Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Orphan Black 2.07 - "Knowledge of Causes, and Secret Motion of Things"

Let’s just break this down for a second: this episode of Orphan Black was both sinister and absurd, equal parts mania and measure, comedy and disaster.

Ladies and gentlemen?  I believe we have found the episodic incarnation of Alison Hendrix.


ORPHAN BLACK 2.07 - “KNOWLEDGE OF CAUSES, AND SECRET MOTION OF THINGS”

It’s obvious that Alison was meant to be the centerpiece of the episode, and it makes sense that her character traits sprawl outward from her place at the epicenter, wreaking havoc in both funny and awful ways.  This calls back to the delightful season 1 outfit “Variations Under Domestication,” which served as a little sidecar of pastel suburban horror to Sarah’s squeeze between the cops and the corporation.  Sarah imitating Alison?  Check.  Hiding a body from Alison’s peers?  Check.  Craft supplies in conjunction with bodily harm?  Oh, check.

Of course, when it comes to Alison, absurd ridiculata is usually followed by genuine terror and heartwrenching tragedy.  So not only did we have the hijinx of trying to dispose of Vic and cover for Alison, but there was also Cosima learning that Delphine betrayed her trust, Alison discovering that Donnie participated in a “social experiment” with no knowledge of its real repercussions, and Rachel finding out that Dr. Leekie killed her mother.  And of course, the errant gunshot that capped the episode and dropped all of our jaws - rounding out the hour as absurd, tragic, and violent - just like Alison herself.

But Alison wasn't the only focal point of the episode - there was also Rachel Duncan.  Helena was absent, and while Sarah and Cosima certainly had their emotional moments, the bulk of the screentime was devoted to Alison and Rachel, and the rapid unraveling of their worlds as they know it.  Remember a few weeks ago, I charted Alison and Rachel as characters both wildly resistant to vulnerability?  Neither of them can cope with a loss of control, and they both take great efforts to construct the world around them to the exact specifications of their liking.

In “Knowledge of Causes, and Secret Motion of Things,” both Alison and Rachel receive new information that nudges their worlds off their axes, and watching them struggle to deal is a fascinating character study, both individually and together.  Of course, Alison has been perpetually unempowered since the start of the show, and her unraveling has been a slow, steady, and tragicomic descent.  Learning that Donnie’s betrayal was foolish instead of malignant is just another disintegration of an already-crumbling world.  Rachel, however, is buttoned-up in an apex of power, and the news that Leekie killed her mother is the trigger on a what will likely be a sudden implosion.  In other words: we only just witnessed the early tremors of the inevitable self-destruction of Rachel’s carefully-selected identity.  What more, Rachel has power - where Alison is locked up and disenfranchised in rehab, Rachel has the ability to start a war. (Cue Miley Cyrus' "Wrecking Ball.")

This connection between Alison and Rachel also makes the final moments of the hour more inspired than mere plot shock and gun horror.  After all, the newest chasm in Alison’s life comes with the knowledge that Donnie’s affiliation with DYAD is laughably innocuous, even though it destroyed everything anyways.  And the first crack in Rachel’s world comes with the earth-shattering truth that Leekie killed her mother and raised her in DYAD's image.  So with these control-centric ladies spiraling into terrifying and uncharted new worlds, who should cross paths at the end of the episode but the two men whose actions were the cause?

It’s also a huge statement to set up Leekie as a powerful villain in this episode, and let Donnie Hendrix kill him with an errant bullet.  We learned Leekie was the Mad Scientist, the Villain, and Donnie was the Fool - and yet it’s the fool who puts a bullet through the Villain’s brain.  For a man attempting to design an outcome, it's awfully ironic he was felled by happenstance.  For Donnie, it's accidental vengeance, an irony of agency - suddenly the extension of Alison has power, just as the extension of Rachel does not.  Moreover, it's a new Secret Motion of Things to push us forward into the final act of the season.

Of course, with Aldous Leekie’s demise waiting at episode’s end, Orphan Black revealed a new stratum of power within the DYAD corporation: Dr. Marian Bowles.  Here’s a new shadowy figure for us to observe and suss out - because with DYAD in particular, power dynamics are nebulous and shifting.  Every episode adds new information that reveals a different dimension to the chain of command.  The heads of this beast twist and snarl, and we only learn how it operates if we pay close attention.

Here’s what we know about Dr. Marian Bowles: upon first glance, she appears to be a scientist.  But then, you realize her pristine white coat is not of a laboratory but of an office.  She is a well-groomed businesswoman, silver-tongued and shark-toothed.  She gives Leekie the impression it’s the two of them against Rachel (she’s even costumed the same as him during their meeting - white exterior, black underneath) - when in fact, it becomes her and Rachel against him.  After all, she and Rachel are to sit in the big chair.  Not the lab coat, but the businesswoman’s coat.  Marian is obviously meant to be another interpretation of Rachel - perhaps an amalgamation of Rachel and Sarah - and I’m curious to see if the show will present her as a pseudo-mother figure to Rachel, to match Leekie as her pseudo-father, and foil Mrs. S. as a mother figure to Sarah.

Which leads me to another instance of having to Pay Very Close Attention to understand the true structure and inner workings of a design: in this case, of Rachel Duncan and her Nebulous Tucked-Away Emotions.  She meaningfully interacts with two father figures in the episode: first with her adoptive father Ethan, who’s probably a shell of how she remembers him, and then with Aldous Leekie, the man who took her in and raised her as one of DYAD.  Leekie hijacked Rachel as he hijacked Project Leda - and yet, Rachel shows him mercy when he’s meant to be disposed of.  “Nurture prevails,” she says, without a single tear in her eye, leaning coolly against a desk, rattled but keeping it together.

Compare this to her interaction with Ethan - who, it bears stating, is just the previous Nurturer for Rachel.  He is not her nature - that we know of - he’s simply the man who came before Aldous Leekie as a Father Figure.  We are not privy to the conversation that they share; however, in the moments leading up to it, we see tears shining in Rachel’s eyes and a fairly recognizable struggle for composure.  Combine Rachel’s lack of emotion with her action of mercy, and a big question mark for how she interacted with Ethan - and we’re looking a mysterious puzzle of a lady.  I’m guessing Rachel Duncan understands her own emotions even less than we do, so watching this shake out is going to be interesting.

“Nurture prevails” is of course a big statement to come out of the mouth of one of the characters on this show, given the constant push and pull between nature and nurture as indicators of someone’s identity, appearance, and behavior.  It's also applicable to a few other situations in the episode.  Nurture leads Rachel to make her choice; Nurture gives Sarah similar destructive calculations as her adoptive mother; Nurture connects Alison to her adopted children; Nurture brings Felix to Alison’s aid, and Sarah to Alison’s aid, and Sarah to Cosima’s aid.  Nurture is fingerprinted all over the episode, with one notable exception: Cal Morrison.  Cal is biologically connected to Kira, and, while having been absent from his role as Nurturer, takes up the mantle through his biology as genetic dad.

The idea of a study in nurture spins a few facets in new light.  What exactly comprises nurture?  If nurture is caring for someone, cherishing and fostering and encouraging - then Orphan Black presents us with a variety of flawed expressions.  Delphine is tragically intent on nurturing Cosima, at the expense of Cosima’s agency and Kira’s potential safety.  Alison loves Donnie, but the way she shows it can be destructive for him.  Mrs. S does what’s best for Kira at the occasional expense of Sarah; Leekie cares for Rachel but hides a devastating truth from her; Donnie loves Alison but allows for social experiment on his family.  In short: Helena is not the only character on Orphan Black that loves imperfectly through misaligned expression, and thus nurture is rendered in a gray area as a function of good intent, personal agenda, and difficult circumstance.

As we move forward, it seems the best example of nurture is perhaps exemplified with Sarah: with Cosima's life on the line, she seems ready to bring Kira in to DYAD and negotiate a cure.  Given that Sarah's original character construction hinged on Kira and Kira alone, it's a huge statement about her development if she makes this choice - even if she's running a con.  Sarah and Cosima may share identical DNA, but it's the relationship and the circumstances that are informing Sarah's decision.  Nurture prevails, indeed.

STRAY OBSERVATIONS --

  • “FINKS AND RATS AND SNITCHES AND FUZZ” is the greatest assembly of human language, ever.
  • WHAT’S NEW WITH PAUL: we found out he likes pottery!  And that’s it for this week on WHAT’S NEW WITH PAUL!
  • When Cal told Sarah he has people in Reykjavik, I half-expected her to say, “But I have people here.”  And then I would’ve cried.  Sarah Manning's family arc, everybody.  Sniff.
  • Can’t lie; I felt a genuine pang of sympathy seeing Cal watch Sarah go - probably wondering if he would ever see her or Kira again.
  • I very dearly enjoy when Orphan Black reminds us that Alison has children, and is family-oriented not just in the comedic-soccer-mom way.  Motherhood is such an important facet of this show, and Alison’s kids should be included in that.  Not only that, but it’s a way to connect Alison to Sarah, and Mrs. S. - narrative connections that are personal faves - and a handy construction to keep Alison in the fold.
  • Where does Rachel’s power hit a brick wall?  When is she limited, because she’s a clone?  I wait anxiously to find out.


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Orphan Black 2.06 - "To Hound Nature in Her Wanderings"

Remember how the story of season 2 has been less CLONES ASSEMBLE and more EVERY CLONE FOR HERSELF?  And remember how that’s inherently upsetting?  Well, turns out that defining this thematic switch as an actual LACK for the characters, emotionally, is infinitely more upsetting.  I need about ten thousand years to cry about clone sisters, and the way this episode underscored the concept of family by crossing it with a main theme: the assertion of humanity.

ORPHAN BLACK 2.06: "TO HOUND NATURE IN HER WANDERINGS"

The title sets it all up: this season, our clone sisters have set out on their own paths, isolated from one another.  We’ve seen it in every episode, and it’s a tragic pang of reality about their individual situations.  But this episode doesn’t just unequivocally present this story as the new normal; it wistfully shows us a few hints of what might possibly be, if only our heroes weren’t under constant duress.  If only Cosima and Sarah could go break Alison out of rehab right now.  Maybe Helena and Sarah really could be true sisters, having adventures.  Maybe Helena could have a relationship with a boyfriend.  Including these moments of connection served to highlight the fact that the clone family is splintered right now, and created a beautiful kind of yearning in the audience that they could actually be a family, and maybe even one day, free from this.  They are, after all, stronger together.

