What exactly is Dr. Coady, scientist and surrogate mother to the Castor clones, up to? This week’s Orphan Black finally reveals Coady’s endgame, and it’s a scheme worthy of a costumed comic supervillain.
This episode of Orphan Black, “Certain Agony of the Battlefield,” has left me thinking a great deal about power and abuse. Hell, this whole season has. There have certainly been shades of this in the earlier seasons, although in the first season it was mostly mixed up with questions of identity and invasion of privacy. The Leda clones have, for the most part, had their lives disrupted. They have largely been working to wrest back control of their lives and a sense of safety, going only after the people who have threatened them, harmed them, performed medical tests on them while they slept, and surrounded them with spies.
That hasn’t been the case for the Castor clones. The Castor clones have spent their whole lives oppressed, lacking even the agency that the Leda clones possess. Their DNA was their draft notice, sentencing them to a life of military service and pressure to conform. Unleashed upon the world, some of the Castor clones are willing to hurt anyone. Told to go out and spread their poison seed in the name of science, Seth and Rudy eagerly go out to frighten and assault women. These are two men who have no power over their own lives, but try to exert what little power they do possess — physical power — over others. (Of course, even when clones share the same nurture and nature, they’re not necessarily all that similar; Mark just wants to carve out a slice of happiness if he can. Also, the first time Mark ever saw Paul was in that bar in Season Two.)
And then there are people like Paul, people in a much murkier situation. Paul’s closest analogue on Team Leda is Felix, the brother from another mother... I mean, progenitor. Paul has always seen the Castor clones as his brothers in arms, worthy of the same love and loyalty he would give any men he served with. And that love and loyalty means that, for Paul, the ends have justified the means. He made himself seemingly at Dyad’s mercy, letting Rachel use his body and letting Dyad use him to spy on Beth. But in the process, he did a terrible thing: He helped destroy Beth’s life and he watched it happen.
Just before she shoots him, Dr. Coady muses, “Your devotion to my boys was pure, Paul. I could always count on it.” So this is what we’re supposedly seeing: pure Paul, what Paul is like when he’s a colleague and not a spy. Aside from the authority of rank, Paul isn’t interested in exerting power over the Castor clones. He’s not using them like he was Beth. They’re not the means to the end; they are the end. All Paul has ever wanted is a cure for the Castor boys’ condition.
But the people who do have power over the Castor clones have nefarious goals in mind, and really, they make Dyad look like the villainous farm team. Dr. Coady and her employers in Arlington want to use the Castor illness — which sterilizes women just as the synthetic sequence sterilizes Leda clones — as a weapon. (By the way, I’m talking to a couple of scientists about this latest plot development. I shall keep you all posted.) The same people who are willing to treat the Castor clones as lab rats and slaves are — surprise! — also willing to infect and sterilize civilians if it means winning their wars. It’s another case of the powerful look to use and abuse anyone who stands in the way of their goals.
And Dr. Coady’s control over certain clones stems from something very simple, but very profound: they view her as their mother. It’s interesting to contrast Siobhan, whose deadly brand of motherhood (we think) comes from a fierce desire to protect her chickens, with Dr. Coady, whose motherhood is a kind of superpower. Rudy, who lashes out at the rest of the world, is wholly loyal to his mother. It doesn’t matter that pure Paul has his best interests in mind while Dr. Coady is less interested in curing her boys than weaponizing their defect. She’s mom.
Suddenly, pure Paul has something else to protect besides the Castor clones: his values as a soldier, civilian pawns in big, political war games, and, of course, Sarah. And, I believe for the first time in this show, Paul really gets to be the hero. He stages a mutiny against Dr. Coady. He blows up the remains of Abel Johanssen, which are so key to Coady’s research. (And he blows himself up in the process.) And he makes sure that Sarah, the only clone he truly loved, is secure before taking a grenade to Coady’s lab.
But in the midst of all this action, it’s Felix and Rachel who have the most compelling scene, and again, it’s all about power. Felix is feeling a special kind of powerlessness these days, with all of his sisters in trouble.
But Felix doesn’t just sit there and accept it. He decides to act. He talks Scott into letting him see Rachel.
Rachel has a lot in common with the Castor clones. She was raised self-aware, growing up essentially the property of the people who made her. And she’s willing to hurt anyone who gets in her way. (Helsinki, anyone?) But Rachel has always been conscious of the limits on her power, and she has always schemed to acquire more.
