Thursday 3 July 2014

Orphan Black – We’re so different, all of us.

Orphan Black: 2x10 By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried.
It would be an unsound fancy and self-contradictory to expect that things which have never yet been done can be done except by means which have never yet been tried. 
Francis Bacon: Novum Organum, Aphorism 6
Beyond the fact that Orphan Black is a show about clones, on a more general level, it asks questions about community and society: how do we define the other, and what mental distinctions need to be created to allow for human beings to be treated like the other, deprived of their rights? At the same time, it’s a show about community in the sense of the clones sharing a struggle, recognizing that despite their numerous differences, the ties that bind them are the one thing that they have to be able to rely on. It was a slow progression, just considering where Sarah started at the beginning of the show (opportunistically slipping into the life of a woman who had just killed herself in front of her eyes, regarding the whole world including Alison and Cosima as potential sources of danger, and running off again and again, leaving her daughter to be raised by Felix and Siobhan), to the point where Sarah is willing to sacrifice things, very essential ones, to ensure the safety of her sisters. The show does a good job of shedding light on both Sarah’s probably unchangeable nature, a person who grew up with so many uncertainties that she will always have a Plan B in the back of her mind, ready to be executed with all the skill and resources at her disposal, and her desire to connect and the almost instinctive fondness and love that she feels for Alison and Cosima. They’ve barely been in the same room this season, mostly connecting through the internet, and yet, their struggle against Dyad and everyone else plotting against them, plotting about them without their consent, has bound them together more tightly than ever before, and showcased each of their strengths and weaknesses. 
The darker part of the show portrays how it was even possible for the clones to come into existence, the ethical failures on the way. A hundred years ago, those orphans that Leda originally experimented on because they were not spoken for and were therefore vulnerable and without rights; now, these women created in a lab, patented and monitored, by a scientist who was only capable to care about the one that he raised as his own daughter. Human empathy, or at least so the show argues, mostly doesn’t work on an abstract level: Delphine didn’t realize how questionable Dyad’s actions were as long as the clones were merely numbers, she had to fall in love with one of them, recognize her individuality, before she started questioning things. Ethan Duncan only realized Dyad’s true nature when Leekie and other forces within it started to work against him, when he was personally affected by his experiments and his science getting out of control. 
The way that Dyad de-personifies the clones corresponds in a very terrifying way with the way that society as a whole has been and is still treating women’s bodies in general: somehow there is a loophole in thinking about freedom and liberty when it comes to women’s reproductive rights that leads to the assumption that bodies that can create life somehow belong to the community as  a whole rather than the person. It’s an absolutely terrifying, horrible idea, and yet it is in effect every time a group of men makes choices about what women can or can’t do with their own bodies: the idea is that choices can be made for them and about them, that it is not up to each and every individual woman, or even that women cannot be trusted to make choices about their own bodies, that these choices are somehow for the community to make. There is no real difference between Dyad and Proletheans – that first scene that opens the episode is perhaps one of the best, most bone-chilling things that Orphan Black has ever done. Sarah comes in and surrenders because her daughter has been stolen by Rachel and there is nothing else to do, and symbolically, because Dyad considers itself a corporate organisation that follows some rules, she has to sign away her agency, an agency that Dyad never recognized existed in the first place. It’s a symbolic act, a bureaucratic act, since it should be impossible to sign a contract that removes basic human rights, and yet it is exactly those symbolic gestures that keep Dyad running, the clinical rooms, the way that Sarah is given clothes that looks both like a hospital gown and a prison uniform. Dyad is a state within the state with its own security forces, its own hierarchy, but in the end, the only thing that distinguishes it from Henrik’s branch of Proletheanism is semantics and a facade. It’s an aesthetic difference more than a real one, because both use ideology to justify their behaviour, both fail to recognize that the clones by being human alone have the right to decide their own fates, a right that cannot be signed away. The man interrogating Sarah asks her extremely personal questions and takes ownership of her answers, makes them into something that isn’t entirely hers anymore - when did you lose your virginity, how many sexual partners have you had, do you use contraception, are you ovulating, have you had an abortion - but it’s exactly the kind of questions that women are asked, the kind of answers that are constantly judged and weighed, even if the stakes may not be as high as the specific situation that Sarah finds herself in. 
It’s a symbolic act, signing over her eggs for Dyad to use, because it turns out that she has lost any ability to control the procedures that will be performed on her. Surrender here doesn’t just mean giving up, it means giving up everything, becoming nothing more than a body for Dyad to experiment on. “My name is Sarah Manning, and this is my unconditional surrender.”