This emphatic inclusion of emotional unity amongst the clones is thus a big indicator about the theme of the episode.  The concept of family is the big throughline, the empathy anchor.  It anchors emotional moments like Sarah and Cosima’s phone call.  It’s mentioned casually, like when Mrs. S refers to the clones as “Sarah and her sisters.”  It’s embodied in larger storylines, as Helena and Sarah have the most absurdly wonderful sisterly interactions on what is basically a road trip.  It emerges in small details, like Helena’s cover story at the bar comprising the identities of her sestra clones.  It even reveals in dialogue: Alison judges Vic for abusing Sarah; Sarah tells Cosima they’re stronger together; Cosima worries about her illness putting fear in Sarah over Kira; Helena is momentarily fooled when Gracie refers to herself as her sister.

This episode deploys the concept of family in full force, and its purpose is more than just to tug at our heart strings.  After all, we also reunite with the shady Mrs. S, and meet the elusive Ethan Duncan for the first time.  These are both examples of family - Sarah’s foster mother and Rachel’s adoptive father - that have ulterior motives for their loved ones.  Siobhán Sadler continues to be maddeningly (delightfully) gray in her actions and motives, and Ethan Duncan reveals himself to have been Rachel’s first monitor.  “To Hound Nature in Her Wanderings” brings into sharp focus the repeated conflation of family with experiment, to fantastic and horrific result.  Because this, even more than individual isolation, is the reality of the clones’ situation.  Who can you trust, when you are a loved one but also a project?  How can you forge genuine human connections when it’s possible the other person may not see you wholly as human?


Orphan Black has danced with all these ideas in the past, but “To Hound Nature in Her Wanderings” brought them to the forefront, and fused the clones together with these shared bounds.  Helena is supposedly a member of the Prolethean’s family, but she’s also their science experiment and the womb for their new generation.  Delphine loves Cosima and wants the best for her treatment, but we’re reminded that their relationship is not just love: it’s a science experiment, and a power imbalance due to restriction of knowledge.  Paul and Mark sit in dark corners of a bar and talk about Sarah and Helena like property: “You take your girl, I take mine.”  Even innocent Scott, upon realization that DYAD has clones, asks bluntly if he can see one, like he’s at a zoo - not realizing the woman he has been working with is in fact a human AND a clone.  And Alison, adrift Alison, who thinks she may finally have another human caring for her recovery, is in fact being tasked with another kind of monitor.

Basically, this episode was filled with relationships that are blemished by the other party treating the clone as something other than simply human - whether object, target, possession, task, or even womb.  This has always been a core theme of the show, and a great source of tension: how do the clones assert their humanity, when they’re derived from science, and patented property?  Not only that, but their existence is, as Ethan Duncan so succinctly put it, proof of concept.  They’re a project, conceived on paper but made breathing and living and loving - only to be owned and monitored.  What results is a painful and fascinating tension, and another important theme for the clones: the importance of asserting their humanity.

Last week, I charted Sarah as the character defined by chaos and vulnerability, and her capacity to find power in that space.  This week, it was demonstrated completely, as the emotional pinnacle of the episode came with her confrontation of Ethan Duncan.  She doesn’t threaten Duncan with violence, or attack him with reason.  She humanizes herself, and Cosima, and Alison, by telling Duncan who they are as people.  A brilliant scientist; a mom.  She confronts Duncan with their humanity, which is so often denied them because of their origins.  She forces him to look her in the eye, and tells him that she is not a concept: she is a human consequence for his actions.

What’s even more beautiful about this moment is that it pays off the quietly-building theme of family.  Sarah doesn’t assert just her own humanity; she asserts the humanity of her sisters as well.  The reality of the situation really isn’t “EVERY CLONE FOR HERSELF.”  Her situation is also Alison’s, and Helena’s, and Cosima’s.  They are stronger together, through their vulnerability, in the sanctity of a family that knows the importance of humanity unmarred by treatment as object, target, possession, task, or womb.

Of course, the implications of Sarah’s conversation with Duncan is also interesting under the lens of gender.  While it’s true that Sarah uses her and her sisters’ humanity to appeal to Duncan, it also manifests in a gendered way: “your little girls are dying.”  Typically, the show draws parallels between humanity and femininity - which makes the expression of strength through vulnerability all the more powerful.  Orphan Black’s female clones may be unempowered, they may have flaws - but they are active, and strong.

But this is an expression of the clones shared solely with the audience.  For the purpose of Duncan, Sarah just wrangled them all into “daddy’s little girls,” to incite fatherly love and paternal protection.  Combine this with the fact that Duncan claims that they pursued cloning because they wanted not just babies but little girls, and we’re very squarely in the idea that gender is of huge importance to this show’s narrative.  It is no coincidence that this alignment comes in an episode where our leading ladies are engaged in relationships with individuals who see them as less than human, and where they voice their strength through togetherness.  Under the lens of gender?  This is a big statement about women, the right to their own bodies and identity, and the power in women connecting.

In short: “To Hound Nature in Her Wanderings” is a damn good hour of television.  But it’s also something more: it’s a damn good episode of Orphan Black.  It inhabits its own universe and harvests its own themes and creates more meaning with them, putting them to use not only in the plot twists and narrative turns, but also in the characters’ actions and emotions.  This show sprawls in the most engaging and thoughtful way, and “To Hound Nature in Her Wanderings” demonstrates that near-perfectly.

STRAY OBSERVATIONS --

  • Helena’s boyfriend storyline seemed bewilderingly out of place at first, until the slow dance revealed why it’s important to this episode in particular.  Here is Helena allowed to feel finally.  Her whole life has been a series of interactions in line with the theme of the hour: families manipulating or dehumanizing her.  She even perceives her relationship with Sarah in some level of mistrust, leveraging her knowledge to achieve togetherness.  But dancing with Jesse in a bar?  Helena’s heart is finally ungoverned, free of constraint, and achingly human hoping.  What could have been a goofy storyline actually ended up being thematically resonant and beautifully important.
  • Alison basically has two monitors now.  Ha.  Ha ha ha.  (I cry.)
  • So much comedy in this episode, which made the heartwrenching moments even more poignant by contrast.  Plus, each clone had funny moments in her own specific way - which means that Tatiana Maslany is not of this planet, basically.
  • After several rewinds and a best-effort attempt to understand Science, we’re on with the idea that Cosima’s stem cell donation came from Kira’s baby tooth, yes yes?  In which case, it seems to point to the idea that Mrs. S. is responsible for that.
  • Speaking of Mrs. S, I am so all-in on the Murder Lady of the Night intrigue, it’s not even funny.  She’s the protagonist’s MOTHER, which has its own archetype at this point, and yet here she is, in a t-shirt and beanie and wielding a gun.  Motherly protection, indeed.
  • And, finally, I am also very ready to see what the show does with Rachel’s father, especially as it might mirror Sarah’s relationship with Siobhán.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Orphan Black 2.05 - "Ipsa Scientia Potestas Est"

Bam boom!  Orphan Black is finally greasing the wheels and getting this season MOVING.  "Ipsa Scientia Potestas Est" got back on track with breakneck pace - and along with some great storytelling and narrative devices, created a pretty gripping hour of television.

ORPHAN BLACK 2.05 - "IPSA SCIENTIA POTESTAS EST"

There are several reasons "Ipsa Scientia Potestas Est" works so well - but mainly, they all stem from the fact that it allows its characters to MOVE and DO.  The first episodes of this season found Alison trapped, Helena trapped, Cosima trapped, and Sarah hiding.  The show, by nature, limits the choices these characters have - but when their hands are bound completely, it can sometimes make for a less dynamic narrative thread.  At some point Sarah’s gotta kick through the bathroom wall.  So, "Ipsa Scientia Potestas Est" freed up Helena and Sarah, dialed up Rachel, created communication between Leekie and Cosima, and, since she’s immobile in rehab, wisely left Alison out of the picture.  (More on this down below.)

In other words, this episode allowed for characters to make and act on their choices, thereby knocking down dominoes into other characters who in turn make and act on their own choices.  Plot forward, characters changing and adapting.  This kind of scenario is when Orphan Black is firing on all cylinders, and "Ipsa Scientia Potestas Est" didn’t disappoint.  But as we all know, I’m rarely focused on plot.  Nah, I’m here for the characters.  Let’s discuss.

Last week, the show did a wonderful job setting up Rachel, Helena, and Sarah as the three central figures of the season, inherently interesting because of their complicated connections and thematic representations.  It became clear that the writers were intending to compare and contrast Rachel and Helena with regards to Sarah - with their shared elitist views endowed to them by their group-based context, and the ways in which they challenge Sarah.

This episode followed through on this similarity, even going so far as to put the words right in Felix’s mouth: “You’re now pitted between two psychopaths!”  Sarah found herself trying to keep her feet in the crossfire of Rachel and Helena firing up their actions.  Helena doesn’t stay caged at Art’s long; instead she gets a sniper rifle and goes to take out Rachel.  Rachel doesn’t mourn Daniel’s death long; instead she manipulates Paul, frames Felix for murder, and shuts down Cosima’s treatment in order to force Sarah’s surrender.  Rachel raises the stakes, Helena creates an obstacle, and the drama for Sarah is elevated.  These ladies don’t mess around, and the show is better for it.

But regardless of episode construction, I keep going back to the title of the hour: “Ipsa Scientia Potestas Est.”  In Latin, it means “knowledge itself is power.”  And this episode of Orphan Black presented a whole smorgasbord of material touching on knowledge, power, and the inherent consequence of lacking either: vulnerability.  It’s a core function of the show’s themes, with a rather drama-rich result for its characters.  After all, vulnerability - or a lack thereof - is a cornerstone of most human interaction.  And we saw it all over this episode.  How does each character handle being vulnerable?  Do they seek power for themselves, or over others?  Who chooses vulnerability, and who resists it?

