Saturday, June 11, 2016

Orphan Black 4.09 - "The Mitigation of Competition"

Look. It’s tacky to gloat.  I know this. But DAMN if I’m not the slightest bit smug about correctly predicting Delphine’s return in the season’s second to last episode.   Lanky bitch lives? Check. Penultimate episode? Check.  Stepping out of the shadows? Check.  Flat-ironed, steely-eyed, and buttoned-up...?  Okay, 0-for-3 on that front.  Girl is rocking soft curls, a wry smile, and some kind of wilderness tank top.  FINE, I can’t be right about everything.

ORPHAN BLACK 4.09 - “THE MITIGATION OF COMPETITION”

All jokes aside, let’s dissect the few moments we received of notre dame de cheveux, shall we?  One plea I made to the writers last week was related to Cosima and Delphine’s reunion - as Cosima just choppered off to Moreau Island and away from Delphine, I wanted their long-distance reunion to give me shades of Penny and Desmond’s emotional phone call in “The Constant.”  Well, turns out the writers went full LOST in a completely different way, and I am totally okay with that.

I don’t know about you, but I actually feel a pang of nostalgia when someone says something like “IT’S THE ISLAND” as if this little ocean-bound lump of rock and dirt is not only sentient but also a core component of your destiny.  Call me crazy, but I miss that shit.  Enough time has passed to heal my Lost-related frustrations and I JUST WANT TO GO BACK, KATE.  Whatever.  The Island’s got me.

And perhaps, just perhaps, it has Delphine too, in a batshit plot twist that’s so deliriously off-the-wall that I'm beyond excited for it.  Why else would we plant the map with Cosima? Why else would we cut from Rachel’s “Someone’s trying to show me something” to Delphine herself, sitting with a walkie and a notepad, scribbling to the soundtrack of a twee folksy French song?  Why else would she appear to be in some kind of woodland yurt? Every inch of this is bonkers, and I’m loving it.


So the questions are these: what is Delphine doing?  Is she of sound mind?   Is she acting of her own accord, in protection of the clones, or has Neolution got her in their clutches?  Are her messages to Rachel meant as secret information, or are they an SOS?  The wry smile could go either way, depending if you want to read it as a slick “I GOT THIS, NE T’EN FAIS PAS” or a “THIS IS A CREEPY SMILE BECAUSE I AM NOT THE PETITE CHIOT QUE TU TE SOUVIENS.”

Then, finally: to whom does the shoulder hand belong?  We still don’t even know who shot our dear French doctor nine episodes ago, and they’re already springing us with another “Whodunnit?!”   (Although shoulder touches are far less sinister than, well, gunfire.  The dead lesbians of 2016 know this to be true.)  There aren’t many possible characters that could be believably creeping up behind Wilderness Delphine, and honestly there’s only one character that makes any sense - and yet, none at all.

Come with me on this journey, friends: does the hand belong to Dr. Percival Westmoreland himself?  If any cockeyed old scientist could engineer longevity 100 years beyond natural death, it would be a Victorian-era Neolutionist.  This REEKS of immortality bullshit, right?  Racist blowhards totally have the level of entitlement to stick around past their welcome. T hat being said, questions still remain exactly about how and what for, except for the scientific self-congratulatory nature of it all.  At any rate, Cosima’s got his book, and a map, and it would make complete sense that Delphine is with the man himself, on the very same island.

So I don’t even need a Penny-and-Desmond-style phone call, because these bitches are surely on the same land mass, and Orphan Black served up another shade of Lost homage. Morally questionable scientists living on an island?  Pop music reveals set in shadowy outdoor hovels?  An island sending messages?  As Hurley would say: Dude.

