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Orphan Black – We Can’t Fight Them Alone.

Posted on the 26 May 2015 by Cathy Leaves @cathyleaves
Orphan Black: 3x05 Scarred by Many Past Frustrations.

Orphan Black – We can’t fight them alone.
Down the long lane of the history yet to be written America knows that this world of ours, ever growing smaller, must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect.
Such a confederation must be one of equals. The weakest must come to the conference table with the same confidence as do we, protected as we are by our moral, economic, and military strength. That table, though scarred by many past frustrations, cannot be abandoned for the certain agony of the battlefield. 
Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961
History. The episode titles of this season of the show reference just one historical speech, and they fit both the political and the personal stories that are told – which fits, of course, since the two are never easily separated. Several characters in Scarred By Many Past Frustrations talk about a traumatic and determining event in their past and about how it still informs their actions, how the process of dealing with these things has shaped them into different people. There’s Sarah, telling Helena how she lost a whole year with her daughter because she was stubborn, attempting to prove a point to Mrs S, and how she will never get that time back, regardless of how much she has changed and how hard she is fighting for a future in which she can be with her daughter and keep her safe. The story is meant to be about forgiveness, since the cost of holding grudges is so high – and it is Sarah’s way to apologize to Helena for leaving her, in the past, something that she never intended to do again. It wasn’t Sarah who sold Helena out, but Paul in an attempt to save Sarah, pragmatically trading one clone for the other. Then there’s Mrs S, sharing how she lost her husband and nearly herself when she was young and how that experience fueled her protectiveness for her own many children later on, her fierce activism and her idealism. Like the other story told by Sarah, it is part of a conversation, and directed at Gracie, who is attempting to make sense of her own life. Grace is perhaps one of the most tragic characters this show has ever created. She is suffering from the physical abuse she suffered at the hands of her father (“My father put that baby inside of me and I let him” – what a terrible, terrible sentence), the loss of the child that resulted from that abuse, and the psychological trauma of having been indoctrinated all her life and only now trying to make sense of things herself, in a world that is endlessly more complicated than Henrik made it out to be. 
Gracie: I’m not a Prolethean anymore.
Felix: Really. And we are supposed to take your word for it?
Gracie: Look. All my life I’ve had doubts but I just let my parents tell me what to think and what to do. I’m 18 years old and I’ve never smoked anything or been to a rock concert, or gone skinny dipping.
Her first attempt to live freely is played for laughs, much like the previous dance scene on the show was meant as a brief moment of relief before everything went up in flames, perhaps to show what’s at stake if Sarah and her sisters don’t win. She is 18 years old, her father abused her, her family indoctrinated her only to cast her out for losing a child, and now she is utterly alone and dependent on strangers while coming to terms with being unsure about everything. And to make things worse, Mark – the man she loved – has infected her, unknowingly. 
Other people are weighed down by history as well, in a different way than Helena and Sarah and Mrs S and Gracie. Cosima is attempting to get over Delphine, failing to follow the basic rules of first dates to not talk about exes within the first few seconds of meeting Shay (Ksenia Solo). This one is tricky, because Shay is removed from everything else that is happening, so Cosima has to shape that story – about Delphine as the ex that she can’t get over – into something that doesn’t contain all the other ways in which that was complicated, how it ties in with her very being. 
Virginia: I’m not someone you can fight, Sarah.
And then there is the history of the projects themselves, and all these unanswered questions. Virginia Coady justifies the experiments she conducts on Sarah and Helena by pointing out that her primary responsible lies with trying to save her “boys” – a responsibility that is twofold, both personal, as their “mother” (Sarah, like Helena, calls her the “bad mother”) and as the scientist guarding the remains of Project Castor for the mysterious agency that is still running things. She is questioning Mark both as a mother and as a scientist about his marriage to Gracie, about whether it was consumed – and later we will find out that she is asking her boys to keep precise track of their sexual encounters for one reason, that this is all that they have been recording in their logbooks, that this is perhaps even their sole mission. Their sickness is communicable. 
Paul: If you thought about it for one second you’d realize all I’m doing for these men is what you do for your sisters. Protecting them.
Sarah: So they can assault women and abduct people: That’s a hell of a course.
Paul: And Helena’s innocent? How many people has she killed?
Sarah: Just do the right thing. Let us go.
Paul: That is out of my hands now. The military is just another family, Sarah. Your genetic siblings are dying. Everything we do is for them.
Sarah: You tell yourself whatever you need to.
The thing that Paul doesn’t realize, in his honest cause to save the men that he served with from death, is that the military isn’t just a family. It’s a function that the military also provides, but ultimately, it’s purpose overrides that function, much in the same way as whatever Virginia Coady is working on overrides the fact that she performs as a mother. It takes Paul a long time to realize what Sarah, with her natural distrust of authority and power structures, has always known. The individual struggle for autonomy and being able to decide over their own life, the struggle of Sarah and her sisters, is ultimately completely different from the project that Paul is involved in, and his false equivalence shows how secure he feels in his privilege, at least for now. Helena spent her childhood trapped and tortured into believing she was meant to kill everybody who was like her. She is fierce and resourceful, and it’s incredibly powerful to see her escape from the prison that Virginia and her boy clones have built for her, to see her escape from a place that takes any kind of agency from women and uses their bodies to fix what is broken in the male bodies that are more important. But the story isn’t complete yet, because for now, Helena leaves Sarah behind. 
Random notes: 
“My sister. She breaks my heart”
If I were more suspicious than I am, I would point out that Shay seems to be modelled to fit that side of Cosima that Delphine didn’t in such a precise way that it can’t possibly be a coincidence (Delphine was picked as a monitor to fit and appeal to Cosima’s scientific side, and Shay fits her spiritual side).
Perfect juxtaposition of commanding officer/mother with Rudy’s “Yes ma’am” followed by a sneaky stolen kiss.
And again, symmetry: the female clones are incapable of giving birth and the male clones are programmed with a default that is sexually transmittable and makes the women they sleep with infertile. Both seem designed to prevent that the clone DNA ever spreads naturally, which can’t possibly be a coincidence.  

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