Tuesday 21 April 2015

Orphan Black - I had to choose.

Orphan Black: 3x01 The Weight of This Combination.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together. 
Dwight D. Eisenhower's Farewell Address to the Nation, 1961
Leda and Castor are two sides of one coin, two different developments after the original project to clone human beings was split up. Leda, in its 21st century iteration and as part of Dyad and ultimately, Topside, is part of a corporate empire (what Marian called a cabal). There isn’t one distinctive purpose that the female clones serve; their existence merely ensures a competitive edge. They will be used for whatever purpose provides Topside with profit and power – and ruthlessly, as Delphine’s instinctual use of the term “product” to describe the clones shows. In Dyad’s corporate speak, the clones are not human. They are products to be marketed and protected not for their humanity, but their potential value. It’s a convenient way to view them, because it prevents the people working within the system ever having to consider what it can or can’t do to humans – if the clones aren’t human, then a wide number of actions that would be unconscionable were they directed against humans are possible. Helsinki, a protocol established to take out clones that misbehave, would be murder. This is the distinctive nature of Topside and Dyad: they commit atrocities against humans, but at the same time, they require themselves to follow protocols of conduct, which leads to its redefinition of humanity for their own convenience. 
We don’t yet know much about Castor, but can guess at some of its distinctive features. It’s a military programme, possibly with some sort of political oversight – top-secret, but certainly not entirely disconnected from the state the way that Dyad, a corporation that acts internationally, is. The male clones have a more limited purpose that is alluded to several times throughout the episode: they are “soldier boys”. We learned last season that the female clones were made infertile intentionally, because it would have been irresponsible, or so said Ethan Duncan, their creator, to allow prototypes to procreate. The life-threatening illness is a side-effect of that infertility. Sarah and Helena are the exception. The question is if the male clones were also created with limitations, if they can procreate, if they get sick also. The one that Sarah encounters – Rudy, the one that Marian captured and kept hidden in her basement for weeks before informing Topside – seems utterly fascinated by “the wild one” and knows about every detail of her life, including Felix, Mrs S (he even calls her by her full name), Kira, and the other clones that she is in contact with. He knows that Delphine speaks French. It seems that the male clones, or at least the two rogue ones who are not under Paul’s orders – if they are still part of the military, are following their own path or are under someone else’s orders is not yet known – are obsessed with Sarah Manning. They attempted to kidnap another female clone (a non-self-aware one). 
Castor and Leda, the military and the Multinational Cooperation – the title of the episode is perfectly chosen. The fact that human cloning is possible is not yet publicly known. There is no wider, public oversight over either of these two, so they write their own rules, and redefine what it means to be human by explicitly and conveniently defining clones as non-human, and therefore not protected by the same rights that humans or more specifically, citizens, have. Eisenhower’s warning that “we should take nothing for granted” in the same speech in which he warned of the overreaching and unchecked powers of a military-industrial complex seems prescient. 

A great part of this episode was dedicated to what is necessary, in terms of personal sacrifices and transgressions, in war times. Mrs S had to attempt to justify to Sarah her decision to deliver Helena to Castor in exchange for Sarah’s and Kira’s safety. She has been making wartime decisions almost all her life, but Sarah is beyond the point where is she is willing to sacrifice any of her sisters – they are all part of her family now, and deserve to be equally protected. She once walked away from Helena and it landed her in a terrible place, and she isn’t willing to make the same mistake again this time around. 
Delphine, on the other hand, promised to Cosima that she would love all the clones, and in the brave new world after Rachel has been removed from power that means attempting to help them all from the inside of Dyad. She has been recruited to take Rachel’s place, which comes with being privy to some of the institutional workings and secrets of Dyad, but it is also profoundly against Delphine’s nature to be as ruthless and strong as she now needs to be in order to not sink. In the past, Delphine was a liability for her naivety – at her worst, falling for one of Rachel’s tricks – but she is also well-aware that she will continue to be a threat to the clones if she doesn’t grow into her new role quickly, and learns how to use her power to their advantage. She also learns very quickly that this requires constant vigilance, as her first attempt to remain in control almost goes wrong. She tasks Sarah to play Rachel in a ruse to get rid of Ferdinand, a cleaner sent by Topside to look into the damage that the “self-aware clones” have been doing to Dyad – and Sarah immediately realizes that she can use that situation to her advantage and try to get what she wants, a way to free Helena from the military.  
In the beginning of the episode, Sarah is ready to lay down her weapons and constant vigilance. She doesn’t realize yet that Helena has been taken, that Mrs S has betrayed her, and Felix is the one reminding her that it is not a good idea to put any faith into Marian and her promise to look out for them (“Nothing is benevolent with these people, Sarah, we’ve seen it time and again.”) Sarah craves peace, both for herself and Kira, and Felix serves as the conscious, aware voice of reason – it’s always good to listen to what he has to say. 

