With only three episodes left in the series, “Gag or Throttle” feels as if each episode is bursting with revelations, twists, and genuinely satisfying character development. Even then, this is one of fastest paced episodes of the season; it’s also one of the most satisfying, not the least of which is because it focuses on Rachel (Tatiana Maslany). The Neolution plan revolving around Kira (Skyler Wexler) has been the focus of much of the season, and the show ably interweaves the parallels between Rachel and Kira effectively, while also making Rachel’s choices feel both shocking and inevitable.
Spotlighting Rachel — arguably the most complex and prickly of the sisters — this episode reveals the heart of her character in the most dramatic and gruesome way possible, while also offering illuminating glimpses into why she is the way she is. Like the Cosima– and Alison-focused episodes before, flashbacks play an important role, showing a younger Rachel interacting with Dr. Leekie (Matt Frewer) as a child, and into adulthood. Rachel’s almost pathological quest for a parental figure has always been a driving part of her personality, and the flashbacks reveal some of her more extreme moments, including killing a fellow clone who was dying in order to speed up the study of her disease, and impress Leekie. Yet, there are also details, such as Rachel nervously picking at her cuticles, which illuminate the fragility behind her outward control and confidence.
P.T. Westmoreland’s (Stephen McHattie) ongoing manipulations begin to unravel this episode. While Delphine (Evelyne Brochu), Felix (Jordan Garavis), and Adele (Lauren Hammersley) have been off-screen continuing their investigation into Neolution’s financial ties, Scott (Josh Vokey) and Hell Wizard (Calwyn Shurgold) are finally reunited with Cosima (who made it safely off the island with Charlotte [Cynthia Galant]) to continue their own research into P.T.’s past. When they finally discover his true identity — John Patrick Mathieson — they quickly pass it along to Sarah, who uses it as a way to potentially help Rachel see what a fraud he is and let Kira go.
What no one is aware of is that Rachel’s already feeling betrayed by P.T. She makes a trip to the island and discovers that he’s has been monitoring her through a camera in her artificial eye. Although he goes to great lengths to get her to believe that he’s the father she’s always longed for, even going so far as to grant her emancipation, it only adds to the weight of the betrayal Rachel feels. As many of the men in her life have done throughout the series, P.T. underestimates Rachel and overestimates himself, leading to some of the most gratifying moments in the season.
The scenes that follow Rachel’s discovery of the surveillance are tense and ultimately exhilarating because of how things unfold. While Kira’s been working her own manipulation on Rachel, it’s difficult to believe that she also hasn’t seen something in Rachel that few have. The way in which Kira connects with her in a moment as simple as sharing a touch when Rachel’s nervous habit returns, and revealing that Sarah used to do the same thing, comes across as truly sincere. Kira may be the one person to have seen something vulnerable in Rachel since she was a child, a devastating realization to be sure, but one that makes Rachel’s actions both understandable and heroic.
Sarah’s information on P.T.’s real identity cones when Rachel’s already aware of his secret monitoring, and she pretends to still be loyal to his agenda. All the while she’s drinking heavily and seemingly following through with his plan, but when she brings back the eye patch, helps Sarah, Mrs. S (Maria Doyle Kennedy), and Art (Kevin Hanchard) get Kira out of Dyad, and forwards P.T.’s true identity to the Neolution board, her plan only has one inevitable end. Seeing Rachel, now understandably drunk, use a broken martini glass to stab her own eye and remove it may be one of the most horrific moments in the show’s history. Passed out and covered in blood, she paints the kind of dramatic picture that Orphan Black excels at, and one that P.T. and the rest of Neolution can’t ignore.
Maslany’s work this episode is, as always, brilliant. Her Rachel has always been a study in control so any moments in which there’s a crack in the façade are a direct contrast to her stoicism. Her moments with Kira are especially affecting and that’s a testament to Maslany’s skill in playing Rachel’s reluctance, vulnerability, and acceptance of what she must do. “Gag or Throttle” pushes Rachel emotionally to finally understanding that the research and the scientists she’s given her life to ultimately don’t care about her. She’s simply another piece of the grand experiment, regardless of the fact that she’s sacrificed any semblance of a normal life for Neolution again and again; that realization comes at just the right time for Kira.
While Rachel is undeniably at the center of the episode, it also marks the return of Alison — who’s back from California with short blue hair, a tattoo, and whole new laid-back attitude — and Helena. There’s still Coady (Kyra Harper) pushing her agenda; she brings Mark (Ari Millen) back with promises to cure him, although it comes at a cost. Mark, along with Gracie (Zoe de Grand Maison), were tasked with finding Helena and, in the one scene featuring Helena, Gracie shows up at the convent. In some ways, the non-Rachel related scenes felt a bit out of place this episode. They had so much energy and built so steadily, that the unrelated scenes slowed down the action in unwanted ways.
Orphan Black is holding very little back now. Each episode reveals and reveals, building on the previous four seasons, and the final half of this season is flying by as a result. “Gag or Throttle” exemplifies what the show does so well: combines plot, character payoff, and great pacing with the consistently outstanding acting of Maslany and company. Every episode feels as if the looming end is coming too soon, but it’s been such a thrilling season that each episode simultaneously feels like it can’t come soon enough.