Thursday 13 July 2017

Orphan Black – I wasn’t a good sister to you.

Orphan Black: 5x04 Let the Children and Childbearers Toil.

The fourth episode of this final season of Orphan Black sets the stage of what is to come. It establishes the motivations of the main protagonists and antagonists, gives some gory detail about the history governing their actions, and hints at a struggle not too far in the future. It brings back people thought dead, and unravels secrets and monsters, as well as skeletons in the closet. 
But the heart and soul of the show lies in its love for the sisterhood itself, and all the relationships surrounding it. Sarah finally finds Helena in the convent and voices what the essential core of all of their struggle is about – that feeling of connectedness, of love, of a shared life and love, that she felt when she was dying on the island. When she finally understood how Kira feels about all of them, and why it is so unbearably painful to lose someone. It’s so very fitting that the centre of the episode is Sarah and Siobhan teaming up to follow a lead that, unbeknownst to Sarah, was given to Siobhan by Delphine, a psychological researcher connected to a major figure in the Castor-Leda-Neolution conspiracy. As they travel down their dark path, doing what they both do best – stealing identities, lying their way into the heart of Neolution once again – Cosima goes on her own, solitary journey into the dark basement of Westmoreland’s Neolution, uncovering a poorly kept secret about the monster that predates the experiment that gave birth to her and her sisters. Both journeys eventually lead to the same place, and use the same Victorian gothic horror tropes – it’s Cosima, rooting around in Westmoreland’s basement to find the gory remains of an experiment, running awry, leading directly to the man in the woods who is haunting the community, and Virginia Coady, returned from the dead, retelling the story of Neolution’s first attempt at controlling human genetics. 

It’s that primal rift between Westmoreland and Susan Duncan that decides the stakes here. Theirs is an opening, for maybe a second, for things to go differently, as Susan insists that she has always disagreed with the intelligent methods, the questionable science, but never the ultimate goal of Neolution. Maybe there is an attempt here to make a broader accusation against people who willingly align themselves with a cause that is inherently evil, attempting to keep face by publicly disagreeing with the methods, yet carrying the same poisonous ideological seeds forward. It doesn’t take much for Westmoreland to bring Susan back into the fold, much to Ira’s horror, after she realises that he is on a new path with Kira. 

All of these paths, throughout the history of Neolution – how back in the Sixties, Westmoreland and Susan Duncan recruited Virginia, who proved to be much more willing to execute the crude methods that Westmoreland pursued, while Susan disagreed. How they split up, and were ultimately separated, into Leda and Castor, two very different approaches, both ultimately inhumane and brutal, but in so very different ways. And how finally, Susan Duncan gained enough leverage to have Victoria imprisoned in a mental institution (and we thought that her death was the one good thing Paul ever accomplished, but it turns out he was never good for anything after all) – but what will happen when PT finds out, if he hasn’t already, and isn’t playing this game still, after all this years, of pitting one woman after another to reap both their awards freely. 

This is clearly what this season, and ultimately this show, is working towards. Showing clearly and without hesitation how a man like PT Westmoreland, who I am completely certain will turn out to be a fraud, manipulated women over history and again and again to fight against each other, and who in the process created an environment in which women were robbed of their agency, to his benefit. Cosima is only following breadcrumbs in this episode, and finally comes to understand the horrors when she realises that Mud is protecting her predecessor, a failed experiment that directly led to Kendall Malone, and her own existence. 

The heart of this episode is between Sarah and Helena, meeting perhaps for the final time in Helena’s hiding spot, Sarah explaining how she has come to this understanding, through her near-death experiment, about their special connection, and how this is the thing that they need to protect from the corporate and patriarchal interest of PT Westmoreland. A sisterhood, a relationship between Kira and all of Sarah’s sisters, but also, this idea of family, of existing outside the grasps of this horrifying entity that has ruined the lives of disenfranchised people for centuries. 

Random notes: 

Mothers and daughters, mothers and very grossly sort-of incestuous son-lovers, brother and sister… an entire episode about so many constellations of family. 

Siobhan has recruited Felix’ sister Adele for her talents in corporate embezzlement to trace Neolution’s corporate interests in Switzerland, and Felix will help her. Nobody but Siobhan knows, for now, that Delphine is behind all of this. 

Helena heartbreakingly reminds Sarah that she is reproducing the same errors of their past when she keeps Kira in the dark about her identity, because this is her struggle too and at the beginning of it lies the ability to know about herself – which is precisely how Rachel has control over her. 

IT isn’t revealed yet, here, what Westmoreland has now that he didn’t used to, but Virginia and Susan Duncan know that it has to do with Kira Manning’s unique biology. 

I think we get a glimpse of Virginia managing to steal Sarah’s visitor pass, so let’s assume she won’t be imprisoned by Dr Nemetz (how suitable to name a presumably Neolution psychiatrist who imprisons women German) for much longer. 

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