The relationship between knowledge, vulnerability, and power crops up with pretty much everyone in the hour.  Rachel refuses to be vulnerable with Paul, and therefore seeks power over him sexually.  Sarah chooses to be vulnerable with Helena, and in turn receives compliance with her wishes.  Delphine discovers that DYAD is exerting power over Cosima by denying her access to “the science.”  Leekie chooses to amend this, despite the possibility of being vulnerable as a result, and in return receives information from Sarah.  Rachel keeps secrets from Leekie in an effort to disenfranchise him, because she doesn’t trust him to make the right decisions.  Cosima keeps the truth of her illness from Sarah to avoid seeming vulnerable, or pitied.

Let’s talk Rachel for a moment, since she’s the character with the most pronounced relationship to vulnerability, power, and knowledge.  Thus far, Rachel has stood in a glass tower, staring out the window with all the knowledge, all the power, and no vulnerability.  She has designed it that way.  Rachel is so embedded in her own rigidly-defined power structure that she bends no rules for no one.  Her sex with Paul almost plays as compulsory, as though she’s obligated to have sex with her monitor, simply because it’s how the power structure at DYAD works.  Rachel doesn’t appear to have any emotions clouding her relationship with power, because that’s the best way to keep it.  It’s exactly what her criticism is of Leekie.  And even though she was sleeping with Daniel, she insists on seeing his bloodied corpse.  She refuses to be treated with consideration to her feelings, because obliging is an admission of having them - and being vulnerable.

But the show does something interesting with Rachel and vulnerability, during the sex scene with Paul.  Here, Rachel is in complete control.  She instructs Paul what to do when, and slaps him when he move towards her without permission.  This situation is designed to be physically intimate without being emotionally intimate, and still Rachel is vulnerable - because Helena has a sniper rifle leveled at her across the street.  There’s a wonderfully tense dichotomy going on here.  The writing and direction allow the audience the dramatic irony of knowing Rachel’s vulnerability, while simultaneously witnessing a situation where she’s actively denying anything less than absolute power.  And to make that situation a sex scene, where some level of vulnerability is implied, is even more telling.

It’s also an expression of Rachel’s big flaw: nothing is absolute.  Life is chaos, not controlled.  She can manipulate situations to her will using power and knowledge, but vulnerability can’t be kept out forever.  Sometimes another version of you is pointing a sniper rifle at your face and you’re none the wiser.

What’s even more interesting is the show’s definition of science in comparison with Rachel’s outlook.  It’d be easy to conflate science with control.  But Cosima, the show’s bastion of science, is expressive, adaptable, and full of life.  Rachel, however, is science through corporate: an inflexible pillar of controlled data and measured outcomes.  She’s doomed to fail.  Messy humanity - embodied by Cosima, Sarah, and Helena (messy, messier, messiest) - will overtake her.  Her glass tower will shatter, and fall.

So of course, it makes sense that the person on the other end of that sniper rifle is the one person who threatens Rachel’s power in the messiest way possible.  Cosima is confrontational of Rachel.  Sarah is even more confrontational of Rachel.  But Helena?  Helena is the most confrontational.  She is not controlled science; she is controlled religion.  She is as fragile and destructive as Rachel, but unlike Rachel, she’s completely chaotic.  She may kill in the way Rachel would likely kill - from a distance, with a clean bullet through the head - but Helena goes and plays in the blood.  She’s untamed where Rachel is repressed, and that’s the biggest threat of all to Rachel’s repression.  (I hope they meet soon.)

What’s notable too about the sex/sniper scene is the way in which OB uses the tension of intimacy and power to tell the story.  It serves almost as a dramatic device, ramping up the suspense.  Then I realized that the episode does something similar in two other places - first, with Felix and Colin, and second, with Cosima and Delphine.  In the case of Felix and Colin, sex and intimacy is used to underpin Felix’s complete vulnerability when the situation changes, and Paul bursts in with a gun.  The tone changes on a dime, and Felix goes from playful and confident to terrified and dominated.  He doesn’t know what’s happening, and he has no control over it.  It’s a jarring switch of vulnerability, power, and knowledge.

The other example belongs to Cosima and Delphine.  When Cosima finally receives her treatment from Delphine (thanks to Dr. Leekie) the scene plays very plainly like a sex scene.  But not a sex scene like Rachel and Paul’s, or Colin and Felix’s - because it’s not actually sex.  Unlike the other two relationships, Cosima and Delphine’s is basically defined by emotional intimacy.  Delphine kisses her cheek, whispering “mon amour,” and the whole thing is shot in in a series of extreme close-ups, all backlit with narrow depths of field.  It’s a complete embracing of intimacy - and vulnerability, by admission.

The show goes out of its way to have Cosima and Delphine talk about how they don’t know what’s going to happen - but they’re okay with that.  Which of course begs the question: is there power in vulnerability?  Usually a denial of knowledge means a denial of power, and the victim of that is forced to be vulnerable.  This is how Rachel views the world.  But when you’re in a loving relationship with your monitor, what else do you have but vulnerability and trust?  The monitor dynamic is inherently a power imbalance, yet Cosima surges forward, completely vulnerable, and mostly okay with that.  To choose to be vulnerable, as Cosima has done with Delphine and DYAD - is there power in that?

I’m inclined to say yes, considering what "Ipsa Scientia Potestas Est" designed for not only Cosima, but for Helena and Sarah as well.  With Helena threatening to kill Rachel, and with Felix’s safety on the line, Sarah was at the mercy of other people’s power - Helena, and Rachel’s.  But in order to stop Helena from pulling the trigger, Sarah chose complete vulnerability - not just physically, but emotionally.  She steps in front of the gun, puts herself in physical danger, and tearfully confesses to Helena that she isn’t just using her.  Sarah shows emotional vulnerability, and Helena puts the gun down.  Like with Delphine and Cosima, there’s power in intimacy, and emotional honesty.

Considering how each of the clones were deployed in this episode - and taking into account Alison, who specifically wasn’t - there’s a very interesting spectrum going on with them, in terms of how the show has designed their traits and how they’re embedded in the narrative.  It’s almost as if they can be plotted with consideration to two extremes: vulnerability and power, and control and chaos.


  • There’s Rachel, who wields power and control, and is screechingly uncomfortable with a lack of either. 
  • Then there’s Alison, who has a similar need for control but lacks any kind of real power - she’s perpetually vulnerable, and completely disenfranchised in rehab for the episode.  It's why Alison is both a comedic and tragic figure: her comfort zone is in complete contrast to her situation pretty much at all times.
  • Inverse of Alison and in split-contrast to Rachel and Sarah (fittingly) is Helena, who actually has some kind of power, usually violence-derived, and she’s completely chaotic.  
  • Then there’s Sarah, who’s split-contrast with Alison and Helena (her two most interesting interpersonal reactions, in my opinion) and inverse of Rachel, her narrative foil.  Sarah thrives in chaos, but she also thrives in vulnerability - and the show is strongest when Sarah’s power is threatened.  
  • Finally, there’s Cosima, who I would actually put at the neutral point on both spectrums.  The brain who thinks with her heart, she can find vulnerability in power and knows there’s no such thing as control.
Of course, there's a lot of room for interpretation and debate with this graphic, as characters shift in different situations and episodes.  It's not an exact science here.  But there's a lot of interesting things to mine from this perspective - the two clones that thrive in chaos are the two in the black, ungoverned and still pursued by DYAD.  Looking at Sarah and Alison in positions of vulnerability also illuminates a syllogism of the Orphan Black universe: vulnerability equates humanity, equates motherhood - and Sarah and Alison are the two clone mama bears.  Helena and Rachel both operate in power, because they were raised by systems which instilled in them a kind of twisted sense of entitled empowerment.  Diagonally across the graph are pure challenging foils, and adjacent are complicated expressions of similarity and difference (and still challenging in their own way).

So, denying vulnerability, coughing up knowledge, and shifting power means that the plot has accelerated for next week, as more shit hits the fan and Mrs. S. comes back to tantalize us with Lady of Mystery intrigue.  But even beyond plot, "Ipsa Scientia Potestas Est" gave us rich character moments carved out in vulnerability and intimacy.  Another excellent exploration as applied to theme, character, and the confluence of the two.

STRAY OBSERVATIONS --

  • So, I was wrong about Rachel knowing she has a monitor.  But, this fits, and is still interesting.  Rachel’s compulsion for order and system is even more remarkable now knowing that she’s willingly subjected herself to the monitor program.  It means that she cares more about order than she does about seeming elite.  Or, order is a key component to seeming elite.
  • I feel badly saying this episode was better for not having Alison in it, because Alison is a treasure and very frequently in the running for My Favorite Clone (every fan’s personal struggle).  But caging her in rehab means there’s not much to do with her, and she slows things down.  I would love for her to function in the narrative more than that, though.  It reminds me of her scene in Season 1 when she admits that Beth and Cosima were helpful as the law and the science, and she… was the pocketbook.  More for Alison, somehow, please!
  • Effective use of the Proletheans, too.  Minimal exposition or mystery, just pure body horror and suspense-building.
  • Cal to Kira: “You’re quick on your feet.”  Seriously, was there anyone who didn’t say aloud “LIKE MOTHER LIKE DAUGHTER” in that moment?
  • Art!  Art!  Art!  I love having Art in the narrative because he's basically the only one who actually signed up for this shit.  He has no ulterior motive except loyalty and friendship and justice.  What a dreamboat.
  • First the Ferryman, now the Swan Man.  Probably not the same guy.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Orphan Black 2.04 - "Governed As It Were By Chance"

I did a very smart thing this week: I watched this episode twice, and I put on closed captioning.  Now I have everyone’s names right, and also I’m not completely in the dark on Carlton’s marble-mouthed dialogue!  So, with more information under my belt, let’s discuss.

