Orphan Black: 4x04 From Instinct to Rational Control.
“A genuinely usable capitalist science”
Donna Haraway: Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature
Remember Sarah in previous seasons, fierce and relentless in her protectiveness for whoever belonged to her family in a given point but also constantly hesitant to share information with or have any faith in outsiders? Now that Cosima and Scott have had a chance to get a closer look at Leekie’s maggot implant (a beautiful scene, from “That’s the head of DYAD!” to “He never gave me a raise, not once” and a final “who’s the science now, bitch?” which was Cosima’s final payback for that first season moment), they’ve developed a new theory. The maggot tracks gene expression, something that would make sense if it also introduced changes to the host body’s DNA, for example for gene therapy – but obviously, the idea of Sarah’s DNA changing opens up the door to many other speculations. Compared to Sarah of earlier seasons, this Sarah makes impulsive decisions that often lead into danger, trusts outsiders that she doesn’t know well (for example, telling Dizzy about clones straight after forbidding Felix to do the same with Adele), and is willing to form uncomfortable alliances with previous villains, all for the simple goal of getting rid of the maggot. The sheer horror of carrying something unknown and strange in your own body, the body horror of an implant in your cheek that self-destructs and takes the host body with it upon invasion, may be enough to explain Sarah’s change in behaviour, but the prospect that these odd new features of her character may be caused by the very maggot that she is trying to get rid of opens a whole new direction for the season, especially considering Kira’s horrifying day-nightmare about the aunties burning Sarah because she was changing.
But in many ways, this entire episode was about characters making difficult choices and weighing impossible options. The centre is MK – and the writers do a great job at a bait-and-switch here, from her being one of the assets that Sarah trades with to her becoming the agent of her own story, one that very much deviates from Sarah’s (or, for now, the other sisters’) agenda. Ferdinand offers Sarah a way to remove the maggot (he knows that Rachel is with Susan Duncan, the proto-Neolutionist, and that she would have a way to remove it). In exchange, he wants MK’s hacking skills to figure out where Rachel is. Sarah makes a choice to deal with an enemy, one that she knows has the blood of some other, unknown sisters on his hands, and she involves MK, who Sarah knows is very wary about being involved in anything at all. Like with Felix in previous episodes, Sarah acts selfishly, choosing her own good (because for one, the maggot is her sole problem, one that does not concern her sisters in the immediate way it does her), and is punished once MK puts the pieces together and realises who Sarah is making her work for. There is a map of DYAD people on her wall, a map that she is filling in with pictures, and Ferdinand is one of the people he is after. It was predictable that MK was a survivor of Helsinki, but we didn’t know that she lost her best friend, Nikki, in the attack, and that everything she is doing now is a vendetta against the people who stole her family. She isn’t Vera anymore, and as MK, she is a weapon operating against everything that is left of Leda, DYAD and Topside – and when Sarah appeals to her because her own sisters need help, MK walks away because this is no longer, or not yet, or will never be, her battle.
I wonder why she chose to simply steal all of Ferdinand’s money rather than killing him, if deep down, MK is not a killer (dangerous under the right circumstances, as Dizzy said, but not a murderer), but chose this option because it inflicts the most possible harm on Ferdinand, robbing him of the privilege to navigate this world without much effort. His unlimited funds are part of what he feeds off, but it is also the foundation of what he meant to build his future with Rachel on (“She pierced this armoured heart.”, shudder). MK takes it all from him. We will see if she has better plans for his money, or if this is it for her. It seems like she doesn’t have any more information on the maggot or the other Neolutionist projects, like Beth made it deeper into that net than MK ever ventured.