This system that created Dyad is contrasted with the individual connections that people make which render it impossible to treat someone as an object, to deny their humanity. Delphine is shipped off to Frankfurt by Rachel, because of course getting everything that Rachel wanted doesn’t change a thing, this was never going to be a fair deal since they just don’t see eye to eye (and Delphine is so terrible at playing this game), but instead of resigning herself she performs one act of selfless aid, sending Rachel’s schedule to Cosima to give her a chance to free Sarah. Scott, as much a scientist (if not more) as both of them, is Cosima’s friend now, and made sure to express that he still sees her as a person, as an equal, after she revealed to him that she was the subject they were investigating, so he is invested and helps. It’s a resourceful resistance against a seemingly overwhelmingly powerful opponent, but the way it happens works so well: It’s Dyad’s unlimited resources, all its shiny surfaces and fancy equipment, against the imaginative and creative resourcefulness of two scientists working to free a friend with the limited things they have at their disposal, in this case, some surgery tools and a fire extinguisher. This is Orphan Black in a nutshell: fighting with everything that is available against a giant, throwing pebbles. It’s probably what makes the show so watchable and distinguishes it from so many others, that it would never tell that story from the other side, that it isn’t interested in looking at Sarah through the eyes of Dyad, because there are already a million different other things, both in fiction and in reality, doing that. Orphan Black sides with the clones, and is eloquent enough to see that allegiance as one that has to be reflected in its narrative perspective. 
Rachel: You forget Dr Cormier, none of this is personal.
Delphine: I love her. And if you let her die without me it is personal.
The conflict there is so perfectly personified in Rachel. Of course it’s personal, any discussion of something so inherently personal as human bodies must be personal. Rachel is representing Dyad and its justification of its actions against people, and at the same time raging inside for all the things that she lost due to the way that she came into existence, the fact that her father took something away from her without her consent, that he created her perfectly for his purposes and therefore utterly imperfect for how she envisions a fulfilled life. Everything is personal. Rachel’s hatred for Sarah is personal, because Sarah got to have the one thing that Rachel couldn’t, even though she was supposed to be the chosen one, the self-aware clone who grew up in Dyad. Sarah’s very existence is a thorn in her side, especially since Sarah was supposed to be Rachel before she was taken away by Amelia. 
What happens when people lose the ability to make choices about themselves for various reasons? Delphine’s actions were so horrible because they happened in the context of a struggle that was exactly about that, the clones trying to win back the ability to choose for themselves. It’s the reality of their lives that they have to fight this, and a fact that they are up against people with much more advanced resources who bother with fewer moral considerations. 

For a show that is about people looking similar, it also features people mirroring each other. With everything that we find out about Dr Bowles in this episode, the fact that she has adopted an eight-year-old clone who was the only survivor of Dyad’s ongoing effort to continue the cloning programme, makes her very similar to Mrs S: in the sense of being willing to sacrifice anything to ensure the safety of the one person she cares about, with no hesitation to resort to questionable means. They are both realists in how they approach situations (as much as Mrs S may be an idealist in her political ideas, she approaches situations realistically, always well-prepared and always ready to shoot first). It’s fitting that they would come to terms with each other, Dr Bowles cutting out Rachel in the process, Mrs S Sarah, knowing that neither of them would ever consent to the plan they have made together. 

Once upon a time, Leda was a government operation, until it was found lacking, unjustifiable. One part was taken over by Dyad – female clones, with no determined purpose yet, as Ethan mentions, but with all the potential in a future that will feature biological engineering, and owned by a corporation that is both interested in profit and in power for the sake of power. The other part – the part that is new but was also predictable, because it’s perfect in its symmetry – is Castor, controlled by the military, and of course male clones. Paul infiltrated Dyad for Castor but is invested in Sarah, so decides to sell the information that he has to Dr Bowles in exchange for Sarah’s and Kira’s freedom (it’s all the more important that Sarah frees herself, with the help of Cosima and Scott, that the whole exchange would have been unnecessary because the clones had all the resources they needed without having to make decisions that take agency from one of their own). Paul, in exchange and because he is like almost anyone else on this show a ruthless pragmatist, gets Helena (who is Sarah’s twin, and like Sarah, capable of reproduction against the original intent of her creator) for Project Castor. 
Sarah couldn’t imagine losing Kira, Helena couldn’t imagine not being free after how she grew up, Rachel was struggling so hard to gain something back that she had lost in every sense of the word - with no feeling, no memories attached anymore to the videos that she is watching again and again (Leekie would have probably found a way to take that from her, to shape her into a more perfect weapon), clinging to the man who connects her to that past but losing him because of the purpose that Dyad has given her. The scientist, fearing what will happen if he surrenders his invention, chooses to kill himself; the daughter who has become something else entirely loses the one thing she could not afford to lose (“I’m afraid you don’t deserve me anymore”). This is how you create monsters (the fact that Sarah shoots her straight in the eye isn’t going to help). 

