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Monday, July 24, 2017

Orphan Black: Gag or Throttle

So far this season has been solid but also a little ho-hum – until now! Suddenly things have been kicked into high gear, and for the first time I felt the writers were paying attention to the story as it unfolded, rather than gathering the pieces together for the show's final act.
This was the long-awaited Rachel-centric episode, and though we've had glimpses of her upbringing before, this delved much deeper into her past, her psyche and her relationship to the show's themes of female autonomy and nature vs nurture.

We've always known that Rachel was looked after by Professor Leekie after Ethan and Susan Duncan faked their deaths, but here we get a good look at their dynamic: little Rachel (nicely played by the same actress who plays Charlotte) was trotted out in front of a room of mostly men and instructed to rattle off her serial number like it's a party trick.
As far as guardians go, Leekie seemed benign but distant, and it can't have been a coincident that Rachel in the present-day strikes the same pose with Kira as Leekie did with her as a child.
A later flashback reveals that despite being self-aware, Rachel was kept in the dark about the extent of the illness that ravaged the other clones, with Leekie and a (male) colleague discussing the subject while Rachel is not only right there, but literally in the middle of a gynaecology examination. Later still, Leekie discovers that Rachel has had one of her fellow clones killed in order to study the disease in more detail, and is visibly disgusted at her – completely unaware that it was at least partly his reticence on the subject of her life that drove her to such an extreme undertaking.
It's in this scene that we grasp the core of who Rachel is. Being raised with an understanding of what she was gave her something of a superiority complex, and across the course of the entire show we've seen her act in ways that are detrimental to her sisters. Her entire identity revolves around making sure she is special and they are negligible; heck – in her very first appearance we watched her take sublime satisfaction in arranging that the other clones signed over their bodies to Dyad.
The idea that she might be just the same as them, just a clone in an experiment, is an unbearable thought to her. But that's exactly what she discovers here, and it all comes into focus thanks to a simple comment from Kira...
Kira's hustling of Rachel was on display throughout this episode, and though I was afraid she was overplaying it a little at times (friendship bracelet, really?) her sympathising and willing ear clearly struck a nerve with Rachel... to the point where Rachel saw her younger self sitting in Kira's place. It's enough to get Westmoreland concerned – watching as he is through Rachel's cybernetic eye.
I was a little slow on the uptake when it came to realizing just what was going on here: when Rachel first found his ipad I thought she was having some sort of mental breakdown, what with the reappearing images on the screen – luckily Rachel is much more intelligent than I am and immediately realized the implications of this breach of privacy (all the more striking since she requested some privacy from Coady earlier in the episode).
Speaking of which, it was a masterclass in paralleling scenes when we witness Rachel's first meeting with Westmoreland in flashback, in which he refers to her as a daughter and has her sign an agreement which grants her complete bodily autonomy, contrasted with her first meeting with Coady, in which everything she was promised is quietly and devastatingly taken away. She's given no warning that an examination is about to take place, she's poked and prodded by a complete stranger, and her serial number on the computer screen remains.
But it's no wonder she aligned herself so completely and devotedly to Westmoreland. As with Mud, the power of a father figure who grants you favours and praise and what should rightfully be yours anyway was too much for Rachel to resist. But it's interesting that in the same episode in which Rachel visits her mother's grave – the same mother she previously tried to kill – it is Coady (another woman) and her clinical treatment of her that really rips the veil from Rachel's eyes.  
And this is before Rachel finds the ipad. With that in mind, a part of me wants to rewatch the episode and try to pinpoint the exact moment Rachel decided not to take Kira to the island. We're initially led to believe that her excessive drinking is a side-effect of her conflicted state of mind, and yet the last scene (in which she takes a broken wine glass to her cybernetic eye) reveals that she was actually self-medicating the whole time; bracing herself not for the task of kidnapping Kira, but the bloody removal of her eyeball. Which I couldn't watch, by the way.
So at which point was the decision made? Perhaps it's not as important as the moment in which Rachel's entire worldview changes forever: when Kira notices her picking at her nails (a habit established earlier on in the flashbacks) and comments: "my mum used to do that."
What a genius line. Most of us like to believe that nurture is stronger than nature, but in this single tiny moment, nature wins out. Sarah and Rachel, despite their profoundly different backgrounds, upbringings and values, share an otherwise meaningless idiosyncrasy. Both of them pick their nails when they're nervous, a quirk that connects them when nothing else does. Rachel is a clone, Sarah is her sister, and she can't deny it any longer – so she doesn't.
Honestly, it was enough to get me a little choked up.
Miscellaneous Observations:
Aww, Scottie and Cosima are reunited. I'm glad they gave these two the time/space for a proper hug, especially since Scott hasn't had much to do this season. And little Charlotte was so cute on the bed with her hot tea and blanket!
It's confirmed Ira died alongside Susan. That at least settles that lingering question from last week.
Just to update on everyone's activities: the nerds have tracked down Westmoreland's true identity, Sarah and Siobhan are tracking down members of the Neolution board, and Felix and Adele are still following the paper trail in Switzerland.
Alison unexpectedly returns from her getaway with purple hair and a tattoo, and promptly throws away all her craft supplies. Um... okay. This is an odd curveball to throw so close to the finish line (honestly, I thought the show was done with her until the finale) but I suppose we'll have to see how this unfolds.
"Liver deep." Snort.
Mark returns to the show on the heels of Ira's passing, and I'm happy to say I guessed it would be him under that hood – if simply because Gracie was in last week's preview. I can't imagine the two of them are really going to betray Helena, so what's she up to at the convent?
This was a great episode for Kira. For so long she's been a Living MacGuffin, constantly kidnapped and coveted and shuffled around, but communicating the reality of her situation with Sarah through the code they devised together – beautifully done.
Art to the rescue! I love that Rachel had his number, and that Siobhan mouths a silent: "thank you" to her in the elevator.
So now we know exactly what our heroes have to stop: Westmoreland and Coady's plan to exploit a new generation of women with their cloning project. But have you seen the preview for next week? It gives away nothing. Should I be scared?


  1. Wow! that was an INCREDIBLE episode
    There was a point I figured she was self-medicating so she could remove the cyber-eye, but it was still chilling and I had to cover my eyes

    I'd have to watch it as well, just to see if you can tell when she decides to save Kira, but even then it might be hard.

    My stand-out is Kira asking"Who hurt you" which I don't think was part of the "play" but of course the answer is everyone
    Her own autonomy has been a lie, she thinks she's been accepted, she's on level with the Westmoreland, Leckie and Dr Coady but she's not - and never was - and to an extent less free than the other clones. And to come to that understanding is intense but also so Rachel (and if that's not some sort of metaphor for the patriarchy - as the next one to be sacrificed will surely be Coady - then I don't know what is!)

    Can't believe we're nearly at the finish line

    1. I think she also realized at some point that despite her scorn for the other clones (because they're not as SPECIAL as she is) they have warmth and trust between themselves that she never has. And that's got to sting.