Orphan Black Season 1 Review “Endless Forms Most Beautiful”

The first season of BBC America’s Orphan Black has felt like driving down a dark road, barreling around a blind curve and slamming into a tree. Each episode increases the momentum of the characters and storylines, and there’s always a feeling that some new twist is lurking around the corner. In the season finale, the speed of the story continued, but several of the plotlines came to an abrupt end.

Throughout the season, there has been a power struggle between Dr. Leekie’s Dyad Institute and the religious Proletheans. They grapple for control of the clones, while accusing the other of lying and scheming. Dr. Leekie’s methods are more subtle and involve sending the winsome Delphine into Cosima’s bed and assuring the clones that he means them no harm. After he murdered Olivier, though, it is apparent that his methods are no less dangerous than the Proletheans. Preferring not to negotiate, the Proletheans send Helena out into the world with a messianic goal: she is the original from whom all the clones are made, and the others are abominations who must be destroyed.

Helena is one of the more complex characters on the show, but her story has reached its conclusion. Or has it? Sarah begins by introducing her birth mother, Amelia, to Helena who is tied up in Mrs. S.’s basement. Helena is hostile and skeptical. This is one side of her that we have seen strong flashes of. This is the sadistic Helena who cut off Olivier’s tail, murdered Katja, and almost gutted Sarah. Her anger boils over and she manages to escape from the basement. She later lures Amelia to Beth’s apartment and dons a Sarah-esque wig to briefly gain Amelia’s trust. However, within moments, Helena thrusts a knife into Amelia’s stomach and asks (evidently rhetorically) how she ended up with two babies in her stomach.

The next twist has a few problems. After Sarah goes to Beth’s apartment and sees the blood, she goes after Helena at a creepy warehouse. She follows a trail of blood through the building and comes across Amelia. It didn’t make sense that Amelia was stabbed at Beth’s and then transported to the warehouse. How did Helena drag this woman out of the apartment, get her to the warehouse, and then drag her through that? It would have made more sense for Helena to just lure Amelia to the warehouse to have the final confrontation there, or have the battle between Sarah and Helena occur in Beth’s apartment.

The relationship between Sarah and Helena has been strained, but there has always been something that connected them. Amelia tells them that they were monozygotic twins, which adds an interesting layer and justifies the connection between the women. The connection is not enough to overcome Helena’s act of murdering Amelia, though. As Sarah crouches down before her dying birth mother, Amelia hands her a photo and tries to give her a warning about Mrs. S. Her dying breath is “foster mother,” and she is unable to say anything more. Sarah is enraged that Helena has robbed her of the one thing she always wanted – a birth mother. While Helena is psychotic and lacks impulse control, it was strange that she stabbed Amelia without trying to get any information from her. Helena goes after her “sistra,” and nearly kills Sarah by strangling her with a heavy chain. As Sarah gasps for breath, Helena looks down and says she won’t kill her sister. Sarah makes a different decision and shoots Helena. We see Helena fall, but do we know for sure that she is dead? Helena has already come back from an abdominal stabbing, so it’s unclear if she can also survive a bullet. She’s such a dynamic character that it feels unlikely that she is gone for good. Perhaps like Kira, Helena has a special ability to heal.

Cosima does not have such ability. She arrives in town with a nasty, bloody cough. She is met at the bus station by Dr. Leekie. He offers to make a deal with Cosima; in exchange for her signature on a contract, he will give her the complete clone genome to study. She hesitates, but her curiosity gets the better of her. In a conciliatory gesture, Delphine shows up later and offers to help review the code with Cosima. They eventually figure out that the unique sequence in the clone genome isn’t actually a barcode – it’s a patent. Cosima believes that the patent renders them the property of their makers.

I have a problem with the patent storyline. First, if they were patented (and assuming human patenting was possible), they would have had to be registered with a government agency. Maybe they were and this is setting up a government conspiracy. Second, so what if they are patented? A patent only means something if you are able to enforce it before some governing body. In other words, if someone wants to claim ownership of Sarah according to the patent and she refuses – how will the patent be enforced? Would they go to court and have the world know about the clone project? The purpose of a patent is to protect the intellectual property behind whatever is being patented. It is not a talismanic tool to exert complete control over something.

