Orphan Black: 4x01 The Collapse of Nature.
Sarah: You’re her monitor. You observe her. And she killed herself because the man she loved turned her whole life into a lie.
Beth: Can you knit me together or just tear me apart?
For three seasons now, Orphan Black has portrayed this group of women fighting for their freedom and for agency over their own lives. Their struggles are grim and complex, and the enemies that are trying to control their minds and bodies are powerful. In spite of this constant struggle, what keeps them from giving up is their family – the internal one, the clone club, the family of Sarah, Alison, Cosima and now, Helena – and the extended one that includes their partners, friends and allies. Without the help of Felix and Arthur, they would have likely faltered; without being able to tell the truth to their partners, their relationships would have only contributed to the struggle rather than offering a respite from it (this is obviously not always true, and sometimes a bit more complicated, especially when it comes to Donnie and Delphine and their history as their respective partner’s monitor).
In any case, without that solid support network, they would be entirely on their own against overbearing and apparently, very deeply embedded power structures with almost unlimited might. It would not only mean going without the considerable physical resources that people like Felix, Arthur and the ever-slightly dodgy but irreplaceable Siobhan offer. Not having a support network in this situation would also pose an unbearable psychological burden. Faced with the already deeply traumatising realisation that their personal histories that they grew up with were manufactured, that they were scientific creations, and more than that, that these creators are still out trying to monitor and control them, the clones without a support network would be utterly alone and thrown back on themselves, with nobody to trust.
Beth Childs has often appeared as a ghost in past seasons, she is in many ways the creator who planted the seeds for what the clones have now, for this network of mutual support – but she is also the absent friend, the clone for whom the support network she helped create did not kick in in time to save her. To see her in a flashback episode is to have a clear and shocking contrast to the family and the tight bonds that we have gotten used to in this show. Beth is ultimately alone – she found Alison and Cosima, and entrusted them with the secret of their creation, and they are trying to build something that will help them comprehend (for one, we find out that they made the decision to send Cosima to a different university to study towards a degree that would help her understand their existence) – but there is nobody else who functions as a protector of a group. She is the protector, the cop, the person with the resources, but she has nobody to look out for her, because the person who is supposed to do that – Paul – is distant, and mysterious, and she rightfully doubts his love for her and his good intentions. The introduction of M.K. or Mika adds to this. She lives in the shadows, she already has the existence of a ghost, and the ability to see movements of actors in ways that still elude Beth. Her knowledge makes her paranoid, and lonely, and as much as her warnings to Beth to trust nobody are righteous, and mostly correct, they contribute to her sense of alienation and isolation that ultimately drive her into committing suicide. As much as Beth is still fighting and struggling to gain her control and power back, things are rapidly and unstoppably shifting out of her reach. There is Paul – a terrifying presence in this episode, a hollow man, who hates the nature of his mission and what he is doing to Beth and yet finds himself incapable of stopping the horror, in spite of the utter destruction he causes. He is a coward, someone who would rather destroy a life than face having the secrets of his past revealed. More than that, he simply does not love Beth, so he has no natural instinct to protect her. Watching these two interact is wounding and harrowing.
Beth: You’re hollow, Paul. There’s nothing inside. I’ve filled you in with hunches, and all I know for sure is that you won’t protect me.
There is also the hint of an alternative happy ending here, an ending that Beth was never quite able to claim for herself, as much as she came close. Art – who loves her, who knows her, who realises that she is keeping secrets that are eating her up – would make a confidante. We know that he can be trusted, because when Sarah trusted him, he stepped up. We know that his feelings for Beth were genuine and wounds that he carried well into the following years. When they finally sleep with each other, there is a moment of hope (but then, Beth is already lost and she can no longer be saved, only learned from – which makes Art’s “Whatever it is, you’re saved” even more heartbreaking), that gets crushed when Beth gets further tangled up in whatever Dyad (if it is still Dyad, and not something beyond it) is starting to create.
This is where the episode ties back into the present time, as we explore the history of some of the more nefarious projects that this off-spawn of Leekie’s Dyad created. They were using Neolutionist “tadpoles” as willing guinea pigs, much like Leda back in the day used orphaned children that had nobody to talk for them. We don’t know yet what the story behind the worm is – only that Delphine, at the end of last season, seemed entirely terrified by it (if because she knew what it signified or not, we do not know). This Neolutionist strain existed alongside Leekie’s more conventional path – Leekie, after Beth confronts him, tells Evie that “one of my subjects seems to have exhumed one of yours” - and as Nealon last season predicted, has advanced much further along the path of so-called “self-directed evolution” than we previously suspected. They have ties that go deeply, and Beth realised that she was already trapped when the union rep meant to represent her in the case against her for accidentally shooting someone turned out to be involved in the experiment.
This whole world is so horrifying and strange, and Beth finds herself entirely alone in it, with the exception of M.K., who is showing her the kind of life that awaits her if she embraces the full knowledge and comprehension of her situation. From Beth’s perspective, the other way out – the way that Sarah and her sisters have found in her wake – is not yet imaginable, which is why she saw no other option but to jump.
The episode titles are not direct quotes from one work anymore, but inspired by Donna Haraway.
Time-wise, we know this episode took place before Beth taught Alison how to shoot, so there must be a few weeks left before her death. Will there be more flashbacks?
I loved the parallel between the two phone calls – M.K. calling Beth back in the day, warning her about not trusting anyone near her, and then Art calling Sarah after M.K. contacted her, except Sarah has a full family to protect, and people she can trust. M.K. is going to be an interesting character to explore – a clone who has been fully conscious this whole time, but also entirely alone.
The other heartbreak is Beth’s confrontation with Paul, telling him she just wants to be seen, wants to have a partner who isn’t lying to her, someone who makes her feel real – and then Paul can’t even bring himself to end it, but asked her to do it for him. Contrasted with that, Arthur’s complete readiness to break all rules for Beth when she is in trouble after the shooting.
Did Tatiana Maslany watch interviews with Bjork to prepare for Mika?
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