ORPHAN BLACK 2.04 - “GOVERNED AS IT WERE BY CHANCE”

Last week, I talked about the story of the season being one of separation, as each clone and ally is pushed out on her own journey and left to fend for herself against persecution by oppressor.  This week, “Governed As It Were By Chance” intersected several characters on their paths - a fitting expression of the episode title.  After all, three of our clones were left in danger last week, and surely required assistance in escaping from it.  But there was one main intersection I'm interested in: the reunion of Helena with Sarah.

Orphan Black is particularly good at connecting and disconnecting characters from each other, and Helena with Sarah is perhaps the best example.  While Helena came into the narrative as a villain, she felt a connection to Sarah, which was ultimately attributed to the fact that they shared a womb.  In season 2, the connection has gotten deeper, with the reveal that the sisters are actually mirrors of each other.  It’s an apt embodiment of the characters’ dynamic, as the writers have written Sarah and Helena to be at odds yet completely intertwined.  They’re two sides of the same coin, yet they share so much in common.  They are not light and dark individually, but rather they both have light and dark within them.  Watching that kind of complicated interaction will never not be rewarding.

And Orphan Black knows this, as “Governed As It Were By Chance” was clearly designed to reunite the two with a big emotional payoff.  Both characters found themselves completely isolated in the narrative, with new “families” surrounding them - Sarah with Cal and Kira, Helena with the Proletheans.  And while Helena managed to save herself (with a handy assist by Art; more on that later) - the writers specifically chose for Helena to be reunited with Sarah by saving her from torture.  (Clearly, because there are some plausibility holes in Helena finding her way back to the city from that farm, and getting past Rachel’s locked door.  But the payoff is worth these quibbles.)

There are many things wonderful about the shower scene.  Even just as a standalone scene, it’s phenomenal in its construction.  Here’s Sarah, completely vulnerable and terrified.  She can’t kick through the bathroom wall this time - she’s tethered, and bound.  Even her silver tongue can’t get her out of the scenario, and she knows it.  The palpable panic and fear building in Sarah only compounds when she sees her presumed-dead sister covered in blood and holding a knife.  And it’s on purpose, so that when Helena hugs Sarah, there’s a designed choice for Sarah to let it all go and willingly sob in the arms of someone who keeps coming back to her.  “We make a family,” Helena has reminded us again and again, and the fact that Sarah shooting her couldn’t even destroy that only means that the feeling is more powerful.  The narrative doesn’t exactly refute Helena when she says, “We were meant to be together.”  They are, after all, twins and mirrors.

This is part of what makes the shower scene powerful, on a larger scale.  Helena steps in and saves Sarah, because Sarah is her religion now.  On a show where faith is questioned and doubts are daily, Helena can be trusted on one absolute: her family.  Not unlike Sarah herself, Helena has one driving force, and it’s the concept of family.  She is no longer a disciple of god, but of her twin, the piece of her that she felt was missing.  Of course, Helena’s definition gets a little twisted along the way, as so far it only extends to Sarah and Kira and all other humans could just as easily be stabbed.  This is what makes Helena a wonderfully complicated and dangerous character.  But at the core, Helena and Sarah remain twins and mirrors, in so many ways.  Sarah shot Helena, and yet Helena saves Sarah’s life.  Because Sarah is family, and that’s an unbreakable bond.


The Sarah-Helena dynamic expanded further in “Governed As It Were By Chance,” as the show created another meaningful clone connection - this time, between the twins and Rachel Duncan.  Before now, Rachel-Sarah connections have popped up here and there, in a similar (although smaller) fashion to Sarah-Helena.  Rachel, all buttoned-up and business-like, acts in contrast to Sarah, who represents life and survival and messy humanity.  They challenge each other’s existences, simply by being who they are and who they’re associated with.  But not only that, this episode revealed that the Duncans, Rachel’s adoptive parents, were originally meant to have Sarah and Helena as their children, before Amelia spooked and hid them from DYAD.  Leaving the Duncans, of course, with Rachel instead.

The idea that Sarah and Helena were almost-Duncans, but for the choices of one woman alone, is compelling in how it officially connects the characters to Rachel.  The three exist almost on a spectrum now - on one side of Sarah there’s Rachel, who’s quelled all her human urges, and on the other, Helena, who’s practically feral.  Sarah’s the balance of these extremes, designed to be challenged by her interactions with the poles.  It’s no coincidence, then, that Sarah’s rescue by Helena happens not just anywhere, but in Rachel Duncan’s posh empty hotel room.  Helena, Sarah, and Rachel are connected, powerfully but tenuously, through “almost” - a missed connection that somehow means far more than it reasonably should.

But the connection becomes most meaningful when you consider where all three “sisters” ended up: because of Amelia, Helena went to the church and Sarah to the state; because of Amelia, Rachel went to the corporation.  All three were assimilated not into families like Alison or Cosima but into groups, into systems, and the relationship between individual and system is one that Orphan Black loves to explore.  Because of this choice, OB is mobilizing Sarah, Helena, and Rachel into the three most important clone pillars this season, as the mystery unravels.  They are thematically representative, narratively connected, and poised for conflict.  More so than the others, they act not only of their individual will but also as a result of their contextual upbringing.

Of course, “Governed As It Were By Chance” revealed that Rachel Duncan’s behavior doesn’t quite align with her personal history, as Sarah witnesses her happy memories recorded on VHS.  There’s no evidence of a hardened and clinical narcissist, but rather of a happy child at the center of warm family affection.  Rachel Duncan lived the happy childhood neither Sarah nor Helena had, and yet here she is, repressing all humanity and exhibiting the psychology of someone with no emotional attachments.  What happened to Rachel that caused this change?  It’s a great mystery for OB to set up, and I can’t see how anyone wouldn’t be fascinated by at least the question, if not the answer.  Well done, show.

All of this thought about Helena and Rachel’s parts in “Governed As It Were By Chance” led me to the concept of agency.  Orphan Black regularly addresses empowerment and personal agency as one of its core themes, especially as it extends to the conflict between one vs. many.  Helena and Rachel, both raised by groups, have behaved with more entitlement than other characters; empowered by the association with science and religion.  With Helena, it’s been clear for awhile that her participation in her empowering group is actually hindering her agency, and more so than ever with her current storyline with the Proletheans.  Agency is a huge (missing) part of her marriage to Henrik, as he harvested her eggs without any consent whatsoever.  Helena only realizes what has been perpetrated against her through traumatic sense memory, which OB displays in full acknowledgement of horror.  The visual of an unconscious woman having her legs spread is universally stomach-turning, and OB didn’t shy away from using that image to communicate how not okay it is, what happened to Helena.

Looking at Rachel, we haven’t seen any evidence of a lack of agency.  In fact, in previous episodes, it’s demonstrated that Rachel is actually at a high station in the company.  She ranks higher than even Leekie, who was heretofore presumed by the audience to be Head Honcho of DYAD.  But “Governed As It Were By Chance” revealed that Rachel may not be different from the other clones in one aspect of powerlessness.  Like Alison, and Cosima, and Beth - Rachel has a monitor.  Or at least, it’s suggested, through Sarah’s assumption and the phone call Daniel makes to Leekie.  If it’s true, it begs the question: does Rachel know that Daniel’s her monitor?  Is she complicit with it, like Cosima, or is she being lied to?

To me, it’s far more fascinating if it’s the latter, because it removes Rachel from her position of power and makes her just like our merry clone club.  It means that her affiliation with DYAD only goes so far, and that in the eyes of the company, she will be treated no differently than Sarah or Helena, when it comes down to it.  Like Helena, Rachel is being lied to, and the position that’s creating their sense of entitlement over the other clones isn’t real; she’s no better, no worse.  (Like with Helena, will it be Sarah to burst this bubble?)  Combine this with the news that Rachel’s corporate-clone sense of entitlement is masquerading a once-happy childhood, and Rachel Duncan easily becomes the most fascinating fixture on the show.

The possibility of Daniel being Rachel’s monitor is doubly intriguing (and disturbing) under the lens of agency, when you consider what Sarah pointed out - Daniel is sleeping with Rachel, so he must be her monitor, yeah?  If the insinuation is true, Daniel falls in line behind Paul, Donnie, and Delphine as monitors who have a sexual intimacy with their subjects.  And if it’s a purposeful deployment, the question of consent is raised again - because if sexual partners are the best candidates for monitors, it suggests that the reason is because monitors are granted access to their subjects’ bodies in a way that others aren’t.  The idea that consensual sex is being conflated with nonconsensual access to biology is pretty horrific, because it means the monitors have more power over their lovers’ bodies than they do.  We haven’t seen enough of Daniel yet to have an example, but last season Paul allowed for secret nighttime testing on Sarah-as-Beth, this season, Delphine gave Cosima’s blood samples over to DYAD without permission, and this episode, Donnie basically blackmailed Alison into staying in rehab.  The power dynamic in the monitor-clone relationship is fascinating, twisted, and troubling.

More stuff happened, but the bulk of my interest in the episode came with the reunion of Helena and Sarah, the new information about Rachel, and the themes of agency and connection.  Everything else, for the sake of brevity, can be listed in the…

STRAY OBSERVATIONS --

  • How much do I love the Alison-Helena match fade transition?  Connecting any and all clones will always be a fun endeavor, and seeing any kind of relation between Alison and Helena is unexpected and welcome.
  • I’M SO CONFUSED ABOUT MRS. S.  Look, I’m all for Mrs. S. badass-espionage-sexcapade shenanigans, I really am.  BUT ALSO WHAT’S HAPPENING.  The first time I watched the episode, I hadn’t wised up to closed captioning yet, so her scene with Carlton really did play like STRANGLE, oh never mind ha ha ha, then a few mumbled words, then SEX, and I was bewildered as to WHAT WAS ACTUALLY HAPPENING.  I don’t know what’s happening.  I guess that’s a good thing.  Keep it coming, OB.  Take me to the ferryman.
  • I rattled on so much about agency up above, but a point I did want to make about Helena’s escape was how pleased I was that it really was Helena’s doing.  After all the nonconsensual actions taken against Helena, I really wanted to see Helena bust her way out on her own, even though Art was standing nearby and could feasibly “rescue” her.  Sure enough, OB did a solid and had Helena make her own way out, and still allowed Art a helpful assist as he stalled Mark & Co. and their very large guns.
  • The costuming of Helena and Sarah is worth noting in the shower scene - Helena all in white, Sarah all in black.  A guardian angel, an orphan in the black, opposites embracing each other, light and dark in both.
  • Also worth noting, in the Rachel-Sarah-Helena connection, that either end of the spectrum, the ones who originated in entitlement and superiority, both dye their hair blonde, presumably as an externalized demonstration of their self-identified differentiated status.


