Friday 18 August 2017

Orphan Black – Freedom looks different to everyone.

Orphan Black: 5x10 To Right the Wrongs of Many.

Five years of this, and what I can find are disconnected thoughts on what Orphan Black was – and how it accomplished to forge its own path, to end on its own terms, something that is so often not possible for ambitious stories told in this particular format. It was a long time ago, but I started watching the show – as did, I think, quite a few other people – in the aftermath of Bomb Girls being cancelled prematurely, and tragically never being able to tell this story that should have lasted well beyond the end of WW2. 

I think the thing that stands out to me the most in this final episode titled To Right the Wrongs of Many is how eloquently it concedes that the strong point of Orphan Black was never the great fight scenes, or the moments in which the monsters finally perished. The most obvious example of this is Leekie’s rather inglorious demise at the hands of a panicked Donnie Hendrix, shot more by accident than anything else by an incompetent man who didn’t know his gun safety procedures, and then buried under a garage, to finally end as nothing more than a McGuffin. If the deaths of individual monsters made much of a difference, this would be an entirely different show, but in many ways, they simply served as stand-ins for the ideologies that the Sisters had to battle against to truly be free. Here, Westmoreland has already lost before he even goes into his final battle against Sarah Manning. He is an ailing old man, gaining temporary energy from shooting medical grade methamphetamines, which only serve to showcase how grotesque he has become. The source of his power – his myth, his island, his followers – has already been stripped from him. So he can still do damage as a person, the way any man raging over having lost his privilege can, but his eventual and again, rather unceremonious death, isn’t the point of this episode, or the grand end point of this journey. It’s a perfunctory necessity that Sarah performs quickly, with a gas canister to the head, because it doesn’t take much more to end the man who was just the most recent impersonation of an idea that stretched back centuries before his birth. 

The same goes for Virginia Coady, who by all rights should have been dead this whole time, along with her failed Castor programme and the sons she so readily sacrificed for the cause. Her contribution to Neolution was in many ways what eventually brought the entire monstrous thing down in the first place – the idea of inserting genocide to purify the human race. Before this, and without it, there is an alternative version of the show and everything that Sarah and her sisters along with Felix, Siobhan, Adele, Scott and Art accomplished where Neolution so neatly transformed itself from a mid-Victorian eugenics society into a 21st century corporate conglomerate that absolutely nothing could have removed from the future of human history. I still find this particular idea too unexplored on the show – that Neolution, and Dyad, transformed themselves along with capitalism itself into the 21st century, that they perfectly adapted themselves into business and corporate structures that look acceptable and normal. They had a board, PR people, and their hands in every modern industry, ticking all the boxes. If it hadn’t been for Virginia’s attempt to include her genocidal rage into all of this, I wonder how much of a difference Delphine and Cosima leaking all of that corporate information truly would have made (or rather, the most horrifying thought that this show allows – that the public may have found out about the fact that Dyad copyrighted human beings and made them corporate property and wouldn’t have cared, because it fits in so very neatly with how we understand capitalism to work). 

In any case – Helena is the one who gets a chance at that particular double- (or triple-) tap, putting an end to Virginia Coady even though she is heavily in labour with two twins, because these women save themselves, and each other, and all these friends, lovers and associates help out of adoration and admiration for them. Art stands by, watching the scene unfolding with a mixture of horror and delight, which is exactly how we will look back at Helena, now that the show is over. 

Which is as good a segue as any: I wonder if Helena was always conceptualised for this trajectory, or originally intended as nothing more than the horror of a clone brought up into hatred for her own, indoctrinated into an ideology of self-hatred that translated into murder, meant to perish at the end of season one to never be seen again. And then the inevitable happened and Tatiana Maslany’s genius made her into a character too good to be lost. The other side to the story of Orphan Black’s creators having the opportunity to tell the story on their own terms, and to plan so far ahead, is that none of it would ever have been possible without an actress who could carry the burden of the brilliant concept at the heart of the show. Tatiana Maslany personified the idea that nurture can shape women with the same genetic make-up into entirely different people, that individuality and personality exist in spite of a shared biology. Apart from the still unimaginable physical effort of spending five years on a show where she was in almost every scene, often as more than one character, the sheer acting accomplishment of creating so many diverse and completely unique characters, maintaining their uniqueness throughout to a level where it was often easy to forget that they weren’t played by different actresses, is a feat for the ages that is probably unparalleled in television history. 

This final episode isn’t the story of Neolution in its death throes, and all of its defenders finally perishing, even if it is deeply satisfying to see Westmoreland end where the ideology that has so long sustained him began – in an old Victorian building, that has been closed down and is ready to be demolished. It’s about what it means for the Sisters that the people who have claimed them as their property have finally lost and no longer have a place in the world where they can exercise their power. More than that, this moment also contains one of the most important lines of the whole show: “You’ve got nothing to do with who we are”. Sarah is denying that these people who have meddled and fought so hard to cage them have much to do with who they are, as people – that their status as the scientists behind their creation gives them no power over who each and every one of them has become on their own. 
It’s about the moment of walking into the light, the “what now” of the aftermath. It’s beautiful that even before that, the show goes back to a Sarah Manning who didn’t know what she was yet, and made a choice that changed her entire life, sitting in a car with her mother Siobhan in front of a Planned Parenthood building, debating whether to have Kira or not. Sarah remembers, as she helps her sister Helena give birth to her twins. It’s the ultimate symbol of a new beginning, twins born into a freedom that their mother and aunts haven’t known until this moment. 

