Orphan Black ended this summer, and in the finale, we got to see a little of what most of the clones were doing post-big battle. Sarah, Helena, Cosima, and Alison all came together at Alison’s house to discuss their experiences with motherhood and sisterhood; a fitting cap to a series that held these concepts at its core. Another clone, Rachel Duncan, wasn’t involved in this healing conversation — she hovered on the outside, giving Felix some information about the remaining Leda clones, but stopping short of going in the house and joining her sisters. This was probably as much as could be expected — throughout the series, Rachel was undoubtedly an antagonist, one who did terrible things to her sisters despite being a victim herself. She’s a layered, complex female character who really got to epitomize Brooklyn Nine-Nine‘s “cool motive, still murder” test, which is a status usually given only to white male characters. Still, part of me was hoping that Rachel could have been given a just a little more development than what she got in canon. Fortunately, today’s fanfic does just that.
I found Rachel Duncan to be one of the show’s most fascinating characters probably from the moment when her adoptive father, Ethan Duncan, told her she didn’t deserve him and killed himself in front of her. Or perhaps it was earlier that season, when Rachel revealed that she was very well aware that she was also an experimental subject, and was just dealing with the ensuing dehumanization in the only way she knew how. Wherever it began, Rachel always seemed to me one of the most tragic characters of the show. Even Helena eventually broke free of her captors and brainwashing and found a home with her sestras; Rachel was torn from a family who loved her and grew up in captivity, and her upbringing led her to making nastier and nastier decisions that would eventually alienate her from even the possibility of connecting with the other clones. The series ends with Rachel helping the clones, but then washing her hands of them, claiming that she was at last free to be herself. But would that really be the case?
She sits down at the bar and the man she’s meeting turns to her and asks: “So, what do you do?”
“Survive, mostly,” she says, and takes a sip of her cocktail. Oh, too sweet. She can’t drink gin anymore – drinking two bottles to anesthetize the pain of self-surgery will do that – and she has been steadily working her way down cocktail menus. Not this one, though. Never again.
“I feel that,” he says, and laughs. Awkward husk of a sound. She can’t see him out of her glass eye, but she can imagine: the sweaty fold of his hands, the pure nervous wanting radiating from him in waves. Rachel can do anything, now. If she wanted to, she could put down this drink and turn to him and say: There have been a number of men in my life. All of them were paid to report on me except one, and that one tried to choke me to death and then was shot by my sister’s mother. He killed her. My sister blames me for it. I think I might have loved him, but I don’t know if that was just blood loss from when I carved out my own eye. It was a camera, actually. My eye. A gift from my third father. What do I do now? I don’t know. I used to be someone but now I’m not anything. What do you do? What is your name?
“What do you do?” she echoes, and none of the rest of it. He tells her, and she keeps a smile on her face the whole time. She drinks and drinks until her mouth is a numb sweet shape that could press against his mouth. She could go home with him. They’d exchange numbers. They would date, holding hands, moving in together. Eventually Rachel would stop waking up in the middle of the night to reread her own file. Maybe someday she would be happy with this completely uninteresting man.
He touches her hand, at one point in the conversation. She lets him. Imagine if she poured the cocktail over her head and her whole head became sweet and numb enough for her to rest it on his shoulder. Imagine if, at the end of things, something in Rachel’s life could be easy.
She sleeps with him, because she doesn’t know what else to do. He gives her his number. She does not call it.
the sun that’s setting in the east realizes that post-finale Rachel is now free in all the ways she’d always wanted and sets out to question what exactly she’d do with that freedom. The answer is complicated. Similar to Sarah, Rachel finds that she’s not sure who she is without the constant intrigue and danger of Dyad and Neolution to define herself against. She doesn’t know very simple things like how to cook or do laundry, and she has no direction in life and no one to lean on to help her find said direction. So she wanders throughout Europe, visiting places with no clones and circling back to her old house and her mother’s grave. Eventually, she makes it back to America, and finally, Toronto.
For me, Orphan Black only clearly showed Rachel as a victim in the last season, when we got to see her backstory as a self-aware child subject; before that, the show hinted at Rachel’s traumatic backstory but let her be seen only as a dangerous villain. When Alison presented Rachel with the head of her mentor Aldous Leekie, when Sarah stabbed her in the eye to escape her clutches; we were meant to see all of those moments as victories for the main clones over a deserving antagonist. the sun that’s setting in the east doesn’t absolve Rachel of any of her actions, but the author does go into detail about Rachel’s mental state (with all the suicide ideation, dehumanization, and trauma that implies) and shares her struggles to become a real person and not 779H41, the clone, making her a person you can empathize with in the process. The fic doesn’t give Rachel an easy reunion with Sarah and the rest of her sisters — like the show made clear, there’s too much between them for a nice and simple ending. But it hints at the possibility of a future where Rachel, too, can be happy, and makes clear the work that it would take to make that future happen.
You can find the sun that’s setting in the east here on the AO3! It’s only 6k words, and I think it’s a necessary coda to the series. Go check it out today!