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Orphan Black 2.03 - "Mingling Its Own Nature With It"

PEOPLE OF EARTH, I AM UPSET.  This episode left three of our clones in immediate physical peril.  You know it’s bad when Cosima’s looming-death disease is actually the least of our worries (for right now, anyways).


ORPHAN BLACK 2.03 - "MINGLING ITS OWN NATURE WITH IT"

One thing I absolutely adored about Season 1 of Orphan Black was the ways in which the narrative threw the clones together, and created unexpected alliances between these humans who, in an ideal world, would rather not have to confront the fact that they’re a science experiment.  The coming together of Clone Club was a major thread of Season 1, and it happened largely as a matter of shared goals: protect Kira, protect themselves.  The unity extended even further than the clones - to Mrs. S, Felix, Art, Delphine, and Paul.

In Season 2, however, the story is spiraling the clones and their allies away from each other, and onto their own paths.  It’s no longer CLONES ASSEMBLE, it’s Every Clone for Herself - and “Mingling Its Own Nature With It” displayed that in full force.  Sarah sought assistance outside the clone group, Mrs. S. is nowhere to be seen, Felix left Sarah’s side, and Alison and Cosima struggled to express solidarity with one another.  The support system just isn’t there for any of our clones anymore - Sarah, Cosima, Alison, Helena - and it’s no surprise, then, that the end of the episode finds each of them in pretty dire situations, at the fingertips of the enemy.

So this is the story of Season 2, and it fundamentally makes things dark, and even a little dissatisfying.  Because of course, as an audience, we WANT to see the clone sisters protect one another, and the fact of the matter is that the narrative has them on their own journeys right now.  What makes this an even more interesting choice is the importance the show places on individual vs. group as a larger theme.  I’ve mentioned in the past that Orphan Black deals thematically with collectives enacting ideals as a form of system, and the repercussions that has on its singular components.  On a show about clones, it’s a huge question: what does it mean to be one of a kind?  What does it mean to belong to a family?  How is that family defined? Is it DNA, or is it shared beliefs?  And what strength or power goes along with that?  For me, that theme is endless fascinating, and I’d love for Season 2 to explore splintering the clones through that filter.

The main “group” of “Mingling Its Own Nature With It” was the New Order Proletheans, led by Henrik and family. Henrik intends on incorporating Helena into his family, which is 10,000 levels of disturbing and PLEASE DON’T, because it manifested in him “marrying” Helena and carrying her off to their wedding bed.  Not only this, but Helena was clearly not in her right mind for any kind of consent, and with no other clone nearby to help her, Helena is powerless against her captors.  She is but a vessel for their wishes, to impregnate her, and they're willing to defend this stance through justification of a higher being.  It's painfully horrific to watch, and I sincerely hope that Art - since he's the closest nearby - can help Helena out of this situation, if she's unable to help herself.

The most interesting Prolethean scene, for the purpose of thematic exploration, came with Henrik talking to Grace about Helena belonging in their family. Grace had doubts, and Henrik immediately equated doubt with fear, and a lack of faith. The concept of uncertainty is pervasive in this show. At its core, it’s a mystery thriller.  Not knowing is what propels the drama, and for the characters within the narrative, it's also something to fear, especially when it’s about your own biology.  Not knowing is a thing to conquer, for both Science and Religion, OB’s two main philosophical pillars.  It boils down to this: what do you believe?  Do you believe in data, or God?  Do you believe in someone who says they love you?  Do you believe you’re safe, or do you believe you have two monitors?  Who can you trust, and in what can you truly have faith - if anything at all?  This is another way in which the clones are made different from the groups acting against them: their faith - in science, or God, or whatever they hold fixed - is burned, or at least shaken.

Along these lines, Cosima and Delphine had one of the more interesting narrative threads, in that it blended hope and fear with belonging, in a kind of horrific funhouse mirror. Delphine reveals to Cosima that there was another clone, Jennifer Fitzsimmons, who suffered the same respiratory disease that killed Katja Obinger, and that plagues Cosima currently.  Not only that, but she was contacted by DYAD, made video diaries, and ultimately… died three days ago.  This was a huge thing to confront Cosima with.  She watched Jennifer’s videos as a form of research, but what she’s really looking at is herself, and what she’s really facing is her demise.   Jennifer is a spectral version of Cosima’s future.  Jennifer is a warning of what’s to come, of what Cosima might be powerless to stop.

And like Cosima, Jennifer too, had a monitor. “Sometimes I forget you’re mine,” she tells Delphine, as she realizes.  Because what is Cosima supposed to put her faith in, when she’s staring down the barrel of a deadly disease with her name on it?  Science?  Her lover?  She rather bitterly equates the monitor relationship as being promised fake hope, which Delphine promptly defends.  Until this point, Cosima is the clone that's kept the most faith, against all odds.  She has chosen to comply with her circumstances, to live in the lion’s cage as long as she can keep her surroundings - but this exchange with Delphine reveals that maybe Cosima isn’t entirely happy with that.  Then again, what choice does she have?  She’s basically dying.

Truthfully, I wish we’d seen more of these two.  The idea that Cosima and Delphine dissected Jennifer’s body is so horrifically heartbreaking, and fits their tension so well.  How do you negotiate science and humanity?  Is it reasonable to have faith in Delphine?  Is this body just a body, or is it a projection of myself?  And is it okay that Jennifer Fitzsimmons didn’t know the whole story of her relationship, her biology, her identity?  Oh, there was so much in this new clone’s presence, and how it extended into Cosima and Delphine’s core conflict.  Cosima’s struggles in particular this episode were really affecting, and I wish she’d gotten more screentime.

Auntie Alison is also having a rough go of it, as the only other clone on the homestead, as it were.  She makes a desperate call to Cosima about possibly having a second monitor (snooping Angie) and Cosima doesn’t really have time for her. I  love the idea that the two clones left in conjunction are the two clones with the biggest disconnect - echoing the theme of the season.

As for Alison, the pressure of performing is bearing down on her, both onstage and off.  She knows Donnie is her monitor, and the guilt of having let Aynsley die roars up with abandon.  She has Angie on her back now, and Alison is just paranoid enough to fully understand that she is not a coincidental new acquaintance.  Plus, to cope with all this, the pills and alcohol are back.  So Alison literally takes a fall - offstage, in front of everyone.  I am so beyond glad that Felix is in that theater to help pick her up.

Of course, Felix is in fact in that theater because he chose Alison over Sarah, in a way.  Or at least, Felix knows that his role in Clone Club is one of support, and he doesn’t have that place with Sarah at the moment.  Not when Sarah takes him and Kira straight to Kira’s dad, without consulting Felix or even telling him the plan.  Jordan Gavaris was absolutely heartbreaking when he tells Sarah he doesn’t have a place with her anymore.   Feeling like he’s bumped from her family, from her circle of trust, is overwhelmingly sad, and palpable.  So he goes where he’s needed - to a rapidly-crumbling Alison.

Sarah’s actions in “Mingling Its Own Nature With It” are worth discussion - especially since Orphan Black put a lot of effort into making Cal’s presence a reveal. I do think that this resulted in having to remove Sarah as the POV character in the beginning of that storyline, so we wouldn’t cotton on to her choosing to go to Cal’s instead of randomly finding a house to stay in.  Because of this, we kind of got a kaleidoscope of Sarahs.  We were treated to Mom Sarah in several scenes with Kira.   We had on-the-run Sarah, as we’re used to seeing her, and then Cal’s Sarah, who’s basically a duplicitous grifter. There's also a Sarah who clearly cares about Cal.  At the end of the day, Sarah is who she needs to be in order to survive, and we saw that in full force in this episode, even as she tries to do the right thing by her daughter and her own moral code.

Obviously, Cal’s inclusion in the show is a big deal, and one I wasn’t exactly prepared for in the third episode of Season 2. I’m still in “wait and see” mode on Cal, and his introduction as it fits into the larger design of the season.  It’s probably fundamentally valuable to the show’s narrative to keep threatening Sarah and Kira with separation, and the idea that Kira winds up in Cal’s care for awhile is interesting.  And of course, Sarah, Cal, and Kira make up a traditional “family” as the show hasn’t quite presented yet.  Whether or not it’s the ideal is left up for debate, but Sarah obviously feels a lot of pain from not having a proper mother and father in her life.  Creating a mother, father, daughter unit with these three is another element in the show’s exploration of family, alliance, and belonging.  So as long as it continues to connect with this concept, it’s definitely worth the show’s while, and I’m along for the ride.

But really, the most pressing concern is the fact that SARAH, HELENA, ALISON, AND COSIMA ARE IN LIFE-THREATENING SITUATIONS RIGHT NOW.  Breaking up the Clone Club is so not good for my blood pressure.