I have a well-documented dislike of epilogues, especially when they glance over the impact that all of these terrible experiences and losses have had. There is a reason why the “what now” is rarely part of the main story, especially when the characters have been shaped by their fight. What comes after walking away from the crater of the Hellmouth? Imagine, for example, a Sarah Connor who no longer has to fight the end of humanity, or prepare her son for the coming apocalypse. It’s impossible to imagine such a moment ever occurring in TSCC (as sad as it is that the show ended so prematurely), but even harder to imagine who Sarah Connor would be if she ever found her peace. 

Sarah, the very reluctant heroine who in the end, helped save her sisters and herself, hasn’t had a chance to grieve the loss of her mother, and the urge to run is still as deeply engraved in her being as ever. It’s not possible anymore now, both because she has Kira, and because her sisters and their extended families (which include Art and his daughter, Charlotte, Scott – a big, chosen family that has survived impossible things and is now stronger for it) keep her rooted in this place. The downside is that she lives in the house that Siobhan died in and that there is no way to outrun her memories and her grief anymore. 
She still tries, though. She runs away from sitting her GEDs. She packs up the boxes and puts the house up for sale. She sulks through Helena’s baby shower – as always, the grumpy woman clad in black finishing a bottle of beer too quickly, standing out like a sore thumb in Alison’s beautifully decorated suburban home in Bailey Downs (where Helena raises her two sons, Orange and Purple, in the Hendrixes’ garage). 
After overcoming everything, after fighting for her life and that of her sisters, after gaining independence from a worldwide conglomerate of entrenched corporate power, all that is left for Sarah to do is confront the demons that never had to do anything with Dyad or Leekie, with Neolution or being a clone. It is still the moment in the car, with Siobhan, deciding to have Kira, and then finding herself unable to carry the consequences. Sarah hasn’t forgiven herself for running away, or thought about the fact that she isn’t the same person anymore who used to run away, that the automatic flight instinct no longer applies here, as much as it comes back to her like muscle memory. She didn’t do it when she realised what they were all up against, after taking over Beth’s life. The hardest part now, in the aftermath, is figuring out how she can carry that bravery and all the things she has learned about herself into a normal, everyday life, in which so many other skills that she has acquired no longer apply. She is like a soldier with PTSD, reintegrating into civilian life but more than that, writing a story about herself in which she is the kind of person that deserves a normal life. 
Sarah: I carry around all these mistakes. I don’t know how to be happy. There’s no one left to fight, and I’m still a shit mom.
The only way that all of this loss and grief was worth it if it led to them all being together, and the greatest conclusion is that the aftermath isn’t easy, because even when life is stripped of the obvious villains, it still doesn’t come easily and without burdens. The sisters try to explain to Sarah that motherhood isn’t easy even without the constant threat of Neolution, that it is part of the process to often feel like you’re failing. 

Their story is an embroidery with many beginnings, and no ends, like Helena’s story, Orphan Black, which begins with Sarah, seeing a spitting image of herself jumping off a train platform. It’s a story about Rachel Duncan who grew up comparing herself and measuring herself by all these women, always trying to come up on top because that was the only game she was ever taught to play, handing over a file of all of the clones so that Cosima and Delphine can save them, but not being allowed inside, because she has caused too much grief, too much harm, to ever be part of this family. It’s the story of Delphine, spending the rest of her life keeping her promise that she will try to save and love each and all of Cosima’s sisters. It’s the story of Alison, who will raise her own extended family of adopted children with her husband Donnie, who I guess she loves. And more than that, it’s the story of all these people who fell in love with the Sisters, who were thrown into a fight that wasn’t their own and yet gave it their all, sometimes sacrificing everything. It was all for this – for all of these children, all of these other women, never having to do what they did. 

Random notes: 

There is a lot that remains to be said about this show, but for now – in the back of my head, I’m just thinking about how much of this year’s television history has been about heroic motherhood, and mothers fighting unbelievable fights. And also, because Orphan Black was allowed to end on its own terms, I think there is no better time than to campaign for Underground to be given the same grace. 

THAT PORTRAIT OF SIOBHAN WITH THE TEA CUP AND THE GUN. If I ever spend a lot of money on a television prop, that would be it. 

“This is Yusef, my Uber driver”.

Delphine Cormier will save all of them and like a solid 20% will flirt with her. Cosima understands and accepts. 

In the end, it doesn’t take much at all to overwhelm Enger. All of these monsters are stripped of their power quite easily. 

A sidenote, at the end here: does anyone want to comment on how they feel about Cosima and Delphine curing all the other clones, but not telling them anything about their history? Should they know? Do they have a right to know about their own history? It’s obviously not as blatant a violation as that much-quoted other ending was (is it really the great feminist revolution to force all the potentials to become slayers if the very way in which slayers were first created was an act of patriarchal misogynist brutality against a woman?), but still, a bit more problematic than I’m comfortable with. 

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