Orphan Black: Season 4, Episode 6 - "The Scandal of Altruism"

J.M. Suarez

"The Scandal of Altruism" is one of the season’s best episodes, because it so perfectly combines the show's strengths.

Orphan Black

Airtime: Thursdays, 10pm
Cast: Tatiana Maslany, Jordan Gavaris, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Ari Millen, Rosemary Dunsmore, Jessalyn Wamlin, Kevin Blanchard, Josh Vockey
Subtitle: Season 4, Episode 6 - "The Scandal of Altruism"
Network: BBC America
Air date: 2016-05-19
Mrs. S: I will do my part. I will keep Susan honest, and everyone safe. But this is the wrong play, Sarah. You’re putting us all at risk.

There are episodes of Orphan Black that feel like they're setting up for a huge payoff, and then there are episodes that feel shocking and revelatory. "The Scandal of Altruism" was both, and was as intense as a season finale. The fallout from this episode will surely be felt throughout the rest of the season, and adds further proof that the series is as strong as it's ever been.

The episode revolves around Sarah's (Tatiana Maslany) pact with Susan Duncan (Rosemary Dunsmore) to remove the implant from her cheek in exchange for genome samples from Kendall (Alison Steadman) and Cosima and Scott's (Josh Vokey) research. Susan also promises to use Kendall’s genome to save LEDA, but not CASTOR, explicitly going against her promise to Ira (Ari Millen). It's a risky deal for many reasons, not the least of which is its many moving parts.

Things predictably go awry once it’s discovered that Kendall's been kidnapped, and though Sarah assumes it's Susan (and proceeds to destroy Kendall's samples in a rage), it's actually revealed to be Evie Cho (Jessalyn Wamlin) and Duko (Gord Rand) working together to destroy the clones altogether. It's a surprising development, mainly because there was no inkling of a connection between the two, but also because Evie appeared much more like a somewhat inept sidekick to Leekie and then Susan. That she turns out to be behind a larger plot to destroy the entire clone program is not only perfectly revealed, but also further fleshed out by the stellar Beth flashbacks that have been such an integral part of this season.

The discovery of Kendall's kidnapping coincides with Cosima handing over her research in turn puts her in direct danger now that Evie's plot is revealed ("Clones are obsolete. You're Betamax."). Evie takes Cosima to where Duko has taken Kendall, and what follows is one of Orphan Black’s most emotionally wrenching scenes. Kendall's always been prickly and independent, but she’s also shown enough feeling this season to make her impending death tragic. That she called Mrs. S (Maria Doyle Kennedy) "chicken" this episode -- in a beautiful full circle moment between all these women -- only adds more heartbreak.

As if things couldn't get any worse, Evie tells Cosima that Delphine was murdered, and she finally breaks down in a heartbreaking moment of finality. Although Delphine could still be very much alive, as Krystal told Felix (Jordan Gavaris) and Art (Kevin Hanchard) that she saw her get shot (but not killed), as far as Cosima knows, her worst fears have been confirmed. Without her research or any hope left, it remains to be seen whether she’ll give up completely on saving herself now.

Just as it's unclear whether Delphine is really dead, the loss of all the research seems unlikely. Apart from the fact that Cosima and Scott should’ve been backing it up all along, it seems impossible that they could start from scratch, particularly as Kendall’s genome is no longer available, and Cosima’s been getting sicker and sicker.

Steadman, Kennedy, and Maslany are excellent in these final moments of Kendall's life. Kendall's resignation bleeds into her attempt to comfort Cosima ("No tears Cosima. These shites aren’t worth the salt."), and Steadman conveys a great deal of emotion even in her stoicism. Mrs. S's pain is also palpable in Kendall's death and Kennedy communicates her grief completely. Maslany is always wonderful, but this episode, the contrast between Krystal and Felix's antics and Cosima's utter despair (a reaction that was shot in one take), is a testament to both her range and her full commitment to these characters.

"The Scandal of Altruism" is one of the season’s best episodes because it so perfectly combines the show's strengths. The fight to control human evolution has been at the heart of the series from the beginning, with its many factions and agendas, but it’s always been the connection to the characters that has made it so engaging and worthy of viewer investment. Maslany is a force to be reckoned with, no doubt, but she’s also surrounded by an excellent ensemble cast that add weight to what could easily be an intellectual debate. This episode, like many others, makes a case for the human cost of all the experimentation, regardless of good or bad intent. That it achieves such a visceral effect is yet another example of how good Orphan Black is.


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