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.