Thursday 11 June 2015

Orphan Black - You can’t crush the human spirit.

Orphan Black: 3x08 Ruthless in Purpose, and Insidious in Method.

There is a different side to the idea of extending your definition of family and making your house bigger in order to protect and help the ones you love. Even with an extended definition of family, there are still people on the outside. The house can grow bigger, but it can never hold everybody. Racing towards the end of its third season, Orphan Black portrays what happens to those on the outside of Sarah’s sisterhood, what happens to those to whom her protection and care does not extend. She is not necessarily at fault here, as she believes she is actually helping Crystal by attempting to keep her naïve, but regardless, in a way she becomes complicit in Crystal’s downfall. She prioritises the safety and health of her own sisters, of the people she loves, over Crystal’s. She feels fiercely protective when it comes to Cosima, Alison, and now Helena, but Crystal is not part of that circle, just as much as the nameless European clone who has recently died is of less concern to Delphine than Cosima is. It’s a hard reality, where the severity of the situation simply does not allow for enough resources to be available for everybody, but it’s harder to see the characters who have been trying to do the right thing, who have been struggling for each other, indirectly causing that damage and pain to those they do not count as their own. 
This is why Crystal is so important. We only get glimpses of her struggle, but these glimpses are compelling. They are of a woman whose life feels out of control, weird, like it doesn’t make sense. She is fighting hard to make the pieces fit but fails, because she is on her own. She does not have the luxury of the family that Beth created, and the situation she finds herself in is terrible. She is vulnerable to everyone. Nobody speaks up for her, or protects her. When Rachel asks for her identity in exchange for the translation of her father’s book, Sarah barely even hesitates before she makes that choice. Crystal isn’t just experiencing the subtle horror of having her whole life controlled by unseen forces – boyfriends who are monitors appearing and disappearing, an everyday that sometimes veered out of control even before she crossed paths with Rudy and Seth – but she is also vulnerable to Sarah, because Sarah is stronger than her. Sarah has the support and love of others, and she is self-aware. The show makes a very conscious decision to portray Crystal as a character that would easily not be taken seriously, because it makes her quiet, lonely attempts to figure it out even more tragic. She has a book of notes in which she is trying to solve the riddle of her life, but without the support of others, that effort is ultimately doomed. Crystal, not unlike Gracie, is a completely tragic character on the sidelines of Sarah’s story – and being on the sideline of Sarah’s story is a very dangerous place to be. 
Crystal: I used to trust people but now I feel like I have to be paranoid all the time.
Felix: Look, darling. There’s only one thing you need to know.
Crystal: What happened to your voice?
Felix: Nothing. This is my truth voice.
Crystal: Oh.
Felix: The only thing that you need to know is that you are one of a kind. You’re a survivor Crystal. You are not alone.
Crystal: That was the most completely beautiful thing everyone’s ever said to me, like ever.
Talking about Gracie – the episode focuses very much on the idea of being on the in or the outside of a relationship, and the way that trust and mistrust defines characters’ behaviour. This idea controls our focus in this episode, is forces us to look very closely at Cosima, Shay and Delphine. In a way, this is, or at least could be, a sleight of hand – because all the while, there is another character with a lot of access, a character who has a tendency to quietly move through the rooms she is in, unseen. Mrs S has been housing her, and Alison will employ her, but the question that nobody is asking is what Gracie actually wants. We know that her feelings for Mark were complicated but true, and she overhears Sarah suggesting that they just wait until the Castor problem solves itself (Virginia, at the beginning, suggests that without medical intervention, they will all be dead within a year). She would have a lot of motivation to share the information she has with anyone she thinks is going to help Mark, and she does know about The Island of Doctor Moreau, because nobody ever notices when she is listening. 
But there is so much more happening in this episode that it is hard to notice the smaller moments. For one, Delphine is back, wrapping up loose ends with Crystal. Cosima does not trust her – and the thing is, she has reason not to trust her considering how their relationship started, but deep down, she does not share information with her because of their break-up more than anything else, because Delphine made the decision that it was better for both of them if she tried to protective her and her sisters from the inside, from Topside, without ever consulting Cosima. The core issue of their relationship is the fact that they make decisions about each other, that profoundly affect each other, without talking about it. In a show that is all about fighting for agency, they take each others’ agency away, even if it is for what they consider the greater good. Protecting each other becomes a profoundly flawed process in which nobody wins. This is why the person with considerable resources and access does not know about the book that may hold the key, and makes her own decisions based on insufficient knowledge. She is also still deluded in thinking that she can play this game better than Rachel – because much like Gracie, nobody takes Rachel seriously. They think she is under control because she appears to have lost her agency - she has to rely on a wheelchair, she is struggling to regain her language. What Delphine fails to see – even though she does still consider her a threat – is that Rachel’s nature is survival and turning a position to her advantage. Delphine has been struggling to get there this whole time, behind the scenes, acquiring the signs of power (clothes and hair are marvellous this episode), but deep down, she is still the disastrous human who accidentally fell in love with her test subject. She is not cut out for this, and like back in the day when Rachel smoothly planted false information for her to find, she only sees half of the story unfold. 

