Orphan Black: 3x06 Certain Agony of the Battlefield.
Sarah: I miss you.
Beth: You don’t get to miss me, Sarah. I won’t accept that.
Sarah: I’m trying to finish what you started. To help our sisters. But I keep failing. Helena’s missing, Cosima is still sick, and I let you jump.
Beth: No, I jumped. I let myself get consumed by this thing. I killed myself because I couldn’t understand it.
Sarah: Neither do I.
Beth: You’re starting to.
Sarah: I don’t understand the why.
Beth: Why did you take over my life, Sarah?
Sarah: For Kira.
Beth: We do terrible things for the people we love. Stop asking why. Start asking who. Sister.
Sarah goes back to the beginning. She meets Beth, the woman whose life she stole, an act that started all of this. This was her path, taking over what Beth had started, and realizing what that entailed: being a sister to Alison, Cosima, and eventually Helena, trying to understand the forces that were controlling their lives, fighting for agency. Sarah’s path since the start of this has been realizing that she cannot do it alone, that to keep safe, she has to assume more responsibility than just for herself and Kira, that the fates of the clones are tied together. She has become fierce in how tackles that responsibility, in how protective she is of all of her sisters, extending her survival skills and her resourcefulness to cover them as well, not just herself. Paul last week said that the military is just another family, but he is wrong – because, as this episode reveals, Virginia’s agenda goes far beyond saving her family, her boys, curing them. This episode juxtaposes the pureness of Sarah’s sisterhood, of her purpose, with the twisted goals that Virginia pursues. It’s not just a contrast of sisterhood vs. military aims, but also one of strategies against it. Sarah’s is deeply rooted in her distrust for authority, in her knowledge that any complex structure, be it Dyad, Topside or the military, cannot be trusted. She is a rebel. Paul, on the other hand, is just as deeply rooted in the military structures as the clones. This has been his life almost all his life, so his attempt to save Sarah (and redeem himself, mostly for what he did to Beth) is informed by that. He still trusts that the structures are reliable, that, once he informs people higher up in the hierarchy, Virginia’s programme will be shut down because it violates any ethical consideration of research. Paul’s strategy is doomed from the start, because this show does not hesitate to portray every structure that attempts to dominate and decide the life of Sarah and her sisters, any structure that disregards human dignity and life, as endlessly corrupted and ready to commit terrible acts.
This episode is about Paul and Sarah, the forces that shaped both of them. They share a need to redeem themselves for their past actions. Paul profoundly betrayed Beth, driving her to suicide, by exposing her to the very forces that she was trying to escape. He betrayed her further by not loving her back, and using her love of him against her. Sarah took Beth’s life, so her redemption is the process in which she accepts all the responsibility for what Beth was trying to build before, the family that she created for Alison and Cosima, a self-support system against forces much stronger than either of them alone. They are both haunted, Paul by memories of what he did to Beth as part of his mission to gather information on Dyad, Sarah by memories of that moment at the platform, seeing Beth jump, and everything that she learned about Beth’s life later on.
All of these personal questions are embedded in a greater story about science and ethics. What happens when the scientifically possible is so far ahead of any consideration of any ethical consideration? What are people willing to do when they think that they have a purpose? What are people willing to do for the people they love and are responsible for, and what are they willing to do to the people that they don’t, and aren’t? Beth tells Sarah to ask “who” rather than “why” for once, since trying to figure out what the purpose of Leda and Castor, and therefore the purpose of the female and the male clones was intended to be, has been such a big part of her journey. But at the same time, Certain Agony of the Battlefield answers the why when it comes to Virginia, by revealing the purpose that Virginia has given the boys that she found. Far from just attempting to find a cure for their illness, she is actually attempting to engineer that illness into a weapon of mass destruction that she profoundly believes could change the course of humanity by bringing peace.
Sarah: So you knew I’d beat it. How.
Virginia: Because Castor and Leda have the same disorder, it attacks the boys’ brain, the women’s epithelial tissue. But as your fertility proves, you’re somehow able to fight it off.
Sarah: You’re infecting innocent women with it.
Virginia: To understand it. I didn’t put it in the boys, I just found it.
Sarah: So it was engineered. Who engineered it? Duncan?
Paul: It’s a weapon. You wanna isolate it, to develop it into other forms.
