Monday 20 November 2023

Orphan Black: Echoes - I made you, and I’m responsible for you.

Orphan Black: Echoes: 1x06 Unless You Trusted Someone.

It’s me. I changed. 

I think it’s very interesting how Echoes delineates the morals around printing people, especially without the consent of the “prime” and while keeping the resulting human being ignorant of how they have been created. Paul Darros is emerging as the clear villain in the story: he is a ruthless billionaire, the kind that is (boringly) interested in the same things that most others of his ilk are. He wants some kind of extended, if not eternal, life. I’m sure as we follow the rabbit hole down further, some kind of dystopian idea about how he thinks he will mitigate the climate catastrophe for himself will emerge (just mentioning here on a side-note that many of the technologies that Jules is shown in this episode seem perfectly adapt to make it on a spaceship, and graphene as a material for a rocket is explicitly mentioned). It’s very much a timely portrait (this year alone, in terms of novels, there have been Birnam Wood, Camp Zero, the great Land of Milk and Honey by C Pam Zhang), that would be trite if it weren’t so rooted in the reality that we live in. These obscenely rich people are terrified of death – and perhaps even more so, of not living long enough to witness the for many harrowing societal changes they have an active role in creating. 

Contrast that with Kira, who spends a significant part of the episode both horrified by the moral implications of what she has done to Lucy (and, as we find out, Eleanor) and eager to drive the point home that she created out of love, not greed. It’s perhaps an argument that is undermined by the fact that she did it twice, and there is a certain perfection to how casually the episode surprises us with Eleanor’s presence in her life: after the love story that we witnessed last episode, and the deep regret she voiced to Lucy about what she has done, it’s shocking to realise that all this time, she’s lived with an Eleanor who is utterly ignorant of how she was made, or that anything more serious than a concussion occurred. Eleanor strides in from a work trip but the realisation is momentous, and gives a keener sense of how deeply mentally distraught Kira was after finding her partner dead. 

Josh is the one who convinces her in the end – a scientist who adores Kira for her talent, but who also based his entire moral conception of their work on hers. When she went off course, he did too. When she lost her compass, he lost his along with her. They’ve already crossed the line with Lucy, an experiment that went horribly wrong, so they might as well do it again with more recent scans of Eleanor that are detailed enough to restore her full memory. This time, Kira has no reason to explain what has happened, because from Eleanor’s point of view, she has just woken up in the same life she has always known. There is no break in there for her, no caesura, but the break in Kira’s life, the traumatising experience of finding Eleanor dead, remains ever present in her mind. Yes, there is a sense here that she simply could not go on (the episode shows her dejectedly smoking in a dead garden, now with nobody to tend to it, the sheer emptiness and bleakness of her life without Eleanor), but at the same time, Eleanor’s creation has not removed the memory of once having lost her. From the glimpses we get, Kira is hyper-vigilant now – she wakes up before Eleanor, anxiously waiting for the moment she opens her eyes, in case she doesn’t. She doses her with medication for Alzheimer’s without her knowledge, without her consent, because she fears what will happen if the previous history repeats. Their intimacy was so clear in the previous episode: they were in this life together, both as partners and as fellow scientists – but that intimacy is lost now in the rift of Kira’s lies, all the things she cannot tell Eleanor, all the burdens she carries alone. 

And Kira now has a whole different project – atonement for her sins against Lucy, with the added responsibility of Jules, who she knows must have been created by Darros with Josh’s help. The episode sends Kira and Lucy off to find Josh, who is now living a horrifyingly gaudy life in a huge McMansion with sports cars parked in front of it. He is alone, with the exception of his cats. The money he thought would make him happy has only made him deeply sad and regretful. They track him down with the help of Jack (better not to question how his history in the military has given him access to “military grade” information, such as the address of someone who’s hired a PO Box), and when Kira arrives, he has packed his bags, ready to leave, ever conscious that having sold the technology to Darros, he will never be free of his grasp. Kira confronts him with the reality of having created a teenager without a memory, a person who has no idea who she is, the ethical horrors of that transgression. Josh tries to explain how Kira’s decision to bring back Eleanor unmoored him. “I really thought we were gonna be together forever. Partners. Friends. I loved working with you so much.” Then he shoots himself. It’s difficult not to hold Kira partially responsible for his death. 

In the meantime, Jules returns with her mother, who has made it very clear that she is not in on the conspiracy. She is told that Darros placed her with this family to simulate a normal life, but it’s also very obvious that Neva is a mother to her, that Neva loves her. James, on the other hand, proves to be a horrible person yet again: he’s called Darros, and Jules is removed and kidnapped to his personal compound. It feels like whatever his plans for her were, they did not include Jules having any knowledge of her own creation, and now that she knows the truth, the plan has changed. In the compound, she is given the illusion of freedom but runs into its limit very soon (a sonic barrier). A young man named Alex gives her a tour of the facilities that seems specifically geared to convince her to stay. Darros knows that she has a scientific mind, that she is interested in cutting-edge research. Xander shows her plants resurrected from extinction, self-sustaining biomes, a dome powered with the mycelia of mushrooms. None of it convinces her to stay, but her escape attempt fails. She sees Xander in front of a screen, learning to copy Paul Darros’ pattern of speech perfectly, and just as Josh tells Kira that Darros’ goal is to extend his life, Jules puts the pieces together that Xander is a younger version of Paul, a boy who was told he was the only one of his kind, created to give Darros another generation to pursue his goals. He is another deeply sad creation, but what was the goal behind Jules’?

Random notes: 

Oh Josh! We see so little of him, and yet I found his speech before he committed suicide deeply affecting. 

I’m assuming that Jules was creating to harness Eleanor’s scientific ability without her focus on dementia research – Jules doesn’t have the personal motivation to pursue this goal, and I think that Darros wants to use her genius for something else. He collects geniuses, as Xander’s tour shows, and like so many other current billionaires, it appears as if Darros himself has never really created anything of value, he just buys it. 

There is a clear sense of Kira’s continuing breakdown in this episode: the way she speaks to the religious girl that Lucas brings home (“I just hate God!” A great unhinged performance by Keeley Hawes throughout the dinner party), the way she is lost for words when she finds out about Eleanor’s affair, and then reacts with a simple “okay”, even though Eleanor seems to do everything in her power to elicit a strong emotional reaction from her. It’s a very ironic twist that in not being able to share the truth with Eleanor, Kira has unwittingly created a (likely unmendable) rift in their relationship – but then I would argue that Kira’s goal wasn’t necessarily to bind Eleanor to her forever, that she just couldn’t imagine living in a world without her in it, regardless of whether Eleanor would stay with her forever or not. 

Fucking James. 

Kira didn’t tell Lucas that his mum had died even a month after Lucy’s creation! What was the plan here? Even if Lucy had worked out, how would she have explained that to him? How did she secretly bury the body of her dead partner? 

Kira: I wanted to make sure that you knew who you were supposed to be. Now I wanna make sure that it never happens to anyone else. 

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