Part of it is that everybody in this episode is making decisions out of desperation. Sarah is feeling out of control and like she has been “on the back foot”, and is haunted by Beth’s death (Cosima tells her that she hasn’t lost anyone yet, but obviously, considering Cosima’s health, that’s in the cards). She is desperate enough that she decides to negotiate terms with Rachel, a character that can never be negotiated with, a character that has a long history of always being a step ahead because she was raised for this more than anyone else (and it plays into her fury, her sheer blind anger, both over the history of her creation, her biological limits and everything that Sarah has done to her more recently). Sarah and Felix steal Crystal’s identity, with all the moral implications of that action, and in addition to that, they are setting free an antagonist (that they no longer take seriously) – which will cost them Delphine’s trust, utterly. The way they justify their actions is that they will hold the key to everything, that they will finally have power and agency over themselves, and powerful bargaining chips to confront Leda and Castor. But in a way, that means playing the enemy’s game, and following the enemy’s rules – it’s selling a female clone out for the sake of saving themselves. It’s setting someone free who ordered Sarah and her sisters to be killed. 

Cosima makes the choice to betray Delphine, because Delphine, to her, is Topside. Scott is the only one who questions it, who suggests they should maybe trust Delphine over making choices that depend on Rachel’s self-interest and actually knowing the scope of Rachel’s power (which they don’t). It’s a chain of multiple betrayals. Cosima, Scott and Sarah steal Crystal’s identity for Rachel and break her free, Delphine becomes aware of it and knows they have a copy of the book and allows them to break Rachel free so she can get her hands on the translation, and Rachel, all the while, has been plotting with Doctor Nealan (either loyal to her or loyal to whoever he is reporting to, who might be running both Leda and Castor). Rachel is struggling for her freedom, Cosima is struggling for her survival, Delphine is trying to do her best, but as always, her best isn’t nearly good enough. In the end, Sarah and her sisters have a fragment of the translation (In London Town we all fell down and Castor woke from slumber. Find the first, the beast, the cursed, the original has a number. H46239), Delphine has the book, and Rachel has her freedom – but Crystal has lost everything that there is to lose. 

Random notes: 

Virginia Coady and Rudy are well alive, and the guy Paul thought was his mole in the “agency” shares with Virginia that he has a source “inside Leda”. 

Virginia: Castor and Leda. I’ve been feeling this for a while. It’s not just two factions, is it. Who is in charge, David?  

Which brings us to the woman at the end of the episode, surveying Rachel’s surgery: She’s not Virginia (which was my initial thought). They are out of the country, so she might be Marion (but the woman did not look like Michelle Forbes). My guess is that it is whoever Paul’s mole was talking about, and I still think that Ethan Duncan’s wife might have survived that explosion that set everything into motion (and the Doctor refers to her as “ma’am”, which suggests that she is Castor, or military). 

I wonder what “the beast, the cursed” in reference to the original means – there is still a chance that the Leda originals have been under our eyes this whole time (it would be a neat explanation of why Sarah and Helena are different, and fit in with them having been intended to be Ethan’s children), but raises all sorts of questions about the Castor original. Why was he cursed? Is it a reference to whatever medical condition he suffered from? 