The clones are always at their most vulnerable when they are forcefully separated from each other, which is exactly why the opening scenes of the episode is so very effective. It’s Helena’s happy place, a very colourful, bright day, surrounded by her sisters, all the food she could dream of, and gifts for the baby she is expecting. Cosima wears a traditional Ukrainian dress and brings traditional Ukrainian presents. A Ukrainian version of the Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” is playing. In reality, she is trapped in a box, her only company an imaginary scorpion named Pupok – who was with her throughout her childhood. It’s a reminder of Helena’s past, that she craves food because she very likely spent a lot of time starving, that she craves family and especially her twin sister because she grew up having nobody, being taught that those who looked like her were abominations, that Henrik forcefully impregnated her. Of all the clones, Helena’s history is the most tragic, and her craving for happiness is the strongest, because she has had so little of it in her past. She also happens to be the soldier among the female clones, raised to be a weapon against her kind, and she is endlessly resourceful and strong, and equipped with all the survival skills she will need against Castor. 
Sarah and Helena have what they need for this fight, but Delphine doesn’t. She is learning quickly, but the episode also starts to raise the question of whether she will eventually lose herself if she continues to transgress the way she is, if she continues to disregard her own limits. Faced with Sarah this episode, she is also the one who has to carry the burden of keeping the greater picture in mind. It is never just about freeing Helena, it is never just about Dyad, there is always a greater system at work that attempts to deprive Sarah and the others of their agency and rights. She cannot afford to only look out for Cosima, because Cosima’s fate is tied to everybody else’s, and her special connection to Cosima makes her a liability (they could use Cosima against her, and if Cosima stayed with her, she would have to confront the greater picture, rather than focus on finding a cure for herself and the others). The doctor treating Rachel reminds her that they both can’t “afford to play favourites now” after she asks him to put Leda above its individuals. It means having to shut that part of herself off that will always put Cosima above everything else. She is remaking herself, into a person that is equipped for the task of taking on Topside and Dyad, but at the same time, it means not being the person who loves Cosima. Before she can go into Rachel’s hospital room, before she can use torture to extract the information that she requires to deal with the Ferdinand situation, she has to break up with Cosima. Delphine’s motives have never been in question, she always has good intentions, but she has also always been willing to cross boundaries in her choice of methods.  
Back when Leekie died, Rachel offered his position to Delphine, but Delphine, naïve as she was, didn’t realize that it was all a trap, that she wasn’t cut out for the kind of game that Rachel was playing. She put everyone in danger because she wasn’t clued in and strong enough. She is intent not to make that same mistake twice. 
Cosima: Just talk to me.
Delphine: I am taking over some of Rachel’s duties. So I won’t be working with you and Scott for a while.
Cosima: So you’re the new Rachel? Awesome.
Delphine: Cosima. I am keeping my promise. To love all of your sisters equally. But to do that, I can’t do this. You understand?
