I feel so lucky to be on a show that puts women at the center. –Tatiana Maslany
As I was pondering how to approach my second column for the Orphan Black Rewatch, this excerpt from Tatiana Maslany’s Emmy acceptance speech stood out to me. The show has always put women front and center, and it’s apparent all the way back to the beginning. Especially with season one’s second half, as the show branches away from Sarah Manning as our gateway character and embraces the lives and struggles of Alison Hendrix, Cosima Niehaus, and yes, even Helena, and plays them off of Sarah, who has indeed embraced the crazy of her new life and is acting as the de facto leader of the Clone Club.
And it takes an actress as talented as Tatiana Maslany to pull it off and make you care about each and every single one, and to make you forget it’s one woman portraying all of these characters.
Episode 1.07: Parts Developed in an Unusual Manner
Episode 1.08: Entangled Bank
Episode 1.09: Unconscious Selection
Episode 1.10: Endless Forms Most Beautiful
We talked a lot about Sarah Manning in my first Orphan Black Rewatch post, so let’s focus a little bit more on the other clones before discussing the end of the season and what it means going forward and looking back.
Alison Hendrix: Our favorite suburban housewife. When we first met her, we were presented with a tightly coiled — dare I say bitchy? — stereotype of a soccer mom. Yet with each episode, layer after layer of Alison is revealed, until episode 1.06, “Variations Under Domestication,” where she finally snaps and we really start to see what’s behind her facade.
It’s an episode that still brings me joy. Her intimidation and interrogation of Donnie (and Donnie in turn blowing at the hot glue sticking to his chest in a hilarious effort to make it cooler). Her need to have Sarah take over while she plays hostess for a potluck upstairs. Her dependence on wine and pills to get through the stress, and how it all backfires into her passing out downstairs, which really forces Sarah to act in her stead. Sarah-as-Alison has to figure out if Donnie is really Alison’s monitor or if it’s best friend/nosy neighbor Aynsley instead. Yet Alison’s downward spiral doesn’t stop when she learns Donnie isn’t her monitor. As the season continues, she assumes (with a great deal of evidence) that her monitor is Aynsley instead, and that leads her to throw caution to the wind, say “eff it!” and then sleep with Aynsley’s husband in the back of minivan. This leads to one of the most hilarious interventions I’ve ever seen, where Alison’s takedown of Aynsley is a joy to behold.
And let’s not forget that of all the clones, Alison is the first one Mrs. S. gets to meet. Watching Mrs. S. take care of a very drunk and emotionally wrecked Alison while still seeing the stark differences between her and Sarah is a wonderful thing. Yes, with each passing episode, it becomes less and less important to keep Clone Club a secret from their loved ones. But that, much like Alison’s personality, happens in layers.
Alison wants nothing more than for her life to go back to normal. She longs for the days when she didn’t know she was a clone, when she hadn’t met Cosima, Beth, or Sarah; when she didn’t fear for her or family’s safety and wonder if everyone close in her life had hidden motivations. I can’t blame Alison here. Of all the clones, she and I are a lot alike. And it’s no surprise that when Dr. Leekie promises to give her exactly what she wants, a life back to normal with no monitor, Alison is so quick to sign the treaty.
But yet Alison also has the least to lose by doing so. At least until she lets Aynsley choke to death via garbage disposal. It’s one of the most absurd and shocking things the show has offered to this point, and that’s saying something, since it opened with Beth walking in front of an oncoming train.
Cosima Niehaus: Our favorite weed-smoking scientist. With Cosima, we were provided with all the usual science geek cues: she’s asking lots of questions so she can learn more about who they are and why they keep getting sick, and she’s also the show’s repository for random information the clones need to know. What I find fascinating about Cosima is that her quest for answers never lets up, even as we really get to know her. While Alison’s coping mechanism is maintaining tight control of herself and the world around her (and look how well that turned out!), Cosima’s coping mechanism is believing that being self-aware and searching for the answers to her own biology puts her a step ahead of those people placed in her path who are clearly trying to manipulate her.
