“Look at Me. See Me.” Orphan Black, “The Collapse of Nature”

Orphan Black is back! And it went back, to before the pilot: We finally got to meet Detective Beth Childs for the third time, but really the first; before she takes off her high heels and jumps in front of a train, before Sarah Manning slips on those high heels and the rest of her identity. It’s a bleak but necessary backstory that begins to fill in some of the holes with Neolution and Project Leda, and which introduces us to a heretofore-in-hiding new clone!

Spoilers for Orphan Black 4×01 “The Collapse of Nature”

As Tatiana Maslany reflected during the brand-new After the Black aftershow, “I had never really played Beth […] so I guess this is who she is?” Who she is is a woman reaching the end of a rapidly fraying rope, a woman who has at least three mirrors to look through with her fellow clones, yet who doesn’t feel seen. It seems as if the only happy Beth is the Beth in the home videos—which, Maslany also pointed out, was the only version of Beth she played up until now—but her relationship with Paul has long soured. Shortly before this episode-long flashback, Beth has discovered that Paul is her handler and is involved with whatever organization created them. (If I remember correctly, it’s not until Sarah comes into the picture that they know it’s Project Leda.) When a middle-of-the-night call has Beth dressing to go tromping in the woods, Paul accuses her of “being a cop in your own bedroom”—but he’s one to talk.

Orphan Black 4x01 "The Collapse of Nature" television review Beth Childs

Photo credit: Ken Woroner/BBC America

The thing is, their problems aren’t rooted just in the paranoia and betrayal of discovering your partner is spying on you. There’s also the issue that they can’t have children, the pain of which you can see in Paul’s face when a wired Beth brings it up during their attempt at a romantic dinner. That scene was so difficult to watch, as she kept begging him to kiss her and to get inside her. Also, Beth has a flair for the poetic:

Beth: Can you look at me? Look at me. Can you see me? Can you knit me together? Or just tear me apart?

Paul: Stop it. What do you want? Hm?

Beth: Hm? Touch me, touch me. Come on, you’re supposed to reach inside me. Kiss me, kiss me, kiss me… Just kiss me. Make me feel real, please.

Not to mention:

Beth: You’re hollow, Paul. There’s nothing inside. I filled you in with hunches. All I know for sure is you won’t protect me.

Paul: You’re right. Just tell me what you want. You want this to end? This is all for you. You say it’s over… And it’s over.

Beth: You end it, you coward!

This while she has a gun pointed at his head while he turns his back to her. The shots on this show are so great. For as much as Paul became more of a scumbag in the later seasons, you get the sense that he’s torn apart over his various responsibilities to Beth.

Orphan Black 4x01 "The Collapse of Nature" television review Beth Childs Alison Hendrix

Photo credit: Ken Woroner/BBC America

Clone Count: 5

Part of Beth‘s problem is, she doesn’t have a solid support system from anyone but Art (more on that later). The Clone Club doesn’t seem to have been established yet, at least not in name: Though we get flashbacks to Alison and Cosima, it’s clear that their relationships to Beth are much more transactional than personal. Beth trades Alison a gun (so that’s where it came from!) in exchange for “helpers” (pills) and her daughter’s urine for the inevitable piss test when the station thinks she doesn’t have it together. In return, Alison funds Cosima’s tuition since she’s broken up with her girlfriend (aww, though it does make a great reverse-U-Haul joke) and switched schools to be closer to them.

Beth seems to be acting as the world-weary ringleader here, considering the fact that she’s the one who tracked down Alison and Cosima and explained about them being clones. But where did she get that information? From our newest clone, M.K.! We don’t know too much about her yet, but she’s definitely on the more Helena side of the spectrum: European accent (at first I thought it was Scottish, but then it sounded more Eastern European), a penchant for wearing sheep masks and communicating on-camera instead of in-person, and unexplained access to information about their origins. She’s also even more paranoid than Beth, chiding the detective for not better covering her tracks and saying, “You’re not scared enough.”

We later discover that Beth takes the knowledge of M.K.’s existence to her death, as neither Alison nor Cosima had heard of her. But by the end of the episode, Sarah has…

Creating Yourself

I’m glad that season 4 is returning to Freaky Leekie and his Neolutionist followers, because from what I remember of season 1, there was just so much info and it was difficult to pick through as we swung around to Project Leda, the Dyad Institute, Project Castor, etc. etc. Tipped off by M.K., Beth stumbles into a conspiracy that we saw revealed in 3×10 “History Yet to Be Written”: creepy worms burrowing inside Neolutionists’ bodies that were being spit out as some sort of weapon. Except that they’ve been there since before the Clone Club began, as Beth tracks more than one body—some alive, some dead—getting the worms extracted.

