Orphan Black: “By Means Which Have Never Been Tried” Review

orphan black season 2And here we are, Clone Club, at the second season finale. If you were hoping for some answers, you’re probably watching the wrong show. But if you were looking for some crazier twists than ever before, you’ve come to the right place. And as Mrs. S. would tell you, it certainly helps to know your mythology. So let’s dive right in.

Spoilers after the jump.

orphan black sarahWe begin the episode at breakneck speed; hardly a second has passed since we discovered that Rachel made off with Kira right under Felix’s nose. It makes me feel like I should have watched this episode immediately after the last; it’s a little disorienting. Sarah immediately hands herself over to DYAD and consents to a barrage of invasive tests. Dr. Nealon (who did all the tests on a sleeping Sarah-as-Beth) relentlessly questions her about her sexual history, which includes an abortion. It’s notable because abortion (specifically, having one) is still a taboo topic for much of American television. The scene seems to want to remind the audience that Sarah is the same woman with a grungy, wild past whom we met in Season 1. Dr. Nealon gets Sarah to sign away some of her eggs with a promise that she’ll get to see Kira. Sarah does get to see Kira, but only through a two-way-mirror while Rachel makes disparaging comments about Sarah to Kira.

Cut to Cosima, who’s shocked to find out that Dr. Nealon is taking over from Ethan Duncan. Delphine’s still grieving her own betrayal of Sarah and Kira, and shouldn’t have been surprised when Rachel double crosses her by shipping her off to Germany and refusing to let her see Cosima. Delphine gets revenge by sending Cosima a copy of Rachel’s calendar with the message “It’s up to you now.” Cosima convinces one of the handlers to arrange a meeting between her and Kira as a way to play nice with the new staff changes, and gives Kira an adorable lesson in force and acceleration (Cosima is clearly Kira’s new favorite aunt).

Rachel walks in on Ethan Duncan watching some home movies on the big screen, and brings him tea. Duncan takes some of his own tea bags out of his pocket and steeps his own cup. He wants to talk about their relationship; she wants to talk science. Rachel tells Duncan that the reason why she always watches the home movies is because she doesn’t remember any of them, and Duncan tells her that he’s only going to give her the cipher for the other coded DNA sequences when they cure Cosima. He claims he didn’t write it down anywhere. Rachel isn’t having any of it, so Duncan drinks some of his tea, and starts to shake. He’s poisoned himself. Rachel screams for a doctor, but it’s clearly too late.

Pencil Trick!

Pencil Trick!

Sarah’s forced into an operating room and told that they’re “just” taking one of her ovaries instead of harvesting her eggs. Scott sneaks into the operating room and leaves a fire extinguisher by Sarah, and looses the bindings on one of her wrists. Rachel comes in and tries to get Sarah to tell her what the DNA sequence cipher is by smashing vials of Kira’s stem cells on the floor. Sarah has no idea what she’s talking about, but realizes that the fire extinguisher is meant to be some kind of diversion, so she squeezes the handle. A pencil shoots out, hitting Rachel square in the eye, and Sarah escapes to go find Kira. That’s an awfully lucky shot.

Meanwhile, Cal shows up at Mrs. S’s house and we find out that he knows all kinds of stuff about DYAD because he’s good at the internet and on a “darknet.” Darknet isn’t just a made up thing for the show—it’s the name for a private file sharing network between trusted peers. This means that Cal is heavily into some underground shenanigans, as any “darknet” group is a smaller faction of the “Deep Web,” the part of the internet inaccessible by Google and other normal search engines. It’s suspected to be a huge haven for serious criminal activity. So Cal might actually be a real computer hacker, not just someone who can guess your Facebook password. We learn that Cal’s been communicating with Marian, Rachel’s boss. Marian is using the name “Swan 7” and already knows Mrs. S. Uh oh.

Sarah busts into Kira’s room to find Marian helping Kira into her coat. She’s incredibly confused, but Marian tells her there’s no time and that they’ll be able to leave without any fuss. The two of them join up with Felix, Alison, and Cosima in Felix’s apartment, and soon Helena shows up with a canister of frozen embryos (or eggs? I’m not sure) in tow. Helena meets Cosima and Alison for the first time, and Clone Club throws a dance party. I love that we’re finally able to see them just interacting together as sisters, without having a whole lot of heavy plot going on. I’ve missed seeing a lot of those relationships; I don’t like it when they’re all going in different directions.

(x) It doesn't stop me from enjoying the dance party

(x) They all dance in different directions, too.

The next morning, Helena sneaks out of the apartment only to be kidnapped by some U.S. military men and loaded onto a huge plane… while Mrs. S and Paul look on. Mrs. S. says, “Sarah will never forgive me for this,” and neither will I, ya backstabbing jerk. Back in the apartment, Kira wakes up Cosima and asks her to read her a story. She hands Cosima her beloved copy of Dr. Moreau (from the late Ethan Duncan, remember?), and Cosima discovers that all the science gobbledygook is actually the basis for the cipher to the DNA sequences.

