Sunday, May 17, 2015

Orphan Black: Scarred By Many Past Frustrations

The twins are finally reunited, and yet they don't make the happy connection that many other characters manage to achieve throughout this episode. If anything, this stands as a sobering reminder that however much we may enjoy Helena's character, she is still an unhesitating and remorseless killer.

Still, it's not quite that simple, especially given the reveal that her better instincts are constantly struggling against her darker self. This is symbolized by the scorpion, a creature who describes self-harm as "a guilty pleasure" and urges that Helena leave Sarah in captivity, and who momentarily threw me at the start of the episode in which it crawls into Sarah's cell; leaving the boundaries of Helena's mind, as it were. In hindsight, I suspect this was simply for dramatic effect rather than an indication that the scorpion is real (after all, Sarah is asleep and doesn't notice it), but it continues to give us insight into the way Helena ticks.
And as someone who has been a little frustrated with the way the show has played up Helena's victimhood and quirky nature, it was like a splash of cold water (as it was for Sarah) to be reminded that she is in fact a killer, someone who murdered Katja and Amelia in cold blood, and who would have been just as capable of murdering Alison and Cosima too had she not met Sarah first.
(Yet despite that, you still have to respect a woman who greases herself in butter residue in order to better wriggle through a barred window).
As Paul points out to Sarah, they're both protecting morally dubious people. Sarah realizes this when Helena abandons her, and it would seem Paul is getting the message too what with his troubled examination of the lab equipment used on Parsons and the notebooks detailing all the women that the Castors have slept with (more on this development in a bit). He may call the military "just another family", but as we've seen from the Proletheans and Helena, this is not always a good thing.
If anything, this was an episode for having one's eyes opened – Mark to the creepiness of his mother, Gracie to the stifling nature of her upbringing, Paul to the cruelty of the mission, and Sarah to the true nature (or at least a reminder of its darker side) of her sister. As this episode marks the midway point of the season, it serves as a promising springboard for what might follow: hopefully all these characters acting on their newfound perspectives and beginning to fight back.
Elsewhere, Virginia Coady is still in the running for World's Worst Mum (which is stiff competition while Gracie's mum still walks the earth) though with enough control over the various men at her disposal to make her intriguing rather than just plain loathsome. There's an interesting early scene with Rudy, in which he grudgingly accepts her orders before kissing her on the cheek – though her reception to this affection is decidedly cool.

All clues indicate that she doesn't really care about the Castor clones beyond their importance as a laboratory experiment (even the minor reveal that Parsons may have consented to the "brain procedure" doesn't change how terrible it was) which makes me wonder what kind of power she has over them to command such loyalty.
Helena for example, turned on Tomas and his abuse fairly quickly, and neither she nor Sarah are even remotely taken in by Virginia's arguments that she's doing it all for the good of the Castors. At different points, each twin refers to her as "the bad mother", as well as Sarah's use of "psycho bitch", another gendered term.
In fact, there's a lot of interesting stuff to unpack surrounding Virginia Coady. She's not the first female character on this show to reject the idea of solidarity and take away another woman's bodily autonomy (here we see Virginia serenely watching as three men hold down Sarah and forcibly take a blood sample), but unlike Rachel her character is firmly rooted in a distortion of motherhood. In many ways I suspect she's meant to act as a foil to Mrs S (also in a mothering role this episode) but it's difficult not to compare her to Professor Leekie in regards to their authoritative positions in Dyad/Military respectively.
But whereas Leekie was an amicable father figure – at least on the surface – Virginia is openly unpleasant and unfriendly. She's also much more "hands on" in her work with the Castor clones than Leekie ever was with the Ledas (heck, did we ever see Leekie working in the capacity of a scientist at all during his tenure?) and the Beloved Smother antics are played up when she removes Mark's wedding ring and instructs him to write about his relationship with Gracie in a notebook – one of many that all the Castor clones seem to use in detailing their sexual exploits.
The episode's final sequence gives some indication as to why. Both Gracie and the young woman from the premiere have clearly been infected by some STD (resulting in bloodshot eyes as well as abdominal pain in Gracie's case) which almost certainly has something to do with the clones' biology and subsequent illness.
It begs two questions – 1. Did Gracie loose the baby because she and Mark consummated their marriage, and 2. Did Mark know the effect said consummation would have on his wife? In the latter case I would say the answer is no, as all evidence suggests that he genuinely loved Gracie. It's telling that Gracie removed her wedding ring by her own volition (though that could have just been to protect herself from her family) while Mark's had his removed by Virginia.
Whaddaya know, I'm actually rooting for these two crazy kids to get a happy ending.
I mentioned earlier that Sarah's use of the term "psycho bitch" was a specifically gendered term, and – though perhaps it was my imagination – there seemed to be a lot of that scattered throughout the episode. Cosima's date made specific mention of how impressive her participation in "the hard sciences" is (the "soft science" being biology and social science, with many seeing this as a derogatory term considering these fields have a much larger quantity of women involved) and during Helena's escape at the compound she leaps past a statue of the Virgin Mary (surely a symbolic response to "bad mothers" everywhere).
See it?
I could even count the fact that Helena's term for Paul – "Dirty Paul" – sounds an awful lot like slut-shaming.
Miscellaneous Observations:
I continue to cling to my theory that the loss of Gracie's baby is more than anything else a reason for the Proletheans to get interested in Helena's child. I'm not a huge fan of the Proletheans, but fandom seems to hate them – and that is to ignore the fact they've been a crucial element of the story from the start of the show (providing the impetus for Helena's killing spree) and contribute important thematic weight regarding the relationship between religion and science, and the God Complex that exists in each.
That said, they are still only the third most interesting faction in this show, coming in some distance behind the military and Dyad.
That military base continues to look really fake. If they can get interaction between clones so right, why can't they manage to disguise what's obviously an interior set?
It was good to finally get some screen-time and interaction between Mrs S and Felix in a capacity that wasn't just babysitting their latest foundling, but which gave us some background on their pasts.
There was perhaps some truth in Virginia's assertion that Helena actually likes confinement, simply because she sees it as a challenge. True enough, she figured out how long it took between hearing the first door clang open and the personnel entering the room, stashed away enough butter to use as a lubricant, coached Sarah on how to best acquire a makeshift lock-pick, and knew how to best manipulate the security camera system (though she was certainly helped in that respect by the fact that it regularly – and needlessly – swivelled away from the cells).
All things considered, the military should consider it a miracle that they've at least got one Leda clone still in captivity.
In lieu of all this intense drama, it was almost jarring to witness Cosima going on a blind date – though the fact that their meeting was being photographed suggests that there's more to Shay than meets the eye. In which case, it looks like more impending heartbreak for Cosima. 

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