Wednesday, June 24, 2015

RECAP: Orphan Black 3x10 - In Which My Feelings Have Feelings

I was actually planning on today's recap being Game of Thrones, so that we could all then fall back into the embracing arms of Orphan Black as a palate cleanser, but I figured out something way more fun than that, so instead let's talk about Orphan Black today and sob together that we don't get more episodes and touching family moments for a whole sad year.

This whole season of Orphan Black has been, like I said a couple times now, not just about family but about the unexpected expansion of our family. While the first season is about discovering you even have a family, and the second season is about coming to grips with who you are and where you came from, the third season has been about taking the life you've been given and embracing it wholeheartedly.

I mean, the character arcs we've seen this season are all astounding. Sarah is a completely different person not just from who she was in the very first episode of the show, but from who she was in the middle of this season. She's grown so much as a person, but especially as a mother. 

Alison is a rock now, as opposed to her former status as a particularly slippery pile of jello. Helena has gone from the sister everyone greeted with trepidation to the heart of their quirky family unity. Heck, even Cosima has changed and grown, finally coming to recognize how her choices have led her to the place she's at and to come to grips with that.

Obviously Orphan Black is a show about family, but it's also a show about redefining what family means. Last season we ended on that spectacular dance party in Felix's loft, a happy moment that was just the four sisters, Felix, and Kira. All the people in the world that they felt they could really truly trust. Whereas this season we ended out on a dinner party, the best dinner party, full of friends and family and all the people we love. The clones, I'm sorry, sestras have been through a lot this season, and it's so refreshing to see how it's brought them all much closer together.

I talked about this a long time ago (in an article that wasn't particularly well written), but I've found the biggest difference between fiction written for women and fiction written for men, typically, is how the relationships evolve over time. See, in male driven fiction, we often see a really high attrition rate of the male protagonists relationships. Gregory House keeps driving people away because he won't change and is horrible. Nothing good can ever really happen to a male superhero so eventually all of their friends and family desert them. Harry Dresden has the most miserable life out of everyone in the world. And so on.

This happens because the writers need a way to raise the stakes as the story goes along, and for whatever reason they always seem to fall back on this: the removal of our hero's ties to society. It's very rare for a story to actually talk about men who build communities around themselves. Very rare and very necessary.

Fiction written for women, however, does seem to acknowledge the bonds of community more. Shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Parks and Recreation (and tons of others) start out with the female lead seemingly isolated, but then show over the progression of seasons how she builds a family and community around herself. 

Heck, Parks and Rec ended their run with what was essentially a big sloppy kiss to Leslie's relationships, and Buffy ended with a full subversion of the idea that anyone fights alone. In other words, these are stories about women who need people and are no weaker for it.

So, with that having been said, it's easy to see how Orphan Black fits into this canon of female oriented fiction that focuses on the creation of community rather than its destruction. Sarah Manning is no Walter White - she's grown and changed into a woman capable of bringing together the people she loves, forgiving them and loving them, and taking the circumstances of her life and making them better. I think the world needs a lot more of that, and I'm so happy this show exists.

But eventually I have to stop stalling and actually recap the damn show, so, at long last, here's what happens in the Orphan Black season finale.

As per usual, let's start at the little stuff and work our way in. When last we checked up on Alison, she was gearing up for an election for school trustee. The stakes are high (to her) because if her rival candidate, Marci Coates, wins, she'll put their neighborhood in another school district with lower property values and a worse public school. Alison will not stand for this. Literally the entire season has been about how Alison will not stand for this. She started dealing drugs to make sure this wouldn't happen, okay?

Which means that in Alison's world, this episode is a big "flipping" deal. It's election day and that means she has to stop at all the polls and canvas, as well as drive around in a giant school bus with her face on it and talk into a megaphone. I'm just guessing, but this seems like her dream day.

The sound you just heard was my heart exploding.
But Alison's hilarious election hijinks are largely overshadowed by what's going on at home. While she and Donnie are out rallying the vote, Helena is back at the house enjoying their "gift" to her, and my personal favorite part of the episode. 

