At first glance, “Mingling Its Own Nature With It” is one of Orphan Black’s most fractured episodes to date. Sarah, Alison, Cosima, and Helena are as physically and mentally separate from each other as they’ve ever been. In fact, Alison calling Cosima is the only attempt to link any of them together, and Cosima immediately dismisses it. It’s a sharp contrast to last season’s focus on the connections between the clones. Sarah and Helena were so often at odds, and yet they couldn’t deny their intrinsic bond. Alison resisted any kind of emotional connection to her clone background, but ended up relying on Sarah and Felix to keep her in one piece. Cosima was miles away from the others, but threw herself into dissecting their connection on a biological level. Most importantly, Sarah, Alison, and Cosima formed a team whose strength came from their unlikely unity. Three episodes into the second season, though, they’re operating much less on “all of one and one for all” so much as “every clone for herself.” Whether they realize it or not, the only thing that unites them right now is that they’re all running from something, and running fast.
Alison Hendrix has always been a fan of escapism, but what she does this week is different. Between realizing that Donnie is her monitor, nursing her guilt about Aynsley’s death, and losing Felix as a confidant, Alison doesn’t have it in her to get angry anymore. There are shades of the Alison we’ve come to know, like when she furiously vacuums under Donnie’s feet, or when she gets suspicious of Angie’s unconvincing housewife drag (“nice kicks!”) and meets her suggestion to get coffee with a hilariously curt, “no.” But the control she’s prized and fought so hard for is long gone. It was only a matter of time until Alison cracked, and there’s never been a doubt that it would happen during her musical. After trying so desperately to hold onto some kind of reality, this is the moment it all comes crashing down on her. Watching Alison down bottle after bottle of liquor backstage, staring at the face she’s seen on so many others, the face that has caused her so much pain, it’s clear that something deep inside her has shattered. She’s terrified, lonely, confused, and above all, lost.
When Alison gets onstage, she’s a heightened version of herself. Her button-down is blood red, her signature ponytail is carefully curled, her eye makeup dramatically winged. As she stands center stage, surrounded by windows slashed with streaks of blood, it becomes clear that we’re looking at Alison’s mental state—and it’s a nightmare. Even seeing Felix in the audience is barely helpful, since he’s sitting behind her blandly grinning monitor. As the camera cuts from Alison to the oblivious cast and back again, the panic in her voice rising with every note, we know something’s coming. But when the music cuts out to let us hear the brutal impact of her body falling offstage and smashing into the ground, it’s still a total shock. Alison ran from her pain as long as she could; now she has to work on mending herself, somehow.
Then there’s Sarah, whose default has always been to make a break for it. She finally gets to fulfill the promise she made all the way back in the pilot to run away with Kira and Felix, but after everything that’s happened since, it’s far from the cure-all she had once imagined. The Sarah of the pilot might have been perfectly happy to sleep in trucks and enlist Kira as bait. She would have scoffed at the idea of settling into “a normal life.” We get a forcible reminder of that Sarah in a scene where she explains to Kira just how painful it was for her to grow up not knowing where she came from, and why she doesn’t want it for Kira. It’s a tiny scene in the grand scheme of things, but it’s a huge moment for Sarah that Maslany—surprise!—plays perfectly. When Kira protests that Sarah can’t have wanted Kira to grow up knowing her parents because she “always left,” it’s gut-wrenching, because it’s true. But running is no longer a choice Sarah can make; it’s a necessity. Having seen and done so much more than she ever thought possible, the Sarah of today looks at her daughter folding a sweater on a log and can hardly stand her breaking heart. So it makes perfect sense that Sarah would pick this moment to introduce Kira to her father (Michiel Huisman, making a very strong case for lumberjacks everywhere). To Sarah, Cal represents something normal, something safe. He represents the family she wants, even if she doesn’t want to admit it, even as she knows it’s an illusion. (In a beautiful round of acting from Jordan Gavaris, Felix realizes that Sarah’s holding onto this fantasy and, more painfully, that he’s not even in it.) And so Sarah can’t even bring herself to say anything when Cal asks if she can stop running even for a minute, because she knows the answer’s “no.” It’s fitting, then, that the second she allows herself to indulge in the domestic fantasy of her, Cal, and Kira living in this cabin off the grid, Daniel comes marching up the yard with Kira and a gun and throws everything into chaos again. Sarah can’t stop running—not even for a minute.
