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.


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.


  • 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.


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.


  • 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.


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…


  • 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).


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.


  • 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.
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