It's Jesse! Helena's tow-truck driving boyfriend! Someone actually tracked him down and made him drive to some random suburb and clearly didn't tell him why just to make Helena smile! Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa, let me drown in my feelings.

No, seriously, I can't overstate how cute and wonderful this plotline is. I was a little apprehensive at first because I worried that Helena might have oversold their connection, built it up in her head, and that when she finally saw Jesse again he was going to be weirded out by her or dismissive or something bad. 

I should have trusted the show, honestly, because Jesse is none of these things. He sees Helena and his face lights up. He's thrilled. They run and embrace and it's the freaking cutest thing. I screamed a little. Okay, I screamed a lot.

So while Alison and Donnie are out making nice and leaving a big public trail for anyone watching, Helena and Jesse are folded up into the cap of his towtruck, catching up. She gives him her update - held in a secret prison, escaped with her sister, has a new mother, pregnant with science babies, making soap and teaching children how to kill people, etc - and Jesse is still not weirded out by her. Then they make out and I scream more, then they get ready to do the do and I scream a lot, then the phone rings and I howl in anguish.

That's about how the scene went.

The phone call, which is very important, is from Sarah and Felix, who are back in the states, Kendall Malone in tow, and getting down to business. After they get her situated in a safehouse that Art found, covered in creepy plastic sheeting and all prepared in case they have to destroy a dead body, Sarah and Felix head out to track down Gracie and Mark. The lovebirds are their last link to finding Castor before it finds them, and also Felix is a little pissed his honorary baby sis did them wrong.

So they bust in on Gracie and Mark, but their high horses don't last all that long. Gracie points out that she's sorry for what she did, but she just wanted to spend a few months with her husband. His last few months, probably, before he dies. They just wanted to be together.

Not even the righteous indignation of Sarah and Felix can stand up to that, so they offer them the chance at redemption: tell us what Castor is planning and help us stop them. For the good of all of us.

That information is how Sarah and sisters find out that Rudy, the Castor clone on the brink of neurological destruction, is going to try to kill Alison. She's the only visible clone right now, so she's a target. Rudy's stalking their bus as it drives around town, but, as opposed to other times we've faced problems like this, the clones are united and they're not letting Rudy get to one of their own. Alison and Donnie lead him back to their house and then into the garage, where Helena has been lying in wait. Jesse is nowhere to be seen, presumably because no one wanted a witness for this, but you have to admit that he would have totally been into it. I mean, come on.

Helena and Rudy have the smackdown dragout fight they've been itching for since they met. Unfortunately, it's really not a fair fight at all. Helena is at her peak. Well-rested, happy, well-fed, and ready to protect the people she loves. And Rudy is falling apart. He's "winding down like toy." Helena can barely find the stomach to hurt him, and eventually the scene finds her just lying next to him on the floor while he dies of his defect, not her hands.

The moment is poignant not just because Rudy and Helena are clearly the clones with the most connection, both having been bred and raised as killers, but because Helena recognizes that connection but also doesn't allow it to excuse Rudy's actions. He tells her they're the same, and she replies that they're not. He's a rapist. So while she's sorry about what's been done to him, that doesn't excuse his actions taken freely. And I love the show for giving us this.

Meanwhile, Delphine has set up a meeting with Ferdinand to get him off her back. See, with Kendall Malone in their possession, the clones are in a really strong bargaining position. They have both the Castor and Leda originals. Since all Ferdinand really wants is DNA samples, they're prepared to give him those, in exchange for some concessions. At first he's not willing to give in, but after learning that Sarah is the one he nearly slept with in the season opener, Ferdinand is quite intrigued.

Delphine, however, is getting curious about the web of lies pulling ever closer around her. She wants "Rachel's" comatose body moved somewhere else before Ferdinand discovers that Rachel is alive, but her touching moment with "Rachel" is torn open when she looks down at "Rachel's" hands and see's Crystal's manicure. Which leads to Crystal waking up, freaking out, and Delphine realizing that Dr. Nealon has been playing her like a harp all along.

Obviously Delphine has him grabbed by security and taken to the super creepy room with all the wall screens - where Duncan committed suicide last season - so she can interrogate him. What she finds is really surprising. 