Meanwhile, Sarah heads over to Marian’s house and meets eight-year-old Charlotte, Marian’s adopted daughter and Sarah’s sister. It turns out that after four hundred attempts, the powers that be were able to recreate the experiment of LEDA. Charlotte knows about Kira (calling her “cousin”) and wears a leg brace. Clone Club just got more inclusive, and I hope we get to see more of Charlotte (and Charlotte with Kira!) next season. Marian explains that there are bigger forces than DYAD at work here, that Project LEDA was started by the military and continued by the DYAD institute. It turns out that there was another project continued by the military, Project CASTOR. Where LEDA focused on female clones, CASTOR focused on male clones. Sarah peers through some plexiglass into a room and says, “I recognize that man,” and so do we, dear readers—Mark, the Prolethean protege and lover of Gracie, looks like a member of the CASTOR Clone Club.

So where does this leave us looking forward to Season 3? Helena’s separated from the rest (again), but I think this might just be a handy way for the audience to stay interested in what’s going on with Project CASTOR. Cosima’s still (barely) alive, but between the coded sequence and Helena’s cells, we’ve got lots of hope for her. As far as Project CASTOR goes, from the various stories of the mythical Castor (and his brother Pollux, two sons of Leda), we know that he was a warrior who rescued Helen from the kingdom of Attica. His brother gave up half of his immortality in order to save Castor’s life. I’m not entirely sure if the addition of male clones is a good thing.


(x) The choice of Ari Millen, on the other hand, is a great one.

One of my favorite aspects of Orphan Black is how incredibly feminist of a show it is. One huge issue of the season has been a woman’s right to bodily autonomy, and our writers have done a pretty good job with it. Our clones gain and lose all kinds of autonomy for all kinds of reasons. Cosima takes a job at DYAD, but we don’t ever really see her outside her new lab, giving us the impression that it’s more like a shiny cage with lots of toys. Cosima slowly loses autonomy as her health deteriorates, but maintains some control over her treatment. Alison checks herself into rehab, but is forced to stay by Donnie. Her confinement ends with her getting physically better, less dependent on alcohol. Where Cosima and Delphine end the season separated (physically and emotionally), Alison and Donnie are tighter than ever.

Sarah, Helena, and Rachel have plots that deal with their fertility. Rachel desperately wants to have children but is infertile; she was stolen from her parents and confined to DYAD at a young age, and so never truly had a childhood. Helena, the perpetual child, also wants to have children, and the Proletheans use this desire to exploit her fertility. Sarah’s already had a child, but willingly gives up her freedom and rights to her own body in order to save Kira. This is probably the most dramatic loss of autonomy of all the clones, from a narrative standpoint. As Cosima points out, Sarah is the wild one. She’s had the most freedom, and has explored all sorts of choices already (to have an abortion and to give birth, living disconnected from most everyone and to settle down as a mother, etc). So when we see her totally powerless at DYAD, it makes a big impact.

Another strong point of Orphan Black has been its focus on relationships. Nearly all the principle characters are female and come from very different walks of life, something we don’t often find on popular television shows. Their relationships as sisters seemed just as important as the big mystery behind their existence in the first place. I have to wonder if the introduction of CASTOR is a sign that we’re moving away from themes of sisterhood and moving toward thrilling conspiracies and plot twists upon crazy plot twists. That’s certainly been the trajectory in Season 2. The clones really only interacted with each other when they were forced to by some big problem, and in the meantime used Felix as a sort of traffic controller. There’s been next to no emotional fallout from Cosima’s illness, save a scene in the finale where she and Sarah talk about death and fractals. It’s all segregated into each clone’s individual plotline (the borders of which are all carefully guarded by Felix), and I had hoped we’d see more of the sisters relying on one another instead of everyone relying on Felix. Or, I had hoped to see some consequences for Felix trying to manage everyone’s problems. The addition of more characters with CASTOR is going to make it harder to do any of that in the future.

On the other hand, the addition of CASTOR and new clone Tony signal to me that Orphan Black is branching out into ideas of masculinity. So far we’ve dealt with the theme of society valuing women for their bodies. The show explores the importance of women being able to make their own decisions about what happens to their bodies; even Kira gets the final word on whether or not she donates bone marrow to Cosima. We see how many try to reduce women to their ability to reproduce and be mothers, while at the same time displaying motherhood as one of many potentially desirable choices in a woman’s life… as long as she’s the one making the choice. Now it looks like we might dive into how society perceives and tries to control masculinity. It looks like they could do this through the military. If women are often stereotyped as “brood mares,” the corresponding stereotype for men is the warrior-protector. If the writers go this route, it would be a great opportunity to explore how the hyper-masculine warrior stereotype can be just as harmful to men as feminine stereotypes of motherhood can be for women.

Regardless, I certainly cannot wait to see what the next season brings. What did you think of the season? Let me know in the comments.

3 thoughts on “Orphan Black: “By Means Which Have Never Been Tried” Review

  1. I record this show at my mother’s since i don’t have cable and my husband kept hemming and hawing about watching it so I asked him if he minded me watching without him. I am so glad I did. I loved this season. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

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