ORPHAN BLACK 4.06 - “THE SCANDAL OF ALTRUISM”
It really is no exaggeration that “The Scandal of Altruism” is perhaps the saddest hour Orphan Black has ever put out into the universe. It’s sadder than Cosima’s lip quiver when she finds out she’s patented property. Sadder than Ethan Duncan killing himself in front of his daughter. Sadder than MK’s plea to Beth not to abandon her. THE EVENTS OF THIS EPISODE ARE DEEPLY UPSETTING AND UNFORTUNATE.
The whole plot centered around a trade - as always, Sarah and Co. are backed in a corner and need to shake hands with enemies to achieve a goal. In this case, it’s removing Sarah’s maggot-bot, and collaborating on a cure for Cosima - at the cost of Kendall’s Leda DNA. Sarah and Cosima make the deal with Susan Duncan and Evie Cho, without consulting Siobhán, and the rest of the episode plays out in extended tension and foreboding lines of dialogue like “This is the wrong play. It’s a risk,” “I don’t know if sharing this [information] is a win,” and “This is what killed Beth.” OH GOOD. I FEEL SO GOOD ABOUT THIS.
And of course, not all trades and deals can realistically work out so well for the Clone Club. The whole premise of the show hinges on the inherent disempowerment of the clones at the hands of corporations and systems that see them as science experiments and not humans. These woman are never really winning, and because the show has dissolved so many threats in DYAD, the Proletheans, and Castor, it has little other option but to rear an ugly head through Neolution.
So this deal goes belly-up, as Kendall Malone is stolen away, Cosima is abducted, and every bit of cure-related research destroyed. Meanwhile, the plot dovetails with the culmination of Beth’s flashback narrative, as we finally learn why she had blood on her hands and what pushed her to suicide. In this way, the show pulls a nice bait-and-switch with the real Big Bad and the executioner of the Plan: not Susan Duncan, not her Castor lover Ira, not even creepy Detective Duko. Instead, it is Evie Cho, who has engineered not only her biology, but also her future.
And it’s this element that makes this episode so much sadder than any other: not only are there aftershocks of tragedy rippling through the end’s events, but the reasons for Evie Cho’s destructive actions are so heartbreakingly unfeeling. True to the show’s villainy themes, it comes down to property. The clones are outdated technology, and need to be eliminated to make way for the new advancements developing at Brightborn. There is no one else on the inside standing in the way of this coup - not Susan Duncan, the maternal observer, not Ethan Duncan, the father who tried to save them, not Aldous Leekie, the paternal watchman, not Delphine Cormier, who loved them all. All of these figures stood guard before the clones and protected them, because they saw them as people. They fell in love with the clones as humans, and were therefore vulnerable to attack by the real villains - the ones who see the clones only as technology, experiment, and property.
So we’re finally at the head of the snake, and the only guard left is Susan Duncan, who, to be fair, had a gun held on her twice this episode. The soul-emptying sadness is worst when you realize that still more of the clone’s protectors sacrificed their lives, and the very thing they died to prevent happened anyways. Delphine is dead. Kendall is dead. The possibility for a cure is dead. Cosima is left on her knees, alone and dying. Siobhán is left without her mother. And Evie Cho has successfully cut the Leda clones off, and left them to wither and die.
These rock-bottom developments lead to a larger question about the structure of the whole show. This level of narrative self-destruction seems fit for a second-act end out. This is the lowest point. We have an increasing tally on sacrifices for the Clone Club - Beth, Paul, Ethan, Delphine, Kendall - with no more research, no card to play, and a ticking time bomb on Cosima. This is it. The dark night of the soul begins, and I’m curious where this will take us for the end of the season and beyond, especially given how much crying and screaming happens in just the preview for next week.
A few difficult questions must also be asked, through our tears: was this truly necessary? Is it narratively imperative to burn everything to the ground, to give new material for rebuilding? Did Kendall have to die? Could Cosima have a good storyline and substantial screentime without devastating her? Was it absolutely essential to withhold Delphine’s fate until Cosima was already in the dirt and crying?
While everyone’s mileage may vary, I will say this: comparing Kendall’s and Delphine’s exits with Paul’s at this same time last season yields a few key differences. Paul died on his own terms, orchestrating his own plan and sticking his neck out to save Sarah and her sisters. It was a bona fide Hero’s Exit. Can we really say Delphine and Kendall are afforded the same narrative care? Though they chose admirable stoicism when faced with the barrel of a gun, neither of them had any control of their situation, no plan to be in charge of - only a coping strategy in shitty circumstances.
