Orphan Black: 204 “Governed as It Were by Chance” Review
Reviewed by Adam James Cuthbert.
Orphan Black occasionally reminds the audience that the central conceit of the show can be viewed from the perspective of a nature/nurture thought-experiment, asking the audience themselves to evaluate their own lives, the decisions made for and by them, and how their lives might have been shaped. In the context of this week’s episode, as the origins of Project LEDA are further unearthed, the possibility is raised that Sarah and Rachel’s respective upbringings were essentially interchangeable.
Following her rescue from Rachel’s assistant (and apparent monitor) Daniel’s clutches (who’s also sexually involved with Rachel, similar to the other featured subject-monitor couplings: Beth and Paul, Cosima and Delphine, Alison and Donnie), Sarah eventually infiltrates Rachel’s private quarters. Per her “elite” status within the Dyad Institute, Rachel resides at the Cameron Arms, “executive suites”. Rachel was raised by Susan and Richard Duncan, British geneticists, who are identified by Sarah (and corroborated by Cosima) as the scientists in the LEDA photograph. The Duncans studied molecular biology at Cambridge University, before joint-publishing a paper on recombinant DNA in 1974. They collaborated on several more papers until 1976, whereupon they disappeared from public knowledge, working on Project LEDA, until they were incinerated in a lab explosion that drew media attention. (Whether the explosion was an accident, or perhaps sabotage, remains to be seen.) Cosima reveals to Sarah that Amelia carried her for the Duncans. After Amelia hid Sarah, the Duncans ended up with Rachel instead. Sarah uncovers a veritable trove of the past in Rachel’s apartment: video tapes, variously labelled (e.g. “Cambridge 1991”, “Rachel’s Graduation/School Trip”, and “Rachel’s Halloween”), are stored in drawers. What purpose the tapes serve is unclear as-of-yet.
Cosima provides the audience with a psychological profile on Rachel that stimulates intrigue, and depth, in Rachel’s character. In an act of juxtaposition, Sarah watches a video of the young Rachel playing with the parents that cause her to voice doubt Cosima’s judgements about Rachel’s upbringing: namely, that she was raised without any emotional attachment whatsoever. Cosima suggests that Rachel enjoyed the prerogative in her childhood of being the only self-aware clone, which led her to develop a “very profound sense of narcissism.” Cosima says: “She probably thinks she’s elite.” (This has been justified by the first episode of the series; Rachel’s statement: “Nobody lays hands on me”, for example.) Furthermore, every aspect of her life would have been supervised and controlled, engineered for “one singular purpose”, to become “the perfect corporate leader, able to make decisions based solely on strategic advantage.” Rachel stands in contrast therefore to the other clones, who are influenced strongly by their emotions, as the personification of the phlegmatic corporate edifice.
The notion of a child being raised by a corporation is a thought-provoking one. Arguably, it has a relevance with our society today, as children become increasingly ‘educated’ by corporate marketing and technology from a younger age, and perhaps, in the future, emblematic of a certain corporate psychology. Cosima also diagnoses Rachel spiritually, thus offering a holistic analysis of the character. While physically she may have feelings for other human beings, on a purely instinctual/hormonal level, she has none in her soul. At this stage in the series’ development, Rachel is a fascinating example of the pliability of the human being, body and mind, by the extremes of a corporate milieu.
The theme of the intimacy of human relationships continues as Mrs S reunites with Carlton Redding, who brought the orphaned Sarah to Mrs S twenty years ago. It is shown that a history exists between Siobhan and Carlton as they passionately embrace upon their encounter, with palpable chemistry between the actors despite their short screen-time together that solidifies the impression of their characters’ love. The atmosphere of the bar scene feels romantic due to the actors’ chemistry, the characters making up for lost time (Carlton was sentenced to fifteen years for human smuggling). Siobhan requests answers from Carlton: she knows the truth about Sarah. He replies: “Kasov was the ferryman”, an epithet with connotations of Charon and the Underworld, that suits the dark nature of Siobhan and Carlton’s conversation, concerning Sarah’s youth, with Sarah hidden “in the black” by Siobhan. She ominously warns that “a whole world of shit is going to unravel” if Sarah learns more about Project LEDA. Indeed, the presence of the military in the LEDA photograph, and Cosima’s speculation that the project was developed by the military (I refer to my previous review about the clones being viewed as biological weapons of a sort; now possibly from another perspective), might yet support Siobhan’s statement.
The Proletheans’ seeming intentions with Helena come to fruition. The episode ends with Henrik examining an embryo in mitosis (cell division) under a microscope, having extracted an ovum (presumably it was fertilised outside the womb) from Helena. This confirms that Helena is also capable of reproduction. Thankfully, the episode accommodates a larger role for Helena, reviving the character’s sense of childlike vulnerability, loneliness, and desire for human intimacy from the first series that humanises her, creating pathos for the sociopathic killer.
In a chilling scene, Helena experiences flashbacks to the Proletheans’ operation, with a look of horror on her countenance. She seeks solace in Sarah, following her to Rachel’s apartment, where she saves her from a vindictive Daniel. Symbolically, she functions as Sarah’s guardian angel, an image strengthened by her own angel wings, substituting for Kira’s gift to her mother. Covered in Daniel’s blood, wielding a knife, and wearing a virginal white (wedding) dress, she resembles a horror-movie image (Carrie, perhaps): a twisted innocence of some description that impacts powerfully on the viewer. The horror of the scene is all the more effective due to Maslany’s sublime performance, complemented by Matthew Bennett’s excellent turn as a bastard, as Sarah begs Daniel not to cut her. There was a visceral wince from this viewer when Daniel made an incision behind Sarah’s ear, causing Sarah to bleed. Daniel arms himself to confront an intruder in Rachel’s apartment. (One question: how did Helena enter the apartment when Daniel is shown to lock the door from inside?) POV-shots from Sarah’s perspective intensify the horror: the viewer feels as powerless and trapped as Sarah, stunned as Daniel falls, clutching his bleeding neck, and Helena steps over him, before directing her attention to Sarah, whose mouth is agape.