I’ve been wondering for a while how Alison will be brought back into the fold, and it looks like Helena will be at the centre of it – in addition to herself and her admiration for Donnie, she’s also brought her frozen eggs with her to Bubbles. 

(also, not a word to be lost on Jason and Donnie except jfc, Alison could do so much better and the only way to survive these scenes is to plan escapes into Soccercop femslash)

Scott: Please. Denise has feline asthma!

Scott is really growing with what is demanded of him but my favourite scene of the episode is Rachel’s melting tolerance of him and his shenanigans as they were breaking her free. She only needs one eye to express the full scope of her disgust. 

Scott: Can you… can you go faster?
Rachel: This is top speed.

So – Shay… a mole, or a red herring? I feel like she knew about The Island of Doctor Moreau before Cosima invited her to the lab (and she knew that Scott took it home with him) – but on the other hand, it feels much too convenient, and from the way she and Cosima talked about near death experiences, it sounds like there is a genuine belief system at the core of her being that goes beyond playing a role. On the other hand, maybe history repeats itself and another monitor has fallen in love with her subject.
Delphine: You know my security concerns are not jealousy. I am French. I enjoy lovers.
Cosima: Wow okay.
Delphine: Can we just put our minds together like we used to and leave the crazy science out of it?
She is genuine (except she is lying, obviously, and clearly very jealous). She is never not genuine, that is the whole point. The harm that Delphine does  always comes from a completely different point than the harm that everybody else does, that’s part of what makes her scary. She is desperate for them to cooperate to find a cure, because she loves Cosima, and she knows it’s the only way it will work. All the time, Cosima knows that she is about to profoundly betray Delphine (which she is doing in a way, all this time, because she thinks of her as Topside, not as a person doing her best to help her the only way she could think of). Either way it’s doomed, and it turns into a spiral when Cosima decides to not tell Delphine that they made a copy of the book (once Rudy steals the original). Delphine knows Cosima well enough to realize that she is being lied to, and the decisions that she makes after that turn their whole relationship into a game of cat and mouse, where everyone is playing everyone. 
Delphine: You’re resigning?
Cosima: Effective immediately.
Delphine: You don’t quit us. In here, you have access, you have control. Out there you’re, what? Just another subject.
Cosima: What could be worse than this?
Delphine: You’re self-aware. Any person, any face, any love, anyone could be a spy.
Cosima: Is that a threat.
Delphine: Look. I’m talking about Shay.
Cosima: Oh my god, this doesn’t have to do anything with Shay.
Delphine: Maybe, but how are you going to know without me?
Cosima: Delphine, if you’re not going to be with me, if you’re not going to switch sides, let me go.  
The episode answers Cosima’s question of what could be worse: it would be worse to be Crystal, outside everything and alone, suspecting that something was fundamentally wrong about your life but not being able to put your finger on it. It’s ironic of course that Delphine brings up the issue of anyone that Cosima cares about and learns to love possibly being a spy – in the absence of a better argument, the one she comes up with that at least Cosima already knows that Delphine used to be a spy, and is now working for the organisation that is trying to control her – but it is also harrowing to see Cosima voice so explicitly that she considers Delphine to be on the other side. 
Cosima: The day you left for Frankfurt I almost died. Some kind of near-death experience. And it was so easy, I could have just slipped away. And then I had a vision of you. I came back for you.
Delphine: Why didn’t you tell me?
Cosima: Cause you don’t believe stuff like that. So I had to move on.
Delphine: Come here. Come here. I’m sorry. You should have trusted me.
Which is the harshest thing that Cosima could possibly say, because she knows that Delphine knows about Shay, that Shay is, or at least seems to be, the kind of person who believes “stuff like that”. The show doesn’t romanticise their relationship, but it captures it in its full complexity, which includes all the way they damage each other. The kiss is real, but at the same time, Cosima knows that she is betraying Delphine and Delphine knows that she is about to betray Cosima. Nobody ever gets away clean. 

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