The Theme of Orphan Black’s Final Season is Protest

For the past four seasons of Orphan Black, the Clone Club has encountered Neolution in all of its mutations and side evolutions: the ominous Dyad Institute monitoring Project Leda, the religious Proletheans battling what they saw as the sins of science, and everything from the body-modification Neolution club to the creepy eugenics of the BrightBorn fertility clinics. But now, the premiere of the fifth and final season purports to cut all of that away to get to the true heart of Neolution: Revival, a secretive and highly controlled remote community devoted to improving the human species—beginning with prolonging the lifespan. But is this the answer to all of the Clone Club’s questions from the last five years, or just another detour on a season being billed as The Final Trip?

Spoilers for Orphan Black 5×01 “The Few Who Dare”

I have to admit, Orphan Black is one of those TV series where the big-picture stuff drops out of my head at the end of every season. My favorite aspects of the show are all the little moments between the clones, and the everyday-but-heightened plots about Alison’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar or Cosima’s research. Be that as it may, here’s where we left off with everyone at the end of last season:

Cosima joined Rachel and Susan Duncan on this strange island to create a cure for the disease killing Project Leda clones. But after she discovered said cure, Susan betrayed her, then Rachel betrayed her mother and went a bit psychotic, stabbing Susan as well as Sarah, who had come to rescue her sestra. Cosima and Charlotte made it to a remote village on the island, where a weakened Cosima was reunited with Delphine. Sarah was bleeding out somewhere on the island, on the phone with Mrs. S, who with Kira was being held at gunpoint at the safe house by Ferdinand, who had defected to Neolution at Rachel’s behest. And Rachel was en route to what we now know is Revival, about to meet P.T. Westmoreland, the 170-year-old founder of Neolution.

Orphan Black 5x01 "The Few Who Dare" television review

Photo: Ken Woroner/BBC America

Revival is immediately intriguing: the yurts, members with names like Mud and The Messenger, an odd mix of agency and secrecy—its members are handpicked for how they can contribute to the overall goals of the community and will share in the overall success, yet Cosima is not allowed to talk to any of her sisters. Also, what exactly are they reviving?

Orphan Black 5x01 "The Few Who Dare" television review

Photo: Ken Woroner/BBC America

The most interesting phrase associated with Revival is “The Fountain”—that’s what a mother and her young daughter came all the way from Afghanistan for, they tell Delphine in Revival’s clinic. Delphine’s face says that this Fountain may not actually exist, and for some inexplicable reason she hides the girl’s file rather than keep it in the clinic for whoever her superior is to parse through. But there must be something that provides longevity, considering Westmoreland’s situation.

Yet despite Rachel getting to meet the impossibly-old man behind Neolution, viewers have yet to get a glimpse of him; indeed, he uses Rachel—looking like Effie Trinket fresh off drinking the kool-aid—as his new mouthpiece, imparting his latest message to his “children.” Could there be a reason that we haven’t seen Westmoreland yet—something to do with adverse effects of this supposed Fountain? Eternal life may not mean eternal youth, nor may prolonging a life be the same thing as saving it.

Orphan Black 5x01 "The Few Who Dare" television review

Photo: Ken Woroner/BBC America

Or maybe that’s whatever half-man, half-beast attacked Sarah in the woods. The showrunners won’t say much about what’s out there, stressing that in the premiere “Sarah saw what you saw there.” Of course, she was delirious from blood loss and kept almost passing out if not for dreams of Kira urging her to wake up. I’m going to call it now that Kira, who we didn’t see this episode, psychically sensed Sarah’s distress and was calling out to her, because each of those moments came very well-timed in saving Sarah from getting added to this creature’s collection of hanging furs and gutted wolves. It is worth noting that the creators consistently refer to The Island of Dr. Moreau as a touchstone for this season, so it would stand to reason that whatever’s out in the woods is some sort of failed experiment.

Poor Sarah: She makes it to Revival and catches Cosima alone in the clinic, only for the latter to insist that she has to stay at Revival. Mostly because Delphine, who was cruelly torn away to do Westmoreland’s work in Sardinia, whispered to Cosima to “follow the crazy science” before she left. And can we briefly talk about how wrenching it was to see Delphine dragged away on secret work and she and Cosima having a mere ten minutes together? But before she leaves, she reveals the information that ensnares Cosima: her nearly-healed bullet wound, thanks to Revival’s mystery science. Despite knowing that Rachel is now chummy with Westmoreland and privy to enough information to make her even more formidable of a foe to the Clone Club, Cosima wants to see where this science goes. But the Revival people hunting for Cosima in the dark after she slips out of her yurt unauthorized is a reminder of how much of a prisoner she is. And once Sarah, who doesn’t even get enough time to properly dress her wounds beyond her excellent tampon hack, goes back on the run, she quickly becomes a prisoner, too—Rachel’s prisoner, to be exact.

Orphan Black 5x01 "The Few Who Dare" television review

Photo: Ken Woroner/BBC America

It’s always a fascinating game to unpack the episode titles, but this one proved baffling at first. My initial search turned up an oft-reblogged/pinned inspirational quote: “Be amongst the few who dare to follow their dreams.” It seemed an odd choice for the Orphan Black writers, but it certainly fit Rachel and the rest of Revival’s self-chosen members, as well as seeming convert Cosima. By the end of the premiere, she’s found the last syringe of the cure (her dream), and is willing to trust Rachel and these Neolutionists, at least to see what this Fountain is all about. And perhaps even Sarah could be lumped into this group, though it seems her participation in Revival might be involuntary.