Cosima fancies herself a pragmatist, but she won’t—or can’t—acknowledge she might be living on borrowed time. “Mingling Its Own Nature With It” literally brings her face to face with it by introducing Jennifer, a clone whose illness brought her to the Dyad Institute to undergo tests, get treatment, and ultimately, die. As she watches Jennifer’s heartbreaking video diaries and even while she slices Jennifer open for an autopsy, Cosima never once acknowledges out loud that she could be looking at her own future. Delphine nudges the subject forward, asking if she’s okay, or if she can handle it, but Cosima bats it right back like she’s warding off a persistent fly. The diaries and the autopsy are equally brutal in their own ways. Jennifer’s early diaries show her to be a sunny presence, beaming even as she explains that she’s going to the Dyad to get her polyps checked out. Though logically we know that Jennifer’s the same age as the other clones, she still seems younger, which makes her death sting all the more. Maslany plays Cosima’s quiet devastation beautifully. She takes sharp, silent breaths at the sight of Jennifer’s balding head, and winces as Jennifer talks with hope about the awesome Dr. Leekie. The bloody viscera of Jennifer’s autopsy is jarring, not only because it’s so graphic, but because the process is so impersonal. Even as Cosima fights to prioritize her scientific interests, she’s looking down at a woman who shares her face and so much else that it’s hard not to imagine herself on that table. I don’t doubt that Cosima’s telling the truth when she tells Delphine she can handle it, but sooner or later, she’s going to have to stop running and accept it.
Cosima and Delphine’s discovery that Jennifer’s illness may have started in her uterus—thus causing her infertility—brings us to Helena. As I wrote last week, men laying claim to the clones’ bodies has been a prevalent theme of the show, and the Prolethians’ apparent plan to make Helena into a broodmare cranks that idea up to eleven. She’s vulnerable, not only because she’s physically weak, but because she’s always been treated as a means to an end. Tomas used her as a weapon in his holy war, breaking her down by constantly devaluing her as a human being. It’s no coincidence that Helena’s the only clone who’s not running away in this episode. Not only does she has very little option to do so at the farm, but she’s never known running to be an option. Tomas was vile, but Peter Outerbridge’s Henrik is still proving to be far more intimidating than he ever was. His Henrik is intimidating not because he’s in charge of a seriously creepy cult, but because he’s so affable, so steadfast, so genuinely excited about the possibilities that Helena represents. He’s a man who can see the beauty in anything, but who will also do anything it takes to get what he wants, and he’ll do it with a smile. The Dyad Institute is slick, but for my money, these Prolethians are this season’s most formidable adversaries.
However Henrik intends to impregnate Helena behind those closed doors, it’s a horrifying violation. After an episode that included a graphic autopsy, this final scene of the Prolethian bonding ceremony is what makes my skin crawl. Director John Fawcett knows exactly how disturbing it is, and he lets the scene linger. The camera swaps between slick slides and jarring jerks, alternating between the Prolethians’ reverence and Helena’s confused, drugged perspective. Then, Henrik scoops Helena up and carries her over the threshold, her limp legs hanging over his arms. No amount of platitudes or white smocks can mask the fact that we’re watching the prelude to a rape.
Helena’s story is devastating, especially because if it feels so realistic. Women have always, always been reduced to their reproductive value, or more simply, to their bodies. Yes, leaps and bounds have been made in past years, but the default consideration of a woman’s worth is to consider her body. Is it good? Can it be useful, or at least controlled? If so, congratulations, woman—you’re worth something! For these reasons, there’s no doubt in my mind that if human cloning were to become a reality, it would start with a woman. So while Sarah, Alison, and Cosima’s stories are more immediately appealing, it’s Helena’s story that makes Orphan Black a fascinating series. It could have easily ramped up the villains, upped the quotient of high stakes chases, and introduced a love hexagon to become a perfectly fun slice of escapism for a Saturday afternoon. Instead, Orphan Black is tackling the already fraught issue of female agency and posing a chilling question: what would happen if we could create and own women? I love a car chase as much as anyone, but a show that takes on something as huge as gendered violence without hesitation is infinitely more interesting.
- Cosima’s still apart from the others, but this episode at least let us see her natural humor. Her weary “don’t be a bitch” to Delphine and spot-on impression of Leekie (“Great Scott, I’ve created life itself!”) were A++.
- Sarah says that Cal’s disconnected from “all this shit,” but between his bee pollination breakthroughs (fertilization motif alert!) and brush with the military (Big Dick Paul alert!), I wouldn’t be so sure.
- Speaking of: this is the second week without Big Dick Paul, and the second week where I didn’t realize he was missing until halfway through my repeat viewing. Whoops?
- Great actors acting badly is one of my very favorite things, so I loved everything about “Blood Ties” starring Alison Hendrix. Anyone know where I can get this poster, please? (UPDATE: Mystery solved! Ask the internet and you shall receive.)
- It’s incredibly disturbing—and telling—how the Dyad Institute keeps deciding that the best bet to get a monitor into a clones’ life is to make them a significant other.
- This week in “Donnie is disgusting and Alison’s the best”: “You know morning’s my best time.” “I just showered.”