Wednesday 14 June 2017

Orphan Black - And we here shall drink from the fountain first.

Orphan Black : 5x01 The Few Who Dare.

To sin by silence, when we should protest,
Makes cowards out of men. The human race
Has climbed on protest. Had no voice been raised
Against injustice, ignorance, and lust,
The inquisition yet would serve the law,
And guillotines decide our least disputes.
The few who dare, must speak and speak again
To right the wrongs of many. Speech, thank God,
No vested power in this great day and land
Can gag or throttle. Press and voice may cry
Loud disapproval of existing ills;
May criticise oppression and condemn
The lawlessness of wealth-protecting laws
That let the children and childbearers toil
To purchase ease for idle millionaires.
Therefore I do protest against the boast
Of independence in this mighty land.
Call no chain strong, which holds one rusted link.
Call no land free, that holds one fettered slave.
Until the manacled slim wrists of babes
Are loosed to toss in childish sport and glee,
Until the mother bears no burden, save
The precious one beneath her heart, until
God’s soil is rescued from the clutch of greed
And given back to labor, let no man
Call this the land of freedom.
Ella Wheeler Wilcox: Protest, from Poems of Problems, pp. 154–55 (1914).

From Charles Darwin to Francis Bacon, to Dwight Eisenhower and Donna Haraway, Orphan Black has quotes works from the eminent evolutionary scientist, religious philosophers, politicians, and a feminist scientist in the past. Now, we have reached the realm of art, of poetry, but like in the past, we are still at an intersection. Darwin’s discoveries, to this day, exist in a constant dialogue (or conflict) with religion on the one hand and misinterpretations about what the “survival of the fittest” means, on the other. Bacon further delves into the connection between religion and science, and merges the two. Eisenhower’s speech centres on worries about what happens when the military mixes with the interests of private companies. Haraway speaks of science and feminism, of what it means to be human, and how nature and the artificial interact. And finally, Ella Wheeler Wilcox’ Protest, a single poem from which all the episode titles in this final season will be taken, is about freedom, and what it means to be truly free in a country where so many still toil to fill the purses of the rich. 

It bears thinking about whom this poem addresses in the context of the show, even though we are only at the beginning of this final journey for the Sisters. We have come to slowly realise the awesome power of Neolution and how it has manoeuvred itself into a position of political and social influence, how, over the years, it has undermined organisations and institutions to a point where a meaningful resistance seems almost futile. More than that, now that all the different factions have been consolidated (as Felix says, it is never a good sign for the different when a powerful organisation manages to suppress and remove all of its internal dissent), Neolution presents a united front against anyone who would dare to go against them. In her speech at the end of last season, after triumphing both over Evie Cho, whose path was different from hers, and the mother who was so ready to betray her, Rachel outlined what the future of Neolution will be like – a future where free will can be genetically removed, so that the very thought of resistance becomes biologically impossible. It is an odd coincidence that we will see all of this play out now in tandem with The Handmaid’s Tale, which shows us a religious rather than science-based society that is attempting the same thing through the application of sheer violence and forced ignorance (or specifically, that women born after the turn who will have no access to history or stories will be incapable of thinking about their situation in a way that allows them to conceptualise freedom). 

What better place to test run all of these ideas, and to do so outside of the scrutiny of any government and organisation, than a remote island, a completely isolated and almost entirely self-sufficient village? This is what Revival is – the village to which Cosima was brought, where she found Delphine again, the island on which Rachel finally disposed of her mother (even though there are rumours that Dr. Duncan survived) and on which, in the myths of the people of Revival, PT Westmoreland, 170 years old as of last June, resides. It makes perfect sense considering the past history of Neolution, and how all of this began. The only way in which these radical theories could be tested was on test subjects economically and socially incapable of resisting meaningfully. The moment that still haunts me on this show is when the Sisters found that old orphanage, all of those hand-written reports and faded photos of children who preceded them in this ancient experiment. And later, the poor women who were bought to carry someone else’s children to term, while the rich families who paid for the procedures sat in perfect ignorance of the violence they were perpetrating on others, behind curtains and walls. This is how Neolution survives: adapting, in terms of how images and corporate identities are managed, but never truly changing its strategy, or never truly having to, because the way the world works always provides them with test subjects to exercise its ideology on. 

