It’s a turbulent, emotional time in the United States right now. After eight years of progress on many fronts, many people who differ from the norm (norm = straight white male, or in some cases, straight white female) are feeling rightfully terrified by the electorate’s choice on President Elect. When I was watching my five Orphan Black episodes for November, we didn’t yet know the election results. Now that we do, it makes me look harder at Orphan Black and what it has to say: it’s a show that “puts women at the center.” It’s a show where the feminist message could not be more clear and more obvious, and yet it isn’t, because it’s about a group of clones, an Other, who happen to be a group of identical women. Cosima’s realization in the season one finale that “We’re property” didn’t just hurt because we felt for the clone sestras and wanted them to be free to live their own lives; it hurt because as women, we face so many messages in society that tell us the same thing, and we aren’t even patented. But yet, by some, we’re considered property.
This is why shows like Orphan Black are so important. Art imitates life, and life imitates art. While we often joke that there must be a clone army of Tatiana Maslanys running around the Orphan Black set, we know there really aren’t clones out there. It’s a metaphor, and a powerful one at that. Maybe the next four years in the United States will be fine. Maybe they won’t. And that makes stories all the more important. Storytelling is one of the primary ways we teach each other; one of the primary ways we learn to emphasize and sympathize with other people’s struggles and pain. Even if those people are different than us, if they’re Other.
Orphan Black embraces women. It embraces LGBTQA characters and lifestyles. It reminds us that our “sexuality’s not the most interesting thing” about us. It reminds us that unless we keep fighting, people are going to use us for their own agendas, even people we think we should trust.
It’s 2016, and this message is just as important as it’s ever been.
Welcome back to the Orphan Black Rewatch! Today, we’re kicking off the first five episodes of season two, which means, of course, spoilers. If you’re following along, expect spoilers for all of season one, and the following episodes of season two:
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
So if you haven’t caught up, just pause right here and go binge-watch the show. Really, I’ll wait. However, if you are caught up, or if spoilers just don’t bother you, let’s dive into season two!
Know your enemy. It’s a common phrase, and it’s one Sarah Manning tosses out to Felix when trying to figure out how to one-up pro-clone Rachel Duncan. Enemy: what does that mean, in the world of Orphan Black? Depends on who you are, what you’ve done, and/or what you’re trying to accomplish.
If you’re Helena, your enemy is every person who is trying to use you, and doing so under the guise of “family.”
If you’re Cosima Niehaus, your enemy is the very thing you seek to understand: it’s your body, your biology, and the virus that’s slowly seeking to destroy you.
If you’re Rachel Duncan, your enemy is anyone you can’t bring to heel, anyone you can’t control.
If you’re Alison Hendrix, your enemy is your monitor. But is your monitor the dearly departed Aynsley, or your husband Donnie, or that random stranger introducing herself in the parking lot as a new neighbor?
If you’re Sarah Manning, your enemy is everyone and anyone who dares take Kira away from you, even if that someone is a person you love, someone you trust.
Season two starts off running, and I mean that literally. Picking up right where the season one finale left off, we see Sarah running through the rain, desperately looking for whomever took Kira and Mrs. S., frantically trying to contact someone, anyone, who might help. She finds brief refuge in a diner before meeting two men who threateningly promise to take her to Kira. After a brief gunfight — because who else but Sarah Manning would get into a freaking gunfight? — Sarah escapes. Sarah then does what Sarah does best: pools her allies together, gets her answers, finds Kira, and runs. Sarah Manning can never stop running in these episodes.
Alison is struggling with the guilt of killing Aynsley. At the funeral, she’s on pins and needles, and the snotty looks from her neighbors isn’t helping. The only thing that’s helping is her husband Donnie, who’s making sure the kids are behaving and that Alison has what she needs. She’s grateful, until she feels his cell phone buzz in his jacket and sees several texts that plant the bug of truth: Aynsley wasn’t her monitor. It was Donnie all along.
Rachel continues to be cool and collected. She has a plan: she wants everyone and everything in Sarah’s life under her control. She already has Paul, and she lies to Sarah about having Kira and Mrs. S. What she doesn’t know is what a costly mistake that is. Rachel, who’s used to being the smartest clone in the room, can’t anticipate Sarah because Sarah is a wild card. Sarah’s never been monitored, and I daresay the moment Sarah-as-Cosima confronts Rachel in Dr. Leekie’s office is the moment that cements Sarah and Rachel as mortal enemies. Before, Rachel wasn’t a villain. After, she’s so determined to get Sarah under her thumb that she doesn’t care what the cost is, even if it’s Cosima’s life.
Cosima, after struggling briefly with her decision to join Dyad, starts examining her own biology and illness in earnest, with Delphine by her side. While suspicious of him, Dr. Leekie seems to be an advocate, even offering to share his new stem cell samples that Rachel forbade him to use. Cosima’s struggle with her illness is most certainly a time bomb, one made more real after “meeting” the clone Jennifer through the video diaries documenting her illness, and then via her autopsy, where Delphine and Cosima learn that the sickness may have originated in the womb, hence explaining why all of the clones (save for Sarah and Helena) are infertile.
