Friday 20 May 2016

Orphan Black – Sometimes it just takes a tragedy to find your own resilience.

Orphan Black: 4x05 Human Raw Material.
"Origins are in principle inaccessible to direct testimony. Any voice from the time of origins is structurally the voice of the other who generates the self [...]. Western primatology has been about the construction of the self from the raw material of the other."
Donna Haraway: Simians, Cyborgs and Women. 
In Human Raw Material, we finally get to the bottom of what the purpose of Project Leda was. Cosima volunteers to go to a BrightBorn Orientation and comes face-to-face with her creator, Susan Duncan. The confrontation occurs after Cosima manages to glance behind the scenes of BrightBorn. The episode succeeds entirely in contrasting the shiny, luxurious customer-oriented surface aimed at affluent clients with the awful, loud and cramped lab behind the scenes in which women are de-humanised and reduced to “carriers” and give birth to trial-and-error babies that look very different from the dimply happiness in the BrightBorn brochures. Susan tells Cosima that this is the reality of research without having access to Kendall’s DNA, that BrightBorn and the maggots are brute necessities for as long as the clones refuse to allow her access to the original DNA material. 
Cosima’s first meeting with Susan Duncan was an interesting parallel to Rachel’s reunion with the woman she believed to be her mother. Susan seems proud of how informed and inquisitive Cosima is, and tries to appeal to her as a scientist (perhaps even granting her that title which puts her beyond just being the object of her own research). At the same time, she reminds Cosima that she is that very object of research, created as a beautiful baseline to unlock the human genome, a work-around to avoid the very grisly reality of what is happening behind the scenes of BrightBorn, which is essentially exploiting poor women and their bodies for research that not one of them has enough information about to give any kind of meaningful consent. Susan deflects the question of whether the research itself is immoral, to her, the only debatable element is the means, and Cosima holds the key to solving that issue. She tries the scientific approach, but doesn’t hesitate to rely on the personal appeal, the subtle threat that Cosima will lose her own life because she lacks the means to find a cure for the disease that is killing her. Of course, we will later realise that Susan’s odd balancing act between scientist and mother goes even deeper than what she is pulling off with Rachel, as Ira, her very own Castor clone, is also her lover, whom she is presumably also attempting to save from what is killing the clones. 
In short, there are many new paths opening here, and possible choices for Cosima to make. She’s worked with Dyad before, believing that working within the system would allow her the kind of resources and access to solve the dilemma of her own existence, and the awful outcome of that experiment may mean that she will decide against Susan’s appeal “To think like a scientist” this time around. Furthermore, Cosima has always been more than a scientist, and deep down, what makes her so human is that she combines her scientific curiosity with a deep moralistic faith. This is what makes her the least jaded among the clones, and perhaps the most naïve, but in the end, it will depend on how all of that measures up to her primal instinct to survive. 

At the same time, Krystal makes a glorious return. The way Clone Club handled her last season is one of the things that they should be least proud of, making the active choice to take agency from Krystal by keeping her in the dark about her own existence and hoping that this ignorance would ultimately save her from the grasp of Topside. She has been used by both sides, most dramatically as Rachel’s stand-in at Dyad (where she was saved by Delphine when she realised what had happened). Her attempts to comprehend the mystery surrounding her abduction by Castor “twins” hinted that she would not be complacent and quietly await future catastrophes, and in fact, she has been training for a mission to uncover the truth. The way that she almost grasps it but also mixes in enough ridiculous pop cultural conspiracy theories and shock and awe magazine news headlines is played for laugh, but at the core, this is a tragic storyline about a clone who is facing all of this horror entirely alone, without the support of a dedicated team, without the love of her family. Krystal is fierce in her determination to get to the bottom of this, and barely makes it out once the whole bedroom farce of not just one but two Leda clones infiltrating BrightBorn (with both Evie Cho and Susan Duncan present) plays out. Arguably, her ignorance is what does save her in the end and allows her to leave the room once Susan Duncan points out Evie Cho’s mistake, but the future doesn’t look bright for someone kept in the dark by those who should be taking care of her. 

Random notes:

In the other main storyline of the week, Sarah refused to see a parallel between her entire life story and stealing Adele’s DNA to prove her conspiracy theory – even though it is much more likely that the BrightBorn associated DNA website is simply popular enough for her to stumble across it accidentally, and finding her brother that way. It shows the true danger of this new strain of Neolutionism, the fact that it is so deeply integrated in culture and in the lack of hesitance about sharing the most personal information online that it is turning into an unbeatable opponent. 

I have a few unformed thoughts about the parallels between BrightBorn profiting off parents so desperate to have biological children rather than accepting that adoption is a perfectly good solution and Sarah’s struggle with Adele, which I think isn’t just about her suspicion but also the feeling that she is being replaced as Felix’ sister (while at the same time having a long history of being quite a terrible and unsupportive sister). 

At the same time, Orphan Black is doing a great job of addressing class in this episode, in the way that BrightBorn dazzles its affluent customers with all the beautifully designed luxurious perks awaiting people with enough money to buy it (enough money to not even need Armani suits anymore – Cosima seems to have grown up in the right environment to read those social codes) and at the same time exploits women who are selling their own fertility to make ends meet. This is also an answer to what happened to the pregnant girl that knew Beth, even though we don’t know yet what exactly happened when Beth got involved in Evie Cho’s side of the operation. 
These puzzle pieces are still coming together, but the access card that Beth cut up after returning bloody-handed from her blonde-wig mission was from the BrightBorn labs.  

Kira (who very beautifully saves Sarah from awkwardness and embarrassment in this episode) finally explains part of her powers – she can feel when her mum and her sisters have strong emotions, hinting that she has some kind of empathic ability in addition to precognition. 

How is Donnie still alive. 

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