ORPHAN BLACK 2×02

"Governed by Sound Reason and True Religion"

"What you see is not who she is."

That sentence—which comes to us this week from Prolethian purist Tomas (Daniel Nash)—could serve as a tagline for Orphan Black in general, and not just in the obvious ways. Clearly, when there are a dozen characters running around who all share the same face—many of whom are prone to impersonating one another—it's pretty good advice to not trust your eyes in any given situation. 

But I mean something more than that as well: no one is just one thing, and we should never assume that we know everything there is to know about someone. I mentioned last week that one of my favorite things about Orphan Black is that the clones are not simply one-dimensional types: they are all versions of the same biological life form, but their identities as people are not necessarily defined by their most obviously observable markers. These aren't Barbie dolls—Con-Artist Barbie, Soccer-Mom Barbie, Scientist Barbie—but people, full of needs and desires and secrets and contradictions and the potential for both good and evil. Whatever we think we know, anyone can surprise us.

Ironically, Tomas is one of the characters with the most reductive, black-and-white view of the world—and it's probably very telling that he doesn't survive this episode. Last week's season premiere was really the resolution of last season's cliffhangers: now, this week's episode is more about setting up new conflicts and situations. Everything on Orphan Black is growing more complicated, and we're learning that things we took for granted are not necessarily true. Fittingly, in a series obsessed with evolution, those who would survive are going to have to adapt to the ever-changing conditions.

"Only let the human race recover that right over nature which belongs to it by divine bequest, and let power be given it; the exercise thereof will be governed by sound reason and true religion." —Francis Bacon

Henrik (Peter Outerbridge)

Just as the first season's episode titles all came from Charles Darwin, this season's titles are drawing on the works of Francis Bacon. I should say again—as I'll probably feel the need to disclaim throughout this season—that I don't actually know anything about Francis Bacon, outside of some shallow web searches. (What do you want from me? I was a lit major.) But I think the important thing to know is that he was both a pioneer in developing scientific methodology and, significantly, a devout Anglican. He saw no contradiction in this, rather believing science to be the "most faithful handmaid" of religion.

So this week's quote comes from Bacon's Novum Organum Scientiarum (1620):  

"Lastly, if the debasement of arts and sciences to purposes of wickedness, luxury, and the like, be made a ground of objection, let no one be moved thereby. For the same may be said of all earthly goods: of wit, courage, strength, beauty, wealth, light itself, and the rest. Only let the human race recover that right over nature which belongs to it by divine bequest, and let power be given it; the exercise thereof will be governed by sound reason and true religion."

The focus on Bacon this season is apparently a reference to our new adversaries led by Henrik (Peter Outerbridge), who bring Tomas and Helena to their massive 1,400-acre farm/compound this week. Last season we had a clear, black-and-white contrast between the pro-science Neolutionists, led by Aldous Leekie (Matt Frewer), and the faith-based Prolethians, who we mostly knew from Tomas and Helena. Now, however, the situation is growing more complicated: Henrik's outfit apparently represents a "new order" of Prolethians, one that believes in a very Baconian synthesis of science and religion. (Working with his acolyte Mark [Ari Millen] to inseminate a cow, Henrik says, "The rest is up to the Lord. We're just helping him along a little bit." Later, when Tomas comments that the farm is a blessing from the Lord, Henrik expresses his philosophy more clearly. "Well, farmers pray more than most," he says. "But it's not worth the breath without hard work and basic biology.")

The conflict between Old Prolethians and New Prolethians becomes clearest in the debate over Helena. (There is even tension within Henrik's clan, apparently: when a resident of the compound named Gracie [Zoé De Grand Maison] takes Helena food, she keeps referring to the clone as "it." "Will it eat?" she asks, and Henrik subtly corrects her, saying "Of course she'll eat.") And where Tomas sees Helena as an "abomination" with no soul, Henrik sees a miracle: "What I see here is God opening a whole new door." What they agree on—at least before Mark takes a Chigurh-gun to Tomas's head—is that Helena represents "the war for the future of creation." Henrik—who "steered his faith" through MIT—apparently thinks the war is over who will control technology: that dominion over nature belongs to man, as Bacon says, "by divine bequest." ("Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind," Henrik quotes Einstein; as Tomas quite rightly points out, Einstein didn't believe in God, but Bacon would agree completely.)

"My sexuality isn't the most interesting thing about me."—Cosima

Delpine-Evelyne-Brochu-and-Cosima-Tatiana-Maslany

Meanwhile, Cosima and Delphine (Evelyne Brochu) are setting up house in their new Dyad Institute lab, where they plan to "make crazy science" together. (This may be the thinnest lesbian metaphor on television since Buffy'Willow and Tara decided to get together and make some magic.) Picking up on the theme that nothing and no one is just one thing, they have a conversation with Leekie about the nature of the Institute. Yes, it has conducted horrific experiments in the past—including sterilizing lunatics in the thirties—but it also helped manufacture vaccines for polio and the Spanish flu, saving millions of lives. The Institute—like science itself—is neither wholly good not wholly evil, but has the potential for both. As Bacon (and Henrik) would agree, a lot of it depends on who's running the show, and by what beliefs and principles their actions are "governed."