And Revival is the perfect storm, even though we only get hints of it here. When Mud leads Cosima through her home, and explains how everyone here contributes and profits, and when Charlotte shows Cosima her school books, which contain myths mixed with facts (she calls it “school, sort of”), it becomes clear how perfectly Revival manages the inner lives and the ability to think critically of those who inhabit it. These people, who have been gathered from across the globe, have been raised with these ideas and values, and in the brilliant hands of those who manage this place (presumably, that board room that Rachel came to dominate last season), they have been manipulated into a cult-like compliance, one that goes far enough to elicit an automatic response when a certain kind of music is played (a trope that always makes me shudder, as I was given House of Stairs at a very young age). What better way for Neolution to test all of its experimental technologies than on a community of outcasts that has been raised to believe that everything coming from the mouth of its creator is true. This is a cult - a cult that smartly mixes religion with science, modern and ancient ways of controlling communities, of manipulating, of creating myths and legends about leaders. 

I love how The Few Who Dare leads us through this place, along with Cosima, while also showing what happens beyond the markings of this isolated society. Outside, hunted by men with guns, Sarah rages and fights against the impossible to save Cosima and Charlotte. She has become the protector, the fierce and loyal fighter for all of their freedoms, and she is up against so many obstacles. I’m not sure if it is appropriate here to compare her journey through this episode with that of Rosalee in Underground, a more literal mother, who goes beyond what seems physically possible for a person to survive both for her (unborn) child and the people that she loves and protects, and a wider and profoundly political concept of freedom. I think Orphan Black (and The Handmaid’s Tale, for that matter) both owe a lot to Underground, and the history that Underground is based on.
Sarah bandages her own wounds, Sarah bleeds, Sarah encounters a monster that lives beyond the walls of Revival, one that I am sure we will find out is very much a product of Revival, the dark and secret consequence of messing with biology the way that Neolution does, and one that haunts them (another myth, but a very real and dangerous one). Sarah is on the outside, trying to break in, because her loyalty to her clones and her idea of freedom means that she has to unite them, once again, that they have to build a home away from all of this that is safely walled off. Her idea of freedom is one of running away from the danger, of hiding from it, of building a nest that she is willing to defend to the end from those who seek to destroy it. 

But the thing is, and always has been, that the Sisters are different people, and that they have different ideas and interpretations of how to be free. There are three distinct journeys in this episode (because Alison’s is vague, still, she is still seeking what it means to be her, and what she is willing to do – because Donnie’s cowardice is constantly dragging her away from her own path, and I hope this will change very soon). Rachel meets PT Westmoreland, and is set on a path that determines the future of Neolution. To her, it doesn’t just mean a seat at the table, but at seat at the head of the table – it’s as close to power and to self-determination as she thinks she can get, because her concept of freedom has always meant her own freedom, one that means leading the corporate world that she was raised to be in, but one that at the same time never afforded her the status of being more than an object of research. It always, constantly goes back to that conversation between Cosima and Leekie, the difference between being a subject of research and on the cover of science magazines as such, and the person who determines the course of the research, and holds the power. Rachel’s concept of freedom is flawed because the downside of it that the others will remain in their positions, will help to prop her up in hers through their lack of freedom. Rachel’s freedom means the lack of freedom of those who she so hesitates to call her Sisters, and it is, therefore, ultimately doomed to fail. But this will follow later. 
Then there is Cosima, who very much asserts her own idea of freedom in this episode, and it clashes with Sarah’s. She is led through Revival by Mud, she is given very cryptic hints about what Revival is by Delphine (how cryptic the things are that Delphine says to her is so odd, as if they were under constant surveillance, which at the same time they don’t seem to be, as Delphine deems her hiding place for Cosima’s and Charlotte’s cure safe). Delphine, who herself lacks the freedom to know what Neolution is doing here, and is only finding out bits and pieces of it through her own research. She is sent away before she can really communicate what she thinks is happening – but it has something to do with Neolution bringing Afghani refugees with cancer to the village (which would be, in 2017, another disenfranchised group with nobody to talk for them, a perfect test group for new experiments). She shares with Cosima that everyone at Revival is participating in experiments that are part of a decades old prolongevity study, because the ultimate goal of Neolution – shaping the future of humanity – is prolonging human life. 
A transgression here, because it seems vital to the story – if Revival is a cult, then it becomes very thinkable that PT Westmoreland’s longevity is another myth that has spread on the island, one that very much justifies anything that is done to the people, but one that has no bearing in reality. It seems ominous that Rachel meets the man and then speaks for him, and that Delphine is said to meet him, and then quickly taken away for a field study in Italy – we are privy to neither of these interactions, and considering how cults work, it seems that it would be vital for them to have a myth regarding a very old man surviving this long, regardless of whether they are actually in a position to live up to that myth, biologically and scientifically. In short, I think PG Westmoreland is an empty suit, a myth that will prove to be wrong, and created for the sole purpose of making it appear as if Revival already possesses that which it promises to its followers, the fountain of youth. 