Forget the woman is gorgeous with a beautiful French accent. Forget the fact she’s brilliant, and she clearly has a crush on Dr. Leekie (and then some, as we learn later). It’s obvious from the start that Delphine is a plant, a woman meant to be Cosima’s monitor. And Cosima, knowing that Paul was Beth’s monitor (and love interest), and assuming Donnie the husband is Alison’s, decides that being attracted to and coming onto her own monitor isn’t a problem. After all, she knows who they are, right? She can control herself, right?
And so I love that of all the characters, it’s Cosima, our resident scientist, who is the hopeless romantic. Scientists are often portrayed as emotionless robots, people (often men) who eschew everything for their work and focus only on that, or they’re portrayed as completely clueless when interacting with their love interests, and/or on the spectrum of Asperger’s/autism (The Big Bang Theory does both). Oh, but not our Cosima. She feels as deeply as she thinks; she’s as romantic as she’s intelligent, and she is absolutely smooth when it comes to pick-up lines.
But yet she’s even stunned by Delphine’s betrayal, despite knowing Delphine was a plant all along. She panics when she realizes that Delphine had unsupervised access to Cosima’s apartment, which meant unsupervised access to Cosima’s notes on the clones (and Kira). Of all the things Cosima planned for, it wasn’t this, and I think that’s partially the reason her heart is so broken by Delphine’s lies. I mean, don’t get me wrong: Cosima was falling for her, despite knowing better, so of course the lies and betrayal hurt. But I’d gander too that the other part of her pain was her own inability to not fully see the bigger picture, and to realize just how much she put her fellow clones (and Kira) in danger with her hubris.
And if that wasn’t enough: out of all the clones we’ve grown to love this season, it’s Cosima who is the first to start exhibiting the clone illness. Watching her cough up blood creates a greater urgency to find answers, answers Dr. Leekie seems all too eager to give her. He offers her a treaty. But what works for Alison won’t work for Cosima, so he offers Cosima a position at Dyad, as well as the copy of her own genome to study, whether or not she signs the treaty.
When it comes to the treaty, it’s Cosima who’s the most cautious, and it makes sense: after all, she’s interacted with Dr. Leekie before; she knows there’s layers within layers. But like with Delphine’s betrayal, even she isn’t prepared for how bad it really is. As she tells Sarah in the finale:
We’re property. Our bodies, our biology, everything we are, everything we become, belongs to them. Sarah, they could claim Kira.
Helena: Our resident Jello-loving psycho-killer. Notice I didn’t say favorite: the season ends with her shot and bleeding out after taking a bullet in the heart, fired by none other than Sarah, her newly revealed twin sister — NOT clone!!! — and all of this after Helena lost her shit over the truth that she wasn’t the original, not immaculately conceived, and given birth by a surrogate and a woman who looks absolutely nothing like her. Helena’s answer? Killing the woman, but in truth it’s less because the woman is African (though Helena’s little giggle at meeting Amelia tells us just exactly what she thinks of the idea), but more because Helena was conceived out of science, not out of love, and that Amelia separated her from her sister Sarah. For a woman who’s grown up without a family, the sin of separation, not the sin of science, is the most egregious of all.
But yet, before Helena snapped, who doesn’t start feeling empathy for her? Those scenes with Tomas and the cage are awful to watch, because Helena’s response to the abuse is so visceral, so feral. And her interactions with Kira are so hesitant and tender, coupled as they are with what’s likely the first loving and gentle physical contact she’s ever known in her life, as well as the fact that Kira, too, is family.
I know I mentioned last month that the rewatch made me realize just what a horrible abusive relationship Sarah had with Vic, but this rewatch really drove home just how mistreated, abused, and brainwashed Helena’s been her entire life. The change from psycho-killer to something else, someone a little more human, is remarkable, which makes it all the more tragic that it’s wiped away when Helena learns the truth about her origin.
In fact, upon rewatch, I’m still not convinced that Sarah shouldn’t have given Helena to Dr. Leekie. I mean, seriously, what were they going to do with her? We’ve been given no evidence that he had any interest in killing her, and the other clones who’ve been monitored their whole lives have been fine from the standpoint of interference. Yes, the secret medical testing at night is wrong as hell, and obviously, Beth had some serious issues (though one could argue those problems didn’t start until she learned she was a clone, which made her realize Paul wasn’t in love with her; we never do learn how long she was abusing drugs before all of that happened), but was it possible for Dr. Leekie and Neolution (and later we learn, Dyad) to rehabilitate Helena?