(Speaking of which, who is running the show? Last week it grew more ambiguous whether Leekie worked for Rachel, or vice versa. This week it's suggested that they are more or less on equal footing, and therefore perhaps both working for someone else. "I don't want a war," Leekie says, reminding Cosima that Rachel may harbor a slight grudge about how Sarah—dressed as Cosima—pistol-whipped the Pro-Clone last week.)

So things inside the Dyad Institute are not black and white—and neither are the people who work there. "So…you're gay," Rachel says, after walking in on Cosima and Delphine in a clinch. But Cosima refuses to be defined by one thing: "My sexuality isn't the most interesting thing about me," she says. The person Rachel finds interesting, however, is Sarah: she delivers Sarah's sequenced genome to Cosima, with the assignment to find out what makes her different from the other clones. ("You mean, why she, of all of us, can have a child?" Cosima asks—but Rachel says nothing, leaving the question of what makes Sarah so different deliberately vague.)

"You have a history of jumping to monitor conclusions."—Felix, to Allison

Allision-Tatiana-Maslany

With all of this ambiguity and complexity, trust is obviously going to be a major issue, and this week's episode finds a number of characters discovering that they can't necessarily trust the people they thought they could rely on. Allison, for example—while attending horrid Aynsley's horrid funeral—discovers that no one in her tight-knit little community trusts her anymore: she has become a pariah to her fellow suburbanites, whispered about and judged. She also can't trust her director in the musical, who takes the excuse of a "breathing lesson" to grope Allison's butt and breasts. ("I'm not sure that's my sacrum," Allison says, with his hand on her ass.)

And of course, Allison can't trust her husband. She once suspected Donnie (Kristian Bruun) was her monitor—and tortured him with a glue-gun to get him to admit it—but then became convinced that her monitor was actually Aynsley. ("You have a history of jumping to monitor conclusions," Felix [Jordan Gavaris] points out to her.) But this week Allison stumbles on some suspicious texts on Donnie's phone, and sets a reasonably clever trap to confirm it. (It helps that Donnie—while a monitor—turns out to be really bad at it. "He is very good at being evil!" she tells Felix—but no, he's really not.)

Allison has structured her whole life for safety and security—that's what the 'burbs are all about, of course, and she even signed a deal with Leekie to keep her family and children safe—but now she's discovered that her life is a lie. What's worse, she's discovered that she can't trust herself. "I killed Aynsley!" she weeps to Felix, realizing now that she had virtually no justification for letting Aynsley choke to death in her garbage disposal. (Felix is perhaps the least comforting person to make such confessions to. "No, no darling, no," he protests. "Well, I mean, not really. Just, like, hardly.")

Felix and Allison continue to be hysterically funny together. ("You got any ideas, or do you just want to keep drinking?" he asks her. "I think I need to keep drinking for a while, and then I'll have an idea," she replies.) As much as I love Helena—and I do—Allison may be Maslany's masterpiece: I marvel every week at how she can be so funny while playing emotions that are absolutely genuine and heartfelt.

And it's that quality that makes people underestimate both her capacity and her pain, and which makes her final scene this episode so heartbreaking: calling Felix for help after discovering her world is crumbling around her, Allison can't get Felix to take her seriously. Allison is genuinely terrified and falling apart, and Felix tells her to play possum and focus on the musical. "Even my own clones think I'm useless," she says, as he brushes her off: Felix has become the person she most trusts, and she can't rely on him either. Allison is hopelessly alone.

"Whose side are you on, S?"—Sarah, to Siobhan

Siohban-Maria-Doyle-Kennedy-and-Sarah-Tatiana-Maslany

And now we come to the biggest breach of trust in the episode. "What you see is not what she is," Tomas said of Helena, and it's a line that echoes when we discover that Mrs. S. (Maria Doyle Kennedy) is not what she appears.

Siobhan's background has always been a little murky: I'd have to rewatch Season One to confirm, but I believe all we've ever gotten is vague references—related to the IRA and other radical movements—about belonging to an underground network that helped women and kids on the run. That, we were told, is how Sarah came to her, a child brought in "in the black," to be hidden and protected. There were rumors these kids were "the subject of medical experiments," she told Sarah in Episode 8 of last season, but "everything was rumor" and they didn't ask questions.

So Mrs. S.'s background has always been shadowy, but she herself always seemed reliable: she was the stable maternal figure in Sarah's life, and the one person she could trust unconditionally to protect Kira (Skyler Wexler) from the chaos that surrounds Sarah. ("My care of Kira has always been bullet-proof, hasn't it?" she tells Sarah this episode.)