I need to stay here, for us. We’ll never be free if I leave now.

Cosima has always been a curious scientist, fascinated with the crazy science of her own existence. In many ways, in the past this has proven to be a weak spot, when she thought she could control a situation based on her superior knowledge. She thought she could control the situation with Delphine, after she realised that Delphine was her handler, except as much as a scientist she is, there are always things beyond her control (like love) that she fails to take into account. There are two ways this could go: Cosima insists to Sarah that in this specific situation, she doesn’t require saving, but she needs to stay here, because this place holds answers, and a promise of freedom that goes vastly beyond Sarah is offering when she says she doesn’t care about answers, and just wants to run. This could be another example of Cosima vastly overestimating her own powers, and getting into a load of trouble that will require rescuing. Or, on the other hand, we could afford Cosima that she has grown tremendously over the last season, and learned just as much as Sarah has in her sometimes unwilling journey to becoming the saviour. We could assume that this Cosima, who has wrangled the cure for her illness from these people who over decades have failed to regard her as human, is just as strong as Sarah is, and will somehow find her path in Revival, and will find all the answers that the Sisters will need to become truly free. Maybe this is whom the poem addresses – and as long as the science that Neolution promises, an end to death, is reserved for the few (which is undoubtedly will be, it is a promise given to the people of Revival, but through the board rooms and corporate interests of Neolution, will inevitably be reserved for the pockets of the millionaires funding all of this – as much as Dollhouse got wrong, it did think this part through quite eloquently). Cosima and Sarah have seen enough about how Neolution operates, and what Rachel, the progeny of Neolution, is capable of, to know that the promise of the fountain of youth being distributed to the idealistic people of Revival first will be broken utterly, because there is no payday for giving eternal life to those who cannot pay for it in millions. 

Which I think, in the end, is the point here: That each of these characters has a different conception of freedom, or that each of them pursues that freedom with a different kind of goal in mind. Rachel looks out for herself, and can maybe be convinced that her Sisters are temporarily part of that plan, but she has always proved to mainly look out for herself, and to hate Sarah beyond any kind of reason. When she promises Sarah that she is going to be part of this, that she is working to free all of them, it’s hard not to be cynical and consider that she will betray them. Cosima trusts her, for now, because that’s who Cosima has always been: Someone much more willing to trust and to put her faith into people than Sarah, as much as she has gotten burned for it over the seasons. It will be interesting to see how Mika, who trusts nobody, including her sisters, will feature into this journey towards freedom – and how much of this will be dedicated to the question of what freedom even means, and how much value it holds when it can only exists through denying freedom to others. 

Random notes: 

What a choice, to, in 2017, quote this poem about the terrible effects of wealth-protecting laws that ensure the continued profits of millionaires. 

It is odd that Delphine would choose to be so very cryptic in every interaction - 
“Whatever happens – follow my lead”, and all of those short conversations about what Revival is, without any truths being revealed. Everyone there is a willing or unwilling prisoner though, so that is always important to keep in mind. 

There is more, here: Donnie proves utterly useless when he fails to help Alison when she is kidnapped. Alison meets Art and his new quirky partner, who takes less than half an episode to reveal herself as a Neolutionist (and I was wondering if they were going somewhere else with Detective Enger, considering they put so much effort into her quirkiness, but maybe not). The ultimate goal here seems to be to get all the Clones under the control of NEolution, but they are mainly after Helena and her unborn twins (and Helena ends up stabbed in the belly in this episode, and stuck with Donnie, who somehow is still alive). 

And for the record, I want to state here, that my least favourite thing about Orphan Black, consistently throughout the seasons, has been how Donnie’s existence as a comic relief has been used to excuse all of his transgressions and the way his lack of respect and cowardice has threatened not just Alison, but every single other clone. I fucking wish that for once, the show would call him out on it, instead of using him as a sympathetic character for a presumed segment of viewers. This episode was a very painful reminder that this is the same show that allowed freaking Paul a hero’s death. 

Felix meets a messenger of Neolution when he tries to figure out what happened to Siobhan and Kira (Siobhan stabbed someone with a corkscrew, which is VERY Mrs S). 

Scott and the other guy along with Felix are trying to find Mika to get her to help. 
Mud: Hello. Do you want to be left alone?
Cosima: That’s a complicated question. 
I wonder what Delphine meant when she told Cosima that they each have a role here. 

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