Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Orphan Black – We run on principle.

Orphan Black: 5x02 Clutch of Greed.

The cheese-mites asked how the cheese got there,
And warmly debated the matter;
The Orthodox said that it came from the air,
And the Heretics said from the platter.
They argued it long and they argued it strong,
And I hear they are arguing now;
But of all the choice spirits who lived in the cheese,
Not one of them thought of a cow.

 Arthur Conan Doyle: A Parable
The episode begins with what might be a fever dream, but in light of what we know of Kira’s powers, could be something else entirely. Sarah, once again the clutches of Rachel, Ferdinand and Dyad, sees Kira and Siobhan, and is warned that she needs to let Kira go, that she needs to listen to her. It’s a prescient warning for what happens later in the episode, and one that Sarah ignores utterly.

It’s difficult to find a common thread here, between where all the characters are going, but maybe it’s this: That in a show that is so much about biology and genetics, the thing that determines the characters is still mostly their past experience, their instincts based on how they’ve been hurt before. It’s all about fight or flight, and Sarah (and MK, who is tragically thematically paired with her in this episode) has always thought about running first. Back in the day, she used to do it on her own, leaving Kira behind, but now she is extending that primal instinct to find safety far away from danger to her daughter, to her sisters. Previously, Cosima turned her down, arguing that fleeing, in that case, wouldn’t suit any of them, especially since Delphine told her to follow the science to wherever it leads. To be truly free, the argument goes, the sisters have to understand their full story, but Sarah isn’t interested in anything that connects her to Rachel and to any kind of alliance that Rachel maps out for them.

And is this how PT Westmoreland’s parable applies to her as well? How the sisters have been fighting about the correct approach, and how, back in the day, this applied to Rachel as well. In the parable, the two approaches are both wrong because they are based on limited information, because none of the cheese mites are in any position to envision the being that they came from, as it is too far removed from their current position, from their current lived experience. How would a cheese mite imagine a cow, what all it knows is the space between the platter and the air. On the other hand, it is always relevant, in any story, who the storyteller is, and in this case it is an old man posing as a very, impossibly, old man, an none of the sisters have any proof that he actually does exist. There is no trail of documents, no data, to support his claim that he will outlive Darwin’s tortoise, that a combination of his genetics and Neolution’s science has made him immortal. PT Westmoreland is a necessary creation, but he also embodies a logical fallacy in Revival, because why do they have to chase the dream so vividly still if they have already found a solution? The only way to solve the puzzle of why PT Westmoreland is so old, whereas everyone else isn’t, is that he is somehow bestowed with special powers, which justify his position at the top of the pyramid. This is too convenient to actually add up to the truth though, so my guess is still that this man is an impostor, a necessary illusion for a scientifically pretentious religious cult that has lived in isolation for such a long time. If all of his outstanding biology is already there to be studied, why does Rachel need new surrogate mothers, to restart the cloning? Why does Revival find children with cancer from around the world, who are precarious enough that they can be studied without any resistance?
PT promises Cosima that if she chases the answers long enough, and follows the path he lays out for her beyond finding a cure for herself and her sisters, eventually she may be capable of envisioning the cow, the impossible being, that has created them all, but for now, the main reason why Cosima keeps digging, keeps following, isn’t this obscure promise, because she has no desire to become part of the collection in this ancient house, another stuffed animal, another front page in a science journal. It’s just that Delphine has told her to do this, but maybe, the reason why she used the exact same words – follow the science – is because she has already figured out that it leads to a place that is very different from the one that Westmoreland or this creepy freaking village promise.

Which leads us to Rachel, who has changed into a person who seems at peace with herself, who pursues a path, who has finally found a calling. Presumably, this is what Westmoreland does, also: He reads people perfectly, and finds what is missing from them, what they need to hear to follow his instructions. It took him no time at all to know that Cosima wants to heal her sisters, wants to find her own cure, so when he met Rachel, he must have known that she wants nothing more than preside over the future of the human race, and prove that she can do so as a clone. He has put her in a position where she feels that bringing the other sisters into the fold doesn’t mean giving up power – but then there is the other consideration to make. She seems changed entirely, especially to Ferdinand, who so desperately needs her to be her old self. But has Rachel really changed? Everything that happens in this episode, from Sarah standing in another prison cell hearing that all her sisters apart from Helena and Mika have joined the cause, to Sarah being pitted against Kira and her family when she refuses to leave the normal life that has been promised to her, aligns with what Rachel, and I mean the old Rachel, would have wanted the most. Nothing could hurt Sarah worse than her daughter deciding against her, and for Rachel, nothing could hurt her most than Siobhan and Felix arguing against her that running away and saving her family is the better option here. This new Rachel has accomplished exactly what the old Rachel always wanted the most, taking away every little thing that she envied Sarah so much. She takes Kira’s hand, and walks away from Sarah, and glimpses back, and in that glimpse, I don’t think there is a single doubt that this new Rachel is simply a façade for the old one that currently works good for her, that is like a successful rebrand, but still hides the same vengeful, hateful, hurt clone who has now lost both of her parents and still feels like Sarah has stolen something from her just by being herself.