Orphan Black isn’t interested in Dyad’s, or even Ethan’s point of view. It thrives on the way the clones stick together against all odds, love each other more or less unconditionally. This is why the dancing scene in midst of all the chaos works, because this is so profoundly what it is about. There would be no reason to fight without that feeling of friendship and community, and at the same time, the way that their community contains individuals. They may look the same but they are so profoundly different in every way (and they dance so differently, corresponding with their personality). And Helena is one of them now, undeniably, which is why Siobhan’s decision to sell her out is unforgivable (like Cosima told Delphine, you have to love all of us). 

Cosima, who finds science beautiful for all its grace and ability to explain things, who still finds wonder in it, the opposite of what Dyad is doing with it. Who finds wonder in Sarah, her sister. Sarah, who never stops fighting and grew so impossibly much in such a short period of time, learning to think of people other than herself. 
Sarah: God, we’re so different, all of us.
Cosima: Yeah. I  know. You’re the wild type, Sarah. You propagate against all odds, you’re restless and you survive.
Sarah: Can’t do this without you, Cosima.
Cosima: You will be fine.
Sarah: Yeah.
Cosima: You just have to keep looking forward.
Cosima believes in science with wide-eyed wonder, which is both what made her vulnerable to Leekie all that time ago and what makes her strong if she utilizes it right. It’s almost as if that wonder is a precondition for her to be capable of receiving Ethan Duncan’s code – reading a book to Kira that they both love, finding the sequence that will possibly save her among the pages. This show is grim, but it is never cynical.
Helena fights for herself and for those she identifies with: children, trapped the same way that she was, by people who use and abuse them – so seeing her sold to Castor, for whatever purpose they would have for her (it can’t be good: we’ve seen the Prolethean and the Dyad way, Castor is only going to be the same in a different guise), is terrible. 

Random notes: 

The first scenes, or all the scenes of Sarah in Dyad, are so terrifying because they mix two things that should not be mixed: it’s an interrogation, judgement, but also a medical examination. And it’s always men. 
Kira is the product of her parents, Cal’s empathic intelligence and Sarah’s incredible resourcefulness- amazing to watch her just steal that mobile phone from the nurse. 

Siobhan: If I say you’re making a car bomb, you will bloody well make a car bomb.


Cosima: You won the experiment. You won science! You’re a scientist now.

Just making the assumption that there is a good likelihood that Castor didn’t make its clones infertile because somehow that would be considered a greater breach than what Dyad has been doing to the female clones. I wonder what Dr Bowles has been doing to hers in her basement (and how perfect, again, to have the Dyad scientist living a seemingly normal life with her daughter but keeping all her secrets locked away in her basement).

So Topside is part of a “cabal” that is steering Dyad and attempts to ensure that the future will be controlled by them – they’re corporate – while Castor is a secret government project. Topside is multinational, Castor, as a government project, wouldn’t be. They’re natural enemies. 

Was Charlotte raised self-aware? She knows who Sarah and Kira are, she seems conscious of who she is – so, in an episode that has so many parallels, Charlotte is maybe what Rachel was supposed to be, what Ethan intended her to be, and everything Dr Bowles does is to prevent Charlotte from sharing Rachel’s fate. (and since Dr Bowles is so very Siobhan in many ways, it’s all about ruthless motherhood, I suppose?) And it’s still amazing that both Siobhan and Dr Bowles look like they could be the biological mothers of the clones, so many similarities. 

“So the puppy followed the explorer the whole way?” (Delphine’s lesson: not to stay for her own sake, but for Cosima’s, not to make choices for both of them, but with the woman she loves – we’ll see where this goes next season but for now it seems very solid).

Mark wouldn’t have been aware of who he was, would he? Is he keeping his identity a secret or was he sheltered from the other clones? It looks like the military might be separating them to make sure they are not self-aware. 

1 comment:

Lady Canuck said...

Once again thank you for this. I enjoy reading these. Your essays are brilliantly done and much appreciated. Though, why don't you post them to tumblr as well?