And this is precisely the other side of this episode, and the other threat this season. We have slowly worked our way towards more and more revelations about how far Neolutionists have come, how far advanced their science is, and how deeply and disconcertingly tightly it is interwoven in normal, daily life – but this is a step further. Trina, the girl who was pregnant in the Beth flashbacks, confuses Alison for the clone that she knew, and accuses her of digging too deeply. She also mentions that she was a “Carrier” for Lifespring Fertility, a Neolutionist run IVF clinic. Finally, the show is giving Alison more to work with than the comic relief storylines, and as entertaining Donnie and Felix are when they pose as a gay couple, the emotional meat of the episode is in the performance/genuine pain that fuels Alison’s investigation into what happened. It is preceded by a conversation between Donnie and Helena about how difficult it was for the Hendrixes when they were trying to conceive, how much Alison still struggles with not being able to have a biological child. Helena, on the sidelines of the episodes, thinks she is the cause of all this and takes off (after burying her science babies, which ties up the dangling story thread), but Alison uses the genuine pain and hurt to perform as a mother still trying to conceive to her friend Portia, who miraculously managed to get pregnant at Lifespring. This is one of the greatest performance of Tatiana Maslany as Alison Hendrix, especially because Alison is never lying, but drawing from her genuine feelings of pain.
The performance gets Alison the keyword – Brightborn procedure – which leads directly to a creep inspiring promotional video starring Evie Cho, about how enabling families to have healthy babies isn’t quite enough, because why stop there when you can create a healthier, stronger human race one baby at a time. It is a genius move for Neolutionist, gaining real life acceptance through mainstream productive technology rather than operating in the same half-world dreary half-illegal space that Leda relied on in its earlier days (orphans and refugee mothers). Not only are they making fast advances at the core of their ideology, but they are also gaining mainstream acceptance for altering human genome, and no longer through willing Neolutionists pets like Trina, but through families desperate for biological children.
Which finally brings us to the third thread, and the grimmest one at that. Rachel, still entombed by her own mother, cared for by one of the last survivors of her brother clones, and accompanied by her biological clone child Charlotte, has a decision to make as well. She is vying for her freedom, for agency, like everyone else, and she knows that it lies in playing Susan Duncan’s game, becoming the heir that she so desires, making the transition from object of science to scientist. Unfortunately, she is not in any way able to make the rules for this game, and Susan doesn’t hesitate to make Charlotte a pawn in it. Rachel knows that there is a slim chance that the very painful immune-suppressive therapy that led to Jennifer’s very quick and painful death could be successful as Charlotte is much younger, but she is also aware that as scientists, having an “untreated data set” of the illness progressing in its youngest victim would be priceless. Will Rachel sell her daughter for her mother’s love? The odds are stacked against her, and I want to believe that the revenge she is planning surpasses MKs, but for now, it looks like Rachel is betting on Susan to deliver her to freedom, especially now that her messages have been cut off.
There are a few very great cuts in this episode, both of them gross in their own way.
“I’m getting older and everybody’s pregnant. I just want to have my own baby.”
Nobody loves Alison as much as Sarah Sparks does. Not even Helena.
A good effort (I could have done without the later scene though) with Donnie and Felix at Lifespring, with Felix calling Donnie out on relying on stereotypes for his performance rather than realising that he is likely surrounded by closeted, unreadable gay men in his suburban hellhole of a home.
The cynical pragmatist / idealist divide between Sarah and MK in this episode was stunning, up to the point where MK took all of Ferdinand’s money and ran in spite of Sarah pleas to help out her and her sisters.
I’m digging Cosima and Scott geeky science stuff, especially the joking about Leekie’s head contrasted with Donnie’s retching, but perhaps Cosima CAN HAVE IT ALL? Where is Delphine.
It looks like Marion Bowles is dead, or at least MK thinks so, which would explain why Charlotte is with Susan Duncan now.
I wonder what the deal with Dizzy is. He is suspiciously cooperative, so short of him being a Neolutionist plant, which I don’t think likely, he certainly has his own agenda.
I thoroughly enjoyed Tatiana Maslany as MK and I hope she will be back. At the same time, I am very concerned about Sarah.
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