The only thing that worries me about Delphine and Cosima’s eventual reunion - aside from that whole coughing-blood situation in the 4.10 preview - is the fact that WILDERNESS stands between them, and the only people at the Island Dream House who could step out and traverse it are a terminally ill woman who has literally spent all season indoors, a terminally ill child with a deformed leg, and a wispy on-in-years British scientist.  WHERE ARE THE OUTDOORSY CLONES WHEN WE NEED THEM.

Actually, the Outdoorsiest Clone was very much needed elsewhere this week.  It turns out Helena’s got a nice setup away from it all, complete with very fashionable furs, an excellent food supply, and a cozy lil’ shelter.  But when Sarah finally checks in and lets slip that that shit’s still going down, Helena puts on her best fox fur hat (not store-bought!) and trundles back into town to protect her sestras.  In particular: Alison and Donnie Hendrick, whom Helena hears about from Felix.  But before we can talk about the very nice save that Helena provides for House Hendrix, we have to puddle-jump to the intersecting storyline: Alison’s.

Last week, I had vague plans to talk about Alison’s relationship with faith and religion, because it seemed very... complicated.  She was portrayed quite purposefully as a Christian, churchgoing woman of faith, yet her conversation with the Reverend seemed to result in frustration and impatience, and a general lack of positive response.   Here’s this character, who is purposefully scripted as religious, but who is also quite morally adrift, as she barrels through storylines committing adultery, manslaughter, and drug trafficking.

What echoes through all of Alison’s endeavors is this idea that she’s putting on a brave face and refuses to address any of the actual messy self that she’s got hiding underneath.  She’s always a study in coexisting and colliding contrasts, right?  Torture with craft supplies.  Absurdity through tragedy.   Pastel suburbia with drugs, sex, and manslaughter.  Alison remains a buttoned-up facade until something pushes her over the edge, and everything she really is - messy, flawed, and imperfect - comes spilling out in a rush.

Alison’s faith could be seen as lining up with this pattern - a self-identification with organized religion for the purpose of a tidy facade and the neat fulfillment of suburban mom and upright citizen.  Is she actually, then, quite faithless?  Has the world burned her, and she’s only using this image for protection?   Hm.  At the end of this thought spiral, I found myself shelving the discussion, largely because I couldn’t exactly make a point about it, and I also didn’t really want to suggest that Alison’s religion was somehow false or invalid.

What’s interesting, though, is that the writers actually created a faith arc for Alison in the following episode, and swung it in the opposite way.  She’s actually having a crisis of self, negotiating the very contrast that has long defined her character.  How can she be a good Christian, and person, when you consider the laundry list of her sins?  Phew.   It’s not an easy question to ask oneself in the mirror, especially for someone like Alison, who cultivates only the most convenient thoughts about herself, in order to preserve her carefully-constructed outer world.   Is she finally breaking down?

But the answer about what lies at the very essence of Alison goes beyond the concept of faith and “goodness.”  Alison Hendrix is fucking tough.  It is not her exterior that is indestructible, but rather her very core.  She is immovable in ways that the others are not: Evil Toby Keith takes one look at her, with her pink fuzzy sweater, and declares, “You’re the tough one in the family, aren’t you?”  Not only that, but Alison immediately proves it, by completely relinquishing her safety for the protection of Sarah Manning and the Clone Club.  Faced with the violation of her body and the threat of her own life, her decision is instantaneous - without any hesitation, she tells Donnie she loves him, and then begins a prayer.  Yes, she’s afraid, but she is strong, as she keeps her eyes open and skyward, and her resolve turns to iron.


How fitting is it, then, that Alison’s savior in that moment is none other than Helena?  Helena, raised in the church, and fighting for a faith that treats her as a human!  Helena, who came onto this show in the archetype of fallen angel, with bloodied scars where wings should go!!  Helena, who is completely diametrical to Alison in their relationship with chaos and control!!!  In this one moment, a line is drawn between Alison and Helena, as women of faith by their own definition, with sins and faults, but a deep fierceness inside of them borne from that burning mix of love and woundedness.   They are both, after all, clones defined by paradox - soft, though savage; tragic, yet funny; good, but... not.

There’s another clone this week who was also largely defined by the negotiation between two polarities: Rachel Duncan, who has similar goals to both Clone Club and BrightBorn, but is ultimately looking out for her own personal power.  The plot presented in “The Mitigation of Competition” was a perfect avenue for Rachel’s actions to read as completely nebulous.  She was often acting against Sarah, even though they were in pursuit of the same goal.  We were made to think that she was also out to expose Evie Cho, but then that she would betray Sarah and Co. through negotiation, only to actually expose Evie Cho, in the end.

The not-twist was an interesting choice for Rachel’s actions, in that it’s set up from the very beginning that Rachel was gunning for Evie Cho, and in the end, that’s what she does.  The doubt that Rachel might do otherwise only crops up when she threatens Kendra at the end of the second act, and then she only verbalizes it in the last moments before we get the final result anyways.  While I love the extended question of Rachel’s true intentions, I wish there had been more time to let our doubt expand a bit.  As it was, Rachel cornered Evie Cho, recorded the defense of euthanasia, and uploaded it to the internet within a span of about a few minutes.  In the same window of time, we pivoted from uncertainty about Rachel’s intentions to the discovery that she had a trick up her sleeve, which we only learn about because Ira tells us.  So for me, there wasn’t enough space and weight around the reveal to really make it the maximum “OH SHIT” moment it could be.

Regardless, something important is said (by Ira) about Rachel’s actions in this hour: “She’s doing what needs to be done.”  When Sarah was unwilling to blur the lines of morality to achieve their goal, Rachel stepped up and did the job.  This statement is definitely true for Rachel, but in this episode it also extends to both Helena, and Alison.  All three women have had a complicated relationship with “good” over the course of the whole series, and “The Mitigation of Competition” finds all three women making the difficult decision to do what is ultimately necessary for her goals - whether the protection of her family, or her own individual purpose. (Ah, the Rachel Division.)

You could argue that this is a larger central theme of the show, this negotiation of boundaries between what is right and what is necessary. You can also argue that each of the women on this show therefore displays this characteristic at various points in the narrative. Siobhán is the queen of doing what must be done at the potential expense of morality (see: last week). Sarah drinks soap and kicks through walls to achieve her ends. Hell, even Beth’s original sacrifice lines up with this pattern. Ultimately, it’s a fantastic thing that each player in this story has an opportunity to embody the gray area of difficult situations with a messy but noble humanity - all women, at that! But in this particular episode, I love that a connection was made between Rachel, Helena, and Alison - three clones who don’t get a lot of shared space, and whose storylines are often rooted in their differentiation from the sisterhood.

In all, “The Mitigation of Competition” laid out one final mystery hour to wrap up the season-long arc, treated us to some excellent character interaction, and prepped us for some world expansion that will carry us into the next year. With Evie Cho deposed, it looks like our finale episode is going to be a ferryman. We have cures to work on, French exes to find, and new villains to establish. Will Rachel be one of them? Will Evie Cho strike back, or should we anticipate Percival Westmoreland making a crusty corporeal entrance? Most importantly, can someone just go get a Jurassic Park Jeep and take Cosima to Delphine? The Island can’t do everything, you know.

STRAY OBSERVATIONS

It is truly and astoundingly hilarious just HOW MUCH Rachel and Sarah don’t get along. Okay, yes, Rachel shot Sarah in the brain with a pencil, but I’m pretty sure they were this chemically incompatible long before that. I love all the petulent hanging up and bossing around. Sisters!

Adele leaves, and I still don’t entirely understand what her purpose was, but that’s okay.

The idea of Alison, Helena, and Sarah being triplets is honestly hysterical. Can you imagine raising those three together? It would be a nightmare.

Battle of the bobs: whose haircut more accurately intimates the severity of its wearer, Evie’s or Rachel’s?

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