Delphine discovers that all along both Castor and Leda have been manipulated by an outside force. Yes, even Topside is having its strings pulled. By whom? Apparently, by neolutionists. All along they've been looking for a way to use the clones for their own benefit, and now they can. Because now the neolutionists have Rachel.

We see Rachel in her new room, the prison where she's being kept, and while it's very posh and nice, it's also decidedly a prison. Her eye has been fixed, but more than fixed, it's been upgraded. She has a bionic eye*, she's stuck in a room full of weird homages to evolution, and everything is terrifying.

Delphine can see that on the screen, but pretty quickly the terrifying is in the room with her too. Dr. Nealon, though trussed up and ostensibly without weapons, tells Delphine that she has to choose right now if she'll be a neolutionist or not. When Delphine says "not", Dr. Nealon goes a tiny bit berserk and starts bleeding at the mouth while a cyborg bug crawl out of the roof of his mouth and seems to try to attack Delphine? So she shoots him, which is a good plan, and he tells her she'll be dead by morning. No!

Anyway, Delphine is quick on the uptake and lets Ferdinand know that Rachel is still alive somewhere, and also that neolution is back in the game. He freaks out and kills his goon, who is apparently neolution, and the whole show devolves into crazies.

Prior to this point (man this is a hard episode to recap!), Kendall was getting more and more comfortable with her cloned "little sisters". First with Cosima and the charm brigade explaining that they really need her DNA because Cos is sick, then with Sarah just being so badass and competent around her, Kendall has really loosened up.

She even goes so far as to tell Mrs. S and Sarah the real story of what happened with Ethan Duncan. He did take her DNA and cell samples mostly without her consent back in the day, but he later tracked her down. He explained that he really had been cloning her, that his project had been corrupted, and that he suspected even his wife had been turned to neolution. He then told her about one clone that had gone missing in the UK foster system: Sarah.

So Kendall Malone is the one who sent Sarah to live with Mrs. S. She decided that her one great act as a mother could be giving her daughter a child of her own blood to raise. Kendall is the one who killed Siobhan's husband, so she felt she owed her a child, as the best thing she could do with her rotten life.

And that explains so much. So freaking much about Sarah and Mrs. S and the whole history of the show. I'm really glad to know that was the answer all along. It wasn't a coincidence, it was a gift. And it also means that Sarah Manning, who had so little family all along, who was an orphan, turns out to have a bigger family than she ever could have imagined as a child. She has so many sisters and brothers, nieces and nephews, a mum, and even a grandmum to look at. For a girl with no ties to this world, who no one would miss if she died, Sarah has come an incredibly long way.

But before she can bask in this, Sarah has to deal with one more little thread: Dr. Coady. They need to fool her into thinking that Rudy has done his job successfully, so Sarah roughs up Mark until it's hard to see his lack of scars, puts him in a hoody, and makes him call his mother to lie. He does, and it's clearly hard on him, but it works. Dr. Coady shows up at the warehouse with an army of men, only to find she's been given the wrong address. And as Ferdinand slips in and genially makes her acquaintance, it's not hard to assume that she's taken care of for the moment.

Which brings us to the best part of the episode (after Jesse showing up, that is): the clones and family dinner party! Yup, now that all (most, really) of the loose ends have been tied up, the sisters can take a minute and celebrate with the people they love. 

The table is covered in gorgeous food, everyone is smiling and chatting and giving toasts, and the capper comes when Alison answers the phone and finds out that she won the school election! In this moment, everything is perfect. 

Mrs. S has her daughters with her and is finally reconciled to her mother. Felix, the boy who always wanted a family and to belong, has more sisters than he can count and they all love him very much. Helena is surrounded by people who value her and genuinely want her around. Cosima has people who will care for her and help her and keep her safe. Alison has a family that loves her just as she is, no need to make herself better or perform. 

Donnie gets to be the man he always wanted to be but didn't know how and gets to do it supported by women he's happy and proud to call family. Art knows he's keeping Beth's memory alive by helping these women he's come to care for. And Sarah? Sarah is, for one of the first times in her life, completely at peace.

Excuse me, I need a minute.

