When the Season Two finale introduced the Castor line of male clones, I speculated that this development was not so much a new direction for Orphan Black as it was a necessary expansion of its lens. The show’s central subject is misogyny, and—though society often wants to frame this as a “women’s issue”—discussing this topic means that, eventually, you have to start talking about men. The Castor clones allow John Fawcett and Graeme Manson to examine the roots and causes of misogyny by channeling Orphan Black‘s key questions—about identity, determinism, objectification, and power—through the lens of male psychology.
This will be an ongoing conversation, obviously, and it is probably too early to speculate about where it will go. But I suspect that Orphan Black will be working on a slightly different level this season. To the extent that the previous two seasons have examined the male subjugation of women, they have done so on an institutional level: by looking at structures of capitalism and religious fundamentalism. Those institutional levels—along with the third level of the unholy trinity, government—are where the blame really lies. But the Castor clones, I suspect, will give us a window into a different aspect of the gender wars: how individual men are shaped and warped by the dominant sexist paradigm. The Castor Boys do not—at least so far—seem to be any more in control of their fates than the Leda Girls are: they too are pawns of larger forces, products of a system over which they had no control. They, too, have been damaged by the misogynistic, objectifying culture that created them, and one of the ways in which they’ve been damaged is that they have become misogynistic, objectifying, and damaging in their turn.
Like I said, it’s probably too early to be discussing this, and certainly too early to say whether Graeme and Manson can do justice to this very large (and very important) challenge that they’ve taken on. But I couldn’t help but think about all of this during the opening scene of “Transitory Sacrifices of Crises.”
In this scene, Rudy—the scar-faced Castor clone who escaped from the Dyad Group—has brought a young woman, Patty (Natalie Krill) back to his hotel room. Patty is a little drunk, but she seems eager and willing: their sex—as she says later in the episode—begins as consensual. But then Rudy’s brother Seth—the mustachioed clone—enters the scene, in decidedly creepy fashion. (The brothers swap in and out prior to sex, while Patty’s back is turned; then, during the actual intercourse, we see four hands roaming where only two were invited to roam.) “Listen guys,” she says, once she realizes what’s happening. “This is not what I signed up for.” But Rudy explains—while Seth leers at her—that they’re brothers. “We were taught to share,” he says.
It’s an incredibly disturbing scene, and it doesn’t get less disturbing when we hear Patty describe the rest of the encounter later in the episode: they held her down, they went through her things, they copied down her I.D. information, and they took a lock of her hair as a “trophy.” She does not say what else, if anything, they—and particularly Seth—did, but it doesn’t really matter. Whether Seth physically raped her or not, the entire encounter is a sexual assault, an unspeakable violation of her freedom and sexual agency. It was not what she signed up for.
Though translated into the sci-fi, clone-club world of Orphan Black, the scenario is not an unfamiliar one: it evokes the all-too common reports of sexual assaults at fraternities, military barracks, and other “boys’ clubs.” A woman has a few drinks, and acts sexually, and perhaps even consents to sex with one person—but, in doing so, she ends up having her choice taken away, and is treated as a communal object to which all men present are entitled. (“We were taught to share,” Rudy says, objectifying her by invoking the language of property, of commodities, of toys.) Her consent to one “brother” is treated as consent to all, and any rejection of one is treated as an insult to all. (“He got this look in his eye, like he was angry for the other one,” Patty says. “Like I had insulted them by rejecting him.”) And, of course, in the eyes of the law—as in their eyes—she was somehow asking for it by putting herself in that position in the first place. (“Yeah, but I consented to the first guy,” she says bitterly, to Art. “So that’s not rape, right?”)
