Wednesday 21 May 2014

Orphan Black – Know your enemy.

Orphan Black: 2x04 Governed as It Were by Chance.
The Idols of the Cave are the idols of the individual man. For everyone (besides the errors common to human nature in general) has a cave or den of his own, which refracts and discolors the light of nature, owing either to his own proper and peculiar nature; or to his education and conversation with others; or to the reading of books, and the authority of those whom he esteems and admires; or to the differences of impressions, accordingly as they take place in a mind preoccupied and predisposed or in a mind indifferent and settled; or the like. So that the spirit of man (according as it is meted out to different individuals) is in fact a thing variable and full of perturbation, and governed as it were by chance.  
Francis Bacon: Novum Organum 
These two Francis Bacon quotes that provided titles for this episode and the last one work so perfectly on so many levels: the fact that the subjectivity of human perception determines knowledge and identity and understanding the world affects things far beyond science. It’s the most basic fact of human existence: that everyone has their own story, brings their own things to the table, and the most difficult thing is to find a common language to create understanding. That’s what fiction does: both make these differences between people visible (just take how differently people interpret the same stories and relationships), and create, at its best, a frame of references that makes it easier to communicate thoughts and ideas and feelings. It’s beautiful when it works, and tragic and terrible when it doesn’t. I go back and forth so often on whether that cave can be shared or if the closest you can ever get is explain every detail that it contains, but still be trapped in it. 
The clones are a perfect illustration of the fact. They are all approximately the same age, share their DNA, and still have completely different lives and ideologies. It’s more amazing to consider how different they are than how similar they look. Sarah struggles to understand the forces that are trying to define her fate and find a safe place for her family (she grew up an orphan, always fighting), Alison’s world that she so carefully assembled according to pre-existing rules has fallen apart entirely (she’s a suburban house wife, with two adopted children and a husband who has been spying on her for years), Cosima is fighting with everything she has – knowledge and science and love – against a disease that is threatening her life while slowly losing the autonomy over her body, the more she cooperates with Dyad (she’s a grad-student, incredibly privileged and more sheltered than all the other clones, but is now fighting the most severe threat to her life). 
It’s about the attitudes that the clones have towards their lives, and the resources that they bring to the table in terms of struggling for control over it, but it’s also about the attitudes of others, towards them: Helena, stuck between Henrik’s religious obsession with her and Grace’s hatred of seeing her family, the only thing she knows, threatened by something she doesn’t even consider human, Delphine, realizing it’s so much easier to do the work she did when it’s just assigned numbers rather than actual people you might find yourself falling in love with. Sometimes they’re not so easy to read: Daniel is working for Dyad, he is Rachel’s monitor (which entails sleeping with her, and how murky that whole business is in terms of consent will become obvious in the next episode), but he also develops a hatred for Sarah in the course of chasing her, because she is resilient enough to escape him, resourceful enough to beat his cold professionalism. It’s enough hatred for him to go way beyond the scope of his mission, eventually. 

Losing control has so many different faces in the show too: For Sarah, it’s seeing her daughter in danger, losing her faith in Mrs S, being captured and trapped and not knowing a way out. Cal ends up taking care of Kira when she goes back on mission (but there’s a very distinctive change in his face when Sarah tells him she’s chased by Dyad, one that she seems to miss completely). 
For Alison, it’s waking up and only realizing a couple of minutes into her day (consisting of throwing up) that she’s not at home anymore, that her suburban controlled environment with all its rules has been replaced by a rehab facility, with all its control and rules. It’s a terrifying thing that the show does here, considering the long history of women being institutionalized by their male relatives as punishment for unwanted behaviour: Alison probably didn’t consent to this, or was too drugged to understand what she consented to, and now that she in rehab, Donnie has all the power. He is a terrible monitor, and it’s unbelievable he’s made it so far without being detected, but now that Alison has fallen off a stage in front of everyone they know, it’s easy for him to control her actions, he just threatens to take away the children and there is nothing she can do. She even struggles to explain to Felix what this situation means, how utterly helpless and alone she is in it. 
For Helena, probably even more resourceful than Sarah because she was so distinctly shaped into a weapon by Tomas, it’s waking up still drugged in the compound, having vague memories of something horrible being done to her, something being taken from her against her will, by a man led by his fanatical convictions. She escapes, because survival is all she knows to do – it’s one of the most visually stunning scenes the show has ever done, Helena fighting back, making her way outside after finding the room where something was done to her, running away in her wedding dress and the boots she stole, with Art just marvelling at her. Henrik wanted to make her family because when someone is part of his family, he controls them, he decides over them, they become his (it’s clear from every conversation he has that he decides the fate of every single person around him) – but Helena only knows one kind of family, and that’s Sarah, her twin sister, the person who shot her but who is still the only person in the world she cares about. Grace defined family by who didn’t belong, by othering Helena, but for Helena, it’s only this biological unit of two, actual biological twins. 