The one damper on the scene is Delphine, who stops by to talk to Cosima really quickly before going again. She doesn't have to go - Cosima says that they set her a plate - but she knows her clock is ticking. Nealon might be dead, but if neolution really is everywhere, then her time is almost up. So she uses to it to do what matters. She tells Cosima that she loves her and that she loves all of her sisters. She says goodbye. And, in return, Cosima forgives her for the past season of hurt and mistrust. She apologizes for asking Delphine to make really hard decisions and then for blaming her for them.

But it's not enough. Delphine leaves, after one last heartbreaking line, and goes to finish her business. She also goes to see Shay, apologizes for her terror act, and just tells the truth. She won't stand between Shay and Cosima anymore. She thinks Shay should tell Cosima the whole truth now. And she even gives Shay a card with Cosima's clone number on it. Who is Shay really? At least now we know that Delphine trusts her...

Then Delphine goes back to DYAD, but before she's even out of the parking lot, she hears the steps behind her, turns, and faces her attacker. We never get to see who it is, but she does, and she dies (presumably) with a bullet to the heart.

Goodbye, Delphine. You're amazing and your hair was always on point. I'll miss your terrifying pragmatism and willingness to be ruthless when needed. But most of all I'll miss the clones having someone like you watching over them.

Back with Rachel in her creepy room, things get even weirder. The door opens and Charlotte comes in. Since we last saw Charlotte with her mother, Marion Bowles, this is distressing. Is Marion a secret neolutionist?

And then Charlotte tells Rachel that "you're my new mommy," and that's somehow even worse. I guess Marion is out of the picture. Instead, Rachel gets the shock of a lifetime as the second person through the door is none other than Susan Duncan, her mother. So this should be a totally not bizarre and terrifying family reunion, right?

Finally, we actually do get a not bizarre and not terrifying family reunion when Sarah and Mrs. S bring Kendall to Iceland. Cal's contacts can keep her safe there, and this gives her the chance to meet Kira, her granddaughter/niece. Everyone is all smiles, but the best moment is the one where Sarah just flings herself off her snowmobile to get to Kira, then lies in the snow with her, too happy to even move.

Considering that Sarah used to be the kind of mum who would ignore her daughter just to get some petty revenge, this is a huge change. And a welcome one. You know that old saying that you find out who you are in hot water? You either become hard, like an egg, or soft, like a potato? Well Sarah has proven once more that she gets soft, and I'm so grateful for it.

This might be the end of this season of Orphan Black, my dear sweet chickadees, but I think we can all agree that this show is going to be around for a long time to come.

*Dr. Leekie stated in the first season that he thought the ideal human would have blonde hair and one white eye. Rachel already had blonde hair - which was dyed - and now she has the white eye too. Interesting and probably not a coincidence. But I think the really compelling bit is how this calls into question why Rachel's hair is blonde. We figured before that it was a mark of her superiority over her fellow clones. But that might not be it. Maybe it's blonde because of Leekie? Just a thought, but a really intriguing one.


  1. Sarah Manning is no Walter White - she's grown and changed into a woman capable of bringing together the people she loves, forgiving them and loving them

    Equally importantly, accepting and earning forgiveness *from* them. (Something we also don't really see with the Walter Whites and Gregory House's of the world). I like how it's about both the giving and taking of emotional qualities, not just one-way streets of redeemers or redeemees. If that makes any sense at all, which I'm not sure it does reading it back. Let's say mutually supporting growth.

    I was a little apprehensive at first because I worried that Helena might have oversold their connection, built it up in her head, and that when she finally saw Jesse again he was going to be weirded out by her or dismissive or something bad.

    So had I. I was even afraid of it without worrying about Jesse being mean, because Jesse wouldn't have to be mean to think of it as just a brief connection with a weird girl lonelier than she was letting on. But it's wonderful either way.

    And wonderful that now her update is her real life, instead of an imaginary one cobbled together from the lives of her sisters. Although I can't help wondering how much of it Jesse believes.

    After they get her situated in a safehouse that Art found, covered in creepy plastic sheeting and all prepared in case they have to destroy a dead body

    I'm afraid to ask if that's how they phrased it to Kendall. I'm afraid mostly because the I'd have to decide whether I hope they did or didn't.

