Thursday 23 June 2016

Orphan Black – There’s always a bloody board.

Orphan Black: 4x10 From Dancing Mice to Psychopaths.
On a wider level, Yerkes worked to establish the utility of primates for interpreting the place of human beings in scientifically managed corporate capitalism - called nature. His investigations in mental and sexual psychobiology included designing tests for all aspects of mental functions in organisms ranging from daphnia and dancing mice to psychopaths, soldiers, and corporate managers. Yerkes also examined natural dominance and co-operation in the evolutionary interrelation of sexual instinct and rational mind. 
Donna Haraway: Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature

Dominance and cooperation is one way of summarising the dance between Rachel Duncan and Sarah and her sisters. There is a certain symmetry here, between both Sarah and Helena, the rogue clones who grew up outside of the sphere of influence of Dyad, the free clones whose uniqueness means that they do not suffer from the burden that their sisters have to carry and are able to conceive children. Rachel is equally cast out and different because she was raised by Neolution and for Neolution, she was raised to power by someone who never truly believes that she could hold any of her own, in the belief that gaining enough power would finally afford her the agency and freedom that her state as trademarked property forbids her. Helena is sidelined in the final episode, after coming back gloriously from the domesticized wild to slay a villain and save her adopted family, so the central conflict is between Sarah’s and Rachel’s otherness. 
Having sisters has saved Sarah. This season has mapped out an alternative trajectory, that of Beth Childs who sacrificed herself so that the sisters she loved could live on, but who, post-mortem and without planning to, passed on the responsibility for them to Sarah Manning, who assumed her identity. Sarah didn’t know that the identity would come with the responsibilities, and her path towards embracing this family kept the first season moving forward at such a rapid speed. Embracing her clones has also brought her back to her older family, Felix, Kira and Siobhan, and last season ended with the rather beautiful insight that everything had been connected from the beginning, through Kendall Malone’s distinctive and entirely unique biology. 
Rachel, on the other hand, has been propelled forward by a very specific form of self-hatred. She despises all other clones who have not been raised the way she has, while also profoundly hating her own source of existence, which has robbed her of many things that she desires. Sarah is the impersonation of having it all without deserving any of it for Rachel – she did not go through the sharp upbringing that she did, and yet, by virtue of growing up outside the reaches of Leda and Dyad, she has achieved more freedom than Rachel will ever have. Finding solace in her clone sisters was never a possibility for Rachel, because every fibre of her being is tuned against accepting them as equal to her. 

Sarah and Siobhan had to embrace a tactical alliance with Rachel and Susan because things looked so hopeless for Cosima, but neither of them has ever doubted that it would turn out ugly. The one person who has continuously, out of hubris, under-estimated Rachel’s hatred of the past and desire to gain full agency by making use of what she has learned is Susan Duncan, her mother. The very way in which Sarah is rooted deeply through her daughter, through Felix and Siobhan, and her sisters, is the way in which Rachel is not. Susan Duncan is a reluctant mother, a mother who is incapable of finding a balance between scientist and carer, in regarding her daughter as family or an object for research. She also does not take her seriously because she takes herself too seriously, and makes the error of underestimating the substance of her research. To add to Rachel’s downward spiral, Susan finds a more equal mind in Cosima, who within days of reaching the island unlocks the key to her own salvation. Susan makes the error of believing that Cosima is her own likeness, while we’ve learned over the past seasons that Cosima stands apart from what we have seen of scientists within Leda because of a spirituality that is deeply rooted in humanism and moral considerations about the research she is pursuing. 

This final episode creates a version of this whole season where characters, imbued with their traits and convictions and struggles, were placed on a board (not unlikely the game that Scott and the comic store guy make Krystal play) and can’t help but clash in that spectacular way in which they do here, on the Island of Doctor Moreau. Cosima was always going to unlock the secret to her biology and find her own cure, and Susan was always inevitably betray the assumption that saving her children was essential to her, or more essential than restarting the project that she has dedicated her life to. Rachel was always going to find the moment of weakness in which she could insert herself back into the game and punish anyone and everything that has ever stood in her way. Sarah was always going to be ready to sacrifice herself for her sisters and fight teeth and nail to ensure their safety, even if it means going to the Island alone and facing the villain who hates her very existence, because it calls out all the weaknesses in her own. 

