Hidden Cameras and Hidden Saviors: Orphan Black, “The Mitigation of Competition”

We’re revving up for the end of Orphan Black season 4, which seems to have gone by so much quicker than the other seasons. There’s been stealthy spy work, dizzying double-crosses, a devastating death, a new clone plus expanded stories for Beth and Krystal, and—this week, in the penultimate episode—the return of a fan favorite. Last night’s episode also saw Sarah reluctantly joining forces with Rachel to weaken Neolution, plus commentary on the ethics of genetic engineering.

Spoilers for Orphan Black 4×09 “The Mitigation of Competition.”

What had to be managed were organic life, instinct, sex. At the top of the organism-pyramid was mind, permitting altruism to mitigate the excesses of competition.

—Donna Haraway, “The Biological Enterprise: Sex, Mind, and Profit from Human Engineering to Sociobiology” from Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature

Here’s a nice reversal: 4×06 “The Scandal of Altruism” was the season’s gut-punch, but now altruism is what keeps the clones from double-crossing each other. Well, maybe not on Rachel’s side. But she doesn’t sell her sisters out, so that’s something.

Orphan Black 4x09 "The Mitigation of Competition" television review Rachel Art Sarah

Clone Count: 7

Rachel drives this episode (with Ira as her sidekick), with her plan to take down Evie Cho through a series of twists and sly video cameras. But first she’ll need to utilize Sarah‘s grifter skills (not to mention Art’s police connections) in order to track down two BrightBorn carriers who have fled the compound. Meanwhile, Donnie is out of the slammer, but Alison is suffering a crisis of faith, bemoaning that their production of Jesus Christ Superstar is a sham when she’s so out of touch with God. Helena‘s back! And it turns out she wasn’t so far away, living out a version of The Revenant where Leo kicks the bear’s ass in the (fictional?) Beavertail National Park. Over in the Neolution Island of Dr. Moreau, Cosima and Susan are fertilizing Leda eggs with Castor sperm and debating the ethics of Charlotte‘s leg.

Something I realized (and noticed Christopher L. Bennett’s comment last week about the same) is that this season has been sorely lacking in Clone Swaps. Or rather, no elaborately planned Clone Swaps; Helena and Sarah have both had to improvise disguises when caught out as Alison and Beth, respectively. It’s especially fascinating to see Sarah reluctantly slip into character—a persona she was all too happy to adopt in the pilot—when she knows that it will gain her someone’s trust and valuable information.

Orphan Black 4x09 "The Mitigation of Competition" television review Kendra

Hometown Heroine

One of those people that Sarah plays is Trina, the Neolutionist who Beth befriended while she was pregnant (we still don’t know if she were a carrier as well and if her kid is currently being groomed by Neolution for nefarious purposes). She helps them track down Kendra, a carrier who possesses a damning video of BrightBorn doctors euthanizing a baby born with the kinds of mutations Cosima glimpsed in the birthing room. Appalled by what she accidentally saw, Kendra threatens to send the video to news outlets and sink BrightBorn’s plans to implant hopeful mothers and then tamper with their kids’ genetics without permission thanks to some sneaky fine print on the contracts.

There was definitely a moment where I thought Rachel was screwing over Sarah by nabbing Kendra and her blind son out from under everyone’s noses. But she was the only one who could approach Evie under the guise of a truce and hand over Kendra’s video while performing the ultimate bait-and-switch of recording Evie (through her necklace) talking about how BrightBorn has to euthanize its imperfect specimens. Which Evie really should have seen coming; it doesn’t say much about her villain status if she isn’t constantly suspicious of Rachel.

Orphan Black, are you trying to be The 100? Because you make me occasionally feel some twisted sympathy for your villains. While I think it’s particularly underhanded for Evie Cho to milk her childhood-SCID-in-poor-town story by establishing BrightBorn centers in her hometown of Tisdale to supposedly rejuvenate the local economy, I can’t help but wonder if there’s a glimmer of truth in there. And I swear, when Evie gets yanked away by the BrightBorn suit amid all the flashbulbs, she actually looks sad. I’m kind of glad to see her come back next week in what looks like the most stylized boardroom confrontation.

Orphan Black 4x09 "The Mitigation of Competition" television review

Leda and the Woodsmen

But Evie is just one scratch-off on Rachel’s to-do list. When she’s not planning her own counter-coup, Rachel is rapidly blinking her way to a better understanding of the baffling visions in her cybernetic eye: a bunch of woodsmen who might be Neolution scientists or a Prolethean subsect—either way, they seem to be hiding on the same island Rachel just left. That is, if we’re assuming that they’re from the present day and Rachel is being shown live video. It could also be a flashback, with the man who seems to recognize “her” (or whoever is supposedly behind that eye) is P.T. Westmoreland, the founder of Neolution.

