Orphan Black: 209 “Things Which Have Never Yet Been Done” Review
Reviewed by Adam James Cuthbert.
“A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve theirs.” – Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
It would seem appropriate to cite the above text, since the sentiments expressed within the passage, of the gestation of a new form of life, easily apply to the character of Henrik Johanssen in this week’s episode. Like Victor Frankenstein in Mary Shelley’s novel, Henrik is presented in a dehumanising light. Through his actions and behaviour, he betrays his humanity. In referencing the novel, Orphan Black explores the morality of the human condition. Earlier, the season had depicted the barbaric treatment of Grace at the hands of her parents. This week, Henrik not only impregnates his daughter with Helena’s offspring (it is confirmed he is the father), but women at the farm are treated, per Helena’s analogy, as broodmares: horses that are selectively bred to produce offspring with desirable characteristics. Henrik impregnated Helena so that he might procure her genes. He states that Helena is “a miracle. She defies the laws of science.” Helena’s pregnancy (herself wreathed in religious imagery) can be construed symbolically in this respect: like the legend of Leda and the Swan, her offspring would be half-human, half-divine. The sick and twisted pastor justly receives his comeuppance: Helena stabs him with the catheter, filled with animal embryos. She subsequently burns down the farm.
From Henrik we learn that Mark formerly served with the Army, going AWOL. Mark says that the Army “only ever gave me a mission.” With Henrik, he found “a purpose.” Mark is shown to be reverential: “To multiply is divine.” Initially, Mark supports Henrik’s actions, which creates friction between he and Grace. His love for Grace, however, reverses his opinion of Henrik. He appears sickened that Henrik had to be the father of the children borne by Grace, as if usurping Mark of his right to fatherhood by the woman he loves. The love story between Mark and Grace is conventional enough, and, in my opinion, more compellingly portrayed than the rekindled romance between Sarah and Cal. This is most likely due to the innocence of the former relationship, which illuminates brightly in the darkness of Orphan Black’s universe.
The use of POV-shots from Grace’s perspective, during her procedure, help to identify the viewer with the character: strong, sympathetic bonds have been integral throughout the season. This has been crucial in Helena’s case. A midwife, Alexis, shows Helena to the playschool-cum-nursery at the farm shortly after her own procedure. Helena grows fond of the midwife’s daughter, Faith, playfully sticking her tongue out at the girl, who reciprocates the gesture. The cruel treatment of children is not isolated to the Johanssens. The midwife believes she is showing clemency by not punishing her daughter “with the strap”. Helena threatens to gut the midwife if she touches her daughter again. Helena compares the midwife with a nun from the convent. I would theorise that Helena perceives something of her childhood in the girl, and she was similarly punished.
In contrast to Henrik’s dehumanisation, Rachel, as antagonist, appears noticeably warmer, in her conversations with Delphine, and with Marian. She offers Delphine the vacancy of programme director in the wake of Leekie’s demise. She describes Delphine as “uniquely qualified”: she is acquainted with the science, and sympathetic towards the clones. Before Marian, she calls Delphine “telegenic”. In the business parlance, Delphine would be the (appealing) ‘face’ of the scientific side of the Dyad Institute, like her predecessor. Rachel’s reunion with her father would seem to have had consequences for her psyche. While watching one of her home videos, she acts unhinged. Her envy of Sarah is pellucid. She plots to abduct Kira, convincingly disguising herself as Sarah (although her accent slips when she tricks Siobhan). In a disturbing twist, Rachel is prepared to place Kira through the same conditioning that she received as a child (by contrast, Helena acts to spare a child).
Duncan reveals to Cosima that the “sterility concept”, derived by his wife, employed an autoimmune condition as it was deemed the least-invasive solution (compared to modifying the clones’ hormones or reproductive organs). He explains that “[normal] development was the prime detective”. This causes one to question why execute the project at all if the clones are basically indistinguishable from ordinary humans safe for their controlled origin and infertility; but to do so would be to render the series meaningless.
Delphine explains to Rachel that Cosima’s illness has rapidly progressed: she uses this information to try and negotiate with Sarah. Through her contact with a paediatric at a private hospital, Siobhan makes the requisite preparations so that Kira’s bone marrow can be extracted, providing a more substantial remedy for Cosima’s illness than the stem cells from Kira’s tooth. It’s a poignant moment when Kira decides to proceed with the procedure; a brave and heart-warming gesture from the young child, which makes the procedure more uncomfortable to watch.
Donnie and Alison’s relationship continues to heal, as they resolve the matter of Leekie’s corpse. Alison suggests they inter the corpse under the garage. They are interrupted by the arrival of Vic. Vic is later cornered by Donnie, armed with a gun, when attempting to spy on Alison for Detective Deangelis. The episode depicts a maturity in Donnie, who cunningly takes a photograph of Vic with Deangelis as potential evidence against Deangelis (Vic amusingly gestures for the photograph). It’s a shame that Deangelis’ role in the storyline has been so marginally advanced. As I’ve discussed previously, it makes for repetitive viewing. At this stage, it might have been better to drop the character (if only temporarily).
Overall Verdict: 8.5/10
As would be expected from the penultimate episode of a season, some loose-ends receive closure: these are satisfyingly delivered. The connections made with Frankenstein are another instance of the show’s literate world-building, and enrich the show’s universe.