In her 1990 book Fraternity Gang Rape: Sex, Brotherhood, and Privilege on Campus, quoted here, Dr. Peggy Reeves Sanday writes:
“If, as sometimes happens, the behavior mushrooms into group sex, there is always the question of whether the girl consented. The boys may not even consider the possibility that she may have been too drunk to consent. They assume that by drinking she signaled her desire for sex. The woman involved is a tool, an object, the centerfold around which boys both test and demonstrate their power and heterosexual desire by performing for one another. They prove their manhood on a wounded girl who is unable to protest. Her body stands in for the object of desire in porno-staged acts of sexual intercourse that boys often watch together. She is the duck or the quail raised and put in place for the hunter.
“Who she is doesn’t matter and she is quickly forgotten after it’s all over — sloughed off like a used condom. The event operates to glue the male group as a unified entity; it establishes fraternal bonding and helps boys to make the transition to their vision of a powerful manhood — in unity against women, one against the world. The patriarchal bonding functions a little like bonding in organized-crime circles, generating a sense of family and establishing mutual aid connections that will last a lifetime.”
In unity against women, one against the world. Though Patty’s story occupies only a small portion of the episode, I’m dwelling on it here because I think this may be what this season of Orphan Black—and the entire sub-plot of the Castor clones—is about. It’s about that collective “bro” mentality of men objectifying women, forming themselves into tightly bonded unified entities—whether fraternities, or military units, or organized-crime circles—that bolster their sense of entitlement by viewing everyone outside of that unit—particularly women—as dehumanized objects.
To support this troubling hypothesis, we need only look to the second most disturbing scene in the episode: the one in which Helena is waterboarded. A room full of men—all men, including one of Rudy and Seth’s brothers—throw her on a table like an object and, holding her down by force, commit an unspeakable violation. Once again, a woman’s freedom is taken away in an assaultive act of violence; once again, there are too many uninvited hands all over her body. They are even—like Rudy and Seth—gathering information, and at the end of it they even take “trophies” in the form of medical samples. The parallels are clear, and clearly intended.
It’s notable that here it takes a woman, Dr. Virginia Coady (Kyra Harper), to put a stop to the actions of the men. However, following in the tradition of certain other women on Orphan Black (like Rachel), Dr. Coady seems to serve the patriarchy: the only woman present on this base, she is the den mother—they call her “Mother”—of this pack of wolves. Repeating a theme we’ve seen time and again on this show, Helena’s only value here is reproductive. (“She’s pregnant,” Dr. Coady says, as an explanation for why the boys must put an end to their fun.) It’s also important to note that the first thing Coady does to try to win Helena over is turn her against her sisters. “Your family sold you out,” she says. “They decided you were expendable.” (“I don’t believe you,” Helena says.) People are always underestimating Helena’s intelligence, but she is smart enough, and perceptive enough, to see immediately that Dr. Coady is just Henrik in another form. (Coady tells Helena that, because she’s pregnant, she’s a very special case. “How’s the last person who told me that?” she asks defiantly.)
It probably says a lot about the season we’re in store for that holding a little girl hostage at gunpoint is only the third most fucked up thing the Boy Clones do this episode. Rudy and Seth show up at Felix’s building, and Seth waits downstairs while Rudy violates the sanctity of Felix’s apartment—one of the only safe spaces Sarah and the others have—and seizes little Kira. He wants Sarah to give him Dr. Duncan’s research, and specifically he seems to be looking—as Cosima is elsewhere in the episode—for the original genome. (I am surprised it has taken this long for the identity of the genetic originals to become an active mystery: you’d have thought more people would have expressed curiosity about this before. For the record, my money is still on Siobhan for the source of the female DNA, though Marion Bowles looks physically like a better bet.)
Meanwhile, Seth begins “glitching,” something it sounds like the male clones are prone to. Throughout the episode we see a sort of Voight-Kampff test being administered to the Castor clones to test their cognitive reasoning skills. Presumably, it is a test to see if their reason has deteriorated, and a momentary snag Seth hits during his is the first indication that there’s a problem. The second indication is when he goes batshit crazy in the basement of Felix’s building, ranting and raving and finally collapsing on the floor in agony. Whatever this is, it is apparently something known to the Castor Boys, and there doesn’t seem to be a cure: Rudy, recognizing the state Seth is in, shoots him twice in the chest.
