Orphan Black: “From Dancing Mice to Psychopaths” Review

orphan black season 4

Hey there, Clone Club! What a finale, am I right? Well, it was action-packed, to say the least, and we don’t know if everyone’s going to live to see much of Season 5. Still, with the official news that Orphan Black’s fifth season will be its last, it’s a good episode to begin the beginning of the end.

What do I mean? Read on, sestras. Spoilers for Season 4 and the finale below!

We open with Cosima announcing to Sarah and company that she and Susan have found the cure. That was easy, I wonder why they didn’t do it last season with all those Castor clones running around. But while Cosima’s still celebrating with her family, she’s locked out of the database and her internet cut off. Susan Duncan was really just after a chance to restart cloning with a fresh line, and locks Cosima away in Rachel’s dungeon bedroom. Susan contacts the Neolution and Brightborn board of directors (Mrs. S: “There’s always a board!”) to let them know cloning is back on the table. The board ousts Evie Cho and Dr. Van Lier tasers her in the mouth, triggering Evie’s implant and killing her. Susan’s poised to take over, but Rachel is going to double-cross the double-crosser.

She's got a point, Sarah.

She’s got a point, Sarah.

Meanwhile, Krystal sees Dr. Van Lier on TV and recognizes him as one of the men who picked up Delphine when she was shot (he knew Krystal’s name, too!). She calls Felix and demands to be let into Clone Club, because she’s got information they need, and finally comes to Felix’s apartment and meets Sarah. Krystal hilariously insists that she and Sarah look nothing alike (“even if you could drag a comb through that hair”), and proceeds to explain the whole situation simply and accurately. Clone Club’s astonished, and rolls with it. Clearly they shouldn’t have been trying so hard to keep her out of it, because she’s smart and observant. Everyone seems to think that Krystal must be stupid because she loves fake fur and pink nails and makeup, and it’s a ridiculous stereotype. She’s more Elle Woods than Valley Girl. Oh well, time to move on.

Sarah poses as Krystal to get Dr. Van Lier alone, and he tells her and Siobhan about Rachel’s plan. In true Rachel fashion, she was only after power in the form of being CEO of Neolution. We see Rachel at a board meeting passionately arguing for the integration of human cloning and robot implant tech, painting a future filled with human clones with no identity or purpose outside of being lab rats for their corporation. The Leda line is still, technically, property of Neolution, but these new clones won’t have the same freedom, and, as Rachel says, if Neolution wants to find out if their “lab rats” can regrow their tails, they’ll “bloody well cut them off”. It’s a horrifying reminder of why Clone Club can’t just cut a deal and let it go, once their sestras are cured. Rachel’s proposal is, unfortunately, well received by the board.

Sarah leaves Kira with Mrs. S and travels on Ira’s helicopter to the island to save Cosima. While everyone else is busy, Charlotte unlocks Cosima’s cell room and the two escape, planning to take a boat somewhere on the island north of the facility. As they leave, Cosima grabs the vials filled with her cure. Rachel confronts Susan and sees another vision of a severed swan head. It all makes sense; it’s a message to kill Susan, the “head” of the clone project. After all, in the myth of Leda and the Swan, the swan is the god Zeus in disguise, and Susan’s been “playing god” with her clone project for a long time. Susan tells Rachel she regrets ever making her, and Rachel stabs her in the stomach. Later, Sarah finally arrives on the island and finds Susan grievously injured. With Sarah distracted, Rachel attacks Sarah with her cane and the knife. Sarah flees the house with her life, to the beach, and calls Mrs. S. Before she can ask for help, Ferdinand takes the phone and we see that he has Mrs. S and Kira held hostage.

Things look good for no one, including Cosima and Charlotte. They’re thoroughly lost, and nearly succumbed to hypothermia. The man from Rachel’s visions rescues them and takes them to a camp on the island. Amazingly, when they arrive, Cosima is greeted by Delphine! Delphine tends to Cosima, and Cophine snuggle together under the covers to stay warm. Cosima gives Delphine the cure, and Delphine tells her they can’t trust these people and have to keep the cure a secret. So to recap: this mysterious outpost on the island is working with Dr. Van Lier, the interim CEO of Brightborn, but for some reason wasn’t living with Susan Duncan in her awesome science mansion on the same island. But Susan knew about them, because their settlement showed up in Charlotte’s paintings. Once again it seems like Cosima and Delphine are in the clutches of Neolution. But they’re together!

