sucked into Susan's project, although that seems where the show’s headed, especially since it referenced Cosima's illness and the potential resources available to cure her. This episode did give Maslany the opportunity to delve back into Cosima in a way that she really hasn’t this season so far. Cosima's intelligence and warmth are always lovely to see, but Maslany also emphasized her empathy to wonderful effect, again contrasting directly with Susan's detachment.

Sarah's quest to remove the implant in her cheek is less of the focus this week, as her more personal relationships are explored, namely those with Felix and Kira. Her distance from Felix this season has been difficult for the both of them, but mainly attributed to her paranoia that Adele (Lauren Hammersley) could be connected to Dyad somehow. That theory gains more traction through the discovery of yet another potentially nefarious company, Gene Connexion, as the one responsible for matching Felix and Adele as siblings. When Scott (Josh Vockey) confirms that Felix and Adele truly are related, Sarah's pain is made clear. She may be wary of Adele for reasons tied to protecting herself and her family, but ultimately, she’s devastated at losing her place as Felix’s sister. It’s a wonderfully human moment for her, and a welcome break from her almost-constant anger and aggression.

It also offers yet further evidence of Kira's special abilities. She's immediately connected to Sarah’s feelings in that moment, and later reveals that she's able to feel what the clones are feeling; she's even felt some she’s not sure of. Kira's powers have been alluded to for quite some time, but hearing it discussed so plainly was a nice shift and hopefully one that will lead to more openness amongst the clones.

"Human Raw Material" wasn't a perfect episode (too many coincidences to completely suspend disbelief), but Orphan Black's clearly continuing the momentum built up in the excellent first episode of the season. There’s obviously much more to be revealed in the rest of the season and the show has proven it's up to the task, complicated though it may be.


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