Every season of Orphan Black has had an episode where we spend more time with Alison (Tatiana Maslany) than with any of the other clones. In both seasons one and two, said episode, “Variations Under Domestication” and “Knowledge of Causes, and Secret Motion of Things,” respectively, was one of my favorite episodes of the season. Unfortunately, season three’s Alison-centric episode, “Community of Dreadful Fear and Hate,” didn’t quite live up to my expectations.
The reason for this is Alison’s distance this season from the clone aspects of Orphan Black, which make up its main plot. In the last two seasons, Orphan Black managed to keep Alison connected to the clone world even as she was increasingly distanced from it; in season two, there was Vic and the police investigation to balance Alison’s time in rehab.
In “Community of Dreadful Fear and Hate,” the writers show there’s no real reason Alison is so distant from clone business this season. There are plenty of ways to connect her to the other Leda clones and to Dyad, including the health monitoring she and Donnie do and her continued friendship with both Felix (Jordan Gavaris) and Cosima (Maslany).
Both of these elements seemed to be thrown into this episode specifically with the aim of proving Alison has concerns besides drug dealing, and it’s hard to believe that Felix would have a central role in Alison’s campaign when they’ve barely talked all season. Ultimately, Orphan Black can’t have it both ways. If Alison is keeping up with what’s happening with Felix and Cosima, we need to see it onscreen in the future.
That major quibble aside, I still really enjoyed this episode, not only because I would watch Alison do anything – especially campaign for school trustee – but also because there was another clone swap. And this one involved Cosima.
For most of “Community of Dreadful Fear and Hate,” Cosima wants to avoid her worsening health. She doesn’t have more symptoms, but Delphine (Evelyne Brochu) arrives at Shay’s (Ksenia Solo) apartment with the news that Cosima has too many of the misfolded proteins in her body. Delphine wants Cosima to provide her with a urine sample, and Cosima decides to seek out Alison and retrieve her pee instead.
Now, is it a good thing that Cosima is actively looking to sabotage her test results? Of course not. Cosima is obviously very sick, even if her symptoms have mostly gone away. But wanting to avoid her health problems is understandable. Remember that Cosima is a scientist, a results-oriented profession, and at this point, there’s nothing she can do. She can’t finish a cure without the original samples, and she can’t decode Duncan’s journal without Rachel’s (Maslany) help. Cosima is stuck, and if she can make it so her test results at least look normal, I can understand why she’d want to try and do that.
Of course, Cosima’s quest for Alison’s pee also creates the clone swap when she walks into the school where Alison is campaigning and is immediately mistaken for Alison. Cosima hasn’t had to pretend to be another clone yet on Orphan Black – though Sarah pretended to be her – and by the end of “Community of Dreadful Fear and Hate,” it’s obvious why: Cosima isn’t good at pretending. She barely makes it through Alison’s photo op and speech without giving the game up, and the fact that she’s squinting all the time because she can’t see without her glasses probably doesn’t help. But like all of the clone swaps, it’s fun to watch and I loved it.
While Cosima is pretending to be Alison, Alison has problems with her own, mostly in the form of a drug dealer holding Donnie (Kristian Bruun) hostage until he gets the money the Hendrixes owe him. The juxtaposition between Donnie’s predicament and the school trustee campaign doesn’t exactly work because the two events don’t have the same importance.
I love – and believe – that Alison would absolutely think the campaign was as important as getting her husband back alive, but even she has to admit that her husband is more important in the end. This unfortunately takes all the air out of the campaign. It doesn’t matter if Alison makes it to her speech – especially with Cosima there to take over – because she either misses the speech or her husband dies (or at least has his ear cut off).
If Alison did anything but hand over the money as quickly as possible, she would come across as the villain. And because I’m way more invested in the campaign plot than the drug dealing plot, I hated that the campaign had to play second fiddle.
Luckily, Alison gets a chance to make up for it when she arrives in time to take over her speech from Cosima. Alison goes off-book and gives a heart-felt speech about how family “is more than just the people under your roof.” It’s a nice mission statement for Orphan Black, particularly given the way it ties into how Helena (Maslany) and Mrs. S (Maria Doyle Kennedy) came to an understanding in this episode.
Although Orphan Black’s co-creator John Fawcett said in an interview that the thematic element of Alison’s plot in this episode was “you can’t choose your family,” it’s obvious from Alison’s speech that the whole point is that you can choose your family. You can choose who you want to be in your family and who you want to surround yourself with, and those people don’t have to be blood-related to you. To me, that’s a far more important theme to explore than merely putting up with people because you feel obligated to. Which is what Alison ends up doing with her mother Connie (Sheila McCarthy) in “Community of Dreadful Fear and Hate.”
Alison’s mother is basically exactly the kind of person I expected her to be – very judgmental, not afraid to speak her mind, constantly undermining Alison – and it’s not fun watching as Alison puts up with this throughout the entire episode. When Alison finally realizes at the end of “Community of Dreadful Fear and Hate” that she’ll never be able to fully please her mother, I was proud of her. And although Alison says what Fawcett said (“you can’t choose your family”), she’s still making a choice – to put Donnie and her clones before her mother – which means that she’s choosing them as her family.
Because we’ll be transitioning back into Sarah’s (Maslany) world next week and because the circumstances – for Cosima especially – got more dire at the end of “Community of Dreadful Fear and Hate,” I doubt we’ll get to see Alison putting her choice into action, but at least she was allowed to make one.
- Rachel does know how to read Duncan’s book. Which is perfect timing, given Cosima’s sudden hemorrhaging.
- Sarah doesn’t get much to do, but I loved when she admitted to Mrs. S that was tired, particularly because she called her “mum.”
- As briefly mentioned above, Helena and Mrs. S had a showdown, and they’re cool now. This seems to gloss over a lot of what happened at the Castor camp, but if that means we don’t have to talk about the Castor clones, it’s fine with me.
- I’m continuing to enjoy Shay and Cosima’s relationship, but now is the time for it – and Shay as a character – to get more definition.
- Donnie knowing how to speak Portuguese was a nice touch.
- Thank you to that bartender for Sarah’s new shirt.