YAY COPHINE!

YAY COPHINE!

Overall, it feels like a great action-packed finale that also tried to simplify the plot for the show to wrap up next year. We got a great reminder (at last!) of the big picture reasons why we need to care about Neolution, beyond the fact that they’re trying to kill off our favorite sestras. Throughout the season we’ve seen hints of Kira’s growing abilities. She has some kind of intuition or telepathy that lets her know how all the Ledas are feeling, and not just the ones she’s met. Couple this with her mysterious healing powers, and we have a whole barrel of seriously underused plot material. It’s also rumored that PT Westmoreland, the founder of Neolution, is still alive, after he should have died a hundred years ago. Is he the mysterious man on the island? I think so. We still don’t know why Kira has special abilities. Helena’s got to be only a few weeks from giving birth, and it’ll be good to see if her children possess the same abilities as Kira. And what’s Cal been up to (besides filming in Meereen)? Has he been rotting away in some Neolution prison since the season opener? What I do know is that Orphan Black is going to go out with a bang, and I commend BBC America for not trying to keep the show alive beyond the story’s expiration date.

I was thoroughly entertained by this season, but I also felt like something was lacking. Orphan Black tackled a lot of intense issues, with varying levels of success. Felix had his own plotline about biological family versus “found” family, but it was disappointing that he ultimately had to say goodbye to his bio-sister to focus more on helping the Leda sisters with their problems. Granted, Leda problems are big problems, and he loves his Leda sister Sarah. But Felix’s plot felt more like something that just had to get out of his system instead of something that added dimension to his character.

The Brightborn plot raises some fascinating ethical questions that just weren’t really adequately addressed. I’m not entirely sure why we’re supposed to find Brightborn horrifying. Is it because they’re claiming to produce designer babies? Is it because they strong arm poor or homeless women into being their testing surrogates, and deny them freedom and agency? Probably yes, on both counts. But the real horror comes when we see the “mistakes”, babies with all kinds of birth defects from blindness to horrific facial malformations. Are we supposed to be repulsed by the fact that they’re experimenting on humans, or just by the fact that it went wrong? I’m not sure. Cosima and friends eagerly use embryonic stem cells from a zygote created from Sarah’s egg and Ira’s sperm, and it produces the long-awaited miracle cure. That’s a form of human experimentation that many of us would wholeheartedly support. And yet, in the same season we see Helena giving the embryos she was forced to participate in creating a loving burial. I’m left believing that the show doesn’t want to say all human experimentation is bad, just the kind that produces newborns with scary deformities. It seems like this season tacitly supports the existence of a sliding scale when it comes to disability. Some humans with “nicer” disabilities are welcome and should be saved, but others with not so nice disabilities shouldn’t exist… right? Maybe not. It’s certainly complicated. I wish they had done more to address this.

In the finale we’re introduced to Rachel’s grand vision of a world populated with human clones, owned by a corporation. She believes these clones will only receive their identity from the company who owns them, not their civil nationality or any other identifier. This is the worldview Clone Club will be working to bring down in their final season. I don’t think many people out there would say that corporations get to decide your identity. Most of us would probably say that our identity is self-determined. In the world of Orphan Black, it’s almost always women who are the ones who get to make this decision. Evie Cho and Rachel Duncan decide that (most) clones aren’t real people, Cosima and Sarah decide that their life-giving zygote is an experimental cure, and Helena decides her embryos are “babies”, worthy of human love. A mother who escapes Brightborn chooses to love and accept as a son a blind baby she was forced to carry. Having so many women make so many different choices when it comes to determining identity, not just their own, but the identity of another being, is a testament to just how feminist this show really is. Women are in positions to decide if a being counts as human. I hope the writers continue to ask the question of who or what, then, gives us our identity, our purpose, our meaning. Is a BBC America show really asking us to consider the meaning of life? All good science fiction does.


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2 thoughts on “Orphan Black: “From Dancing Mice to Psychopaths” Review

  1. Pingback: Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: WASPs and Clone Club | Lady Geek Girl and Friends

  2. Pingback: Throwback Thursday: Dr. Strangelove or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb | Lady Geek Girl and Friends

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