STRAY OBSERVATIONS --

  • For levity, we were treated to Cosima’s spot-on Leekie impression, and the return of everyone’s OTP: Helena/food.   Also, since we could use some more, I’ll tell you that I abbreviated the Felix-and-Cal conversation as Fe/Cal in my notes and had a good laugh realizing what I’d spelled.  Because I am twelve years old.
  • Given that Daniel wasn’t shown as having any contact with Leekie or Rachel in the episode, I’m wondering if he’s acting of his own accord.  Which is interesting!  Although it pokes holes in my theory that people who act against their group are usually “good guys.”  Unless he IS a secret good guy.  Which is doubtful.  But maybe they want us to THINK that.  (...this is why I don’t theorize about OB.)
  • Why on earth would Cal and Sarah let Kira go feed the chickens ALONE.  Like, really.  On a show that’s had a man with a TAIL, this is the thing I have the hardest time believing.
  • Helena’s whole scenario is overwhelmingly disturbing, and made even more so when you realize her initiation into the family is just as much baptism as it is wedding.  In a long white dress, she’s made powerless and infantilized, a bride and a child, being initiated into a new family, new beliefs, and a new purpose for her body.  I can’t think about it without getting a head-to-toe shudder.
  • More Jennifer Fitzsimmons, please.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Orphan Black 2.02 - "Governed by Sound Reason and True Religion"

For as much as the first season kept accelerating to the finale, it was a bit disappointing to note that the second episode of season 2 lost some of the wind in its sails. I suppose it was inevitable, and certainly not a glaring misstep - but by comparison, this episode didn’t quite keep the same pace we’re used to. With massive world expansions, new characters, and the settlement into a new status quo, “Governed by Sound Reason and True Religion” kept its events carefully paced and under control - until of course, the final act, when things went spinning again in a new direction.

ORPAN BLACK 2.02 “GOVERNED BY SOUND REASON AND TRUE RELIGION”

Truly, the thing that astounded me most about “Governed by Sound Reason and True Religion” was the sheer amount of WORLD EXPANSION happening.  This episode doled out information and exposition, without really answering any questions.  We learned that the Proletheans actually have a division amongst them, an Old Order - comprising Tomas and Helena - and a New Order - comprising Bomb Girl’s Bob Corbett and Alien Insect Joaquin Phoenix.   (Okay, fine, I’ll use character names. Henrik and Mark it is.)  Turns out these New Order folk live on a kind of rural compound, and they’ve taken in Helena and Tomas.  Henrik and Tomas have a nice conversation about the role of science in religion, and then Mark shoots him with a nail gun.  That's about the sum of it.

The other world we’re introduced to also happens to take place on a kind of rural compound.  Turns out Kira’s kidnapping was actually done by Mrs. S, as we feared, but in actuality, she staged the ransack and fled for safety.  Which is I guess what we’d hoped, but I won’t deny that a small part of me was disappointed that the element of danger in Kira’s kidnapping deflated so quickly.  I mean, obviously I don’t WANT Kira to get hurt, but I also want to be on the edge of my seat, and the “reveal” that Kira was kidnapped by the Proletheans was tantalizingly stakes-upping.  The bait-and-switch on Sarah’s “kidnapping” from the motel to the woods worked well enough.  But going to hang out at Happy Orphan Compound in the wake of that was a definite lull.

Even so, the lull was likely intentional, because Mrs. S’s past allies turned on her quickly - as a result of a payoff by the Proletheans.  And it’s for this reason that I can’t be too fussed about the lengthy lull of worldbuilding through most of this episode - the scenes of Sarah escaping and Mrs. S realizing the betrayal were a roar of horror that was even more jarring when set against innocuous plotting that came before it.  Indeed, it was protracted even further by the almost pastoral rendering of that environment earlier in the episode.  Sarah and Mrs. S returned to a safe place, a home and a family - only to have that family splintered and violent.  The image of the darkened house, with the sudden flash of Mrs. S’s gunshot, was in sickening constrast to the images OB made a point for us to see earlier on - Felix and Sarah’s names carved into a headboard, a family dinner around a homemade meal, memories and fond reminiscences of happier times.  That house, and those memories, won’t ever quite be the same now.

Particularly intriguing about this series of events too is the role that Mrs. S is playing in them.   Of the “trust issues” characters deployed into OB’s narrative, I personally find Mrs. S the most compelling.   The question of her loyalty runs much deeper than Delphine’s, Paul’s, or Donnie’s. Her alliance with Sarah and Kira connects to the emotional core of the show: motherhood, protection, and humanity - and while we want to trust her, perhaps even more than we want to trust Delphine or Paul, it remains that most of her history is obscured from us.  We don’t have all the facts when it comes to Mrs. S.

Of course, neither does Sarah.  Which is why she withholds information about Amelia and Helena, confronts her with the photo Amelia showed her, and steals away with Kira in the night.  More interesting still is Kira’s agreement that Mrs. S has bad secrets.  We, the audience, learn that Mrs. S clearly knows something about Project Leda - but we also see her step aside to let Sarah leave, and exact vengeance on Brenda for her betrayal.  And more powerful than anything, for me, was the hurt in her eyes as she stood in the headlights of Sarah’s escape and fully processed what Sarah had done.  Oh, it wounded, and Maria Doyle Kennedy deserves props for that bit of subtle acting.  How many times in Siobhán’s life do you think Sarah has disappointed her?  And we want so badly for Mrs. S’s permanence in Sarah’s life to be a sign of unconditional support, and not a contractual obligation.  Maybe more than anything, it's penance.

But it’s likely neither black nor white, if we’ve learned anything from the exploration of loyalty on this show.  The only constant loyalty I trust is amongst the clones themselves - and that’s being tested as well.  DYAD goes to great (okay, fine, conversational) lengths to ensure that Cosima has no alliance with Sarah, then asks her to sequence her DNA and figure out what’s different about her.   Apparently neither Leekie nor Rachel picked up on Cosima’s subtle delight in Sarah stealing Leekie’s swipe card and kicking Rachel’s ass.

Truthfully, “Governed by Sound Reason and True Religion” did little to make Leekie and Rachel the sinister villains they’ve appeared to be in the past.  It was a bit jarring, actually, how close they bordered on… buffoonery, maybe?  Leekie’s scenes with Cosima felt like an overeager grandpa trying to buy his surly granddaughter’s approval, and his scenes with Donnie spying on Alison were straight out of a sitcom.  Then there’s Rachel, who can’t think of anything else to say to the woman who decoded her own genome than, “So, you’re gay?”  Smooth, grandma.  So, DYAD & Co. weren’t very threatening this episode, and I’m curious to see if that’s going to affect any believability in raising the stakes later on.   I suspect this situation between Cosima and DYAD is meant to be a tense and fragile landscape where the war is waged intellectually… but it would help if Rachel and Leekie didn’t skew Ma and Pa Science.

Ma and Pa Science, (un)naturally


Meanwhile, Alison’s corner starts to crumble, and it’s happening sooner than I would have expected.  Which is certainly not a complaint.  Alison realizes very quickly that Donnie is her monitor, and the fact that the terms of her contract have been breached sends her spiralling.   Actually, it’s important to note that the whispers of her snotty peers weren’t enough to turn her back to drinking - but mysterious text messages implicating Donnie as her monitor were.   She confirms it through some clever trap-setting with her conveniently-named theatre friend Sarah, and catches Donnie - without revealing herself.

The idea that Donnie is Alison’s monitor does have a sinister element to it.  Beth and Cosima were given monitors that are super hot and super specialized - Delphine is a brilliant scientist, Paul has a military background.  They entered Beth and Cosima’s lives fairly late in the game.  But Alison has known Donnie since high school. Has he been her monitor since then?   Or did he turn on her at some point in their marriage? Either way you shake it, it’s terrible.  Alison has been nearly has family-centric as Sarah, and the fact that her partner either a) doesn’t love her anymore, or b) never did, is heartbreaking.  And just how incompetent is Donnie?   He’s no scientist or military guy, but he’s awfully good at lying.  Way better than Delphine, that’s for sure.  Even though he fumbled the cemetery stakeout, he covered it up damn well, and damn quickly.  The unassuming Nice Guy shtick makes it easy for Donnie to pretend that he cares, throwing Alison off his track and making him the Good Husband.

So Alison’s turned back to drugs and pills, and the second most heartbreaking scene in the episode came when she melts down at the news that Felix is leaving. Their dynamic is one of the show’s surprising standouts, and the fact that Alison clearly can’t cope without Felix in her support system just means she’s going to hit rock bottom even harder.  The death of Aynsley, the spousal betrayal, and the continued threat of observation are going to undo Alison.  Not only that, but she’s got the musical to pay attention to, and it’s a classic Alison construct.   She will fracture under the weight of performing. Because that’s what Alison does - she pretends, until she can’t pretend anymore.  And then it gets ugly.

In the end, Sarah takes Kira and Felix on the run, the New Order Proletheans take out the Old, Alison must face the truth about her carefully-designed life, and Mrs. S is left with a shotgun and the bodies of two former friends.  As Henrik says in the episode’s last moments, “it’s a brand new day.”  With the shocks of the premiere behind us, and eight episodes left to go, “Governed by Sound Reason and True Religion” seemed to echo that sentiment, heralding new sects and shifting situations, introducing us to a new normal and all the mysteries therein.

STRAY OBSERVATIONS --
  • “How’s Auntie Alison making out?” “Don’t tell Sarah, please!”  This bulletpoint has been brought to you by my undying appreciation for Sarah and Alison’s delightful dynamic.
  • Apparently Helena was born as a mirror to Sarah, which means that a) her heart is on the opposite side, hence her apparent invincibility, and b) she possibly also could birth children.  The thought is terrifying for multiple reasons.
  • I like that the new clone phones are bright green.  No real reason.
  • Art went from being very involved to being very not-involved.  It honestly felt like a plot hole that Sarah would get whisked away at the hotel and Art wouldn’t try to contact her afterwards.  But maybe he doesn’t have her new number.
  • Angie continues to be a delightful hardass.  I got a good chortle out of her reassuring Art she wasn’t going to go to the hospital, only to cut away to… her at the hospital.  What a lil Sarah Manning she is.  I am super nervous about her popping up in Alison’s storyline next week, though, because, well, Alison kind of murdered somebody.   Or at least, Aynsley wore a scarf in the kitchen.



Friday, April 25, 2014

Orphan Black 2.01 - "Nature Under Constraint and Vexed"

ORPHAN BLACK IS BACK AND THINGS ARE HAPPENING!!! Oh, and I’m reviewing it. That’s a thing that’s also happening. And while OB is masterful at plotting and proliferating its mysteries, I doubt I will pay much attention to that here in these reviews. What interests me more about the show is the way it deploys its characters into a breakneck narrative, and still allows them to be the center of its universe. I’ll probably also delve into storytelling decisions and narrative construction, as usual, as well as the philosophy of science and humanity and all that good stuff.