Yes, Helena is alive. I remember originally being rather shocked by that development, and a little skeptical of the explanation, cool as it is: in some cases, identical twins mirror each other: one is right-handed, the other is left. One twin has her heart on the left side, the other… the right. So Helena survived the gunshot wound. And at this moment in the story, it’s hard to remember how, when we first met her, she was an unrepentant killer. This entire season so far has reinforced the idea of women as property: Helena is drugged and married against her will, and then impregnated via artificial insemination. Upon rewatch, I was utterly disturbed by the sequences, as well I should be. Helena’s story so far truly encapsulates what so many women are fighting against: being used, thoroughly and utterly and without regard for your own agency, by everyone: those proclaiming to love her and those proclaiming to welcome her and those who hate her for what she is.
1) I would be remiss if I didn’t squee over how much I freaking adore Helena’s and Sarah’s scenes so far this season. From the shower scene, where a bloody Helena, with a knife, approaches a tied up Sarah (who is freaking the fuck out) and instead of taking revenge asks for help, to the scene where Sarah steps in front of Helena’s sniper rifle and begs Helena not to kill Rachel and Paul, where she begs for Helena’s help and comes clean about the grief and the loss she felt after shooting her own twin sister. “You make me cry, sestra,” indeed.
2) I adore Cal. He’s so down to Earth, and while the writers are teasing a mystery: cash stashed in a van, multiple identifications not in his name, and a gun (let’s not mention connections to the military), right now I can see why he’s Sarah’s fantasy for a normal life away from all the crazy crap she’s dealing with. Granted, by simply being associated with Sarah, Cal’s life is taking a turn for the crazy, and discovering that he has a daughter is the least of it. Yes, we meet Kira’s father, and frankly, that family unit is rather cute together. If Sarah has to be with someone by time the series is over (and I’m not saying she has to), I want it to be Cal.
3) Kira is found, and the person who took her is the least likely and yet most likely suspect: Mrs. S. The first half of season two provides all kinds of mystery into Mrs. S., least of which is she may have some idea what Project Leda is (though she is NOT the woman in the picture, that’s Susan Duncan, the woman who raised Rachel for a time). Mrs. S. becomes fascinating this season, and I believe her when she tells Sarah that she’s always been on her side.
4) Art is welcomed into the Clone Club, and THANK GOD. Art’s arc is more interesting when he can be an asset and an ally. Angie, on the other hand, I’m still despising, even on the second viewing. I get that she doesn’t know, and that seeing a bunch of different women, both dead and alive, who look like your deceased colleague is disturbing. I understand wanting answers. But she says some really stupid crap. Justice for Beth? Beth committed suicide. How is hassling Sarah Manning (who clearly stole Beth’s identity after the fact) and Alison Hendrix getting justice for Beth Childs?
5) Felix and Alison continue to have the best friendship ever, and boy, does Alison need it. After being assigned Aynsley’s leading role in the weirdest.musical.EVER (and yet it’s a real musical!), and after discovering Donnie is indeed her monitor, Alison spirals into drugs and alcohol and lands in rehab after falling off the stage on opening night. It’s hard not to feel for her, and I hope she manages to find some measure of true peace.
6) Oh, and Felix? OMG. So not only does he get to be awesome with Alison, but he has a beautiful moment with Sarah when he calls her out for taking them to meet Kira’s father. He thought it was just going to be them, the three amigos: him, Sarah, and Kira, but knowing that Sarah’s harbored this secret fantasy of a normal, domestic life with the father of her daughter? Felix realizes there’s no room for him, and it’s heartbreaking to witness that realization.
7) And if that wasn’t enough, when Felix was finally getting it on with Colin, the cute morgue-boy from season one, cops bust in again, but this time it’s a frame job led by Paul at Rachel Duncan’s request. This is a truly terrifying scene, because we simply don’t know what Paul’s going to do to Felix, but it obviously isn’t going to be good.
8) Speaking of Rachel and Paul, damn…. I remember being put off by Paul being so easily entrapped by Rachel’s charms (such as they are), but there’s a lot of subtext in that scene when you pay attention: Rachel, if anything, is all about her own agency. And this scene is a clear reversal from what we normally get: here, it’s the woman in power, forcing a man who has reminded her and the viewers over and over that he’s there because he has no choice, to have sex with her. Whether or not Paul ends up enjoying it is beside the point. The point is that he wasn’t working for Dyad, or subsequently as her monitor, of his own free will; therefore, Paul did not consent to Rachel’s actions.
9) Rachel isn’t completely heartless: she cared for Daniel, her old monitor, and she still has old VHS tapes of her and her adopted parents, Ethan and Susan Duncan.
10) We do learn something important about the mythology of the show: the Original is destroyed. The lab where Ethan and Susan Duncan created the clones (remember, they were the ones who paid Amelia to carry Sarah & Helena) was destroyed in a fire, destroying both them and the research, including the data on the Original’s genome.
And that’s a wrap! In December, we’re going to wrap up season two with the following five episodes:
Episode 2.06: To Hound Nature in Her Wanderings
Episode 2.07: Knowledge of Causes, and Secret Motion of Things
Episode 2.08: Variable and Full of Perturbation
Episode 2.09: Things Which Have Never Yet Been Done
Episode 2.10: By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried
I know we’re entering the holiday season, but hopefully for some of you that means time off to binge-watch Orphan Black. Remember, we’re tackling five episodes at a time. Catch up and come comment: we’d love to have you!