Orphan Black Review: “The Redesign of Natural Objects”

You know this phenomenon, right? While not as common as the old-time “you decide to watch a second episode of a show you’ve only seen once and it’s the same episode you saw before” (noted in Gaiman’s American Gods), it still exists. You watch a show. You tell your friends how great that show is. Then, when they finally see it, it’s a subpar or highly unusual episode, and fails to convince your friends of the show’s merit.

Despite the ludicrousness of watching Orphan Black from any starting point but the first episode, I suspect someone out there had this happen with the current episode of Orphan Black.
Not that “The Redesign of Natural Objects” is bad, per se. Much happens, and we see more of the show’s latest direction. And not everyone survives, which always makes for an interesting watch. But, after last week’s brilliant, character-driven outing…

…this episode feels a little flat. It has considerable merit, but the production overall feels too “TV,” something the Orphan usually avoids. Of course, your opinions may vary, but my take follows.

Title: “The Redesign of Natural Objects”

Directed by Aaron Morton
Written by Peter Mohan

Tatiana Maslany as Sarah Manning / Alison Hendrix / MK / Rachel Duncan / Cosima Niehaus
Jordan Gavaris as Felix Dawkins
Kristian Bruun as Donnie Hendrix
Kevin Hanchard as Detective Art Bell
Maria Doyle Kennedy as Siobhan Sadler
Ari Millen as Ira
Josh Vokey as Scott
Rosemary Dunsmore as Professor Susan Duncan
Skyler Wexler as Kira
Jessalyn Wanlim as Evie Cho
Gord Rand as Detective Marty Duko
Lauren Hammersley as Adele
Cynthia Galant as Charlotte
Calwyn Shurgold as Hell Wizard
Noah Danby as Neolutionist Thug
Terra Hazelton as Sarah Stubbs
Ryan Blakely as Reverend Mike
Anika Johnson as Backup Singer / Vocal Coach
Barbara Johnston as Backup Singer / Choreographer
Geza Kovacs as The Messenger

High Point

The story hangs on a crucial question: will Alison, currently singing Judas Iscariot for a church production, take her thirty pieces of silver (in this case, her husband’s freedom) in order to save Donnie? We genuinely don’t know what decision she will finally make, and awaiting the outcome of her decision generates more suspense than S’s rifle, Evie’s plotting, or the Neolutionist Thug’s threats. I care about what decision our half-crazy soccer mom ultimately makes.

Low Point

Evie Cho and associates play too much like comic-book villains, something the show, despite its somewhat fantastic nature, has avoided. We saw cracks and limitations in the original conspiracies: here, our borderline cackling adversaries can readily reach into a prison and a police force. On the other side of the battle, MK has Hollywood Hacker powers, while the still-unfamiliar Adele overplays her drunken lawyer act. The show works best when it balances the distortions and stylizations with plausible limitations and strong character writing.

The Scores:

Originality: 3/6

Effects: 5/6 The effects this week have been limited to Tatiana Maslaney’s multiple parts.

Story: 4/6

Acting: 5/6 The leads remain strong. The Neolutionist Thug is just a thug; I don’t expect a backstory, but OB usually makes even the most incidental characters memorable.

Emotional Response: 4/6

Production: 6/6

Overall: 5/6

In total, “The Redesign of Natural Objects” receives 32/42

6 replies on “Orphan Black Review: “The Redesign of Natural Objects””

  1. Jethro says:

    I did not find this episode to be “bad” or flat in any way. It might be a bit slow after the roller coaster that the past few weeks have been, but that was pretty much expected. We’re setting up for the end of the season here.

    The low-point of this whole season, for me, is the lack of Ksenia Solo.

    • zocalo says:

      Similar view here. I didn’t have a problem with the Neolutionist thug either as it seemed like he was already established in the prison since he’d acquired a shank and mobile phone, so probably just forward planing. Having arranged for Donnie’s arrest as a means to put additional pressure on Alison, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to make sure they knew where he was going to end up in jail and that they already have a suitably motivated asset in place to really turn the screws. Cranking back on the comic-book villains and adding some flaws and vulnerabilities would definitely be a step forwards though, although at this stage of the season it’s probably a bit too much to hope for this year.

      • JD DeLuzio says:

        Knowing where he would go seems a bit of a stretch. In the end (as I said), I didn’t find it bad, but merely below usual standard. But YMMV, of course.

  2. Jethro says:

    Non-plot-related-high-point:

    Cosima kneels in front of Sarah, puts her hand on her knee, and then Sarah takes her hand.

    The technical magic they do on this show blows my mind.

    • zocalo says:

      The interactions between Tatiana, Tatiana, the double(s), and the CGI definitely provides some of the most impressive examples of the art currently out there, including in big-budget movie land. I’m assuming most of it is a combination of composited footage and careful editing with a touch of CGI to cover the seams, probably with either a ping-pong ball on a stick or a carefully positioned body double standing in for the additional clone(s), but even so they’ve got it down so well it’s all too easy to overlook. I saw one review that made a comment about thinking how cool it was that they had managed to get the same actor that played Beth to come back and reprise her role again… then realising how absurd that was. That it is both so seamless and apparently effortless (they do it so often afterall) is even more incredible given they are doing so on the budget of a cult TV show.

      • JD DeLuzio says:

        It has become so normal that I end up giving 5/6 to any Orphan that doesn’t have additional effects.

        Yeah, it was really cool Tatiana could come back and do Beth.

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