I don’t know. But upon rewatch, it’s a nice fantasy, and it makes me wonder what the show would’ve been had Sarah been willing to give Helena up. Certainly, Amelia would have stuck around longer. We might have even learned what she meant by her barely audible warnings about Mrs. S. (which, upon rewatch, I remembered thinking was the woman in the photo of the two scientists that Amelia brought with her). And perhaps Paul wouldn’t have become quite such a lackey for Dyad and Dr. Leekie. That last one’s a hard call. After all:
You asked me what happened in Afghanistan. I was a private contractor. I killed six marines. Friendly fire. They covered it up. That’s what they have on me. If you were born outside their control, what do they really have on you?
And that brings us back to Sarah Manning and the season finale. I don’t want to get into Sarah’s relationship with Paul (though I love they seem to forge a more real connection after both of their masks come off), because she seems to have written him off as an enemy by the end, despite his willingness to help. But of all the clones, it’s Sarah who is our main character, who’s had the most growth. The show began with Sarah looking for her daughter, and it ends the very same way, yet the circumstances are utterly different. In the beginning, we know exactly where Kira is and why Sarah can’t see her. In the end, we have no idea where Kira is, and only a hint of who’s responsible (hello, new clone Rachel Duncan!). Sarah is desperate in the beginning, and she’s desperate in the end. But now, it’s different.
Sarah is property. Her body, her biology, everything she is, everything she becomes, belongs to them. They’re claiming Kira.
Before we wrap up, I wanted to make a few observations:
1) Felix continues to be a wonderful and necessary part of the show. His connection with Alison was one of my absolute favorite things in season one, but he does so much for each of the clones, and I love how accepting he is of all of them, even when they annoy the snot out of him.
2) By season’s end, the only real main character still in the dark about the clones is Art; while he and Angie know something is up, they can’t put their finger on exactly what it is. There’s a bunch of women who look like Beth Childs; they know of Sarah Manning, Katja Obinger, and now Alison Hendrix. But what does it mean? Sarah was ready to tell Art everything in the interrogation room, in yet another scene that is so raw in emotion. But she was whisked away by Dyad’s legal team, leaving Art in the dark. Art doesn’t need to stay in the dark. I don’t care about Angie staying in the dark, but Art needs to be brought into Clone Club.
3) I won’t talk too much about Rachel, because we really don’t meet her until the very end. But I was surprised, upon rewatch, just how…. not evil she appeared. Calm, poised, well put together, yes. Direct, to the point, and self-assured, absolutely. Growing up knowing her real origins has given Rachel a kind of confidence that the other clones will need time to attain for themselves. But evil? The first time I saw this episode, I assumed that she was, of course, evil. After all, she works with Dr. Leekie, and we don’t trust him. But upon rewatch, I realized her demeanor doesn’t scream evil. She’s a little too confident in her offer, and it was dangerous bringing up Kira, but she did not come off as evil.
4) Speaking of Kira, now there’s a mystery: the natural born child of a clone: who knows what Sarah passed along to her, let alone mixed her father’s genes (a father who is also still a mystery)? Kira getting struck by a car was also utterly shocking, but her quick, miraculous recovery was more of a curiosity than anything. This is coupled with her ability to differentiate each clone, even when that clone is impersonating her mother. Kira is obviously important: she’s a huge part of Sarah’s motivation, and it’s clear Dyad is very interested in her as well. This brings us right into season two: Kira is missing, but who took her?
In November, we’ll find out (I hope)! If you want to keep up with the rewatch, make sure you’ve watched the following episodes by Wednesday, November 16th:
Episode 2.01: Nature Under Constraint and Vexed
Episode 2.02: Governed by Sound Reason and True Religion
Episode 2.03: Mingling Its Own Nature With It
Episode 2.04: Governed As It Were by Chance
Episode 2.05: Ipsa Scientia Potestas Est
That’s a wrap for this month! What’s your favorite part of season one? Who, after season one (no spoilers past episode 1.10 in the comments, please!), is your favorite clone? Who’s your favorite character who ISN’T a clone?
Screencaps from lifeis-caps @ Live Journal