This also leads to my second problem with the story as it unfolded. Each of the clones is pressured to sign a contract. A contract is only binding if the parties are not coerced into signing it. Moreover, for a contract to have any real meaning, it has to be enforceable. So we’re back to the same problem of how these contracts would be enforced. Alison signed her contract, but what if she chooses to break it? How will the Dyad Institute enforce it? They’re not going to take her to court. Would they just kidnap her? They can do that with or without a contact. Perhaps the contract is simply a symbolic way to placate the clones.

Alison signs her contract mostly out of desperation. She has reached her neurotic breaking point and just wants things to go back to normal. I’ve previously mentioned that Alison is my favorite clone, and this week, she was on fire. There are little of things that establish her quirks that I love. This week, this included the exercise scene and her taking multiple bottles of wine to the recycling. Alison made a significant decision, though, that will have grave impacts for her down the line.

Alison is still convinced that Ainsley is her monitor. Dr. Leekie does not confirm this, but tells Alison that he’s withdrawing her monitor. When Alison sees Ainsley’s house for sale, her suspicions are confirmed. She goes over to confront Ainsley and they get into a shouting match. Ainsley drops an old Christmas gift from Alison into the garbage disposal, and while she’s trying to shove it down, her scarf gets caught. As she chokes, she begs Alison to help her. Alison rushes over to the disposal switch and stops. She decides not to turn it off and watches as Ainsley dies. Alison doesn’t yet know what has been apparent to the viewers all season – Donnie is Alison’s actual monitor. When she does learn this at some point, she will feel the full impact of her decision to let Ainsley die. This felt like an extreme omission on Alison’s part and showed that the clones may all have a little of the Helena homicidal tendencies hidden somewhere.

While Sarah takes a life this episode, she does it reluctantly, unlike Alison. Sarah is at her emotional breaking point considering within a 24 hour period she is attacked by Helena, meets her birth mother, brings her injured child home from the hospital, and is arrested. The arrest is the culmination of the investigation by Art and his new partner. At the station, Sarah is on the verge of telling Art the entire truth when she is interrupted by her new attorney – who she’s never met and didn’t ask for. The attorney works for the clone we got a glimpse of last week. The new clone, Rachel Duncan, has a connection to the Dyad Institute. She wants Sarah to sign the same contract as the other clones.

After her confrontation with Helena, Sarah contemplates signing the contract. On her way to Rachel’s office, Paul tells her that he’s been working for Dyad because they know that he accidentally killed 6 Marines in Afghanistan. Sarah has a change of heart and tells Rachel to shove it. She returns to Mrs. S.’s house and sees that it’s been ransacked and both Mrs. S. and Kira are gone. The implication is that Mrs. S. is a traitor, in fact. This must be what Amelia meant when she tried to warn Sarah. If Mrs. S. has absconded with Kira at the Dyad Institute’s instruction that will be a serious blow for Sarah and only worsen her trust issue. I can’t help but think that this would be too neat a bow on the Mrs. S. storyline. I’m skeptical she is operating against Sarah. After all, the Dyad Institute didn’t know where Sarah was until recently, and if Mrs. S. had been a secret agent the entire time, it would have.

Fortunately, Sarah and the other clones have Felix to watch their backs. His protective behavior towards Cosima in this episode is touching. He has already shown affection for Alison and loves Sarah as his sister. His dedication to the clones is the one constant in the sea of chaos surrounding them.

By the end, there are a lot of pieces that will need to be reassembled. Sarah has lost her child. Cosima is gravely ill. Alison is oblivious to her husband’s deception. Helena may be dead. There is still a lot more to be learned about who made the clones, whether there are more out there, and how deep the conspiracy goes regarding the clones’ existence. A year is an interminably long time to wait for answers.

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