    Last season we ended on that spectacular dance party in Felix's loft, a happy moment that was just the four sisters, Felix, and Kira. ... Whereas this season we ended out on a dinner party, the best dinner party, full of friends and family and all the people we love.

    Last season was all about the clones fighting for their bodies. DYAD's attempts to grab Sarah, and using Cosima's illness to cage her, the Proletheans' ongoing creepshow with Helena, even Alison in rehab. So their moment of joy *had* to be one where they got to revel in their bodies for themselves.

    This time - well, their bodies have still been on the line, because their bodies have always been on the line - but they've been fighting for their connections too, against forces that would rip them apart. And that struggle affects the outer circle as much as the inner. So this time, the joy has to put them all together, clone and ally alike, where they can all revel in each other.

    Instead, Rachel gets the shock of a lifetime as the second person through the door is none other than Susan Duncan, her mother. So this should be a totally not bizarre and terrifying family reunion, right?

    So next season, I guess the clone club will have to decide whether or not to save Rachel - to be the sisters to her that she won't (maybe can't) be to them. That'll be interesting - family brings obligation as well, so will they decide they have an obligation to help her in spite of everything? (Which would also revisit the question of telling Crystal the truth).

    And I also wonder if there's a Project Pollux somewhere out there. (Maybe that's what the cybernetics are).

    1. I totally get what you mean. Sarah has grown not just into a character capable of being ashamed of her actions, but also into a character who can seek redemption for them and get it. She can become a woman who is trusted and respected, which she never would have imagined for herself. She's also become really humble, which is a very unusual direction for a character to go.

      I just want more Jesse in general. I want scenes of him realizing how much of what she's told him is true, and him kind of freaking out but still thinking she's the best thing in the world. I want Sarah to give him the sisterly third degree and Donnie to be all imposing like he can beat Jesse up and Cal to show up and give him a pat on the back while S sits against the wall and cleans her rifle. Basically, I want the family to be a family to Jesse and for him to see how loved Helena is and want to be a part of it. BECAUSE OF FEELINGS.

      Mrs. S straight up told her mother they would kill her if she were uncooperative. Ah, Mrs. S. She has zero chill.

      You make a good point. This season the fight has been about choosing to stick together even when the world wants to break them apart, so the dinner scene is necessary. But it's also a wonderful callback to the season premiere, a moment when we get to see Helena's dreams completely realized into reality and I cried a little.

      I really hope that next season is about the sister deciding how to help Rachel and how to redeem her. Because Rachel needs it and because they need to come to terms with who she is to them. And because I think it would be a good way for them to take control of their lives, to take back the narrative.

      Damn, that would be cool. I'm down for a Project Pollux. And for more Crystal. Crystal is a wonderful sweetheart who is stuck somewhere in the DYAD building, presumably.

    2. Yeah, emotionally speaking, Helena is very easy to hurt, even if she's thankfully well past the point of assuming she deserves it. So it would be amusing in a scarysweet kind of way to see Jesse being vetted - but it needs Alison's intense gaze too, to be really thorough. Here's hoping he passes.

      Even if they can't redeem Rachel - even if they intend nothing more than putting her on a plane with a fake ID and saying never come back - it would be a nice touch if they decide they have to save her anyway, because she's still their sister.

  2. Harry Dresden has the most miserable life out of everyone in the world. And so on.

    Although strictly speaking, Elaine Mallory has his life only worse. Actually enthralled rather than threatened with it, hunted by the Council for years without anyone in power ready to sponsor her, no high-up entities taking an interest in her development (despite the likelihood she has the same special snowflake abilities as Harry), forced to hock herself to Faerie before said S.S.A's and without Mab's curiosity giving her the chance he had to set some terms, no holy knights to validate her, no newfound sibling, no tight circle of friends, no unique spirit of knowledge to help out. Her life is Harry's without the perks. (Which I suspect is why a lot of fans really hate her).

    1. Very valid. I don't actually know that much about the current state of the Dresden Files, because the whirlpool of suck in Harry's life made me not want to keep reading past book seven or so, but that is a really good point.

  3. Holy crap: Mrs S and Kira are genetically half-sisters!