The Pressure of Creation

While Rachel is puzzling out her side of things, Cosima is the one reading about the history of Neolution, courtesy of Susan and Westmoreland’s tome. As a callback to their cat-and-mouse interactions at BrightBorn when Cosima was undercover, the two spend their time not fertilizing Leda eggs debating the ethics of Susan creating Project Leda. While we’ve seen how the clones’ grappling with their origins has fucked them up (Beth, Helena) or at least completely upended their lives (Sarah and everyone around her), it’s valuable to hand the humanist perspective over to Cosima, coming at things as a scientist who is just as thrilled by these discoveries but equally sobered by them.

Susan lets slip an interesting detail: she was under “tremendous pressure” to continue Project Leda even without Kendall Malone’s genetic material, thus leading to Charlotte’s issues with her leg. What pressure? Cosima asks, but Susan sidesteps the question. Who wants to bet that 4×10 at least reveals who that external force is?

Orphan Black 4x09 "The Mitigation of Competition" television review Helena arrow

Sestra Support

As an agnostic, I keep unintentionally mentally glossing over Alison’s faith—I was going to say probably also because it’s another one of her suburban characteristics that separates her from her sestras, but then again, she and Helena might have something to talk about. Though her estrangement from God was mostly played for laughs this episode, like during her failed post-coital chat with God, I found her second prayer a lot more affecting. Here is the creepy Neolution guy, ready to shove a glitchy bug in her cheek, and there’s no question of whether Alison is going to channel Judas and rat out Rachel. She opens her mouth, but it’s to apologize to God and beg Him to protect Donnie and her children. She was ready to die and was so focused on her family…

…and guess who comes crashing through the door! Deus Ex Helena. Or Sestra Everdeen, thanks to that nasty arrow she shoots through the Neolutionist creep’s neck. It wasn’t as flashy as painting warehouse walls with drug dealer blood thanks to a paper guillotine, but it was just as satisfying.

Orphan Black 4x09 "The Mitigation of Competition" television review Felix Adele

Family’s Not Genetic

You know what feels I really didn’t expect to have this week? Felix and Adele, that’s who. So far she’s evolved from hot mess to decently helpful cog in the Clone Club machine, but it was a surprise to realize that Felix didn’t actually let her in on the mystery. And once she meets Sarah’s “twin” Alison and “triplet” Helena, even Adele can see through her alcohol-and-drug haze that something is fishy. Felix’s unwillingness to drag her into things does show he cares, but to Adele it’s also an insurmountable barrier:

Adele: Genetics doesn’t really make a family, does it?

Felix: No.

Adele: Honesty and acceptance, that’s what does it.

Though, to be honest myself, I don’t think this is the end of Adele.

[Insert Pretty French Music]

And of course, the episode’s big reveal in the final seconds: Delphine!

Orphan Black 4x09 "The Mitigation of Competition" television review Delphine

The fact that she’s revealed right after Rachel’s last vision—in which she watches the woodsmen decapitate that poor swan—would suggest that she’s hiding out on the same island where Cosima is. But who is that who puts a hand on her arm? I’m guessing the mysterious old man from Rachel’s visions, but it could also be Ferdinand (who’s back next week to woo Rachel with their love of rich food).

Orphan Black 4x09 "The Mitigation of Competition" television review Delphine

Speaking of Delphine’s confidantes… are she and Krystal brunch buddies? The preview for the season finale is certainly looking that way…

Orphan Black 4x09 "The Mitigation of Competition" television review Delphine Krystal

Other Thoughts

  • “Ira, you fertilized my sister’s eggs for science. You don’t get to speak, too.” YA BURNT! Second only to…
  • “Did you just step up to me, lil triplet?” Only Adele would be dumb enough to challenge Helena.
  • Good for you, Donnie, to plan for all the crab salad you’re gonna eat while you’re hiding from the feds. Also, asking Alison to hold his dirty undies after saying something romantic was just classic.
  • I briefly was so sure that, in turning over her recording of Evie to the media, that Rachel would have to out herself and the rest of Project Leda; they talk about clones before she gets Evie to admit to the euthanasia. And wouldn’t that be an interesting twist for season 5—the Clone Club, so used to protecting their secrets, become reluctant public figures?

Photos: Ken Woroner/BBC America

Natalie Zutter is trying to track down that pretty Delphine song. Read more of her work on Twitter and elsewhere.

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