Yeah, yeah, you say. Enough preamble. Get your shit together, you silly tit!

ORPHAN BLACK 2.01 - "NATURE UNDER CONSTRAINT AND VEXED"

ORPHAN BLACK IS BACK AND THINGS ARE HAPPENING!!! Sorry. It just needed to be reiterated. Our second season opens with Sarah on the run, mere minutes after the last season ended. We are, of course, thrown into the deep end on this - and expected to keep up. After all, this is OB’s aligning principle, not only for the audience but also for Sarah Manning herself. And not only does it make for compelling TV, it simultaneously makes Sarah a fundamentally strong main character. We know this world as she knows this world, and we learn as she learns. We’re on this journey with her, and as we see her make choices in impossible circumstances, it allows the audience to connect with her. And this is of particular importance for a character like Sarah Manning.

When Sarah’s first introduced to the viewer, back in “Natural Selection,” she’s hardly likeable. She lies, steals, and squirms her way out of sticky situations. We don’t quite get her yet. The show’s aware of this, and Sarah’s likeability emerges as the audience is simply allowed to understand her, and ride with her. Because the Sarah we know now, in S2? She lies, steals, and squirms her way out of sticky situations. It’s not like Sarah’s changed. Her motivations haven’t even changed. But we root for her now, because her circumstances have changed. Orphan Black built its world around Sarah, and let her flaws become strengths.

But not only that - they also let them drive the narrative. The reason OB’s plotting works so well is because it’s mandated by Sarah. She is someone who improvises when backed into a corner - so OB’s plot isn’t afraid of backing itself into a corner. In fact, this show is better when it’s written this way. The suspense that goes along with “THAT THING YOU DIDN’T WANT TO HAPPEN IS HAPPENING” is powerful. That hope and fear breeds investment. And that, friends, is how we’ve all spent seven and a half hours marathoning the first season of this show. Because of Sarah Manning, the inarguable main character at the core of this show. She drives the action despite the forces around her, and simultaneously heightens the emotional investment of the audience. This show would not work nearly as well with another character at its center.

So naturally, as S2 begins, we see Sarah Manning in her element: on the run, and improvising her way out of sticky situations. As a matter of fact, the opening sequence of “Nature Under Constraint and Vexed” feels eerily reminiscent of the first few minutes of “Natural Selection” - except the stakes are way, way higher. We know the situation now - we know Sarah Manning’s running for her daughter (like before) except now she’s much less certain she can get them out of their circumstances (unlike before). She stops at a diner to have a think (and a cup of tea) - and discovers she’s being actively pursued by a man in bolo tie and a creature I can only describe as what would happen if Joaquin Phoenix were an alien insect. (Sorry, Ari Millen. It’s the character! You look way less terrifying in real life, pinky swear.)

The stakes are high, the tension building, and like “Natural Selection,” “Nature Under Constraint and Vexed” delivers us a trigger moment that sets the wheels spinning for Sarah (and a HOLY SHIT WHAT AM I WATCHING moment for the audience). In the pilot, it was Beth stepping in front of the train. In the season 2 opener, it’s George Hudson, noble diner cook, getting shot in the chest for standing up for Sarah, a perfect stranger. With one single death, the world turns on its axis, and Sarah finds herself cornered again - this time in a crappy diner bathroom, with Alien Insect Joaquin Phoenix trying to kick in the door.

So what does Sarah Manning do, when in a corner?

She makes her own exit - literally busting through the wall, and out onto the street.

(This is the point in the review where we all stand on top of something tall and shout SARAH!!! MANNING!!! to the heavens. Feels good, doesn’t it?)

The rest of the episode for Sarah echoes a large thematic construction for the show: she struggles to maintain her agency as oppressing powers in her life threaten her very existence. This is, frankly, another reason Sarah is such a successful main character. Strong characters are characters who make decisions - the stronger the decision, the stronger the character, generally. It usually also makes them more flawed, and therefore more interesting. Sarah definitely fits this bill. She actively asserts her decisions, because she refuses to be powerless, which is of particular importance in this world. Again, Sarah’s flaws are now strengths in the changed circumstances. Sarah threatens to crash a party with a gun; she kicks through walls; she makes Paul pay $20 for a phone conversation with her, wherein she calls the shots anyways. What a delight.

Along these lines, it bears stating that Sarah’s enemies affiliate with a tribe, whereas her allies are all individuals. It’s more apparent than ever in the “Nature Under Constraing and Vexed,” as she benefits from the help of the diner cook, the skater guy, the skater girl, and the little kid. Hell, even the help that Art, Paul, and Delphine provide to the clones relies on the idea that they’re betraying the organization to which they belong by acting of their own individual accord. Helena in the first season was the same, and it’ll be interesting to see where she shakes out in Season 2. The clones are constantly at the mercy of a persecuting group force - whether from a company like DYAD, a religious sect like Thomas’, or a justice system like the police. Angie, Rachel, Mark - they’re all acting on behalf of a group belief, because they don’t see the clones as people. Art, Paul, Delphine, and Helena, however, know the clones as humans, largely because they share human relationships with them. Art sees a partner, Paul and Delphine see lovers, Helena sees a sister. Like Delphine said: they’re invested. The humanity afforded the clones directly correlates with the help these people provide, which fosters the idea that they are thinking free of - and acting against - their embedded tribe.

Of course, OB is still playing with the idea of loyalty, particularly with Delphine and Paul. Does loyalty to Cosima mean heeding her verbalized wishes, or does it mean turning over blood samples to DYAD because they’re the ones who can save her? The cast and writers have been very clear that Delphine’s feelings for Cosima are genuine (mercifully side-stepping the evil/manipulating/doomed lesbians trope) and so what’s interesting is how Delphine processes these feelings and how that manifests in her choices. This particular decision clearly indicates that she still has some faith to her tribe, in spirit if not motive. Delphine is not being blackmailed, unlike Paul, and therefore her lingering loyalty to DYAD and Leekie speaks more of her faith in science than anything else. Ironically, this characteristic that’s “betraying” Cosima is probably also what connects her to Cosima. Even more ironically, Delphine’s approach thus far in S2 is very reminiscent of S1 Cosima: she knows she’s being played, but she still plays, through some faith in the system and her own power. She believes she can use her affiliation with DYAD as an advantage. But this is group vs. individual, and it’s difficult to be optimistic about that in this universe. It seems inevitable that Delphine’s conflation of science with a group of scientists is going to burn her this season.

As for Paul, his affiliation to DYAD seems particularly tied to Rachel, and is a bit more nebulous because his motivations are not his own. He is being blackmailed, and so Paul’s power is limited. Rachel seems to think he is the only one who knows what makes Sarah Manning tick, which is LAUGHABLE. Seriously. LAUGHABLE. Sarah Manning is literally the easiest person in this universe to understand. It goes like this:

I like to imagine Paul handed this note to Rachel after Sarah flees the building. She rolls her eyes at him and crumples it up, but after he leaves she fishes it out of the trash, smooths it out, and studies it for further understanding. She’ll get it one day.

The fact that Rachel seems to think Paul has some kind of special insight about Sarah is hilarious, because it means that Rachel Duncan may actually be a robot. What are human emotions? Rachel knows not.

All kidding aside, it does fit obviously well with the construct of group vs. individual and the treatment of humanity. Rachel can’t see Sarah as a human, whereas Paul does. Rachel throws around statements of power like “you’re not going to shoot me” and “no one lays a hand on me” as she’s actually faced with a gun and a human pinning her to the ground. Rachel has no concept of the messy particulars of humanity, and it’s not difficult to wonder why. For a character so buttoned (or zipped, as it were) I’m guessing there’s a whole host of messy humanity suppressed underneath her careful exterior. I hope dearly that Sarah is the one to trigger its emergence, simply by being so confrontationally human.

The theme of group vs. individual takes an interesting turn when it’s applied to the clones themselves, particularly as it extends to Sarah. Part of the changing circumstance that happened to Sarah over the course of Season 1 was the sudden entanglement with, well, people. Before “Natural Selection,” Sarah cared for three individuals in her life: Felix, Kira, and Mrs. S (and you could argue about that last one). Now, she’s accidentally allied with Alison, with Cosima, with Art, with Paul - and the definition of her family is shifting beneath her. But Sarah Manning protects her family at all costs, as does Alison. This is a group of people who have more power in togetherness, so they stick together. As a result, we get lovely scenes where Sarah leverages on behalf of Cosima to Leekie, where Cosima and Delphine are staying at Felix’s as a sort of clone refugee HQ, and Alison gets a gun to Sarah so she can threaten Rachel to save Kira. Together, they do make a family, through their biology and their shared persecution. It’s been one of my favorite things about this show - embedding Sarah in a grounding context and allowing her to struggle and grow with that.

I guess it’s time to talk about Alison now, yeah? Truthfully, I could have easily transitioned into talking about Alison for the last four paragraphs or so, because Alison shares something in common with each Delphine, Rachel, and Sarah, that merits talking about. For now, Alison is the clone under the least duress, because her family is safe, she hasn’t been shot, and her health isn’t compromised. In fact, Alison’s even on the upswing, as she’s given up pills and booze, and scored the lead in her community theatre’s musical. But it’s clear this is a very temporary situation for her. The terms of her agreement with DYAD won’t last forever, and Aynesley’s death will haunt her. Not to mention the fact that she doesn’t know she’s married to her monitor - which implies an extra level of hurt and betrayal. In short: Alison is a ticking time bomb. Like Delphine, her faith in a black-and-white concept is going to burn her; like Rachel, her undoing will be very very messy, and like Sarah, she will go to the mat for the things she cares about. And in true Alison fashion, this will likely be ridiculous and terrifying and tragic.  (And I will love it.)

