Orphan Black: 4x09 The Mitigation of Competition.
Let’s start this penultimate season four review by talking about competition. It’s been at the centre of this whole season in different iterations and as the season gears up to its final episode, it is more at the core of Orphan Black than ever. Of course, there is the idea of competing technologies – Evie Cho’s gene therapy is ready to be made public, after gaining government approval, and closer than ever to putting an end to Susan’s old cloning technology, which is useless without an original. Both Susan and Evie are fanatical in their approaches, because both of them have a personal involvement. The technology of cloning is personal for Susan, because she and her husband have dedicated their entire life to it, have created children that Susan still feels responsible for. Susan’s lover is a clone, as is her daughter. None of this is unproblematic, but it is Susan’s life.
Evie was saved by the same gene editing technology that she is now trying to sell to the public under the guise of gene therapy, and it has resulted in an ideology of editing the entire human race towards a greater goal, towards controlling human evolution.
Beyond that, the competing technologies are also about who controls the Neolution movement itself, and all the power that is attached to that control. Apparently, Neolution has infiltrated everywhere, and being at the head of it, or at least having a seat at the table, means having a say in the future of humanity. Susan wants it, and she went way beyond ethics when she created Charlotte to prove that her technology was still viable, and of course, Evie wants it, because she profoundly believes that Susan’s technology is out-dated. But this is also where the other thing comes in, the other theme of this season – blinded by ideology, by what each of them consider the better paradigm, neither of them take Rachel Duncan seriously. Susan doesn’t take her seriously because her daughter isn’t a scientist, and she would much rather Cosima be her daughter, who knows the science and contributes to its future. Evie doesn’t take Rachel seriously because Rachel is the product of the very technology that she thinks is a thing of the past, and she insists, again and again, that Neolution would never allow a clone a seat at the table. It is a repetition of that all line that Leekie threw at Cosima, back in the day, about scientists never making the cover of science magazines – she was doomed to find herself there because she was the science, not the scientist. This is, of course, a fallacy, because Rachel has been raised to power, and she is not limited by any consideration of ethics or morals.
I think that Sarah, Felix and the others are well aware of that fact, and know that Rachel is dangerous especially because of this, but they have run out of options. Cosima needs a cure, and Evie and her lackeys have become too dangerous to ignore, or to turn down an alliance with someone that they can’t predict. As Sarah says – it is a terrible idea to cooperate with someone who will not hesitate to turn on them. For once, that old allegory about the frog and the scorpion would have been accurate, rather than a cliché television trope. Rachel is willing to blackmail one of the carriers who have managed to escape Evie’s research facility, because neither Sarah nor Art are willing to do so. She is willing to extract what is necessary to get rid of Evie once and for all, the only way she can be disposed of – by turning the public against her, and making it impossible for her technology to be spread among the very humans that she seeks to lead into the future. Where Susan’s research was secret, Evie’s depends on public relations, on advertisement, on being sanitised for public consumption, and that is precisely where her weakness lies, because we know that the part of it that happens behind the scenes is gory and horrific, and beyond anything that could be explained away in a press conference. The very thing that makes Evie strong – being able to charm the public – is what makes her weak, and ultimately, a villain that isn’t even going to make it into the final showdown.
A mistake that Sarah does make, beyond deciding on an alliance with Rachel to save Cosima, is to think that her ultimate end goal would be to manoeuvre Susan on top of Neolution rather than herself. It should have been clear that Rachel doesn’t have a conception of power that is about getting those close to her there, that she has a very narrow, individualistic idea of power. She isn’t naïve, she doesn’t trust anyone, she wants power for herself, because she has been marginalised and left on the side for so long. Rachel doesn’t have any companions, or family, that she looks out for, and that is what makes her dangerous. Other characters this episode show weakness because they still have people they care about. Sarah, more than anyone, has an entire family to protect, Alison has Donnie and her children, even Helena cares about every one of the clones, but particularly the Hendrixes. Rachel doesn’t have anyone, she mistrusts Susan who has always kept her on the line between child and subject, she only uses Ira for her own purposes. Kendra, one of the fugitives carriers, has not just her biological son but also this new blind child to care about, because, as Adele says, family isn’t really about genetics. Kendra cares about the child because it is HERS, regardless of who the biological parents are.
Adele: Genetics doesn’t really make a family does it?
Adele: Honesty and acceptance, that’s what it’s all about, hey?
Felix: This is my life. I’m really sorry.
Adele: Ok. I’m gonna leave you with your real family.
This moment of departure is heartbreaking, because Felix is letting her go to protect her. This whole season, he has tried to build his own family separate from Sarah’s but inevitably, everything is connected and mixed up, and the only way to save Adele (and she comes close to being killed by Helena this episode) is to let her go, and to keep her in the dark about the truth. Felix’ non-biological family is like fate, something that he cannot escape.
Family is like faith, and elsewhere, Alison is grappling with her faith while planning an escape with Donnie, who has been released on bail but is in danger of becoming the subject of a corrupt system completely undermined by neolutionists. They want to run away, but one of Evie’s lackeys is after them. Her family is about to be wiped out, but Alison prays and confesses her sins – it is a faith that she thought lost, after going through the motions in the musical, not feeling like she is part of anything meaningful anymore. And then Helena, who tried to lead a peaceful existence before the birth of her twins, emerges, and saves the family that she loves the best.
I think that Alison is motivated to see Helena’s appearance to save her as a sign, and it seems as if Rachel starts to see her visions the same way. She realises that they aren’t glitches, that someone is intentionally planting these videos of a secluded community, of swans being slaughtered as a sacrifice, in her eyes. To show her something, perhaps a path, or meaning, or fate. We saw Percy’s book, the painting of Leda and the Swan – if Rachel applies it to her own life, then Susan is the creator, Susan is the maker, Susan is the swan. And before that, Charlotte showed Cosima a map of the island. There are people there. And one of those people – in an unlikely twist of fate, and hours after Cosima’s arrival there, hours after Cosima created a viable zygote from Leda and Castor gene material – Delphine Cormier appears.
The theme of competition, and making the wrong choices about cooperation, goes through all the storylines. I think it would have been a good idea for Adele to become part of the team, but Felix doesn’t want to pull her into this mess.
Important for the next episode: Susan asks Cosima about her opinion on the founder of Neolution, Percival Westmoreland:
Cosima: I think he’s fascinating, for a racist blowhard who thinks that poverty is genetic.
Susan claims that this frame of mind can be explained by the Victorian era that he was born into, but of course it raises questions about who he would be now, in the current era. Would this frame of mind carry into the present time, were he still alive? Would a Victorian stranded in the 21st century still hold on to the racist, eugenic views that he would have held 120 years ago?
Donnie Hendrik. You look like roast pig.
And again, how on earth is Donnie still alive.
Many questions are not answered in this episode, or the next one – like, does the old man send the videos to Rachel, or does Delphine, and what ideology would this ancient cult have that has existed on the fringes of Neolution, an Other village on the same Island of Doctor Moreau.
The final act to this whole very well thought out exercise on what happens when wealthy people take advantage of impoverished communities, with an entire town falling under the control of Neolution (Evie’s hometown, eager for jobs), and a carrier coming from there and falling under her power precisely because she does not have the economic means to support herself. It is all connected, and on the sidelines of this season, Orphan Black does a brilliant job of it.