Since Cosima’s little pencil trick, however, Rachel is powerless, something that she’s not accustomed to. At first, Felix is gleeful seeing her in such a powerless state, mocking her aphasia and painting a new eye on her eye patch. (By the way, Felix, if you don’t want Dr. Nealon knowing you were in Rachel’s room, that’s not a good strategy.) From Felix’s perspective, Rachel’s getting her just desserts after threatening his family.
Rachel’s aphasia seems to be less pronounced when she’s highly emotional, and she exposes her fear and desperation when she begs Felix to get her out of Dyad. In that moment, Felix’s expression changes. Getting revenge on a strong Rachel may be virtuous, but harassing an injured and imprisoned Rachel is just cruel.
It’s a good thing we’ve got Scott, who isn’t playing games with Rachel, around to recognize the symbols in Rachel’s paintings. Amidst her art therapy and regret, Rachel is painting the images she remembers her father, Ethan Duncan, making during her happier childhood.
But there’s a new Rachel in town. Cosima enjoying a lovefest with holistic healer Shay, and while Shay isn’t about to cure Cosima’s cough, she does keep her from mooning over Delphine when Delphine returns to Dyad.
Delphine routinely assures Cosima that, like Paul, her motives are pure. She just wants to protect the Leda clones above all. But Delphine’s story gives us a neat twist on Orphan Black’s usual questions about nature and nurture. We’ve seen time and again that nature doesn’t trump all, that the clones, Leda and Castor alike, are very different people despite their shared DNA. But what about people who don’t share that DNA landing in similar situations? Delphine, now placed in Rachel’s position, has developed some very Rachel-like characteristics. She’s cold and distant, repressing her emotions in public and then obsessing over them in private. She’s the one spying on Cosima and Shay’s dates. Delphine’s as Dyad as ever, invading Cosima’s privacy, and now with Rachel-esque straight hair and a habit of drowning her sorrows.
And then, in a totally different universe, we have the Hendrixes.
If this highly giffable sequence is the entire reason for the Hendrixes’ storyline… I might actually be okay with that. But really, is their story eventually going to tie to the other characters again? It made sense that they were off on their own last season, because the body they were hiding was Dr. Leekie’s, but lately it feels like this is a separate show running in parallel to Orphan Black. I will say that it’s quite fun to see Alison and Donnie so in sync, even if Donnie still does Donnie-like things like buying a new conspicuous new car. Plus, we get to meet Alison’s mom next week, something I’ve been dying to see since Season One.
In the meantime, we’ve got bigger fish to fry — or rather, scorpions to fry.
In an episode all about power and the ways that people abuse it, Sarah finds herself forced to confront one person that she wronged: Beth. Part of Dr. Coady’s experiment involved infusing Sarah with some of Rudy’s blood, forcing Sarah to contend with the nasty Castor protein. She hallucinates and, in her brain, has a conversation with Beth.
There’s a lot to parse about Sarah’s relationship with Beth, but one thing this hallucination does is remind us how far that Sarah has come as a character. The Sarah we saw in that opening scene of the pilot, the Sarah who watched Beth jump in front of a train, she was horrified, sure, but she wasn’t the sort of person who would rush to stop Beth. The Sarah of Season Three has sisters. She protects people. She puts her life in jeopardy for the greater good. And consequently, she’s haunted by Beth.
(It’s not just Beth, though. For one thing, Sarah never knew the real Beth; she can only piece together the person she thinks Beth was. It’s telling that Sarah has her hallucinatory meetup with Beth in Siobhan’s house, the fridge decorated with Helena’s artwork. Sarah is carrying around a lot of guilt surrounding her family.)
Helena is carrying around some guilt, too, so she decides to lighten her load in another area. After crawling through the desert for a while, Helena becomes fed up with the devil on her shoulder and disposes of her mind scorpion in a typically Helena way: She eats it.
Somehow, I suspect that imaginary arachnids don’t provide much sustenance.
Helena may have enjoyed leaving Sarah locked up, but once the novelty has worn off, she returns to her sister. The wild ones are back together and now they’ve got a fetus to protect.
But someone else may still be in control, still pulling the strings. What is Topside’s interest in Castor? Do they have a financial interest in the project? Are they rivals? And are people like Delphine and Marion really trying to protect the Leda clones, or are they just like the people running Castor, using the clones as an end to their powerful needs?