Now that’s what I call good backstory! This week’s episode of Orphan Black was the first episode that really showed Rachel’s youth and inner thoughts. Though we’ve gotten hints at how this clone was raised in the past, none of those hints painted as clear a picture of Rachel’s life as “Gag or Throttle” did. We know that Rachel was torn from her parents, Susan and Ethan Duncan, at a young age, and then grew up under the thumb of Dyad and Neolution. She seemed to miss her family and to want a child of her own, but we only ever saw her and her emotions from the outside—until now.
Spoilers for the episode after the jump! In a very Orphan Black move, this episode has gore, extreme eye violence, and nonconsensual body modification, so please consider yourself warned for that as well.
The very first scene of “Gag or Throttle” opens on Aldous Leekie presenting a young Rachel to a group of older men, presumably Dyad members. Leekie says that Rachel is the only clone who knows she’s a clone, and though Rachel is clearly nervous, he allows the men to question her thoroughly about what she knows about the other clones and herself. One of the men even asks her for her clone tag, and after some hesitation, she gives it. She’s clone 779H41, just as Cosima is clone 324B21. At no point do any of the men treat her as the young girl she is.
This dehumanization is continued throughout all of Rachel’s life. At Dyad, when other clones start becoming sick, Leekie and another doctor take a uterine sample from Rachel, standing over her and talking to each other, not to her. When Rachel tries to talk to them, Leekie sharply reminds her that “[she’s] not exempt from the experiment”, and we know from the other episodes that despite Rachel’s favored status, she has also been monitored and experimented on throughout her life. When Rachel meets Westmoreland for the first time, he has her sign a paper that supposedly claims that she is free and will no longer be monitored or experimented on. Yet this was also a lie. Rachel is almost immediately told to lie down so that Coady can check how the cure is working on Rachel’s uterus, and most horrifyingly of all, Rachel later finds that in a gross violation of both her trust and her bodily autonomy, Westmoreland himself is her new monitor—he’s watching her through the prosthetic eye installed after Sarah attacked Rachel.
Rachel has always been the most privileged of the clones — she’s the corporate-raised clone, always next to Dyad and now Westmoreland, and she’s always been eager to shove other clones in their place to ensure her own superiority. If all clones had to be experimented on, then Rachel was going to be the one in charge of the experiments. Now Rachel finds that despite her privilege, she’s ultimately still not free from the system she’s seeking to control. No matter how good she is or what she’s achieved — Kira captured, Leda cure secured, CEO of Dyad — she’ll always just be another clone in their grand experiment. Like many women who buy into the patriarchy and undercut other women in order to get ahead, Rachel now fully understands that all of her actions have only served to hurt other similarly-entrapped women; she still hasn’t helped herself in any meaningful way. I could do without the continuous reminders that the clone situation is a microcosm of patriarchy at large — in almost every episode, some character relates Clone Club to all men and all women; Cosima tells Delphine that Westmoreland divides “all women” and in this episode Rachel tells Kira that “all of them” hurt her — but it’s a strong message despite the constant spoon-feeding.
Despite this, I thought this episode was excellently written. We’ve had plenty of glimpses of Rachel’s life in the past, but only now do we see the reasons behind why Rachel clings to her childhood through the videos of her with Susan and Ethan Duncan. It’s perhaps the only time she was ever happy, loved, and treated as a human being rather than a test subject. The other characters call Rachel a “crazy psychopath”, and I pretty much thought that after the rest of Rachel’s actions throughout the series, none of them would ever try to treat her with any sympathy. That might still be the case, but at least now the audience knows enough about her to perhaps look at her with a little more understanding. I love well-written antagonistic women, and this episode did a lot to show Rachel as the victim that she is, instead of the usual collected and arrogant villain.
For their parts, even if they don’t understand or like her, Sarah and Kira play on the part of Rachel who’s still a lost and lonely child to try to get her to return Kira to her family. Westmoreland wants Kira’s eggs and he wants Kira on the island, and Rachel seems to be willing to comply, even after Sarah begs her to think of herself as a child torn from her family, and Kira gives Rachel a friendship bracelet to wear. Perhaps as much out of a need to hurt Westmoreland as anything else, Rachel does eventually yield. She tricks Westmoreland into thinking she’s sleeping by putting her old eyepatch over her eye, and then she sneaks Kira out of Dyad into Sarah, Mrs. S, and Art’s waiting arms. She then goes back to her office and, in a very gory scene, stabs her own eye out.
Some part of me desperately wishes that Rachel had just gone with Sarah and Kira, and I’m still not sure why she didn’t. Maybe, as she said to her younger self, she wasn’t sure if she had anywhere else to go, and it’s true that Sarah and the others don’t have any reason to trust her at this point. But the clones all call each other sister, and just as they eventually accepted Helena, I think Rachel could be both well-suited and well-placed to help out Clone Club within the confines of Dyad. In the preview for the next episode, it looks like she’s having that eye put back in against her will, so I hope Rachel isn’t the next clone to suffer in the lead-up to the finale.
In other news, we’re slowly getting cameos from all of the previous characters throughout the seasons, this time featuring Gracie and Mark. And though the other clones took a backseat this episode, I’m really concerned about Alison. She’s back from her impromptu trip to California, and she now has a tattoo and a Katja-esque haircut with purple highlights. After hugging Donnie, she immediately sets about throwing all of her crafting stuff into garbage bags and saying that she doesn’t need them any more. I’m not sure what she’ll be doing in the rest of the plot, but it certainly looks like she’s throwing away all of her traditionally feminine things—something we definitely didn’t want her to do. Whichever way this folds out, next week we’ll see what Alison, our minor characters, and the other clones are up to.