I was struck by the Neolutionist girl Trina’s summation of the movement as “creating yourself” through “individual evolutionary choice[s]”; that’s certainly the surface version of Neolution, with its embrace of body mods. But does the sinister opposite lurk behind closed doors? Is Neolution tricking its “tadpoles” (as M.K. calls them) into accepting the implantation of ideas and other organisms? (Also, I found myself wondering whether Trina had gotten pregnant by natural means or if it were another Neolution/Dyad experiment. This show consistently does fascinating things with the motif of pregnant women.)

Orphan Black 4x01 "The Collapse of Nature" television review Beth Childs Beth Art

Photo credit: Ken Woroner/BBC America

“Look at Me. See Me.”

Did anyone else go “OH SHIT” when Beth revealed herself to Dr. Leekie? For all that she’s a faded version of herself, I had to admire her balls for striding right up to him with his book and questioning him directly. It would have been impressive for any detective who shouldn’t be poking around this shady world, but especially for a Leda clone. She knows exactly who she is, though it’s unclear if she’s considered that Leekie might, too.

On the sweeter side of Beth’s mantra for this episode was her late-night visit to Art. After the botched attempt at date night with Paul turned into her unraveling too quickly for him to handle, she drops by Art’s in what is a regular enough occurrence that his daughter doesn’t seem suspicious why her dad’s partner is making house calls after dark. His feelings for her are as clear—clearer, really—than they were in the previous seasons. He put up a wall in season 1 when he realized that Sarah wasn’t Beth, and it was only last season that he was able to bring it down enough to reveal that he had loved Beth. But it was never clear that they’d actually had sex until this moment, when he is the one person able to fulfill her plea of “See me.” If only she would have let him see everything. (Though “It’s my shit. Don’t take it on.” might be the best Beth Childs line.)

Orphan Black 4x01 "The Collapse of Nature" television review Beth Childs M.K. Tatiana Maslany

Photo credit: Ken Woroner/BBC America

The Paths We Choose

“You must absorb a massive amount of pain in your work… The paths we choose.” What a chilling line for Leekie to deliver to Beth, his way of regaining the upper hand in their conversation.

I’m not sure if the Beth flashbacks will be a constant this season, especially since 4×01 tracked basically every moment that makes her step in front of the train: the pills; getting taken off the Neolution case; discovering that the Neolutionists are in the police station and her home, upping her paranoia; and shooting Maggie Chen in a panic-stricken accident. The only consolation is that Beth isn’t wearing the outfit she wears to the train station, making me hope we get a few more flashbacks with her before the end. Then again, I agree with The A.V. Club that the last shot of her dozing on M.K.’s couch would make a lovely last Beth moment.

I almost mentioned this in the Creating Yourself category, but it fits better here: I’m fascinated by M.K.’s blend of awkward paranoid introversion, especially in her insistence of existing in the digital space she’s created for herself. You don’t invite someone to your trailer for a face-to-face meeting and then appear on a computer screen—in a mask, no less—unless you truly weren’t comfortable in meatspace. But she does materialize for Beth when she needs it; and something compels her to come out of her shell in the present so she can get in touch with Art. This poor guy—he has to keep seeing Beth’s face in new people. But in this case, it’s necessary, because M.K. has a warning for Sarah: The Neolutionists have found you. Yes, in Iceland. That scene of Sarah ecstatically running to reunite with Kira is going to be mirrored with a very different kind of running come next episode.

Orphan Black 4x01 "The Collapse of Nature" television review Beth Childs Sarah Iceland Neolution

Photo credit: Ken Woroner/BBC America

Other Thoughts

  • Seeing Felix at the police station was a cute Easter egg, though I was sure he was at least going to make a double-take at Beth.
  • “She wants an expense report.” Of course Alison does. And the bedazzled card on the flower order (hey Ramon!) thanking Beth for everything she does was just perfect.
  • But why did Beth have Alison send her adopted daughter’s urine and not her own? If anyone were to look closely enough, wouldn’t it not look like Beth’s sample? Unless she’s so paranoid that someone would notice Alison having different genetic markers than her, or something. Then again, all they’re probably searching is for drug traces, and we do know that Alison likes her helpers as well.
  • We know that last season’s episode titles came from Dwight D. Eisenhower’s farewell address. It’s a little more difficult to figure out where “The Collapse of Nature” comes from; so far all my googling has brought up is Steven D. Smith’s book The Constitution and the Pride of Reason and Robert Gascoigne’s Religion, Rationality, and Community. Considering the refocus on the world of Neolution, the latter could be more likely. It’s looking like the season 4 episode titles may come from different sources, if this fan’s Tumblr investigation is accurate.
  • 4×02 is “Transgressive Border Crossing,” hmmm.

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