Virginia: It could end wars, within a single generation. Without spilling a single drop of blood.
Sarah: Who wants it? Who is it for?
Virginia: Your devotion to my boys was pure, Paul, I could always count on it.
Paul: Cure them, Virginia. Drop the rest.
Virginia: The science in this room could rewrite the very nature of human kind. You ask me to turn my back on it? I’m sorry, Paul. I can’t.
Virginia Coady is trying to engineer a genocide, and what looked like a side-project of rescuing the boys is actually a main purpose. She realized that their disease was sexually transmissible; she realized that the result of it was infertility in women. Paul believes that this is Virginia going off on her own, going against her mission, but in fact – as he realizes once he’s betrayed – she is doing it for the same people who took over Castor in the first place. Whoever the agency and the director in Arlington are (we can make assumptions), they are very interested in having such a weapon, and not deterred by the ethical implications of knowingly making women infertile without their consent. Considering how this show has been about female agency and reproductive rights from the start, this is a very eloquent furthering of that theme. The female clones were created infertile, the male clones were created to spread infertility, and it seems like both were completely intentional.
“We do terrible things for the people that we love”. Does that tie in with what Ethan and his wife did initially, when they created the clones? It affects everyone on this show, in this episode, especially Felix. Sarah has been missing, he feels like they are running out of options, lying to Kira breaks his heart. Sarah is his sister, the person in the world he loves the most – and he confronts Rachel, asks Scott to take him to her to find out what she knows about Castor. In the process he also discovers what he is capable of doing to protect his sister, how terrifyingly cruel and brutal he can be. He humiliates her, threatens her (it’s different from the physical violence that Delphine, also for love, committed, and yet in a way much more shocking since it comes from Felix) – and then steps back because he cannot bear to be the person capable of this. Felix has always acted as a sort of moral centre of the show, especially because he is not naïve, and seeing him so desperate is all the more shocking.
Delphine fits into it as well, doing terrible things for love. The fact that Delphine was Cosima’s monitor before she was anything else has always been a shadow over their relationship, as has her repeated willingness to betray Cosima’s trust and her explicit wishes in an attempt to save her. Now that she is on the outside, in a way, after having made the choice of going to Topside and trying to help Cosima and her sisters from the inside, she is going straight back to secretly monitoring Cosima and keeping track of her new relationship. This whole episode is about how having good intentions can still lead to terrible acts if all that matters is the ends, not the means, and Delphine in her own way is falling back into her old very problematic patterns, especially considering that she is now even more in a position of power over Cosima.
In the end, Paul has to die. His trust in the system is misled. He is far beyond redemption for what he did to Beth, and doing better by Sarah (whom he loves) and rescuing her is all that is left for him to do. He takes Virginia’s research, and maybe Virginia and Rudy, with him. The central moment takes place off-screen: Helena realizes that nothing exists in isolation, the same way Sarah did last season. Her love for her sister and her love for her unborn baby, and the need to protect both, are connected. The safety of her sister will ensure the safety of her baby, because at its core, Orphan Black is a show about sisterhood. So Helena turns back to save Sarah.
Gorgeous opening scene: Sarah chasing Kira, never quite catching up with her. Always that elusive childhood.
This show, sometimes: All the ways Sarah’s “I didn’t know you Beth, when I took your life.” is beautiful and terrible.
Felix: Scott, my sister is missing. And I am really, really desperate. Now nut up, and lead me to the cyclops.
I am very much wondering where the show is going with Delphine. She seems more in control, but it’s also against her nature to be this hard - it’s necessary for her new role, but I wonder about the cost. She is also a complete human disaster.
Grace: I was supposed to have children. It was expected of me.
Grace asks Cosima if it makes her monster that she is relieved that she can now no longer perform that biological duty that was expected of her.
Willingly or not (and I would say knowingly, as it does sound like Ethan to plant the key to his research subtly in his daughter’s head), Rachel may know the key to decoding what is in The Island of Dr Moreau. She doesn’t seem to know much about Castor though.
Paul says that it all started with trying to cure six soldiers – that would be the soldier that Helena killed, Mark, Seth, Rudy and the Corporal, leaving one that either died first or is still alive and unseen (also, everyone else but Mark – and perhaps Rudy, if the explosion didn’t kill him – is now dead).