Orphan Black: “Effects of External Conditions”

Orphan Black is starting to get goooood. I’m always surprised that science fiction doesn’t get more attention for its fascinating explorations of faith and science. While some of these forays are ultimately disappointing, others can be incredibly arresting in a way that other genres really cannot, being limited by reality. Battlestar Galactica, for example, was one of the most interesting studies of faith that I’ve ever seen, dealing with an actual divine plan being worked out through the most flawed and unexpected beings. Blade Runner was an exploration of the human desires of robots. One of my absolute favorite themes is the prejudice of humanity against the “humanity” of created beings. This episode introduced Helena’s motivations and beliefs, and her piety.  The show has already made very clear that the clones are all individual human beings with their own “spark of divine fire.” To see Helena’s refusal to acknowledge this, as a way of coping with her own non-uniqueness, re-introduces a favorite fictional tension. I’m really hoping that Orphan Black’s discussion of this, which has begun in “Effects of External Conditions,” is not disappointing moving forward (and I don’t expect it will be).

Another thing, which I found incredibly interesting, is the parallel between Sarah and Helena. In the first episode, “Instinct,” we saw Sarah wondering if maybe Beth was her “story” which all foster children hope to learn one day. I think that she is transposing her hope for this story into protecting the other clones and seeing them as her “biological imperative,” as Cosima puts it. This is juxtaposed with Helena, who has coped with a childhood of abuse and the knowledge of her non-uniqueness by seeking out and destroying her duplicates (this must be the “effects of external conditions”).

Orphan-Black-Episode-4-Effects-Of-External-Conditions-orphan-black-34327839-732-412In “Effects of External Conditions,” I also loved how Allison was recruited to play “mother” to Kira. Her adopted children and the surprised way she reacted when Sarah told her that Kira was her own, biological child, seem to indicate that Allison, and perhaps the other clones, are unable to conceive naturally. Is Sarah indeed special? I felt that Allison’s interactions with Kira were charged with an interesting energy, another side to Allison, which we have not seen and which seems to indicate her reaching a slightly new place of understanding with Sarah by recognizing what they have in common.

Sarah is gradually, slightly, morphing into Beth. The old Sarah from only three episodes ago would likely never have confronted Helena in an abandoned apartment armed with a gun, and certainly not in service to the other clones. I find the more I see Sarah acting as Beth, the more I miss the opportunity to have met Beth before she killed herself. This is yet another case for the uniqueness of each clone, for the fact that they all have a “light” in them, as Sarah says. Allison clearly misses Beth, and felt a connection to her.  We, as the viewer, miss Beth – even though we never met her – and can recognize the failings of Sarah to totally step into her shoes as the inability to duplicate an individual. Even cloning makes an ineffectual copy.

As I watch all of the clones interact, I think my ideal end game for this show is all of the clones befriending one another and becoming a gigantic group of sisters that have slumber parties and braid each other’s hair. I want “Aunt Allison” to really be “Aunt Allison,” and I want everything to be sunshine and flowers. I’m getting attached. Of course, if this is the science fiction conspiracy show I know it is, the exploration of the winged-fish group and the origins of the clones has barely scratched the surface– and the mystery is going to become darker and more labyrinthine before the end.


The bleached blonde clone-assassin cleans, sews, and dresses her wound while whispering Sarah’s words to herself: “I’m not Beth.” A child walks into the bathroom where she is working and she shushes him and welcomes him inside.

Sarah arrives at Allison’s house to tell her about who’s killing them. When Allison says that she needs to protect her family, Sarah says that she needs to protect Kira, too. Allison seems surprised that Kira is Sarah’s biological child, and not adopted like her own. Sarah gives Allison her money back, and tells her to be available.

At Felix’s apartment, Sarah video chats with Cosima about the blade which the assassin attempted to kill her with in the last episode. The fish is a symbol of fecundity; there are wings, similar to those carved into the assassin’s back. The blade is new and the handle is much older. Cosima wants to find out what the assassin knows. Sarah plans to continue impersonating Beth, because she thinks she’s safer with the cops anyways. She gets a call from Art, who has a lead on the killer.

At the house from the beginning of the episode, the cops meet the child, who tells them that the woman he met looked like “Beth.” She gave the boy an origami fortune teller, painted in blood. The boy tells the cops that she was “an angry angel.” At the station, they discuss the assassin. Isolation breeds insanity, perhaps stunted early childhood development, she’s very methodical and loves games. During the briefing, “Beth” receives a call. It’s the killer. Sarah answers the phone saying it’s Beth and the woman says that it isn’t, and asks if Sarah felt the connection they had. The killer wants to meet again, and says she never got her name. Sarah responds that she never got hers, either. She responds, “Helena.” Sarah writes it down. Helena tells Sarah that she’s pretending to be a cop, but how long can that really last? She says she already gave Sarah directions. Sarah hangs up as the other cops are realizing that the numbers on the paper fortuneteller were addresses.

Helena arrives at the precinct as Sarah and Art leave to investigate. Helena surveys the boards which have all the clues pinned on them, and smiles.

The police find a sort of den of Helena’s, scrawled with the same stick figures from the fortuneteller. One figure has a question mark painted in blood in place of a head. Art asks if this was supposed to be her, or her next victim. Sarah replies that it’s her next victim – the fact that it’s Sarah herself, she keeps hidden. Art says that he thinks the killer led them there for a reason. The other detective tells Sarah she hopes she didn’t have any dinner plans. Sarah is upset because she’s supposed to see Kira that night.

