Orphan Black: 5x06 Manacled Slim Wrists.
To her fair works did nature linkThe human soul that through me ran;And much it grieved my heart to thinkWhat man has made of man.
William Wodsworth: Lines Written in Early Spring
Orphan Black has always been about the consequences of a patriarchal system for individuals. It’s a show about women fighting for choices and freedom, and how that fight can only be possible if they love and support each other, considering how overbearing and powerful the opponent is. The opponent has had different faces over the years, but in this final season, more than ever before, he has become the literal personification of the patriarchy: a pathetic old man who created a myth about his immortality, propped it up with money and by relying on the powerlessness of female scientists in the 1960s, and literally sucked the blood from women and children so he could stay alive forever. PT Westmoreland isn’t eternal, but the system that allowed him to exist in a mansion, on an island surrounded by supporters who thought him almighty, and gave him the blood of their children, may as well be.
There is a reason why he wanted Cosima and Delphine to put on Victorian garments, and why the messenger was so outraged about Cosima’s unconventional choice: traditional gender roles is what keeps Westmoreland right where he has always been. Without the specific social configuration of the 1960s, when he started his career, the much more scientifically brilliant Susan Duncan would have had a shot to fill his shoes, but since she was a woman, and he had wealth, he was the one who carved out a seat in eternity for himself. He was nothing but a middling student, a mediocre scientist, relying on other people’s genius to support him – and now, in older age, fearing death, this figurative vampirism has turned to a very literal one.
While Westmoreland has his new and less ethically weighed down companion Virginia Coady bleed the children of Revival dry, the person on the outside who once again stumbles across a relevant insight about the future of Dyad and Neolution is… Krystal Goderitch. As in her two previous experiences, the message that Sarah and Art might take from their experience of being once again bested by a woman with only a vague idea about the conspiracy she has high-heeled walked into is not to constantly underestimate the clone that uncovered the evil plans of Virginia Coady and Castor and knew that Delphine was alive all along – but what they will eventually, once again, take away from it is to leave Krystal in the half-darkness that she has existed in for the past few years of her life. She could be an asset, but at the same time, constantly refuses – and surprisingly successfully, considering she doesn’t have a whole sisterhood, Siobhan and seasoned police detective to back her up – to follow anyone else’s agenda. Here, the success of hers and her friend’s Brie youtube show about the dark side of the cosmetics industry has her accidentally find Dyad’s new delivery mechanism for gene therapy – the billion dollar cosmetics industry. Her findings line up with what Felix and Adele are digging up in Switzerland – Rachel has been buying start-ups that promise new ways of proliferating Neolution technology, and Leonard Siff isn’t the ethical vegan maker of cosmetics that Krystal thought him to be.
I actually really like the idea of an alternative history here where Krystal managed to combine all the resources she has available – industry access, a fairly awesome best friend in Brie – to find the very same thing that Sarah and her sisters are fighting for, only with much more elaborate and networked resources. Consider how much it has taken Sarah’s family to place Felix and Adele in Switzerland, with the help of deeply embedded Delphine and another source on the inside (who’s probably Ferdinand, since we received some information this episode that he was knew about Virginia Coady’s whereabouts, and likely delivered her to Sarah and Siobhan after being sent out in the cold by Rachel). Krystal gets there with barely any help at all, and only the incidental genius of a kleptomaniac best mate who happens to steal the prototype for Dyad’s future. Part of Krystal’s dangerous half knowledge about this conspiracy has always been her own fault, but some of the responsibility falls entirely to Sarah, who, as Krystal correctly observes, has always been incredibly rude to her, and never taken her seriously. It does serve Art and Sarah right that they find themselves very much on the outside of Krystal’s investigation into big cosmetics here, only able to watch her get everything she wants using methods chosen by her, rather than following Art’s fatherly advice.
And as much as this whole storyline is much-deserved comic relief before the gears really start turning, which I am sure they will very soon, it also fits in very well with what is happening on the island. The same mechanism that has Sarah and Art not take Krystal seriously is what kept Westmoreland on top for such a long time, and it’s the same heinous thing that has managed to trap Cosima in the basement, once again turning her into what she has always feared the most – a specimen for someone else’s research. Westmoreland’s power lies in his myth, and that power is indirectly explored when that myth finally crumbles, with the real failing of his science after Aisha dies and the very small but effective proof of a photo of him as a young man, not long enough ago. It is also explored through Mud’s relationship with him when she reveals her backstory, a junkie who stole from her parents, failed to overdose and found herself rescued on the island, by this overbearing fatherly figure. She is so grateful for this new purpose that she punishes herself for failing Westmoreland (with what happened to Yannis) by wearing a bell around her neck, which constantly sounds throughout her interactions, as a reminder of how Westmoreland got where he is today. He doesn’t even have to exercise any actual power anymore, because the way the system works his mere presence works a charm, and makes those he has managed to put under his spell work according to his plans.
Things go wrong when his mask slips and he starts to reveal his true self, which is a person who doesn’t just strive towards scientific progress at all costs, but more than that, towards individual immortality. Susan Duncan is evil because she only considers the means of Neolution problematic, not the end goal, Virginia Coady is evil because she believes in any means necessary, but Westmoreland is a special specimen of male privilege – he believes any means are justified towards the achievement of his main goal, which is to stay alive forever. So Susan Duncan realises he is a threat to not just her, personally, but the very goal of Neolution, and that the person trapped in the basement of the mansion is very likely the best hope towards achieving what she has in mind for the future of mankind (Kira’s genetics, researched by her aunt Cosima, which is still not benevolent, but a little bit less horrifying than Westmoreland ordering Rachel to kidnap Kira overnight). It means that Ira, who he torn between his two mothers, his desire to know who he is and what he is for, has to choose a side, and eventually stays with Susan, who made him human, even though she never much worked towards a cure for him. They manage to get Cosima out of the basement, but the plan to rid the world of Westmoreland fails utterly when he plays his cards just right, and manages to get Mud to act exactly as he wants her to act, because he knows precisely what encouragement she needs to stay loyal.
Susan Duncan dies on the island, finally. And Ira dies with her, because his time has run out. But as Revival burns, because its citizens have finally realised the full extent of their oppression, and the nature of their oppressor, Cosima gathers Charlotte and steers a boat towards safety. Cosima has always refused that she was the beautiful baseline, both scientist and the subject of science – she will never be part of any of that, because she has seen behind the mask, and knows what lurks there.
Obviously the show is gearing up towards a very bloody and tragic ending, so this little excursion into comic relief delivered via Tom Cullen was excellent. NOT THE BEARD, KRYSTAL.
There’s also a lot of stuff going on in the background with Scott, working through his own issues (Scott on ghosting: “It’s difficult at first but eventually you get used to it.”) and Brie. Oh Scott.
Bree: You’re like what? Normcore?Scott: Yeah. The normest.
Kira is ready to hustle Rachel, and that still holds true after hers and Siobhan’s plot to avoid Dyad fails and Mr Frontanac and Rachel kidnap her.
She’s been poisoned… by big cosmetics. What about that is confusing?
You and that Australian girl are gonna like mess this thing up.
Tragic Ira does ask Virginia if there are any more brothers left… and as far as we know, there’s only Mark, right? Presumably the show would like to keep Ari Millen around until the end.
Siobhan foreshadows when she tells Rachel that she will need them all, one day. Westmoreland doesn’t care about Rachel anymore than he did about Susan Duncan, or does about Virginia Coady.