Cosima: Okay. I get it. Your minute’s up, you should probably just go.
Delphine: Look, we all have our part to play. Me, Sarah, Alison. But yours is to cure. Yourself and all of your sisters.
Cosima: I love you.
Delphine: Scott is gonna come to do a check-up.
Cosima: Okay.
I think the part that ultimately breaks her heart once Cosima has fled back into the flat is that she couldn’t even allow herself to say “I love you” back. She has all the trappings of power, she makes the best entrances, the softness is gone, and she knows more about what kind of dangers are out there lurking than she ever did before – she tries to make herself hard, but it is painfully against her nature. She is making herself into something that she isn’t, and that will have severe consequences, very soon. 
Delphine: Hello Rachel. I warned you this was personal.
The way she tortures Rachel is visceral, powerful in how horrible it is, and even more so because nobody would have expected it from Delphine. It is personal – the way that everything has always been personal, because Rachel wanted a child and she was willing to do anything for it, because she was going to send Delphine away and let Cosima die alone, because she attempted to use Delphine as a weapon against the woman she loved, using her weakness and naivety. Delphine is furious, and Rachel is helpless. 
Delphine: I’m you now, you understand that, I’m you, and I will erase you completely, unless you tell me what you’re planning with Ferdinand.
Her whole ploy to get rid of Ferdinand serves best to showcase how natural that game comes to Sarah and how much of a struggle it still is to Delphine. Sarah, dressed up as Rachel, reads him as an open book; she realizes his weakness, she realizes that she has something that he wants. She’s survived this way for so many years, it’s pure instinct to read people like that. While she speaks to him in private, learning how to use his desire against him. Sarah and Delphine realize that Ferdinand is executing another Helsinki protocol on Sarah and her sisters, that this was Rachel’s idea, that Topside isn’t even part of this. It’s Rachel’s personal vendetta, and the catastrophe is narrowly avoided when they get Ferdinand to call off Alison’s assassination just in time. In the end, it’s both Sarah’s and Delphine’s contribution, Sarah’s natural ability to read Ferdinand’s weakness and Delphine’s learned ruthlessness and a new understanding of how Topside and Dyad work, and how to make its individual parts work against each other. 
Delphine: Shut up and stop squirming.
Ferdinand: I am sanctioned by Topside
Delphine: To conduct a security review of self-aware clones not screw our product.
Sarah: Helsinki’s happening, Delphine.
Delphine: Won’t Marian be impressed. Conspiring with one clone to murder the others. Now who would pay for this? Her, Topside’s favourite pet? Or you, Ferdinand? Because they will kill you.
I think this is how Delphine earns Sarah’s respect: by proving that she can be useful, that she can be strong, if she needs to be. Sarah is narrow-minded, she applies her resourcefulness and strength very specifically to keep her family safe, whoever is included in her current definition of that concept – but Delphine is now pursuing a much wider goal, she is all about the politics, the power structure that is constantly threatening the clones. She understands that losing awareness of those structures – not being alert and knowledgeable – means losing any ability to act against them. 
A brother frees a brother. Helena escapes the first box. 

