We were promised a good episode in 'Gag or Throttle' and that is exactly what Orphan Black delivered. Is season five matching the highs of seasons gone by? No. Does Gag or Throttle change that? Not really. But it does return the series to the season one/two vibe that many argue is the series' highpoint and places one of the most misunderstood clones, Rachel Duncan, at the forefront. Continually intense and reeving the series forward towards the grand finale, Gag or Throttle is a satisfying episode; and, for the first time in what feels like forever, we get an appearance from the five main clones!
Let's go against the trend and speak about the closing moments of Gag or Throttle first, because what a final few minutes they were to experience. Shocking, devastating and nauseating, Rachel's actions at the end of episode seven suggest a new day is dawning on Pro-Clone. Maslany's performance as Miss Duncan here, an episode after losing her mother and in the midst of experiencing a major identity crisis of her own, is perfect: as expected, she nails Rachel's physical and mental breakdown and realisation expertly. In front of our very eyes we see the transformation of a confident woman acting with aplomb to a desperate and fragile being questioning her role in the Clone Game. It all culminates in a blistering and eye-watering moment that while change her life forever and leaves us with an excruciating wait until next week, as we await the consequences of her actions.
As we have seen for both Cosima (Ease For Idle Millionaires) and Alison (Beneath Her Heart) this season, we receive an enlightening view into our clones' backstory. Rachel takes centre stage here, with an opportunity to examine her childhood, development and status as a self-aware clone in a sterile environment, paraded around scientist and moneymakers. As is clear in the those closing moments, it has finally taken its toll on her and the flashbacks are infused seamlessly, completely illuminating her insecurities; we know Rachel is driven, but not quite to the extent of killing one of her own; we've always sensed her fragility but her facade comes epically crumbling down; we've had the idea that Rachel wants to do the right thing, even when acting on behalf of the wrong team. Putting Rachel in the spotlight shifts the focus back to the human impacts and consequences and it really allows the episode to shine. All our clones are in a desperate spot - and Rachel too has reached breaking point, with a farther way to plummet.
Kira's stint at DYAD continues and poor Sarah and Mrs S are trying to dig for as much leverage as possible to get her out of her, particularly after Cosima's confirms Neolution's intentions to harvester her eggs to restart human cloning. We are given a beautiful scene in this episode where Sarah and Kira Skype and the latter attempts to convey some important information; their relationship has been continually rocky but this moment cements the mother-daughter bond Orphan Black has always mastered. As we've seen through Rachel and Susan, Mrs S and Sarah, Alison and her kids and, in a sense, Cosima and Charlotte, the show's examination of mothers protecting their kids and families is asserted further, a key theme that proves Orphan Black is one of the most feminist shows out there. It is simply another string in Orphan Black's bow and provides another excellent opportunity to let their arrows fly.
Alison (and Donnie) returns! Hooray! After a four episode absence, she returns with a new hair do and rejuvenated outlook on life; in the two scenes she features in, she is an absolute delight and threatens to steal the episode completely. It's been a rather dark and heavy patch since Beneath Her Heart and Orphan Black has truly missed Alison's ability to lift the whole episode with just a few minutes afforded to her suburban affairs and hilarious life. While I am praying she gets her bangs back as soon as humanly possible (and wish Orphan Black put more aside to cover the wig budget), having Alison back in the show is a joy - and it could not come soon enough.
Cosima is back on dry land after an escape from Revival with Charlotte and, frankly, the more time we spend away from Island Neolution, the better. Rachel is a much better fit for the Island, exploring her power struggle with P.T. Westmoreland and Virginia Coady in such a confined location is genuinely interesting; on the other hand, Cosima, her talent and her potential were wasting away, like a drain on our resources and time. Her reunion with Scott was a beautiful moment, with their friendship being one of the most enduring on the show and truly special to watch. We get a brief glimpse of Helena and it looks like she is ready and raring to make her return - let's hope she finally has something to do next week (even if her fate is increasingly concerning).
Gag of Throttle's direction is sensational. It is one of the most accomplished episodes of Orphan Black and helps skilfully blend the past and present with precision and sophistication. David Frazee returns behind the camera and performs some truly wonderful things; whether it is ringing every drop of intensity out of the final scene or highlighting the emotion in Sarah's eyes after her call with Kira, Frazee performs something rather magical here. He is a diverse director that operates incredibly effectively within the 45 minute he has and, given that he is returning in two episodes time, we should see more of his talent in the penultimate episode.
Mark's reappearance hardly fills me with excitement. Ira's death at the end of last week's episode, now confirmed, resting alongside Susan, was the perfect way to usher out the Castor Clones - so for another to return here feels like a poor decision. In no way a reflection of Ari Millen's talent but instead through design, the Castor clones are simply a shadow of the LEDA clones and too much time focused on closing out their story subtracts crucial minutes from the more important and exciting LEDA storyline. As always, those two elements are bound to cross over but I'm not yet convinced Mark's return is needed.
After the first watch of Gag Or Throttle, I was impressed; after a second, it became one of the strongest hours of The Final Trip. Whether it is because we are spoiled with the show, the one thing the episode lacks is a multi-clone sequence but even with our three favourites communicating over webcam, we ignite the spark of earlier seasons and the enduring theme of sisterhood again. In all honesty, it has been a rocky path for Orphan Black, juggling the pressures of the final season - but Gag or Throttle, while imperfect, suggests we are back on track - and, considering a teaser trailer has been refused to us for the first time in the show's history, Clone Club should brace themselves for next week's 'Guillotines Decide', which promises to be one of the best episode in the show's five-season history. As always, we will see...
Episode Grade: A-
TTMMVPAAFAMRP (The Tatiana Maslany Most Valuable Player Acting Award for a Multi-Role Performance): Rachel Duncan