Orphan Black season finale recap: 'By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried'
Sarah goes all in for Kira, leading to eye-opening discoveries for all parties.
Imagine that Christmas is coming. Your parents have promised you a really great present. A couple of days later, you hear them talking about buying a video-game console and you wonder, Maybe that’s what I’m going to get. A few more days pass, you notice a new present under the tree. It’s about console-size, has the right dimensions, feels the right weight. Is it an Xbox, a PlayStation, a Wii? Christmas comes. You open the present. There’s nothing inside.
Then your mom walks in with a pony.
We usually start these recaps with a reference to each episode’s pseudo-scientific title. But male clones? Orphan Black, what are you doing? Nobody asked for a pony.
Watching this finale, it’s possible to sense the pride in the writers room: We’re delivering more than we need to—isn’t that great? Unlike the show’s first season’s finale, which left many pondering a hard-to-parse discovery (there’s nothing especially thrilling about copyright law), this is clearly a big deal. But barreling off in the opposite direction, giving viewers something that has to be shocking (male clones!), left me with only one reaction: “So… are you going to clean up after this?”
Because I’m not shocked or satisfied, I’m frustrated with expectation that I would be. So there are male clones—and a military conspiracy to boot—but that doesn’t mean anything to Alison or Cosima or even Sarah, really. Previously, Orphan Black was about a certain kind of sisterhood, and this doesn’t give us any insight into those relationships—a glaring misstep in an episode that kills off one sister without any real celebration or mourning. And this doesn’t clarify our more mysterious characters’ motivations. This only adds more: more characters, more mysteries, more hidden agendas.
Honestly, Orphan Black didn’t need more.
Ahem. Right. The recap.
The title of this week’s episode is “By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried.” The title comes, once again, from Francis Bacon’s Novum Organum and—fun fact!—it completes the line that began last week’s episode. For those who don’t instantaneously memorize all the 17th-century texts they see, the full quote reads: “It would be an unsound fancy and self-contradictory to expect that things which have never yet been done can be done except by means which have never yet been tried.” If you want something crazy to happen, you have to do something crazy.
And boy did we get some crazy this week. In fact, Orphan Black tried to jam a whole episode of plot into the finale’s first half, and then spent the second half giving us a whole season of exposition. Duncan’s dead. Marian’s good(?). Rachel’s impaled. Helena’s kidnapped. Cosima’s hallucinating. Delphine’s getting a free flight to Frankfurt. And it’s just about time to pull out the old Clone Rankings Are Serious Business This Is Not A Drill Whatyamacallit to try to make sense of the madness.
(Meanwhile back in metaphor-opolis, the pony doesn’t fit in your tiny house and your parents have taken out a second mortgage to pay for it.)
1. Sarah, the guardian angel, watching over you in the two-way mirror
We begin the episode with Sarah submitting to a strip search and being asked about her sexual history—including an abortion—by Dr. Nealon, who, we learn, was the one who sneaked into her apartment in season 1. Nealon wants Sarah’s eggs and he uses “bureaucracy” to get her to sign them away, which also gives her a chance to see Kira.
Sarah gets to see Kira, but only through a two-way mirror as Rachel does her best “your mom hurt me she’s evil” pitch to the little girl. Later, Sarah gets to watch Cosima and Kira bond, and it’s a much sweeter exchange. Anyway, Sarah is tied up and stuck in a hospital chair because Nealon’s decides it’ll be a whole lot easier if they just surgically remove one of Sarah’s ovaries.
But Cosima’s contraption saves Sarah in the nick of time (thanks to Kira’s drawing of a fire extinguisher, which Rachel delivered, unaware that it is clearly a hidden message). She shoots Rachel right in the eye with a pencil and makes her way to find Kira. Surprise! Kira’s with Marian!
Marian explains that Sarah is actually free to go, which means that the two separate escape plots that got her to this point were unnecessary. Marian is from Topside, Dyad’s big mother company, and promises that she’ll reveal what this is “really all about” if Sarah meets with her the next day.
Sidebar: We learn in an earlier, non-Maslany scene that Cal and Marian have been IM-ing on the “darknet” and that Marian goes by the name Castor, which Mrs. S knows about—both because Mrs. S knows her mythology and because Marian is Mrs. S’s contact on the inside. It seems that Marian and Siobhan are trying to figure out what is going on in Dyad/Topside and the military, respectively. This whole show may have just pivoted into a buddy cop mystery staring a pair of inexplicable older women. End of sidebar.