There is a tragic parallel in this as well, between Kira’s deep desire to understand herself and her connection to all of Sarah’s sisters, and Sarah’s refusal to allow her this understanding because she thinks that it will trap her in dependency on an inherently untrustworthy corporation. Most of this show has been about the clones demanding to understand their own existence against the wishes of those who created them, and now Kira is doing the same with the woman who created her, Sarah. As much as Sarah’s refusal to allow Kira to choose this path for herself is based on a well-founded concern over Rachel’s trustworthiness, and the nature of Dyad, it still leads to exactly the same outcome that she experienced herself when she realised who she was. People she trusted were making decisions against her own will. It’s tragic that the episode is resolved the way it is, with Kira walking away with Rachel, as if the only solution to this is for her to trust Dyad. But then, this seems to be the theme of the season – Sarah once again losing everything, even though she is trying so hard, because she can’t change her spots, and her first instinct is to run even when does she is trying to protect tell her that she has to find a different way.

It takes a lot of courage not to run, especially when it comes instinctually.
And I think when all else is done, when the season and Orphan Black end, we will still come back to this moment and try to grasp what it means.

This whole dynamic, of an old man deciding the course of so many people’s lives, of an entire organisation built on the subjugation and exploitation of others but particularly women – an organisation that picked poor women off the streets to use them, that has deprived them of basic rights, and often killed them in the process – leads to this scene. Ferdinand, a sad, sad man, sexually frustrated by a woman who refuses to give him what he wants, takes all of that frustration out on Mika, who is wearing that woman’s identity, but who has also taken all of his power, all of his money, away previously. Ferdinand stands for everything that Dyad, and all its previous and future mutations, stand for when you take away all the pseudo-scientific veneer, all the branding, all the fake respectability of the learned and old. He is a misogynist, a man who hates women, a man who hates when he doesn’t get exactly what he wants. Rachel tells him that he has to change his ways, because she is trying to turn Neolution into a different project, and Ferdinand the way he has always been is like the inevitable ghost of the past haunting it, one  that is so hard to shake off because this entire institution is inherently patriarchal and brutal, as much as Rachel is attempting to change it.
Because he hasn’t gotten what he wanted, and because Sarah has slipped through his fingers, he tramples Mika to death.
There is no other way of saying this – in this episode, Ferdinand jumps on her, and doesn’t stop until she has died. It’s viscerally horrible, it’s a brutal scene that is incredibly hard to watch, and even though it ends with him being sent out on the street, it stands for everything that Dyad has been throughout the ages. At its core, it steals autonomy from people, turns their bodies into proprietary information and takes the ability to lead independent lives away from them. The direct violence Ferdinand uses in this episode is just another expression of that very same ideology that uses women and thinks nothing of depriving them of agency.

These are Mika’s last words for Sarah – that this whole thing is so much bigger than about her and her daughter, that losing sight of the enormity of their undertaking will mean that they lose this war. Dyad will always come back in one way or another, because the ideology behind it is so deeply embedded in our society.

I think Delphine knows, and she also knows that the only way to do any lasting damage here is to contact Siobhan. These two will be interesting as a team, because they should make up for each other’s shortcomings perfectly: Delphine was never one to whom acting covertly came naturally, and Siobhan isn’t one who blends in well. Delphine is very much not a ghost, and I suppose we will finally find out what she truly meant when she told Cosima to follow the science.

Random notes:

Who is Mud? She lives in the mansion, and talks to PT Westmoreland daily.

We get confirmation that Helena’s twins have the same uncanny ability to heal themselves that Kira has, and Helena escapes from the hospital after doing something pretty terrible to a doctor who might or might not have been a Neolutionist. Donnie, for his part, does what he does best: Runs away.

It is kind of beautiful, that Rachel starts the episode by promising that only the results of the non-invasive studies on Kira will be proprietary information, while Kira herself remains Sarah’s: Because Kira isn’t anyone’s either, she’s her own person too, which throughout the ages has been a contended idea.

This is a tiny throwaway moment, but the comic shop guy tells Ira that “his mom will be okay”, very much not realising that Susan wasn’t exactly motherly to him. Also, Ira is going back on the island to spy for the Clone Club, because he has many reasons to hate Rachel. 

No comments: