Thursday 12 June 2014

Orphan Black - You have to love all of us.

Orphan Black: 2x08 Variable and Full of Perturbation.

What does it mean to be a clone, beyond the questions of purpose, the struggle against the forces trying to control the fates of the individual clones, the unknown creators? What did it mean for Beth Childs to find herself replicated, again and again in people who looked like her but had life stories so different from her, seeing all the different ways that lives can diverge? Beth was the first to know, the first to organise the resources for finding more of them, and now, months after her death, the network she’s set into motion still works, even though Sarah and the others have since moved far beyond the simple task of collecting people who look like them and make them privy to the secret of their existence. Finding them was the first step, finding each other, the basis for all the fights that are currently taking place, but Variable and Full of Perturbation takes us back to that first question: what does it mean for one individual to realize that they are a clone? And more specifically in the case of Tony, who is introduced in this episode, what does it mean for someone who has spent so much time already struggling with his identity and how others react to him, someone for whom that fight is intrinsically familiar and something that is already in his past? 
The idea here is that the revelation itself creates fault lines wherever someone’s identity was already unsound (disregarding the very real struggle against Dyad and the terrifying reality of possibly suffering from a disease that kills), or alternatively, creates strength where you wouldn’t expect it. Alison has proven to be incredibly resourceful in the face of the struggle (a reveal we never saw), Cosima is uniquely positioned to deal with it, but Sarah just got more and more tangled up in everything after her initial, very instinctual opportunistic reaction: to see it as an opportunity, to slip into Beth Child’s identity and make it her own. And Helena found herself in a twisted, weird ideology in which clones were an aberration and yet she was still the chosen one sent out to kill what did not belong, even if was more similar to her than to the people who raised her to hate.
Tony is equally different from everyone, in as far as he has struggled with his identity, and made peace with it, and is now more comfortable in his own skin for the hard struggle that he had to fight to live in it (hints of a family that did not accept him are given), and more like Sarah  Manning than any other clone previously introduced. It’s a familiarity that Felix recognizes instantly, the need to find weak spots, to get a rise out of him, to push all his buttons.
At its core, this is an episode about the relationship between Felix and Sarah, even though the two of them don’t share that many scenes. Of all the fantastic work that Jordan Gavaris has been doing on this show, this is probably his best: a million different complicated feelings going through Felix’ mind  when he is confronted with Tony’s aggressiveness, the way Tony chases him (either because he genuinely likes him or because it’s how Tony responds and keeps in control of situations). Tony is so much like Sarah: Defiant, rebellious, aggressive, charming, resourceful, so this is a demonstration of what Felix’ relationship with Sarah, or someone like Sarah, could be like if Sarah happened to have a body that Felix could desire in that way: but at the same time, Sarah is his sister, the closest thing he has to family, the person he loves most in the world (along with Kira). He is attracted to Tony, but Tony is also a variation of Sarah, and maybe he is both attracted to him because of it and stop himself for the same reason. And Felix understands Tony more than anyone else, because he understands the struggle of finding your identity and being recognizably different, and instantly recognizably as such – hence why he is the one who knows to correct Arthur when he misuses pronouns, why he doesn’t even have to think about it. 
Sarah: It’s a lot to take in.
Tony: Yeah, look at us, we’re hot. Damn girl.
Sarah: Not our usual identity crisis.
Tony: I did all that work a long time ago. There’s only one Tony and you’re not me, sucker.
Sarah: I guess this is the new guy.
Tony: You’re damn right.
It’s an episode about very complicated family situations that somehow still do work, in a way. Ethan looks at Kira and sees both an unintended outcome of his life’s work, the daughter of a clone that was designed to be barren (because it would be irresponsible to create a prototype that was fertile, as Rachel knows because she is part of Dyad and as Rachel hates and rages against as a human being with wishes and desires), and a daughter that he lost to an organisation and a man that he despises, the point in his life where everything came apart and he lost everything that meant anything to him. Alison and Donnie are hilariously, terribly dysfunctional as a couple, and yet in their dysfunction, the very things that would drive anyone else apart bring them together: Alison was the subject in an experiment that Donnie volunteered for, and despite the fact that he didn’t know the extent, the fact that he consented betrayed Alison’s trust – and yet, they are now in this clone thing together, they both cling to the comfort of alcohol when something in their life veers out of control, they’ve both killed. It’s an odd kind of connection that they forge in this episode, Alison’s outrage over Donnie’s betrayal turning into frustration not over the fact that he killed Leekie, but that he did it so sloppily. 
Delphine and Cosima, after Delphine’s betrayal was revealed – that whole conversation about Cosima locking Delphine out of the lab being so symbolic of everything that happened before, “I can override this lock every time” vs. “I just really don’t want you here”, the fact that Delphine making choices for Cosima and going against her wishes violates her so profoundly that the very connection and relationship that Delphine is doing all of these things for (for love, for the person she loves) falls apart because of it. Of course Delphine’s privileged position within Dyad provides her with the ability to override Cosima’s wishes, but at the same time, her intention is to keep Cosima alive and a part of her life, so going against her wishes is pointless, it just means losing her quicker. Donnie wins Alison back through their mutual experience of having ended a life and keeping it a secret (even though Donnie did it with so much less grace than Alison, and it’s going to be so much more troublesome to deal with the aftermath) – and Delphine wins back Cosima by finally understanding what she did wrong in the first place (and when she tells her “I’m trying to help. Tell me what you want.” – rather than just making assumptions about how to help Cosima). It’s everything that their relationship is, equal parts love and devotion and mistrust for past transgressions, and somehow, the two things aren’t mutually exclusive (and I guess whether you’re rooting for them as a couple depends a lot on whether you think that they are, or should be). 
Delphine: There is something important that I want to tell you. Je t’aime.
Cosima: Is that why you didn’t tell me that they were Kira’s stem cells?
Delphine: Yes.
Cosima: Is that why even before I got here you gave Dr Leekie my blood samples even though I told you not to?
Delphine: Cosima. It’s your life.
Cosima: It’s not just that. It’s all of us. You have to love all of us.
Delphine: Then I love all of you.
Cosima: Good, because if you betray us again, I have enough dirt on you to destroy your career. And I love you too.
Random notes:

