Wednesday, June 3, 2015

RECAP: Orphan Black 3x06 - The Dignity of Her Choice


I said it about episode five, but it could just as easily be said here: this is the point in the season where Orphan Black picks up and kicks it into high gear, bringing together all of the themes and storylines and issues that they've been dealing with and forcing the clones to rely on each other. Everyone is being drawn more and more into the fold, which means fewer extraneous plotlines that barely relate to the rest of the story.

Fewer, but not none. This episode we got back to the Alison and Donnie drug dealing in suburbia show, and we enjoyed the quirky rom-com that is Cosima's romantic life. But we also got a tense and thrilling forty-five minutes in which Castor was finally shown for horror show it really is, sisters were reunited at long last, and somebody ate a scorpion. That's the kind of high quality storytelling I demand from this show, and I am very happy.

So, obviously the biggest plotline this episode was Sarah and the Castor boys, but we're going to work up to that by going in order of increasing relevance. Alison and Donnie, you're up first!

Their entrance this episode might go down as the most giffed scene in Orphan Black history, because there's something weird and wonderful about watching uber-white Donnie and Alison Hendrix frenetically twerking on their bed in their pastel underwear to a rap song. They fling around glitter and money and have the most epic dance of their lives...until little Gemma comes in and is scarred for life. Then they are reminded that in addition to their apparently booming drug business, they have two children that need to go to swimming practice.

Yes, it seems that all is going very well in the Hendrix household. They've paid off Ramon's debt to Jason and are still making a profit. Jason thinks this is a good time for them to get out of the game, but Alison and Donnie are insistent on taking this to the next level. They want to be full time drug dealers. Which seems like it should be out of character but absolutely is not.

In order to take their business "to the next level", though, they need a more legitimate front than selling soap from their garage.* Alison has a solution for that: Bubbles. Yeah, apparently soap was not a random choice for their cover business of choice. Alison's mother owns a bath and body works-style store in their town, and Alison and Donnie are proposing that they buy it so that Alison's mom can go retire. I hope this means we're going to get to see Alison's mom, because that woman must be amazingly crazy.

At any rate, Jason agrees. If they can secure the storefront, then they can go full time with their drug dealing. Done and done. Now Alison just has to beat Marci Coates and become School Trustee and she'll have everything she ever wanted. Because she wants really weird things.

Back in Toronto, Felix and Mrs. S are quietly fretting about where Sarah could have got to while also loudly fretting about Gracie. Poor Gracie. She's definitely not waltzing around the house in black fishnets anymore, preferring some sensible pajamas. 

And it's adorable/heartbreaking to see how she interacts with Felix and Mrs. S. She brings them tea and makes them food, not because she has to but because she has nothing else to do and she's used to caring for people in this way. It makes her uncomfortable to sit still for long and think about her life. Oh Gracie.

Also Felix and Mrs. S get a quick Skype chat in with Kira, who is loving Iceland. Kira is worried that her mom is mad at her - why else would Sarah miss the Skype call? But Felix and Mrs. S reassure her that mum is just busy. And then they worry some more. S' contacts have narrowed Castor's location down to Mexico's desert somewhere, but that's still inspecific, and Felix is getting antsy.

Still, there's nothing he can do except care for his newest foster sister. And that means bringing her into DYAD for testing. Obviously Gracie finds this super weird, since DYAD is her family's natural enemy**, but Delphine and Cosima are there to make sure it all goes well. They're pretty sure that whatever happened to her has something to do with her husband, Mark, and how they had sex that one time.

They think that because Delphine, furious that Cosima is out hooking up with her new girlfriend, has been snooping in their files and put together the information. Gracie's problem stems from a foreign protein that has entered her bloodstream somehow. That same protein was found in the brain of the Castor clone that Cosima illegally dissected a few episodes ago. Delphine's mad that Cosima didn't tell her about this, but she's really more mad about Cosima moving on so fast. Ah, women.

Anyway, they use this information to help Gracie. Using an ultrasound machine, they determine what has actually happened to her, and it's horrifying: the whatever she got from Mark has withered her ovaries. Gracie has effectively been sterilized, all for the crime of sleeping with her husband. Yikes.

This also adds a new shade of context to Gracie's actual feelings about her body. She wasn't all that upset about losing the child, and she admits that to some extent she finds her newfound sterility a relief. She was raised to have babies and be a wife. She's not as torn as someone else might be in this situation, but that doesn't mean she feels nothing.

But while all of this is shaking out downstairs in the lab, with Mrs. S, Cosima, and Delphine hovering over Gracie and finding out what's wrong, Felix and Scott are upstairs. Felix has decided to take matters into his own hands, and he knows there's at least one person at DYAD who must know where Sarah is. He's thinking of Rachel.