This is the story of LEDA: There once were two scientists, Susan and Ethan Duncan. Sarah was meant for them, to be raised as their child, but then her birthmother took her away – one to the state, one to the church – so Rachel became their child. We don’t know what the intention of LEDA was, Cosima proposes that it was military, maybe a 1970s Cold War thing, but we just don’t know for now. Years later, a group of activists – the Birdwatchers, or connected to the Birdwatchers – blew up their lab. They died in the explosion, or were presumed dead in the explosion. Sarah breaks into Rachel’s apartment (because sometimes trying to gather as much evidence as possible, shine a light into someone else’s individual cave, is all you can do), and finds videotapes of a happy childhood that violently clashes with Cosima’s interpretation of events that Rachel was probably raised as a pro-clone, self-aware and arrogant and without emotion. The psychology makes sense, but reality doesn’t match it. Rachel Duncan had a happy childhood, until her parents were taken from her. And Mrs S knew all of that, because she made the connections, and she is still digging into the history of it, using all of her old connections to understand who Sarah is. 

Of all the subtle ways in which characters lose agency – Helena being carried away by Henrik, Cosima’s blood being given to Dyad against her wishes, Alison finding herself in rehab – Daniel tying Sarah up in the shower to torture her, giving her no way out, doing it for the sake of inflicting pain on someone he hates, is the most immediate, terrifying translation of the theme of the show. She can only beg, try to remind him that she looks like Rachel, in case he has any kind of genuine emotions for her. 
Helena escaped something terrible, something gruesome, and all she could do once she was free was try and find Sarah, because Sarah is her only family, the only person that helps her make sense of herself. She kills Daniel, because Daniel hurt Sarah. 
Helena: We were meant to be together.
Sarah: Stay away from me.
Helena: Please. Sestra. I need your help. Don’t send me back. I was married. I think. He took something. From inside of me.
And in that moment, Helena is all that Sarah has, as well, the only person she can rely on. 

(and elsewhere, Henrik proves his theory, because there is nothing that a man like him wouldn’t do to prove that he was right)

Random notes: 

JFC Mrs S. That whole freaking scene was out of this world. “Let me go, I love you more”

I’d completely forgotten that Sarah doesn’t even know that Cosima is sick. It explains some of her violent reactions to Delphine, she really doesn’t have any idea of why Cosima acts the way she does. 

Kind of significant that LEDA chose a name that explicitly references something that is widely interpreted as rape (even if Cosima doesn’t say the words in her retelling of the story). The kids are half-human and half-god – which maybe makes sense if they used human DNA and then introduced the synthetic sequences to improve it, but I can’t even pretend to have a grasp on the science of Orphan Black, so we’ll see. 

“You want us to check his crevices?”

“Delphine and Cosima are locked in some transgressive lesbian geek spiral”. That’s so accurate though. What are they doing except drawing blood sexily, occasionally skyping and otherwise getting naked on that lab couch?

Someone pointed out that the scar that Beth had matches what Daniel does to Sarah. 

Helena is angel and butterfly at once. Both things make sense. Religion and science, etc. 

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