The message that Tony eventually does deliver is ominous, and coincides with Paul completely dropping off Rachel’s radar (which he presumably did because he is now aligned with Mrs S): her friend Sammy knew Paul in the military and he wanted to tell Beth to have faith in Paul, since he was a ghost like him. Which brings up a couple of questions: were they both monitors potentially undermined by some other organisation, sent out to monitor Dyad itself? Is the military connection relevant, and does it date back to Leda’s history as a military research institute that was later taken over by Dyad, a contractor, because of the limitations of being officially associated with an organisation that has some sort of oversight? Is this some struggle for the purpose and soul of project Leda that dates back to the 1980s?

It’s so difficult to describe the specific kind of humour that Orphan Black is so bloody brilliant at but as a demonstration I guess the conversation that Alison and Donnie have about killing someone would be a pretty good example. He is so delighted! 

In the face of the fact that Cosima needs more than Kira’s teeth to find a cure (for the disease that is killing her), Delphine and Rachel propose that Ethan Duncan comes back to Dyad with all the collected data he has on the history of Project Leda. Except Ethan hates Dyad with a passion, and it seems like he’s hidden elementary pieces of information in The Island of Dr Moreau, a book about responsible science, maybe, which he’s read and given to Kira (who looks like she understands it better than pretty much anyone else on the show). In a show that is so much about agency, it seems important that he tells Kira that he isn’t going to be anybody’s pawns: Not Rachel’s, not Mrs S (but meanwhile Cosima seems fairly close to death). 

Did Cosima know from the beginning that Delphine was the one who delivered her blood samples to Dyad or did she only figure it out later? Their relationship is constantly such a tightrope walk that it’s hard to tell. 

Cones of Dunshire, anyone? 

So Cosima sticks to her promises, once again proving that THERE SHALL BE NO SCIENCE IN THE LABORATORY. 

Tony: I think I’d get along with dreadlocks over there, but the one with the soccer ball looks like a douche.

Scott: It’s an honour Cosima. An honour to be working with you.

Quite like Scott at this point. Important difference between “working with you” and “working on you”, and I think Scott understands this. 


Lady Canuck said...

Once again thank you, I was so pleased to discover you are doing these essays for Orphan Black.

I think Cosima knew when she had the conversation with Rachel about a blood draw at her university GP's. Which I think Cosima didn't buy at all.

As for Donnie and Alison - it seems that under stress they pull together - even if it turns them into Bonnie and Clyde.

cathy leaves said...

I agree. My take is that Cosima was waiting for Delphine to confess what she did and come clean on her own volition, so that it would mirror her initial approach - knowing that Delphine was her monitor and still keeping her around, thinking the knowledge would give her an edge.
And oh man, Donnie and Alison: terrifyingly apt at murder (/negligence) Bonnie and tragically incapable Clyde. Classic suburban marriage!