I do know that for the sympathy of one living being, I would make peace with all. I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, then I will indulge the other.
And just like that, by invoking Mary Shelley by way of Kenneth Branagh, the youngest members of Orphan Black’s Clone Club take control of their future. It’s a welcome bombshell moment for Serial Box’s continuation, the first half of which has at times proceeded at a frustratingly slower pace than the television series. Even with the discovery of a whole new generation of clones unaffiliated with Project Leda, with clone swaps and border crossings, with various gene-centric plot threads, the first five episodes have clearly been building to this specific turning point. And this kind of breakthrough is why you undertake an experiment like Orphan Black: The Next Chapter—to tell a whole new story.
Spoilers for Orphan Black: The Next Chapter episodes 1-5.
As I said in my review of the serial’s pilot, the strongest aspect of Orphan Black: The Next Chapter is the Clone Club’s new crisis of identity, and especially when it manifests differently for each member. Cosima worries that, without some government conspiracy to link them, she and her sestras will actually have very little in common aside from their identical genetic code. Charlotte (with begrudging agreement from Kira) is tired of moving through the world without being able to contextualize her existence—and this resentment only grows when she learns about the middle generation of clones who grew up always knowing who they were and, more importantly, about their doubles:
What would life have been like, if she’d had her own Clone Club, growing up? What would it have been like for the others? Would Sarah be more trusting? Would Cosima be able to finish things? Would Alison be less… Alison? Certainly Helena would have been better off.
Introducing a new strain of clone (à la Project Castor) could have felt like retreading old ground, but instead it makes for fascinating nature-versus-nurture debate that I’m excited to see more of in the latter half of the season, hopefully by spending more time with Dana and her “cousins” and actually discovering the mechanics of how dozens of young women came of age alongside their mirror images.
Because all we know about so far is American spy Vivi Valdez’s upbringing, which sounds even worse than what the Leda clones went through. For reasons that have yet to be explained, she was made to believe that her memories of “pretend Vivis” were just a coping mechanism for loneliness, rather than an ersatz extended family she was raised alongside in some sort of reverse-Leda experiment. In one of the series’ most affecting scenes so far, Vivi is confronted with the evidence of the sestras’ interlinked lives when she infiltrates Cosima and Delphine’s home. Every photo she encounters is a different potential life for her: Alison barbecuing, Helena pregnant, Cosima traveling the world not for dangerous missions. So by the time she’s facing down Sarah in an excellent scene that pits the series’ best two chameleons against one another, Vivi is on the verge of an emotional breakdown:
But she suspected that deep down, somewhere, her mind might actually be fragmenting a little. Seeing so many versions of you could do that to a person. Especially when all the other versions of you were doing so well at lives that were so much better than yours.
These poignant moments of self-realization and unflinchingly self-aware internal monologues are where the Serial Box writers’ chops are most apparent. The first five episodes were written by (respectively) Malka Older, Mishell Baker, E.C. Myers, Lindsay Smith, and Madeline Ashby; along with Heli Kennedy, they’ll be writing the (likely very emotional) fallout of Charlotte and Kira’s decision to finally tell the world about Project Leda.
So much of female friendship and sisterhood is built on shared secrets and related traumas—heightened in the world of Orphan Black, from learning that their genome is patented to attempts on their lives to the early-series violation of discovering that their significant others were actually their Dyad-appointed monitors. (Which made Sergeant Jaysara Priyantha’s accusation of Cosima seducing Delphine for a spy mission such a great dark little joke.) But what happens when you’re part of the next generation (as in the case of copy-of-a-copy Charlotte and daughter Kira) and those traumas are inherited? When you don’t share the same experience as your mother and aunts yet still suffer the consequences on your attempts to build a normal life as you enter adulthood? When you share secrets that both are and are not yours?
Though the mingled love and rage of Robert de Niro’s Creature serves as Charlotte and Kira’s nuclear code, I would be remiss in not contextualizing the fifth episode title itself. “Every Child Is Cast From Paradise” comes, like its preceding episodes, from Octavia E. Butler. In this case, it’s Parable of the Talents and this poem:
The child in each of us
Paradise is home.
Home as it was
Or home as it should have been.
Paradise is one’s own place,
One’s own people,
One’s own world,
Knowing and known,
Loving and loved.
Yet every child
Is cast from paradise—
Into growth and destruction,
Into solitude and new community,
Into vast, ongoing
For the past eight years, Clone Club has existed in a relative state of paradise, yet even this peace of mind has proven stagnating for some (Cosima) or alienating for others (Sarah). And even those Leda clones who are content with their status quo must be forced to recognize that if the situation is not working for their younger counterparts, then it needs to somehow change.
Charlotte and Kira taking control of their own narrative—with a press kit no less, the nerds—is achingly relatable and authentic to the larger generation to which they belong. With The Next Chapter set in 2021, the two young women are solidly Generation Z, raised on information-as-power and likely envious of their peers who can document their entire lives online without having to hide any aspects.
At the same time, these two probably should have thought out their execution beyond tweeting out a press kit, as mere moments after going public Chez Cophine is besieged by Canada’s hottest gossip blog, and Vivi turns the situation to her advantage to escape the sestras’ clutches. Oh, and Cosima is being framed for Vivi’s murder of Nathaniel Sturgis… despite the fact that Vivi doesn’t seem to have murdered him, either.
There’s a lot of plot being set up for the next five episodes (which will pick up after a brief hiatus), the pieces of which are obviously being laid: the TAG plot to develop a genetically-targeted disease, the Nasgwine’g and their precious genetic code, the Canadian government’s rapid adoption of biometric scanners to collect the public’s DNA without informed consent. Clearly this is all building to an incisive commentary on the ethics of invading privacy and which boundaries will get breached next. Because even if you’re targeting just one part of the population, the entire population becomes part of the experiment—they become the control group, so to speak.
What’s most interesting is that this seems like it will be the case not just for the disease targeting Leda clones, but also for Charlotte and Kira’s risky move—exactly the kind of debate I want to see the Clone Club undertake with one another. But right now, the intersections of all those plotlines feels muddied, like too many pieces being moved around the board when really I only care about the actions of just a few.
What have been your highs and lows for the first few episodes? Where do you want to see the series go for the second half of the season?
Orphan Black: The Next Chapter is available now (in text and audio form) through Serial Box.
The serial will return from hiatus on November 7.
Natalie Zutter is brainstorming her own Mary Shelley code phrases for key life decisions. Talk Orphan Black with her on Twitter!