All the trajectories this season pointed towards the Island, and it turns out that Evie Cho was nothing but a distraction, a dead branch of evolution. Both she and Susan Duncan are absolutists, believing that their own projects are the only way forward for humanity – they are both trapped in the short-sightedness of their fields, an engineer battling a biologist for the truth about the future. Neither of them ever sees Rachel Duncan coming, who grew up in board rooms, comprehends that everything, including science, is about politics, and that anyone who thinks in only one paradigm misses the greater picture, and all the ways in which one little coup can change the course of history. She proposes something heinous, inhumane, and at the same time utterly irresistible for this mysterious board of Neolutionists, that might as well have existed since Percival Westmoreland wrote his book. In her version of humanity’s future, both Evie’s and Susan’s approach will be married to create something new, something that seems specifically designed to prevent someone like Sarah and her Sisters from existing. These new clones, who will be outfitted with Evie’s gene editing technology, will never be able to take agency, escape, or foils anyone’s plans, because they will be nothing but lab rats, patented property, with not even a conception of freedom and free will. 
Rachel: We marry the best of both worlds. Susan’s baseline with Evie Cho’s implanted tech. We operate in countries where human cloning is not illegal. Where our corporation supersedes their citizenship, their personhood, so why grant them this illusion of freedom. If we want to know if our lab rats’ tails will grow back we damn well cut them off and see.
This season has pointed towards the Island, and led our heroes there, but the place itself is a mystery as well. Ethan Duncan kept the book with the key to the existence of the clones, he must have known of its significance. 
What if the source of it all – the idea of humanity’s future decided by humanity’s intervention in its own genetic make-up – still determined the direction that idea would take, the translation of it. One of the undercurrents this season wasn’t just the science itself but also the history of science, science as a contested field in which ideas are not just exchanged but war against each other, for resources, followers, influence and power. Evie Cho’s battled against Susan’s and lost first, and then Susan’s lost against Rachel (Rachel’s final judgement over her – “The future is bolder than you”), while Susan herself is bleeding to death in the tomb that gave birth to Westmoreland’s ideas, and ironically, also the version of Rachel that has ended her creator and succeeded her. There is a very deliberate beauty in the two boardroom scenes – the first one, in which Evie gets brutally disposed of by her own science when she refuses to step away from the table quietly, in the second one, when Rachel makes her irrefutable proposal. The boardroom is dominated by emptiness, by empty chairs, and by an absence of a distinctive leader.  

These are the trajectories of Rachel and Sarah, sisters who were always destined to crash into each other. Rachel convinces the board of the organisation that created her to follow her conception of the future, because this will buy her a place at the table. 
Susan: Power does not equal free will, Rachel. You are owned.
Rachel: A legal description which I can rewrite.
Susan: They’ll never accept you.
Rachel: And when the lobbying has ended, and when the laws have passed, who would you choose as the face of human cloning?
Susan: You are betraying me, you are betraying your sisters, and you are betraying yourself.  
For Rachel, freedom means taking ownership of Neolution and disowning her own clones. It means stepping away from any conception that the family of clones, the cooperation of clones, the safety of sisterhood, brings salvation. Sarah, Cosima, Alison and finally Helena all tell the same story that Beth Childs started – that by fighting for each other, they can become free, that on their own, they are powerless against this network of shadows, of men behind curtains and selfish creator mothers. Sarah is driven to achieve this more than the others because – “if I don’t fix this, it is my curse to watch my sisters die”. She will lose them all, her family, if she stops fighting and gives up. She isn’t fighting just for herself when she encounters Rachel, and gets stabbed in the leg and shot at by her. 

We don’t know much about the man behind the curtain who wrote himself into immortality, both in the literal sense and in creating a boardroom of shadows that seek to steer humanity. Presumably, it was his idea for Susan to create Rachel, and it is his design for her to take over. He is losing patience for natural selection, he designed Rachel’s eyes, he sent her messages about murdering Zeus, the creator Swan, and to claim this time as hers. 

But elsewhere, Cosima Niehaus created and then stole her own salvation, she found and claimed her own cure, and she is finally reunited. And for a moment, science isn’t what saves her, but the warmth of the woman she loves. 
Cosima: I think I’m dying.
Delphine: I won’t let you.

Random notes:
Felix: She’s doggedly wrong, but she gets results.
Krystal: This is about human experiments and two factions fighting to control them.
Art:  Shit that’s right.
Krystal: So we have Estee Lauder, and then we have this Swedish company called Neolution.
Felix: It’s crazy how right you are.
An ode to Krystal Goderitch, who came so very close to the truth, or as close as she felt she needed to, and when finally given the opportunity to become a self-aware clone, refused it utterly because Sarah Manning’s hair and boobs aren’t as good as hers, and she is probably perfectly well off not believing she is a clone. Also, Krystal managed to do what nobody else could: save the French doctor’s life. 
Krystal: Right, so this is what you think I look like?
Evie can’t be “repackaged” and is killed – the phrasing Van Lier uses is deliberately dehumanising and objectifying and very much in line with how this organisation has approached its test subjects in the past. In her death, Evie becomes what she has so despised about the products of Susan’s clone programme. 

For the duration of this I was convinced that the messenger was Percy himself but I guess we are to assume that his identity will be the surprise reveal next season. There are many interesting things the show could do here -  bring someone back that we have already met, defy expectations by making Percy female (has anyone seen him?), or come full circle in creating a final battle between self-aware women and an old, sexist and racist Victorian. Delphine told Cosima that they have to be very careful there, although it isn’t quite clear what behaviour is sanctioned or forbidden (I could not quite make out the hushed exchange between her and the messenger). Does anyone else realise what is in the containers that Cosima brought with her? Or who Delphine and Cosima are to each other, beyond doctor and patient? 


Sarah, needing her resourceful and strong mum again, calls home, but finds out that Ferdinand has kidnapped both Siobhan and Kira. 
MIA this episode: Helena, Alison and Donnie for the most part, but also, conspicuously, Mika, who I am sure will be back as a major asset next season. 
A final kudos to the creators this season for somehow managing to keep Evelyne Brochu’s return a secret. Let’s hope she will be available for the final season. 

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