Sunday, 16 July 2017

Orphan Black (S5E6) - Manacled Slim Wrists (Review)


Brace yourselves Clone Club, because we are now into the latter half of Orphan Black's fifth and final season, after passing the halfway mark with last week's Ease for Idle Millionaires. The infamous episode six now arrives as we gear up for the climax to the clone conspiracy: in this slot in previous seasons, we have seen the death of major characters (Paul in 3x6 and Kendall in 4x6), major character development and narrative progressions (Helena and Sarah escaping Castor camp, witnessing the days before Beth Childs' suicide) and a whole lot of intensity, as the show changes footing and heads all guns blazing for the final stretch. What schismatic events lay in store for us in Manacled Slim Wrists? How will it change the show moving forward into the remaining four episodes?

After last week's episode regained a focus, placing the Revival camp in the spotlight and the science angle at the forefront, the show opens up once again and expands its focus to include Sarah and a returning Krystal. After praising last week's episode for taking a moment to pause, recollect and streamline its focal point to one of its many branches, 5x6 gives the show a refreshed focus and ability to juggle various plot strands simultaneously. Arguably unlike Let The Children & Childbearers Toil, most of it is successfully here and we are rewarded as viewers with a well-tuned balance between the darkness of Neo Island, the emotion of the Sarah-Kira-Rachel triangle and the comic relief and rather bad-ass adventures and tribulations of Krystal Goderitch. For once this season, each branch is as interesting and exciting as the last - even the Neo Island!

We cover an awful lot in episode six - a sign that the finale is fast approaching - meaning that the episode, once again, flies by. The inner workings and power play of the deft minds of Revival are explored in great effect, with the tug of war between Virginia and Susan - with P.T., somewhat gleefully, left in the middle - absolutely fascinating to watch; I think it's pretty clear who won too. I'll be somewhat relieved if this is the last we see of the Revival Island as it has been somewhat of vacuum to our time and resources this season, but at least it ends on an improved, insightful note that offers food for thought moving into these final hours.

Pleased to report that Krystal remains an absolute delight. Our unaware clone, god bless her, brings a different type of comic relief than Alison or Helena (both of whom this season is missing hugely) and the OB team know how to use her; that she continually falls into these huge revelations but fails to fully connect the dots is a stroke of genius and by giving us only fleeting glimpses of her manic life, we are rewarded with some genuinely hilarious moments. We probably couldn't stomach her on a more frequent basis so it is admirable that the Orphan Black team manage to bring her back just when we need her to inject a little fun into the season. Oh, and wasn't it a treat to see Tom Cullen (Maslany's long-term boyfriend) make his first (and probably last) appearance on the show.

Sarah's appearances are short but sweet this week, largely utilised to help guide Krystal through her encounter with a new (but ultimately insignificant) piece in the DYAD/Neo/Cosmetic game. Her relationship with Kira is beginning to heal and Rachel's facade is beginning to crack and diminish somewhat; when Mrs S warns her 'there will come a day when you need us', you sense that the day will be coming soon. On the topic of Mrs S, I am chuffed that season five has used her as efficiently as they have - Maria Doyle Kennedy is a wonderful actress and her scheming as Siobhan is always thrilling to watch. Even she seems shakier than usual though, as if the game has really spiralled out of her control - let's see where her sources take her next.

Sarah as Krystal, even for such a brief couple of moments, killed me. After last week's science/theory-heavy episode, Manacled Slim Wrists more fun by design. We haven't had too many clone swaps and fun this season (saving it for the finale?), so just the tease we get this week makes me excited for what they have in store for us. Of course, Cosima has the meatier aspect to contend with, with some truly dark and dreary material on Neolution Island. With all of this though, it goes without saying that Tatiana Maslany gives it all her all as usual, making for a satisfying episode, mainly because of the diverse performances the episode registers (the ditzy Krystal to the devastated Cosima). It showcases her endless talent tremendously, just as we start to take it for granted.

As ever, the direction here is solid. David Bezmozgis makes his debut on the show, providing a clever and sophisticated episode; what struck me here is the use of natural light - it streams in from windows either directly behind or infront of the character, protecting shadows and building up this intensity Orphan Black is largely defined by. All of this is emphasised by the wonderful art team: what they do with so little is pretty impressive - did we all notice it was Beth's apartment with a groovy Krystal revamp? The sets are bursting with life, detail and flourishes and deserve more appreciation.

Manacled Slim Wrists' big blow comes in the form of at least one (confirmed) death - with the potential of a second victim to the episode six curse hanging in the balance. As we await final confirmation on the latter, things are not looking the rosiest for them, that's for certain. The deaths are a big deal moving forward in the final stage, but are played out more for emotional value than shock reaction here; we should see the fallout next week and what it means for the bigger picture. The devastation here feels rather contained for now - unlike Paul and Kendall's demise at the same point in respective seasons - meaning it lacks the schematic reaction and catharsis. We also have another horrific death skated over - I hope we learn next more next week, as it was passed off in one line in this episode. We are definitely working towards something massive though, and the showrunners promises something huge is in the pipeline for episode 7. Maybe the 'episode six' is delayed one episode this season.

Overall, Manacled Slim Wrists is a solid episode, but in comparison to the whole series, it continues the trend of the season five - it lacks a slight spark. It is not quite up to the usual 'episode six' standard - the moments are big but not schismatic, powerful without shaking the series to the core - but the bar was unfathomably high considering The Scandal of Altruism is still my favourite ever Orphan Black episode, with Certain Agony on the Battlefield not too far behind. Manacled Slim Wrists is a melting pot of tones and themes and genre, successfully progressing the series towards its end point - but is not always the most satisfying thing. For example, Krystal's investigation is incredibly fun and we do get some handy advancement but is ultimately unnecessary, while the Revival stint has been plentiful but unfulfilling.

Thus far, Orphan Black's final season is lacking the scintillation we've come to know and expect - but it still has time to get back on track and I'm optimistic for the future. Let's get Helena and Alison back though, yes?

Episode Grade: B+

TTMMVPAAFAMRP (The Tatiana Maslany Most Valuable Player Acting Award for a Multi-Role Performance): Krystal God-eritch.

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