Rachel is, for the record, doing a lot better than she was, but that means very little when you're talking about traumatic brain injury. Her aphasia has lifted mostly to the point where she can talk pretty well, but her fine motor skills are still lacking. Felix comes into her room like a whirlwind of rage and frustrated grief and humiliates her in the hopes of making her talk. He doesn't actually hurt her, but considering how dearly Rachel holds her pride, it's not far off. He mocks her, taunts her, points out all the things she can no longer do. He drives her to tears and Rachel still can't answer his questions. She just doesn't know.

The visit, however, is not entirely in vain. Because as Scott is leaving, cleaning up behind himself because Scott is an adorable, wonderful man, he picks up a watercolor Rachel did. The watercolor is covered in the same weird symbols that he and Cosima have been puzzling over, the ones in Duncan's book. Could Rachel have the key to breaking the code after all?

Also, like I said before, things continue to progress with Cosima and Shay. It's all cute and stuff, but I still think Shay is hiding something. Maybe I'm paranoid, but this show has always borne out my paranoia in the past, sooo...

In the Mexican desert, meanwhile, Helena is free and out on her own, but for how long it's hard to say. She is in the middle of the desert, pregnant, and largely without resources. Also Pupok is still being a jerk to her and browbeating her to keep going. As we all know, Pupok is a split personality/hallucination who represents Helena's desire for autonomy and self-preservation. Pupok does not care at all about Sarah, it only cares about whether or not Helena will live. Pupok is not kind, just ruthless and determined to live.

So Helena has to decide who she is going to choose. Pupok and pure self-reliance? Or Sarah and the promise of family? 

She eats Pupok and chooses Sarah. Which, admittedly, means that she's going to have to go back for her sister and also evade the patrols that have been sent out to look for her, but as we've learned every time, don't underestimate a determined Helena. And don't get between her and her sestra.

Helena's change of heart is a really good thing for Sarah because Sarah is not having a nice day. She is absolutely tripping, hallucinating Kira and Charlotte and all sorts of people while she hovers close to death. Close to death because, in the absence of Parsons or Helena to experiment on, Dr. Coady has decided to promote Sarah from leverage to lab rat. She injected Sarah with a couple pints of Rudy's blood - in a traumatic sequence that Sarah can only kind of remember, which is very rapey - and is cataloguing their effects.

Logically, based on the other evidence, the blood should transmit the pathogen to Sarah and she should be sterilized. But Sarah has fought off this protein before - it's the same protein that causes the other clones to be infertile and have serious health problems. In men it causes a neurological defect. In women, it seems, it goes after their soft tissues, killing first their reproductive capabilities then them. There's a not very subtle point in there, for the record, about the way society values people. I don't think I have to spell it out for you.

So, Dr. Coady is seeing if Sarah can fight it off again. And she can, sort of, but the fever her body produces in order to burn away the bad blood just might kill her before the rogue protein can. Paul is furious that she's being treated this way, and continues his investigation of the Castor project and what Dr. Coady must be hiding from him. Sarah isn't sure where Paul stands, which makes sense because we've never been sure about that guy, but Paul himself is on a quest for answers.

And he has an ally. Mark sees what's happening too and he doesn't like it. Mark has been removed from the project for a while, like Paul, while he was in deep cover. He doesn't like what he's come back to find. So he helps Paul uncover the truth. And the truth is gross.

The truth is that Dr. Coady knows full well that the defect is sexually transmitted, and is well aware that it causes sterility. The reason she has the boys write the names of their sexual partners in log books and keep hair samples is because she's field testing it. She's going to use the defect as a weapon, a form of preventative action, to neutralize armies before they can even be born. It's horrifying and way too close to actual things that have happened in history.

Paul is horrified, as is Mark, so they call in the big guns. They seize control of the base and put Dr. Coady and Miller (the only remaining bad Castor clones on base) in lockdown. Rudy is out in the desert hunting Helena, but Paul's bosses in Arlington tell him not to worry about Rudy. Reinforcements are coming.

Reinforcement's aren't coming, naturally, because Arlington likes the idea of sterilizing future armies too. So Rudy gets a call and goes back to liberate the base and save his mother and brother. Of course.

Sarah is, for the record, completely out for all of this. She's in her own little fever version of heaven, where Beth Childs sits in a kitchen full of Helena's drawings and rages as Sarah for taking over her life. Beth is a manifestation of Sarah's inability to save her sisters, and so it's incredibly healing to see Beth tell Sarah that, for all her flaws, she couldn't have saved Beth even if she wanted to. No one could. Beth's choice to end her own life was her choice. And no one can change that.

