Luce: Well, guys, it’s been a long journey to the finale. Five years of twists and turns later, we’ve finally reached the end of the journey (or, at least, this journey) for Clone Club. But how did our favorite clones fare at this, the end of all things, and did they all make it through unscathed? Reviewing the end of Orphan Black is too much to take on alone, so I’m super glad to be joined by all of our faithful Orphan Black review team for this very last review.
Spoilers after the jump!
Before our summer vacation, we left off with an excellent Rachel backstory episode in which we learned about her life under the thumb of Neolution. After Rachel cuts out her own eye, Mrs. S sends Ferdinand to save her life and, without letting either of her children know, S strikes a deal with Rachel to bring down Neolution once and for all. Rachel gives S the information necessary to go to the press and spill all of Neolution’s dirty little secrets, and in return, S kills Ferdinand. Sadly, like many deals, this one had unintended consequences: Ferdinand kills S in her own house, leaving her body for Sarah to find.
While Sarah’s dealing with her grief over the death of her mother, Virginia Coady swoops in and uses Gracie and Mark to find Helena at the convent. This achieved, Westmoreland convinces Coady to kill Mark and Gracie and demands that Coady give Helena a C-section to get her babies (and thus, the LIN28A mutation that he wants so badly) as quickly as possible. Coady argues with him over it, and Helena takes advantage of their distraction to try and kill herself so that her babies won’t be born to be experiments like she was. Sarah sneaks in under the guise of Rachel to free Helena, but she’s almost immediately captured and brought to Helena to give her a blood transfusion. Despite Helena’s many health concerns, she still manages to beat up Coady and get the keys to Sarah, and the two of them escape into the basement of the Dyad corporation.
By now, though, Helena’s labor is too far advanced for her to walk any further, and Sarah lays her on the ground with Art standing guard and rushes back to the lab for medical equipment. Once there, Westmoreland, desperate for his cure, attacks her, and Sarah is finally able to kill him. Coady finds Helena, but with Helena and Art working together, they’re able to trick and kill her as well. When Sarah returns, she’s just in time for the birth of Helena’s twins, and we then epilogue out into one final clone party at Alison’s and see a little of each clone’s future lives.
Saika: There’s so much to talk about, so let’s begin by taking it clone by clone, starting with my sweet, good, murderous Helena. I love her, and her character arc from terrifying, soulless villain to cozy, goofy, but still-bloodthirsty-when-necessary sestra is the best shit I’ve seen since Naruto befriended Gaara by punching him a lot.
Stinekey: Agreed. And as for Helena’s twins, naming Orange and Purple after Arthur and Donnie was sweet. They seem to be the two men she’s closest to, so character-wise it makes a lot of sense. However, she has a line about them being “real men.” I’m already seeing headcanons online about how their names are really “Arthur Felix” and “Donnie Scott,” because real men can be gay and science-y, and not only, as badass as they are, fathers who kill people to protect the women they love. There’s not really enough evidence to know if Helena upholds the stereotype herself, but the line does make it seem like the show does. In a show about women’s issues and agency, there’s a lot that could be said about men and masculinity too. The show succeeded in giving us a variety of male characters, both as heroes and villains, but the “real men” comment undercuts its message of diversity. Helena’s probably the clone that most deserves a happy ending, and she got it.
Alison ends the series embracing a crunchy granola mother lifestyle. I live in the Pacific Northwest, a place that (if it isn’t really) wishes it were the birthplace of all things organic, creative, and non-traditional, so I see “Alisons” all over the place. Her purple-streaked hair, jazz festival posters, and homemade kombucha might be the most recognizable elements of my local stereotype. We’re meant to believe that Alison has found her freedom in creative self-expression, and thankfully this doesn’t preclude her homemaking and hostessing skills. We see them on full, glorious display during Helena’s baby shower. Alison shows real grace and maturity dealing with Sarah’s outburst at the final clone party, and Alison’s the first to console her with an anecdote about how Alison, too, is an imperfect mother. I had been worried that the writers would throw out her homemaking passions when Alison brought home her new identity, but instead she’s meshed them with her new passions. I wonder if she will end up trading one intense mommy social circle for another; natural crunchy moms can be just as vicious as their Stepford counterparts, at least in the blogosphere.
