“Traumatic” is not a word I’d normally use to describe an hour of Orphan Black, but… I mean…damn….
The worst thing that can be said about episodes of Orphan Black is that, because of the show’s function as a long-form story, they can all end up feeling somewhat interchangeable. With each episode forging another piece of an overarching story, there’s not much room for the writers and directors to endow each entry with the kind of distinct personality that can be achieved with more episodic, case-of-the-week shows. “Governed as It Were by Chance” blows away that notion, delivering an effectively-paced, tense hour of genre TV that ends with perhaps one of the most visceral, gruesome sequences in the show’s history. And though it does little to deviate from the show’s general aesthetic, it’s safe to say you won’t be mistaking this episode with another any time soon. This will be, for all intents and purposes, “The One With That Shower Scene.”
But we’ll get to that.
As always, we pick up right where the previous episode left off. Sarah awakes from a stupor to find that it was Cal who ran his truck into the car. After helping Sarah hide both the car and Daniel’s body, Cal demands an explanation for why they can’t report anything to the police. Though Sarah’s not able to completely explain her situation, Cal puts his trust in her and volunteers to look after Kira. Sarah eventually re-teams with Felix and, with the help of Cosima, begins to dig into Siobhan’s past in order to unveil the identity of the scientists prominently featured in the photograph that Sarah’s birth mother left behind.
Elsewhere, a (thankfully) functional Alison awakens from her ugly stage fall to find herself in the middle of a mysterious, unknown room. At first—believing she’s been taken into Dyad custody—the soccer mom soon discovers that she’s actually been checked into rehab. What’s more, her husband Donnie threatens to take their children away if she refuses to stick around for her whole stint. If the weight of Aynsley’s murder made Alison feel mentally trapped before, she has now become physically trapped by the rehab walls.
Back at Pastor Hank’s farm, young Gracie continues to view Helena’s stay at their fortress as a major transgression against their religion. Finally, once alone with her, she takes a pillow to the clone’s face and appears to asphyxiate her. As we all know by now, however, Helena excels at playing possum. She promptly takes out Gracie (shockingly, she doesn’t appear to kill her) and escapes back into the world.
The final storyline of the night involves Siobhan meeting up with Carlton, the old flame who also put baby Sarah in her care. After a quick ‘reunion hookup,” the two discuss their past with the expected cryptic language, and Siobhan warns that, “if Sarah digs any further into this, God knows, a whole world of shit is going to unravel.”
And this is about the time the shit promptly starts to unravel.
Sarah, Felix and Cosima discover that the two figures in the photograph are actually Susan and Ethan Duncan—Rachel Duncan’s parents. In an attempt to find answers regarding the ever-enigmatic Project Leda that the Duncans were seemingly involved in, Sarah breaks into Rachel’s immaculately kept apartment (“Straight out of Cold Bitch Digest,” she comments) to look for clues.
While snooping around the apartment, Sarah is caught in the act by a wounded Daniel, who, as it turns out, was not quite as dead as we thought. He promptly subdues Sarah and ties her to the shower faucet. He then pulls out a straight razor and, leaning over here, makes an incision right near her ear that draws a heavy amount of blood. Suddenly, he hears a noise coming from the front door and decides to investigate, leaving the howling Sarah stuck in the shower.
From here, we are afforded Sarah’s perspective, which is confined to the part of the room viewable from the open bathroom door. Off-screen, we hear the sounds of a struggle. Daniel re-appears in the doorway, blood gushing out of his throat. His assassin turns out to be Helena. Decked in a white dress, which only serves to highlight the blood that now cakes her body, Helena slowly begins making her way towards Sarah like the ghost in a J-horror film. The soundtrack blast jarring and dissonant notes as Helena draws closer and closer. Rather than gutting Sarah, however, Helena comes in for an embrace and says she needs her help.
As filmed by director David Frazee, the sequence is an absolute master class in building horror and suspense. From the way he frames the violent action via the bathroom door to the way in which he paces Helena’s gradual approach for maximum impact, it’s a standout scene in an already exhilarating and fun installment. What’s more, the episode as a whole also benefits from more focused, tight plotting. Whereas more recent episodes have had the tendency to bounce back and forth from clone-to-clone, this entry keeps its screen time primarily on the Sarah and Helena storylines. The Alison scenes, for example, exist as a brief update on her current status while Cosima’s scenes serve mostly as info dump.
“Governed as It Were by Chance” marks a major highlight of the show’s second season and is sure to placate any doubts that the show would not be able to recapture the thrills and excitement of its first year. It’s a first-class example of what the series is capable of at its peak as well as an ideal escalation for the story as a whole.
Well, enjoy the nightmares folks!
Finally, before I peace out, let’s introduce a little segment I will hereafter refer to as “Tatiana Maslany’s Emmy Moment of the Week”—
Hands down, it goes to Maslany’s performance as Sarah as she witnesses Daniel’s killing. In the past, we’ve seen Maslany expose vulnerabilities in a character who doesn’t often let such aspects of her personality be seen. This scene, however, finds the actress tapping into something much more primal in Sarah. Here, she’s not just scared; rather, she’s almost hyperventilating from fear. It’s Maslany’s dedication to throw herself full-force into this heightened emotional state that contributes to the gripping horror of the situation and, furthermore, gives the scene its potent impact.
Mark Rozeman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.