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'Orphan Black': Alison's Journey Is the Focus of "Beneath Her Heart"

Alison gets the spotlight in the latest episode.

"Beneath Her Heart" is an excellent character study of Alison (Tatiana Maslany) that not only delves into her past, but also clearly marks her future.


Orphan Black

Airtime: Saturdays, 10pm
Cast: Tatiana Maslany, Jordan Gavaris, Maria Doyle Kennedy
Subtitle: Season 5, Episode 3 - "Beneath Her Heart"
Network: BBC America
Air date: 2017-06-24
Amazon
Aynsley: I mean, our lives are filled with joy and kids and barbeques. But if you really feel like there's some other purpose for you, you should trust that.

Alison: I know you look down on me, Rachel. You probably wonder why on Earth my sisters even bothered with me. But I've been in this fight since the beginning. With Beth. Even before Sarah. And I'm in it for the long haul.

One of Orphan Black’s most satisfying episodes, "Beneath Her Heart" is an excellent character study of Alison (Tatiana Maslany) that not only delves into her past, but also clearly marks her future. Sarah and Cosima have more often led the story forward, but Alison's grit, hidden behind a veneer of controlling obsessive compulsion, takes the lead here and it makes for the best episode of the season so far.

Opening on a flashback to when Beth arranges Alison and Cosima's first meeting, the episode shifts back and forth between Alison's struggles to acknowledge the difficulties in accepting she's a clone, to happier times getting high with Aynsley (Natalie Lisinska), to the present day where she initially struggles with her role in relation to her sisters ("I'm such a colossal failure at everything"), and figuring out the role she's to play going forward.

Watching Alison spiral is nothing new, and here much of her the surface reasoning for her depression involves being pushed out of planning the Fall Fun Fair. In reality, however, Alison is in the midst of an existential crisis. She's out of much of the loop and Art (Kevin Hanchard) and his new Neolution partner, Detective Enger (Elyse Levesque) are searching her house, closing in on the bodies buried in her garage. She relapses, accidentally drugs Donnie in the middle of his Highland dancing routine, and eventually rallies to confront Rachel. It's a confrontation that's been a long time coming and was as satisfying as it gets.

In many ways, Alison and Rachel have the most in common, at least in terms of their fundamental personality traits. They're both highly controlled women, used to being in charge. They suffer no fools and have little patience for incompetence. Yet Rachel has a fundamental coldness that Alison doesn't. When she and Rachel meet for the first time, Alison opens with a power play worthy of Rachel (dumping a bag with Dr. Leekie's [Matt Frewer] head in it on Rachel's desk) and by the end of their meeting, Rachel has called off Enger and can't help but show a grudging respect for Alison's gutsiness.

The flashbacks to a simpler time with Aynsely are an especially effective catalyst for the choices Alison makes by the end of the episode. Her life in the suburbs with Donnie (Kristian Bruun), her kids, her Bailey Downs friends, and her community involvement was fulfilling and made her happy. As her life has been turned upside down in the last few years, she’s tried to cling to some sense of normalcy in her life, impossible though it often is. Remembering the strength she felt from that time in her life, particularly her partnership with Donnie -- that's only gotten stronger after discovering all the secrets between them -- is what pushes her to take a more active role in the fight against Neolution, and with Alison now on a mission, Rachel should be worried. When she tells Donnie she's leaving for a while, they share a sweet duet to "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" (which they were supposed to perform at the Fair), and it's a genuinely emotional and affecting moment because Alison’s decision feels so earned.

While Alison's story takes center stage this episode, we also witness one of Kira's (Skyler Wexler) sessions with Rachel. Kira isn't threatened by Rachel; instead, she appears more intrigued. When Rachel gifts her with a mouse that's able to regrow his hair and skin, Kira appears poised to experiment. Whether she's interested in testing the mouse's ability or see if she has a similar one is unclear, but she's obviously curious and how that manifests itself in the next few episodes will surely have major consequences. Meanwhile, Mrs. S and Felix try to keep Sarah calm about Kira's sessions; Mrs. S even cryptically references her meeting with Delphine (Evelyne Brochu) at the end of last week’s episode ("I know it's not easy, but keep the faith. We're not without allies."). Finally, Helena is revealed to be staying in a convent, while Rachel and her goons continue to search for her.

"Beneath Her Heart" is the kind of episode that makes all the science and twists in Orphan Black have real meaning. Maslany makes it possible to invest in and empathize with Alison; she's easy to root for. Conversely, Maslany also gives Rachel depth, even when she's mostly a monster. It seems difficult to imagine that there are only seven episodes left in the series. With so much left to wrap up, it's gratifying to get an episode like this one that takes its time with a complex character like Alison.

9

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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