Saika: Rachel ends up just shy of the side of the angels in the end. While it took her a while to realize that she was never going to be free whilst serving the patriarchy, she definitely came through in the end – including, in the finale, providing her sestras with a list of all the Ledas out in the world. That said, there’s ultimately too much bad blood between them for her to be welcomed into the sestra fold, and while it would have been sappy-nice to have everyone hug it out in the end, it felt more realistic that they’d be more ‘once bitten, twice shy’ – especially considering how many of their personal hells Rachel was personally responsible for creating. Rachel ends up about as redeemed as she needs to be – no longer privileged by her proximity to the patriarchy, and putting in work to earn forgiveness, but because of her history of collusion, not able to reap the full benefits of feminist sisterhood.
Luce: After spending much of the show sick, in need of treatment, searching for a treatment, and trying to date Delphine and then Shay and then Delphine again, Cosima’s ending felt a little anticlimatic to me. She and Delphine send the Neolution information out into the world with the click of a button, and then she isn’t around much for the action-packed Sarah-Helena-Art escape act. But in the end, she does get her happy romantic ending with Delphine, as the two of them take Rachel’s Leda information and set out to help the other Ledas.
Stinekey: If anything, her happy romantic ending is a nice subversion of the “bury your gays” trope. Cosima gets to fly away to tropical places and do science that saves the lives of hundreds of women with the love of her life. That’s pretty much the perfect happy ending for Cosima. Her extreme aversion to all things maternal is a nice foil for the other clones – it says that you can be a “whole” woman without having maternal feelings.
Sarah also gets a happy ending, more or less, and I’m of two minds here. On one hand, I liked that Sarah wasn’t “okay” yet once all the danger was gone. It wouldn’t make sense with her character arc that she’d suddenly be a happy suburban mom. I enjoyed seeing her sestras come through for her when she needed support, and that it was led by Alison. On the other hand, I thought it was pretty obvious that Sarah needs some kind of professional help, as in counseling for grief or a mental illness like depression. With this in my mind, the “solution” being some (albeit entertaining) girltalk and a trip to the beach felt a little flat.
Luce: I mentioned this in an earlier review, but for me, another thing that fell flat was the the expansion of the show’s scope re: patriarchy. Orphan Black has been about the ills of patriarchy from the very first season, when monitors watched our largely unaware clones and teams of scientists probed and experimented on them without their consent. With this setup, it was easy to extrapolate that the show was about how women were controlled and manipulated by men, even though the face of this suffering was Clone Club. But in Season 5, this allegory was made explicit. Cosima tells Delphine that Westmoreland divides not just clones but (all) women, Rachel says that all of them (men) hurt her, and Cosima later exclaims that we (the clones) are all over the world. Yet broadening the show’s scope in this way hurt it in other ways. Most notably, by making the show about all women being hurt by men and not just these specific 274 women, the show inadvertently falls into the same trap of making white women stand in for all women. Every clone they find, whether it’s the Ukrainian Helena or the Columbian Camilla, has Tatiana Maslany’s face, and while I know this is unavoidable, it also makes it feel as though the show’s explicit labeling of “all women,” as opposed to “the Leda clones,” means that the suffering and evolution of “all” women really only referred to white women. Add this to the fact that all the characters of color in the show were working either for white characters or there to help white characters, and it’s again not a great look for a show that’s supposedly intersectional and stands for all women.
Saika: The show did at least get into some interesting territory across the scope of female sexuality, motherhood, and reproductive rights. It’s revealed that a formative part of Helena’s abuse in her past monastery happened because she accidentally witnessed one of the nuns masturbating – when caught, the nun, ashamed of her own sexual desires, pushes that shame onto Helena and torments her for having seen her “sinful” behavior. It’s shortly after this that Helena is sent to Tomas, and it’s no wonder that Helena then grows up with a skewed view of her own body and physical pleasure. That said, it’s frustrating that the show did not unpack that view more by showing us that it’s not shameful for women to behave sexually or seek physical pleasure. Aside from some shot-as-comedy scenes of Alison and Donnie’s marital bed and the occasional PG-13 Cophine scene, it never really touched on this.