But in the first season finale, Amelia (Melanie Nicholls-King), Sarah's birth mother, warned Sarah that Mrs. S. was "not who she says she is." Now—though Siobhan's ultimate loyalties are still uncertain—we discover that this is certainly true. It was she who took Kira—not the Neolutionists or the Prolethians—and she did it with the intention of taking Kira away to England through the underground network. She leaves a trail for Sarah to follow, a convoluted path that puts her in the trunk of a car by Ben (Julian Richings) and taken to a safehouse owned by Siobhan's old network contacts Brenda (Nora McLellan) and her son Barry (Rob deLeeuw).

The episode has a lot of fun playing with the idea that Siobhan might be completely evil. ("Mrs. S. has a lot of secrets. Some of them are good, yeah?" Sarah says to Kira, but Kira disagrees. "Maybe," the little girl says. "But I don't think so.") Ultimately, however, the truth, again, is not so black and white. Siobhan may be good—she may in fact always be on Sarah's side, as she claims—but she's definitely not been honest, and she knows far more about all of this than she ever let on.

Siobhan is also considerably more lethal than we'd ever have imagined, as Brenda and Barry discover when they double-cross Siobhan and try to sell Kira to the Prolethians. ("It turns out God has deep pockets," Brenda says, justifying her actions by explaining that her family had spent a lifetime sacrificing for their beliefs with no reward.) What Siobhan believes will no doubt be crucial to understanding her character, but at this point all we know is that she believes that "there's always a high price to pay for righting wrongs." (As such, Mrs. S. has no problem shooting Barry dead, or doing the same to Brenda after nailing her hands to the table with kitchen implements.)

In the world of Orphan Black, no one is quite what the seem to be, and no one is just one thing, and people governed by philosophies—of science, faith, or politics—are not to be trusted. It's a telling sign that the episode ends with Sarah, Felix, and Kira piling into a stolen truck, heading off for parts unknown. Connected by bonds of love and family—and governed by neither sound reason nor true religion—these are the only three people in this world who know they can truly trust one another.

Additional Thoughts and Favorite Bits:

  • EDIT: From The Department of Corrections: Scanning the credits for this episode, I originally mixed up "Father Mike" (Ryan Blakely)—who presides at Aynslie's funeral—with the head Prolethian, "Pastor Henrik" (Peter Outerbridge). Mea culpa: I've now corrected the text.
  • From The Department of Wildly Speculative Theories: Rachel says the original DNA from which the clones were grown was "robust." Siobhan certainly seems very robust, doesn't she?
  • From The Department of Things That Make Me Go "Hmm": I like the way Sarah talks to her daughter with respect and honesty, but Kira is kind of spookily mature for her age, isn't she? We already know Kira has miraculous healing abilities: in what other ways is she special?
  • From The Department of Straight Guys Being Shallow About Orphan Black: We can all agree that Tatiana Maslany is a very attractive woman, but I confess I find myself very changeable on which of her many clone-versions is the most attractive. Usually I'm Team Sarah, but I have to admit that Allison's many styles this week—which ranged from her Audrey Hepburn funeral garb to her Jackie-O sunglasses at the graveside—were all working for me.
  • The show didn't really play fair with the reveal that Ben was a friend of Siobhan's and not a Prolethian: that dude just looked like a creepy religious nutbag.
  • Speaking of creepy religious nutbags, please tell me Henrik isn't going to artificially inseminate Helena. For one thing, that would be fucked up. For another thing, the woman exists solely on sugar packets and lollipops, which is not a good pre-natal diet.
  • I had naively assumed that the musical in which Allison is starring was an original work created for the show: in fact, as many sites have clarified, it is a real Canadian chamber musical called Blood Tiesby Anika Johnson and Barbara Johnston, about "a wedding, a suicide, a clean-up, a secret." I so need to see this show now.
  • No Paul this week: funny how I didn't even miss him.
  • I'm trying to convince my girlfriend to pose for some studio portraits just like Aynsley's: you know, just in case.

Aynsleys-funeral

  • Next week's title is "Mingling Its Own Nature With It," another reference to our old friend, Bacon's Novum Organum. "The Idols of the Tribe have their foundation in human nature itself, and in the tribe or race of men. For it is a false assertion that the sense of man is the measure of things. On the contrary, all perceptions as well of the sense as of the mind are according to the measure of the individual and not according to the measure of the universe. And the human understanding is like a false mirror, which, receiving rays irregularly, distorts and discolors the nature of things by mingling its own nature with it." Be prepared to discuss.

 

The Unaffiliated Critic

Michael G. McDunnah is a freelance writer, a recovering lit major, a pop-culture junkie, and an unaffiliated critic. He lives in Chicago.

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