At the station, Helena saunters over to Beth’s desk and sloppily eats a muffin that’s sitting on it, and peruses the photos and business cards on her desk. Paul calls and Helena tells him that she got beat up and needs him to come get her out of there.

Felix arrives at Allison’s. Sarah needs her to go see Kira so that she can continue being Beth without losing her visiting rights to her daughter. Allison says that Sarah’s a terrible mom and maybe Kira is better off without her. Felix tells her that’s stupid because Sarah’s out there risking her life for Allison’s kids. Allison agrees to, saying that she got rave reviews from the community theatre. Felix prepares for their “reverse-Pygmalion.”

At the station, Sarah finds out Helena has been there, eating her muffins and replacing a photo of Paul and Beth with a picture of Maggie Chen. Sarah investigates the file, finding a scarification on the back of Maggie’s neck that resembles the winged fish on Helena’s knife. As she photographs the scar, Paul arrives to pick her up, angry that she got beat up on her first day back. Art and Paul don’t seem to like one another. Paul wants Beth to leave the force. Art obviously wants her to stay. Sarah walks Paul out to his car.

As Paul leaves, he tells “Beth” that they need to spend some time together because he likes a lot of what they have going on – presumably he’s referring to that one time they had sex on the kitchen island, because they really haven’t had any favorable interaction apart from that.

After Paul is gone, Sarah calls Cosima and tells her about Maggie Chen’s scar. Cosima guesses Beth killed her on purpose. This is the first she’s heard about any of it. Sarah tells Cosima about how Helena said she and Sarah have a connection. “Do you?” Cosima asks. “…Yeah, we’re clones,” replies Sarah. Oh, Cosima. You’re too cute.

Cosima asks what the cops know about Helena so far. Sarah lists the information off. She’s a churchy psychopath, the killings are personal, and she’s a loner who was probably abused in her childhood. Cosima begins to discuss the symbolism of the fish on the knife. She says the fish is Christian symbolism, and that it is crafted onto a knife symbolizes a personal crusade. She goes on to say that since Maggie Chen was marked by this symbol of a winged fish, it seems that she’s not alone, and there is probably a group out there which thinks the clones are abominations and wants to destroy them. Is Helena looking for redemption?

In the police station, Art is suspicious of “Beth” not realizing her attacker was female, and of her and Paul apparently working things out. As Sarah returns to Beth’s desk, Helena calls. She’s busy carving extensions of the wings into her back. Helena says it must be getting uncomfortable for Sarah, since Helena sent Paul over. Sarah asks what she wants, since it was Beth who killed Maggie, and not Sarah. Helena replies that it’s not about revenge, “It’s about you.” She sends Sarah an address and a video which she recorded when she was in the police station, of herself as Beth confessing to the murder of Maggie Chen.

Felix and Allison’s taxi approaches Mrs. S’s house. Allison practices her awful faux accent, and Felix cringes. Somehow, the impersonation of Sarah passes muster with Mrs. S.

Kira, however, immediately recognizes Allison as just a woman who looks like her mom.

Allison attempts to explain what she can to Kira, and says that she’s her Aunt Allison and that her mom is off being very brave so that Kira can be safe. She manages to convince Kira to keep it secret that it was Allison there that night, instead of Sarah, and thanks Mrs. S for keeping Kira well. She makes an appointment for Sarah to pick up Kira from school. Felix says, “Well, unleash the doves,” as Allison has managed to smooth over things between Sarah and Mrs. S.

Sarah goes to the address Helena sent her. Art investigates Beth’s desk and sees that the address is Maggie Chen’s. He chases “Beth” and his mounting suspicions to the address.

At Maggie Chen’s, Sarah leaves a message on her phone for Art – in case she dies, she wants him to know it’s not Beth, it’s Sarah, and that Art is the only person she trusts to figure out what’s going on. She enters Maggie Chen’s apartment, where Helena is is unarmed and posed in an attitude of prayer. Sarah punches her in her bleeding stomach wound, and Helena says she thinks she’s dying. Helena asks where Sarah came from. She seems to be unaccounted for among the clones. Sarah says she came out of the woodwork, and asks where Helena came from. She responds, “from God.” When Helena says she can see a light in Sarah, Sarah says that there is a light in all of the clones. Helena angrily rejects this as false. Sarah deduces that “they” told Helena she was the original, and that they actually hate Helena as much as they hate the other clones. She begins to tear up and asks, “What happened to you, Helena?” Helena presses Sarah’s gun to her head and says that Sarah can feel the connection.

Art arrives at the apartment, and Sarah tells Helena to run. As Helena jumps out of the window, Art enters and asks what the hell “Beth” is doing at the apartment of the woman she killed.

She calls a meeting between the Captain, Art, and herself, claiming that she’s quitting the police force because she’s not ready to be on it after the Maggie Chen shooting.

As the episode ends, Helena staggers down an alleyway and collapses, dying. A man wearing a ring bearing the emblem of the winged fish picks her up and carries her to a white van.

Will we learn more about this secret society? What are their goals? How did they form? Where did Helena come from? I’m excited to keep watching and find out.

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