That said, it did do much better in terms of portraying motherhood and reproductive autonomy. As we’ve discussed many times before, one of the ongoing themes of Orphan Black is that there’s not a specific way to be a good mother except to love your children and do what’s best for them, and this holds true right through the end of the show. Alison is the most stereotypical mom of the bunch, but she would do anything to protect her kids and to keep them out of the drama and danger of Clone Club. Siobhan pulls out all the black market stops in pursuit of a way to make her children safe, and ends up giving her life to do so. Sarah was a teen mom, but despite her struggles with parenting and her clashes with Kira, she still tries to put her daughter first and do what’s best for her. Helena dotes on her two (oh my god so fat and cute) baby boys despite the fact that they were the product of rape and despite being hunted and abused throughout her pregnancy. And when in the epilogue Sarah admits that she still suffers from feelings of inadequacy about her motherhood, her sestras are quick to point out their own imperfections and to remind Sarah that they’re all just flawed human beings trying their best.
And the show didn’t just show us many kinds of mothers; it also embraced discussions of reproductive choice and the societal pressures relating to motherhood that women face. In the last episodes, we see a flashback of Sarah and Siobhan outside a Planned Parenthood as Sarah decides whether she wants to have an abortion. We know she’s had one in the past, so it’s unclear whether this will be the time she chooses to terminate or if it will be the pregnancy that resulted in Kira. We return to this moment of choice several times as Sarah makes the decision, and Siobhan, in her brusque motherly way, promises to support her no matter what. Ultimately Sarah decides to have the baby, but presumably this respect for her own agency is what later makes her comfortable seeking an abortion when she does feel that’s the right choice. This is framed against the scenes of Helena’s labor and birth, juxtaposing the way two very different women chose motherhood despite the potential of adversity (and, especially in Helena’s case, the circumstances under which she became pregnant). And while the clones were sterile by design, the sterility of the other clones gave us space to talk about being female in the absence of motherhood as well. Rachel may feel incomplete without the ability to have children, but because there are so many other viewpoints represented, it doesn’t feel like she’s a stand-in for all women. Alison couldn’t conceive, so she adopted – an important and oft-ignored way to be a mother, and is no less a mother for having not pushed her kids out of her vag. Cosima doesn’t particularly want any kids, but still feels the societal pressures that she’s doing womanhood wrong for being childless. In a show where the big bad ends up being “The Patriarchy,” it’s essential that we see these different issues regarding reproductive rights, fertility, and motherhood being addressed, and the final scene where it did so was so Pure and Good I just wanted to high five all of the Tatiana Maslanys involved.
Luce: In the end, Orphan Black used its clones to ask the fundamental question of what it means to be human and what to do with that humanity. Neolution and Dyad never considered the clones to be humans, but as viewers, we’ve felt their humanity for five seasons and we’re thrilled to see not just the end of their Leda story, but their continued choices and self-expression for their journey into the rest of their lives. In this, the show succeeded brilliantly.
Buuuuut, on the other hand, there were a bunch of loose threads at the end that seem weird to gloss over. So there aren’t any consequences for killing Westmoreland and Coady and just like, leaving some bodies in the basement? No one wants to find the clones or interview them about their parts in the story? There aren’t any wide-ranging repercussions for taking down
racism and the patriarchy Neolution and all their medical research? How is Alison explaining away Helena living with her, and will I ever learn what the doctors at the hospital think of a “Mrs. Hendrix” who changes hair color and accents continuously???
Stinekey: Yeah, and I wish they would have done more with Kira’s magical powers plotline. Even if they didn’t want to explain it, I wished the writers would have given Kira something more to do than relay another clone’s emotions.
Saika: Also, lol, what happened to Cal?
Luce: Iceland floated off the Earth and into Westeros, and he was never seen or heard from again.
Saika: Laffs and loose ends aside, it was a pleasure to have been able to watch a show that was for the most part excellent and which was able to end gracefully on its own terms rather than courting cancellation (cough, Hannibal) or staying alive well past its prime (cough, Supernatural). I speak for everyone in saying that I’ll miss this cast of characters in the future, and I hope Tatiana et al. go on to do even more amazing things.
Hear more from Lady Saika on Character Reveal, the podcast she cohosts with BrothaDom!