But it’s difficult to truly make predictions for what might happen on this show. What seems fairly certain is this: on a show like Orphan Black, it’s no coincidence that the theme of survival is meant to run deep. This is, after all, a show where our main characters are under direct dehumanizing attack from three different outside forces with strong codes of behavior. This coincides with questions of nature vs. nurture, evolution and eugenics, and the power of humanity in principles. All of the characters interact with these themes, and reveal to the audience what they believe about them through their choices in this universe. It seems that those who adhere blindly to their belief system - Alison, Rachel, Delphine perhaps - are likely to break down. Whereas Sarah Manning, the main character and symbolic rulemaker of this world, is likely to survive. To borrow from another piece of fiction where mankind attempts to control nature: life finds a way. And Sarah Manning? The one clone who’s given birth, the one clone who refuses to see herself as anything other than a living, breathing, human individual, the one clone who spills messy humanity at every turn… Sarah Manning is the very definition of life. And she’ll find a way.

STRAY OBSERVATIONS --

  • We learn that Kira has in fact been kidnapped by Helena’s people, not Rachel’s. It’s a lovely twist which is actually more terrifying, simply because we’ve seen the results of brainwash and abuse on a child involved with those beliefs, through Helena. Fear and stakes are now through the roof.
  • Ramon is an excellent one-off character, in that he’s clearly attracted to Alison’s dangerous soccer mom shtick, and not above hitting on Felix without any fanfare. You may stay, young man.
  • I am the MOST EXCITED HUMAN about Art being more involved with the clone story, and getting all entangled in everyone’s business. Here’s a third party who’s not a monitor, but still has to choose his loyalties carefully. Not only that, but he’s willing to go down the rabbit hole in the pursuit of truth and compassion, not only for Sarah but also for Beth. On a sidenote, was that a kid’s drawing on Art’s wall? Hmm…
  • I love Angie and I can’t be stopped.
  • The Rachel-Leekie scene clearly demonstrates that Rachel actually has power beyond Leekie. Leekie doesn’t have all the information, and is very obviously middle-rung, where we previously thought he was the Big Cheese. The DYAD rabbit hole goes deeper, and scarier.
  • This show rides so much comedy on Alison, and I couldn’t be more delighted by it. Also, if Alison ever finds out that Sarah’s the one to blame for her accidental-almost-kidnapping, I don’t think I’d want to be in the room for it. (Or maybe I would. I dunno.)
  • Let’s pour another one out for George Hudson. I bet he would’ve been damn proud of Sarah kicking through the bathroom wall and escaping.
  • HELENA RETURNS. This show is worse without her. I am highly interested in the role she’ll play this season. Complete incorporation into the clone club seems unlikely, yet I can’t entirely see her working against Sarah, even though Sarah shot her. Helena may be alive for now, but I can’t help but wonder if she won’t meet her actual end this season sometime. That’s part of the tragedy of Helena - how exactly can she live in this world, as she is?
  • The title of this episode is amazing.  That is all.






Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Connection, Dichotomy, and Parallel Truths: Betty and Kate of Bomb Girls


Watching Bomb Girls’ first eighteen episodes, it’s not hard to see that Betty McRae and Kate Andrews are fundamentally connected.  They share much of the same story, and the same beating heart of the narrative’s love story.  But upon closer inspection, the ways in which Betty and Kate are related back to one another, time and again, proves that these characters are forever bound, for better or for worse: more than friends, less than lovers, the exact same and the exact inverse, all at once.

You’ll notice, if you watch the Bomb Girls pilot, that the show introduces its main characters right off the bat: we see a lady amongst soldiers first, then Kate singing, then Gladys mackin’ on a dude, and then Lorna in the kitchen with a reference to her new job.  In about a minute, we know exactly what these character’s stories are going to involve: ladies in wartime, Kate struggling to use her voice, Gladys boldly navigating beyond society girl expectations, and Lorna torn between two worlds of work.  It's a lovely bit of storytelling, crystallizing whole character journeys in single moments of externalized action.

But there’s one notable exception.  Where is Betty?  We know about Kate, Gladys, and Lorna’s central conflicts almost instantly, before Betty even graces the screen.  In fact, Betty doesn’t show up until four and a half minutes in, and her introduction is simple: she steps out from behind a curtain to meet Kate.  She can’t open a door, and Betty does it for her.  Betty’s introduction, like the others', is a microcosm of her role on the show, and establishes her importance in relation to Kate.  You could even say that we only meet Betty because we've met Kate, and Kate needs help.

Here comes the big question: is that fair?  Should Betty have gotten an introduction individually, alongside Lorna, and Gladys, and Kate?  Does this mean Betty's character isn't as central to the story as the others'?  Does this mean she's just an accessory to Kate, who was previously established as a POV character?  And does it cheapen the love story, that we meet Betty through Kate?

The short answers: maybe not, possibly, no, no, and no.

There's actually a reason for Betty's introduction being the way it is.  It wasn't a careless decision.  In fact, it actually tells us everything we need to know about this relationship before we even see it take shape.  As we move forward, it's very plain to see that Betty’s not really an accessory to Kate.  We come to know her on her own, as a friend, as competition, as a worker.  Betty has her own POV in this narrative.  So the choice to introduce her as a sidecar to Kate predicates the concept that they are, in fact, inextricably connected.  Their story develops them together in a kind of entanglement that's heralded right out of the gate: one character was borne from the other, and now they struggle with that.

Their first interaction also represents another conflict in their changing relationship: Betty keeps opening doors for Kate, instead of letting Kate open them on her own, and gets mad when Kate doesn’t open the doors she wants her to.  (If you’ll forgive the slightly belabored metaphor.)  Because Betty was introduced as a savior of sorts to Kate, it sets the stage for some conflict on the idea that what Betty and Kate want for each other may not line up with each other.  Betty, despite her good intentions, falls into a group of people whose first instinct is to make decisions for Kate, without consulting her own opinion.  It’s the protective streak gone too far, the “I know what’s best for you” that’s well-meaning but rarely helpful for Kate.

So really, this is all story fodder, jettisoned with one perfectly imperfect introduction.  The fact of the matter is that Kate and Betty do stand on their own, in their own storylines - because the narrative takes care to do so.  They are allowed to be at odds with one another.  They are allowed to be friends with one another.  We come to know them separately from one another, through Gladys, and Lorna, and Leon.  But this is all beautifully complicated by the fact that not only are they connected, there’s actually a huge overlap in their individual stories and the roles they play to each other within them.  At the start of the series, both characters are running from something inescapable: Betty from her sexuality, and Kate from her troubled past.  It is impossible, no matter the faked feelings or faked papers, for either woman to avoid these truths.

What’s even more interesting is how these parallel truths interact.  The general idea is that through their friendship, each woman feels safe from harm - that fear goes away, and they can settle into themselves.  As Betty says to Kate, “When we’re finally safe, it’s okay to stop fighting.”  This safety allows for the courage to do something decidedly unsafe.  Betty and Kate, perhaps unwittingly, push each other forward into the truths they’re avoiding.  Kate’s existence in Betty’s life jump-starts her identity as a woman who likes women; Betty’s existence in Kate’s life moves her into her identity as Kate Andrews, not Marion Rowley.

So naturally, these storylines intersect.  They are each other’s sword carriers, their secret keepers.  Betty is the only one who knows about what happened in that dark alleyway with Kate’s dad; Kate is the only one who knows what happened with Betty in front of that piano.  Betty’s feelings for Kate bring her sexuality to the surface, her relationship with Kate leads her to the place where she accepts them.  Kate’s friendship with Betty keeps Kate safe in a new life, and allows her to live in love rather than fear.   Both of them feel there is something wrong with them, and both of them provide a balm for that pain, even as they're exposing the wound.

Truly, then, it's fitting that Betty’s introduction is in fact what it is.  The show doesn’t boldly declare her; it doesn’t allow us her point of view - because Betty is hiding from us.  She emerges from behind a curtain, cigarette hanging from her lips, skepticism scrawled across her face, and she retreats as quickly as she comes.  Betty McRae is not for us to know - yet.  Only with Kate are we granted access to see Betty’s true self.  And it’s a two-way street.  With Betty we are allowed to see the real Kate Andrews, who sings in clubs and takes dirty photos and works for a living.  Kate Andrews is not a church mouse; Kate Andrews is a force.

Along those lines, the dichotomy between Betty and Kate plays out in the inverse of their characteristics.  Betty presents as hard-shelled; she's tough, gruff, and a little rough.  Kate appears to be fragile, passive, and timid.  But the reality is that beneath these exteriors, the women are actually quite opposite.  Betty is actually a gooey pile of feelings; Kate’s convinced she has a hardened heart.  When they go to church together, they hear the same message.  Leon preaches: “God loves you.  […]  Whoever you are, wherever you’ve been, He’s at your side.  He sees you.  He knows you.  Accepts who you are.  All He asks is that you be true to your heart, and accept God’s grace within you.”  Betty responds to that.  Betty lets the message in, lets it through her armor, lets it take root in her loving, wounded heart.  Kate, however, walks out, and feels nothing.

The same hard/soft dichotomy can be seen in the Season 2 finale, when both women are given the same line of dialogue in the same circumstance, delivered individually.  When faced with an accusation of murder, they both utter the same thing: “You can’t prove a thing.”  Betty, her hard exterior cracking at the pressure, reveals herself to be terrified, uncertain, and vulnerable.  It’s said as a panicked defense.  Kate, however?  Kate’s is a threat.  "You can’t prove a thing."  Gone is the fragile, porcelain exterior, and what shines through is a hard heart, a steely impenetrability, and a conviction of power.  This is the real Kate Andrews, rising from the ashes of Marion Rowley’s abuse, and she defines herself as a force to fear.  

So Kate and Betty are identified as inversely related, yet overlapping in identity arcs, and tethered to one another inextricably through their shared experience and friendship.  They cannot be separated, and it makes me wonder what's planned for the Bomb Girls movie and beyond.  Betty cannot fall on a sword to free Kate, because Kate will only suffer in turn.  They’re bound together, with complications and conflict, but also with love and acceptance.  Inevitably related back to one another, it’s perhaps the ultimate example of a human connection.  And while that connection may only ever present as friendship and nothing more, it’s difficult to imagine how there could be anything ‘more’ for a dynamic as nuanced, meaningful, and fundamentally indivisible as this one.


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