The military types administer the same Voight-Kampff test to Helena—or they try to, anyway. (When the question mentions mangoes, the always hungry Helena is irretrievably distracted. “Keep provoking them,” her hallucinatory scorpion Pupok groans, “and we’ll never get any mangoes.”) But I doubt that Helena’s particular brand of insanity is related to the Castor “glitching,” because I suspect it is particular to the males of the species. (“They tampered with you,” Sarah says to Rudy.) If so, this would dovetail back to my original thesis: that this season of Orphan Black will largely be about the damage that patriarchal structures do to men, and how that damage manifests itself as something very dangerous, something troubling, something that closely approaches madness.
It’s interesting to note that the episode ends with the one halfway decent Castor Clone we’ve met—Mark—renouncing his membership in this fucked-up fraternity. Mark fell in love with Grace, and because he truly loved her he was horrified at the Henrik attempted to silence her, and to control her, and to use her as a broodmare. Out of love for this woman, he left the Proletheans behind; now—presumably out of that same love—he leaves the Castors behind as well. (He burns his identifying tattoo off with a blowtorch.)
It’s an oddly encouraging note to end on: all men are shaped and damaged by this misogynistic culture, but it is possible to take steps to remove yourself from it: you just have to want to badly enough.
Additional Thoughts and Favorite Bits
- In a huge hurry this week, I skipped over a bunch of stuff. (Sorry.) Let’s cover the bases quickly…
- Cal tries to make a happy home life with Sarah and Kira, but the attack by the Castors pretty much puts an end to that plan. “You don’t fight in these conditions,” Siobhan tells Sarah, and by the end of the episode Sarah knows she’s right: she needs to get her daughter the hell away from this craziness. So Cal takes Kira out of the country, freeing up Sarah to fight her war. (This is an excellent strategic move by Graeme and Manson as well: having Kira around all the time is kind of a plot problem.)
- Oh, and Cal is a war profiteer: something we hadn’t known before. I don’t really care, and I doubt Sarah will either. (I’m pretty sure he’s not really Kira’s father anyway.)
- “I’m not going to S.,” Sarah says of Siobhan. “Paul can piss off, and S. with him. They’re the bloody problem.” Hear, hear! I couldn’t agree more: Paul and Siobhan—willing to sacrifice one sister to save another—are the bloody problem. There’s probably redemption on the books for Siobhan, after Felix—who has an excellent episode—tells her, “Sorry, love, you don’t get to sit this one out. None of us do.” (I’m hoping there’s no redemption coming for Paul, who really is just an asshole as far as I can tell.)
- Cosima is better, but no one can explain why she’s better. And she’s beginning a tentative information exchange with Dr. Nealon, whom I do not trust at all. (Fortunately, neither does Cosima. “I don’t think we’re sharing yet, are we?”)
- Oh, and Alison and Donnie are going into the drug business. (Suburban soccer mom becomes a drug dealer…Hey, that sounds like a good premise for a TV show.) I adore Alison, and God knows this sub-plot has comedic promise. (“Don’t doubt our stones. We have ample stones.”) But I’m already concerned that Alison is going to be the odd-clone out this season, off in her own show-within-a-show, like Cosima was last season.
- I didn’t explicate the title this week, since it seems pretty straightforward: it’s from the same Eisenhower speech as last week, and it’s about how danger must be met not just with “the emotional and transitory sacrifices of crisis”—like the one Sarah makes with Kira, and the one Rudy makes with Seth—but with larger, more sustained sacrifices “which enable us to carry forward steadily, surely, and without complaint the burdens of a prolonged and complex struggle…”
- Next week’s title comes from the same speech. (I assume they all will this season.) “In this revolution, research has become central, it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly.”