But then I googled the first three episode titles provided, and look what I found: “Protest,” Ella Wheeler Wilcox’s poem-turned-Women’s Suffrage anthem. (Bolding mine.)

To sit in silence when we should protest
Makes cowards of men. The human race
Has climbed on protest. Had no voice been raised
Against injustice, ignorance, and lust,
The Inquisition yet would serve the law
And guillotines decide our least disputes.
The few who dare must speak and speak again,
To right the wrongs of many. Speak! Thank God,
No vested power in this great day and land
Can gag or throttle; press and voice may cry
Loud disapproval of existing ills,
May criticise oppression, and condemn
The lawlessness of wealth-protecting laws
That let the children and child bearers toil
To purchase ease for idle millionaires.
Therefore I do protest against the boast
Of independence in this mighty land.
Call no chain strong which holds one rusted link;
Call no land free that holds one fettered slave;
Until the manacled, slim wrists of babes
Are loosed to toss in childish sport and glee;
Until the Mother bears no burden save
The precious one beneath her heart; until
God’s soil is rescued from the clutch of greed
And given back to Labor; let no man
Call this the land of Freedom.

Now that’s more like it! Sarah and her sestras have already promised that this season they will fight those who have hunted, imprisoned, and abused them. I love the idea of protest as the guiding force, of the women of Project Leda reclaiming their bodily autonomy and their rights. “The few who dare” clearly points to Sarah, who has over the past four seasons had to “speak and speak again”—sometimes literally, as she confronts Dyad or Topside or Neolutionists, but also figuratively through her sheer force of will in staying alive, this episode no exception.

Rachel seems to embody “the clutch of greed,” though her motivation seems to be more nuanced considering her surprisingly tender final scene with Cosima. Considering that she stole the stem cells and Leda cure in the season 4 finale, one would have expected her to knock the remaining syringe out of Cosima’s hand or intentionally waste it to torture her. But instead, she injects Cosima with the cure, telling her that Westmoreland wants her to be part of whatever “this” is. There may not have been a Clone Swap in this episode, but Tatiana Maslany playing these two hesitant allies against one another was masterful, in Rachel’s calmness that’s nonetheless hiding something versus Cosima’s warring mistrust and hope.

Orphan Black 5x01 "The Few Who Dare" television review

Photo: Ken Woroner/BBC America

Following “the few who dare” means that a lot of the Clone Club felt sidelined this episode; or, at least, their relevance to the plot is so far unclear. Alison, Donnie, and Helena got flushed out of the woods, which felt mostly like plot mechanics for the point of getting them back to civilization. These scenes carried the episode’s highs and lows, from Donnie and Helena communicating in loon calls (a perfect example of the series’ undaunted goofiness) to Helena getting stabbed in the stomach (!!) by a branch after saving Donnie from a Neoluti0nist thug. Could “Beneath Her Heart” (next week’s episode) be about the fate of her babies? (Gonna call it now, I don’t think one of the twins will survive.)

Orphan Black 5x01 "The Few Who Dare" television review

Photo: Ken Woroner/BBC America

Alison of course had the best line of the episode: “Helena was out murdering God’s creatures, and my husband abandoned me.” Bringing her into the same space as Art was a great choice, as both care deeply for their families, to the point that they’re used as pressure points. You have to feel for Art, who’s gotten so mixed up in the Clone Club that him finally getting a new partner is just another Neolutionist plant. Maddie, with her shark eyes and spitting, looks more than a little unhinged.

Speaking of family, all we get of Mrs. S and Kira is the former gripping a corkscrew between her fingers, presumably to have a little chat with Ferdinand. And Felix, unfortunately, got caught as the middleman for most of this episode, coordinating via phone call to make sure nobody stupidly put themselves in danger… which of course they did. And when he tries to grab Kira’s laptop to find MK somewhere in Minecraft, he’s got his own Neolution agent waiting for him.

Orphan Black 5x01 "The Few Who Dare" television review

Photo: Ken Woroner/BBC America

It seems as if every character has at least one Neolutionist on their tail, the worst odds we’ve seen since the beginning of the series. As The A.V. Club points out, the Clone Club has been so successful at evading their enemies so far through sheer scrappiness, but now they very much seem to be on Neolution’s radar. I’m hoping that the addition of Revival, which the showrunners have described as “the top of the pyramid,” “the seat of power at Neolution,” will provide a new dimension as to the future of Project Leda.

Every year Natalie Zutter thinks she should have rewatched all of Orphan Black before the new season, but it’s slowly coming back. Share your final-season theories with her on Twitter.

0 Comments

Subscribe to this thread

Post a Comment

All comments must meet the community standards outlined in Tor.com's Moderation Policy or be subject to moderation. Thank you for keeping the discussion, and our community, civil and respectful.

Hate the CAPTCHA? Tor.com members can edit comments, skip the preview, and never have to prove they're not robots. Join now!