Sarah returns home to hang out with Cal and bond with the clone club—well, the clone club minus Rachel. The next day, Sarah shows up to Marian’s giant empty mansion and we learn a lot. First, Topside is a shady super-corporation interested in steering scientific progress for its own means. Also, Charlotte, a girl Kira’s age with her leg in a brace who Marian adopted, is another clone—the only survivor of Dyad’s 400-plus post-Duncan experiments. Oh, and yeah, Sarah also discovers that there male clones, one of which Marian has locked up in her mansion. Knowing Orphan Black, this isn’t even half of what Marian is all about.
2. Cosima, the elementary school science teacher who changed everything
This week on Orphan Black’s education segment: Cosima teaches us about how force equals mass times acceleration, in montage! In one part, she gives Kira the gift of science. In the other, she and Scott prep a fire extinguisher to give Rachel the gift of a pencil to the face.
After escaping Dyad and starting up a groovy clone party with some vinyl (of course), Cosima shares a moment with Sarah. Sarah realizes how much she’ll miss her geek monkey, and the two talk about the design and randomness that make up the universe. Cosima gets points for reaching for meaning behind the clones’ relationships, when everyone barrels onward to Topside and (ugh) male clones.
In the morning, Cosima is awoken by an angelic vision of Delphine/the magic of Kira’s touch. Kira asks her to read aloud from Dr. Moreau, the only book that seems to exist in Orphan Black‘s version of Canada. Cosima discovers Duncan’s key hidden in the margins, but will she live long enough to decode it? *ominous music*
3. Helena, who lost a tow-truck driver to the war
Helena finally gets to meet all her sesters! Also she totally didn’t burn down the Prolethians’ techno-farm (*big grin*). Anyway, she drops in on Art, who calls up Felix, who then brings her to Sarah’s apartment for a big clone-club conclave and dance party. Helena’s dance moves (which include biting her skirt) are clearly the best, of course. Also, her reactions to meeting Cosima: “I like your hairs”; and Alison, “I will be married one day.” In one of the more tender moments we’ve seen this season, she hugs Kira. In fact, if the episode ended right then, it would have felt complete. Because that’s what it seems the season has built up to: the coming together of a clone family.
But after enjoying the night of carousing, Helena sneaks off with her paramour’s trucker cap, leaving liquid nitrogen in lieu of a thoughtful note. But before she can find her lover, she’s kidnapped by army men and marched onto a troop transport. Mrs. S and Paul watch nearby. Paul: “You did what you had to.” Another question: Do Mrs. S’s motivations ever make sense?
4. Alison, briefly awkward around Helena
Alison happily showed up to the clone-club party, tried to relate to her new Ukranian sester, did a little light grinding and butt-slapping with Felix, and then disappeared from the episode. At least things with Donnie are “rewarding.”
5. Rachel, who said the line “enjoy your oophorectomy”
Rachel was having one of those days: First she forced Delphine on a plane to Frankfurt and then her adoptive father killed himself in front of her by drinking tea, after telling her “you don’t deserve me anymore.”
But Rachel took it all in stride. She recovered from the single tear she allowed herself, and confronted Sarah, demanding that she give up the key to Duncan’s synthetic sequences. No dice. Quick solution: crushing the blood that could save Cosima underfoot. Sarah still knows nothing. And so Rachel decides Sarah can live without an ovary, just before Sarah decides Rachel can take a pencil to the eye.
And so Rachel meets her end on the floor of the Dyad medical wing, impaled by a writing implement. Does her death leave Dyad leaderless? (I’m assuming the pencil to the eye is fatal, if only because it seems unlikely for the show to pull a Helena trick again). Will Topside take it over? Was Rachel on the path to good, to evil? What sort of reaction are we meant to feel when a clone kills another version of herself? There’s no time for thoughts like these, Orphan Black decides, there are male clones to introduce!
6/7/8. Mark/locked up male clone/army male clone, because I guess I have to rank them, too
See the discussion at the top. Two more points: Didn’t we agree that Tatiana Maslany is incredible because she’s the only human capable of pulling off multiple characters? Doesn’t this ruin the conceit that Orphan Black is interested in how people view and commodify women’s bodies?
Anyway, Mark also got married to Gracie this week, which means that the ex-cultist with Brave-hair is now the mother to Helena and Henrik’s babies and the wife of a military faction-funded “Project Castor ” creation. And since Helena’s been delivered straight into the clutches of male clone number 3, it seems like we can’t bar the possibility of more babies on the horizon.
Felix quote of the week: “Let’s do open a rollicking debate about keeping secrets”—directed at Mrs. S, but relevant to everyone.
Final sidebar: I’m willing to forgive everything and personally fund an entire season of Orphan Black, if Helena drops in after every plot twist and mumbles incredulously, “My babies?”
Full disclosure: I never got an Xbox, or a pony.
Follow Jackson on Twitter: @McHenryJD