Random notes: 

Silly to think that Orphan Black would ease the viewers into the third season. This show is insane. 

All the Tatianas in one scene, Sarah playing Rachel against Alison playing Sarah – fireworks. 

For now, I’m a bit cautious about the role that Castor will play in the new season. I’m interested in as far as it sheds light on how male and female clones would be approached fundamentally different in the society that Orphan Black portrays, but I also care endlessly more about all the female clones (I could also do without a tragic backstory for Paul Dierden, or Paul at all).

“I’m like, way better thanks to science!”

Felix: It’s Delphine! God, she looks good.

Rudy – which seems to be the name of the clone trapped by Marian, now in Dyad’s basement – warns Sarah that she is trusting the wrong people and to “count her sisters”, which means he doesn’t just know every detail about the people she cares about, but also that Mrs S delivered Helena to Castor. If they are not working for Paul, they at least must have a line into Castor that provides them with information. 

Alison: I will dig ditches for this family, but I will not go back and work at my mother’s store.

Alison’s plot seems worryingly isolated from that of the other clones in the episode, but her ultimate plan mirrors what everyone else is doing, just that it’s politics on a smaller scale – she is going to challenge the current school trustee because she wants to redraw the boundaries of the school district, forcing Alison’s kids to change schools. Donnie – who has just quit his job on a rush of post-murder adrenaline – reacts hilariously and also unsettingly by suggesting they “Marcie’s gotta go. For the kids.”, and it does sound like he’s thinking of all the empty space left under his garage floor. 

Sarah blames Mrs S for making choices for her instead of with her, and realizing what she did makes her narrow her definition of family – she decides that she can only care about, and look out for, her sisters (and Kira – Felix is awkwardly stuck in the middle again, because he does feel that Mrs S’s call was the right one). 

Cosima, after having her heart broken, but also only a moment after Scott threatens to leave (and she wouldn’t have been able to be left by two people she relies on so completely) reveals the code in The Island of Doctor Moreau to him, and the fact that nobody else, not even the other clones, not even Delphine, know about it. I want to trust Scott, for Cosima’s sake, but this move seems very ill-advised and premature. 

I love the show so much for how immediate Ferdinand’s punishment is for violating Alison’s integrity, that it doesn’t give him even an inch, that Sarah chips away at his power so effectively (so that he is already reduced to a squirming, pathetic mess when Delphine comes in and robs him of everything else). He is disgusting, the very personification of the way society treats woman, of how Topside ended up being able to call these women “product”, denying that they are human, denying their rights. And he gets thoroughly beaten. It’s also perfect because Rachel – Rachel who had so much power and yet at the same time WAS that product that Dyad was marketing, was using him all those years ago. She was painfully and furiously aware of the limits of her power, but at the same time knew very well were her power lied, and how to use it most effectively and to her advantage. 

Her one motivation, as once again confirmed by Ferdinand, was having a child, and she probably would have used Sarah’s ovaries for that purpose after getting rid of her. 

A good part of the notes will be dedicated to wild speculation this season. Some theories after this episode: 

Helsinki, used in 2006 against six other clones: what happened? Did other self-aware clones attempt to rage against the machine before, and did it all go wrong? 

Sarah and Helena were intended to be the Duncan’s children, so it would be safe to assume that their fertility isn’t just an accident: they were intended as such by their parents. It would also make sense (because creating humans must lead to some kind of hubris, and because the Duncans would have been well aware of the danger to their children, their vulnerability) that the key to curing the illness would be in Sarah and Helena’s blood – intentionally so. If the male clones are similarly affected, it would make sense to assume that the two wild ones are obsessed with Sarah for that exact reason. Also, Ferdinand seemed particularly keen on finding out if Sarah had ever mingled with a male clone – in whatever way – and there must be a reason why Topside is so concerned about male and female clones being in contact with each other. 

In terms of limitations to the male clones, at the end of last season I made the assumption that they would not be infertile if simply because Orphan Black is very clued in when it comes to misogyny/patriarchy, and intentionally making men infertile seems like it would be a greater taboo than doing the same to the female clones – on the other hand, if Leda realized that the infertility inadvertently made its clones sick, and therefore led to a sort of expiry date on them, that could have been something that would have been intentionally included with the male soldiers (if only because it is a sci fi trope?). 

Kira has the container with Helena’s eggs, which she took with her when she burned down Henrik’s farm. I wonder if anybody else is aware of that fact or if she’s been hiding them from Cosima. 

Who is the smoking woman at Castor? Is she Ethan Duncan’s wife, believed to be dead? It would make sense for her to have gone on to the military branch, and have continued the research there. Also, Marian mentioned that Leda never managed to create a living clone after Duncan’s research was lost (with the exception of her adopted daughter) – is the same true for Castor?  

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