It's sort of like that scene from Captain America: The First Avenger where Peggy tells Steve to stop beating himself up over Bucky's death. "Allow him the dignity of his choice," she says. Stop trying to put it all on yourself, because by doing that you are assuming that you could have chosen better. Let Beth have her choice. In a life where everything was manipulated and fake, Beth's suicide was a terrible tragedy and it was no one's fault but her own.

Beth also insists that Sarah stop looking for a reason for why all of this has happened, and "Start asking who." Who is doing this? Who is pulling the strings? Who who who? That's the only way forward, Sarah, now wake up!

Sarah does wake up and is happy to find that Paul is once more on her side. He's realized that reinforcements aren't coming, and while Mark goes to his room and plays dumb (he's crippled and has no other way out), Paul escorts Sarah to an escape tunnel. 

Only before he can get in it, he has to fight Miller. Miller stabs him and he breaks Miller's neck, leaving Paul mortally wounded and determined to make sure Sarah gets away free. He locks the gate behind her and walks back towards the lab, uttering the immortal words, "It was never Beth I loved."

Then Paul goes to the lab and gets himself shot by Dr. Coady. You can tell it's intentional because as he goes limp he drops a grenade, showing he knew he was dying and just wanted enough time to tell her what he really thought. He wants her to cure the boys. Not to experiment, just to cure the boys. Dr. Coady says no, and then she loses all of her research, all the data and files and the Johanssen child's bones. It all explodes and Paul is gone.

In the tunnel, Helena finds Sarah and rescues her. They escape together. And that's where we leave it.

So, like I said, everything is kicking into high gear. But I think more than anything this episode was about the things we will do for the people we love. Felix is willing to torment a woman who is very ill because he thinks it can help his sister. Helena is willing to literally devour her selfish instincts. And Paul is willing to die to save the woman he loves.

It's also worth pointing out that we so rarely see love like Paul's on screen. Sarah doesn't love him back, nor does she claim to. Their relationship has always been one-sided, and the show doesn't demonize Sarah for not loving Paul. He loved her, and that's okay. She is more in love with Cal, and that's okay too. It's a remarkably healthy iteration of this trope (the wounded warrior dying for his lady love). I appreciate that.

But mostly this episode was just high octane insanity. I have little doubt that the next one, which I will recap on Friday, will be the same.


*The same garage that also houses a dead body. Just a reminder.

**Presumably alongside synthetic fabrics.

2 comments:

  1. She wasn't all that upset about losing the child, and she admits that to some extent she finds her newfound sterility a relief. She was raised to have babies and be a wife. She's not as torn as someone else might be in this situation, but that doesn't mean she feels nothing.

    So we get to be simultaneously a bit relieved for her, and heartbroken at what her life has been that this could be a cause for relief. Poor Gracie.

    There's a not very subtle point in there, for the record, about the way society values people. I don't think I have to spell it out for you.

    Indeed. It could be said that between Alison, Helena, and Beth - as well as Sarah being the "most feral mutt [Mrs S] ever took in" - that the Leda clones have a predisposition to mental health issues too, if not as bad. But the point stands.

    Their relationship has always been one-sided, and the show doesn't demonize Sarah for not loving Paul.

    Nor does Paul really deserve it. He's continually signed on with the clones' tormentors, hoping that he can somehow mitigate the horribleness of what they do, and continually shocked and appalled when it doesn't, before trying again. He always confused mere involvement with actual worthwhile protection. So I grant he dies a good death, but he lived a pretty weak life.

    Helena is willing to literally devour her selfish instincts.

    I said on a post of my own that if Helena's psyche ever makes it to some sort of wholeness, it'll be because of Sarah. But I wasn't expecting it to be as literal as that. I'm also amused because most people would crush the thing under these circumstances; but Helena won't pass up even the weirdest chance for food.

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    1. I think that, out of all of the characters on this show, I identify the most with Gracie. Sort of a "there, but for the grace of God, go I." Not that my family was ever quite that religious, but we knew people who were. My parents were extremely unusual in their reluctance to let my sister or I go to the local Christian college and stay in our hometown, become teachers, do the normal nice Christian girl thing. It's easy to look at Gracie and think, "This could have been my life. Being relieved that I couldn't have children because it meant not being chained to a life I never wanted but which was always forced upon me." So, definitely poor Gracie.

      Yes! I like that they allow it all to be ambiguous. Paul's death doesn't redeem him, it doesn't make what he did to Beth okay, it doesn't mean he was a great guy after all. It means he did a good thing, at least one good thing that we know of, and that it will have to be enough now. But I really respect them for not making it a cure-all.

      Oh Helena. My precious murder child.

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