And while their actions are noble, and in service of saving the clone sisters, neither death actually allowed any smidge of breathing room for Clone Club. We are, of course, at the lowest point. But by contrast, Paul’s action nearly swiped Coady and Castor’s evildoing from the narrative completely. (Granted, it was the easiest way to cleanly rearrange the storyline that wasn’t working, but the point stands.) Delphine and Kendall, though? They were casualties of a callous pursuit, victims in the firing squad lined up before Leda. Evie Cho has taken over, and the coup was successful. The scandal - the punishment - of altruism.
Beth’s death, though, it turns out, was perhaps a little different than we thought. From the beginning, it was easily assumed that Beth’s suicide was the result of her investigation, her accidental shooting of Maggie Chen, her addiction, and the sum emotional toll of these weights. “The Scandal of Altruism,” however, posits something slightly different: having reached the end of the rabbit hole at Evie Cho, Beth realizes she only puts her sisters in danger, and her suicide is retrofitted as something of a sacrifice for her family. Evie Cho literally says to her: “You wanna save the people that you love? Use that gun on yourself.” A bit on the nose? Yes. Can this new truth co-exist believably with the situation we previously considered true? And was this a necessary layer to add to a scenario that perhaps didn't need tinkering?
These are all questions worth discussing, that don’t necessarily have one right answer. Overall, for me, the balance of hope and fear wan’t quite right. Literally everything we’ve ever feared to happen happened, as we relived not only Delphine’s death but Beth’s, with Kendall’s to boot. And while Beth’s newly-tread heroism was perhaps an intended ballast, I’m not exactly sold. Moreover, I'm of the opinion that it’s quite laboriously cruel to give Cosima the news about Delphine when she’s just lost any possible hope for her survival. Sure, I love the idea of a narrative Dark Night of the Soul, but the particulars could have been shuffled a bit differently. This erred too much on the side of emotional torture porn.
Though, truthfully, stubbornly, I still don’t think Delphine is dead. A glimmer of hope does exist with Krystal’s reveal that not only did she see Delphine get shot, she saw everything. Which indicates that there’s more to the story, and again, why would they name-drop Delphine so much only to give us information that is neither new nor shifted? DELPHINE VIT ENCORE! When that lanky bitch steps out of the shadows in the penultimate episode of the season, flat-ironed, buttoned-up, and steely-eyed, I will holler a triumphant TOOK YOU LONG ENOUGH and also maybe draw hearts on my screen. However, it is also possible that the camera will pan up a body in a hospital bed and reveal that it is in fact Delphine and she’s got a bot in her face. (I’m just realistically weighing the options here.)
Regardless, it’s fairly evident that we have just witnessed the climax of the season - if not the whole show - and the events for the rest of the season are sure to be chaotic, dramatic, and desperate. Here’s hoping for some happy endings - or at least, to start, some workable new beginnings.
- The key to the cure may now be in the wormbot that Cosima slyly pocketed in Evie Cho’s office, post-trade. Since it delivered the illness to Sarah as part of gene therapy, I assume it’s the best lead to finding a cure. SCIENCE!
- Honestly, though, before anything, Cosima needs about ten thousand hugs, also therapy, and maybe some Vitamin D wouldn't hurt either.
- Was anyone else taken aback by Susan Duncan’s hard left turn into “I love you!” territory towards the clones? Lady faked her death to get away from her own kid and live in happy science heaven - is it really believable to sell her as emotionally invested at this point?
- So Beth’s dad was an addict also, presumably? “Tendencies” thinly veils a few options - addiction, homosexuality, mental health issues.
- Our final shot shows Evie Cho walking into the light at a train station, which feels symbolic but also not exactly clear. Is it metaphor only, or is this bitch going to the train station to make sure Beth eliminated herself from the picture?
- I don’t know if anything is quite as emotionally wrecking as Kendall’s final words to Cosima: “Tell Siobhán she’s done right, always. Tell your sisters I’m proud to have been part of them all. Turn around love.” WHO ELSE NEEDS A MOUNTAIN OF TISSUES. For a character who wasn’t exactly deployed to maximum capacity in the narrative, this was a hell of an ending for her.