Sunday, May 26, 2024

Liver Deep: Leda and The Swansong

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(S)he sees all

Welcome back to the trip, bbs, or should I say ccs. This week on Orphan Black was Rachel’s *moment* and it was EPIC. The episode itself, written by first-time TV writer Renee St Cyr, was one of the strongest and most compelling of the entire series; it was downright cinematic. The sense of hurtling through space to a wildly climactic conclusion is palpable. Everything is happening and it’s just A LOT.

We open with a young Dr. Leekie (that hair tho) telling the assembled DYAD board that “understanding the human genome and the environmental impact on genes is the holy grail of life extension.” Pretty solid summary of Neolution’s goal and what the clones are for, so. He then brings Rachel into the room, who recites a whole speech about herself and her self-awareness as a clone. “Dr. Leekie shows me [the other clone] files so I can understand how experiences determine traits,” she says, and when Dr. Van Lear of Brightborn fame (and weirdly of rescuing-Delphine fame) asks her if she knows her tag number, we see that behind her back Rachel is picking her fingers raw. She does know her tag: 779H41. She also knows the other clone ID tags and names by heart, including Cosima’s. (Side note, for how long did she continue to have access to the other clone files? How much does she know about the other clones? Because she seemed surprised by Cosima, specifically her sexuality, in season two, but I digress).



We cut from child-Rachel’s performance for the old men who created her and have near absolute power over her, to a similar performance from adult-Rachel in front of the same board. Only now she’s been doing it for so long that the performance has become her identity. The only times we’ve seen the cracks were when she obsessively watched videos of herself and the only person who ever really loved her, Ethan Duncan, in DYAD’s private 4-wall movie theater with a martini in her hand.

Now, we have the finger-picking as a strong indicator of her vulnerability; it’s her only giveaway, and we see it several more times throughout the episode. Rachel was, as Susan put it, corporate-raised, and it is exceedingly clear in this opening scene what that means. It means that, after she was put into DYAD custody, she was raised to please the board- her “creators” or “fathers,” which is made up almost entirely of men. Her performance made them feel like they were doing a good job on their experiment, and more importantly, made them feel powerful. It literally fed the patriarchy (OB with the patriarchy metaphors this season, more blatant than ever). They- the board, doctors, Leekie, PT- rewarded her for that complacency with the delusion of autonomy and power. And beyond that, they gave her the illusion of being loved. But as we see by the end of this episode (and as we’ve known all along), that illusion is not enough to sustain a person- and certainly not a Leda.

Your fingers are telling you something, Rachel

In the present day, Rachel is playing her role as consistently as ever. She trots Kira out in front of the board, barely even trying to uphold the veil of helping Kira learn more about who she is. She uses PT’s phrasing of Kira being the new Eve and straight-up says they’re going to take biopsies of her liver, lungs and stomach. She tells Frontenac that fluid is beginning to collect around Kira’s eggs and they can harvest them within 24 hours. Did I mention this episode is the grossest episode of OB yet? Pretty sure it is, and this moment is only one of the reasons why.

Kira is a first-class baby hustler, giving Rachel a friendship bracelet, relating to her lack of friends, pretending to be okay with staying at DYAD for multiple nights and not being able to call her mom. She’s trying to get under Rachel’s skin. But it’s not only a hustle; Kira is empathically connected to all the clones, including Rachel, and she feels Rachel’s pain more than any other human in this matrix. That gives her an in that no one else has. Kira is now a successor to Rachel in that she is currently under the control of DYAD and subject to whatever poking and prodding they intend to do to her, but the difference is that Kira has a family, a life outside of Project Leda and Neolution, love and empathy. She wasn’t raised an experiment. She won’t submit easily, despite the great weight of the elephant and its baggage bearing down on her. And what’s more, she won’t quietly accept Rachel’s part in the Neo machine.

Meanwhile, Sarah is not happy with being told it will be another day before she can talk to Kira, and neither is S. But this time, it’s S rather than her reckless daughter who wants to storm the gates of DYAD with guns blazing and get Kira back, and Sarah who talks her down: it won’t work, and will make things worse. S and Sarah as a tight team doing everything for Kira is beautiful; it’s so satisfying after years of disagreeing over what’s best for Kira. So many barriers have come down between these two.

Meanwhile, sailor!Cosima is back at the Rabbit Hole with navigator!Charlotte and has the sweetest reunion ever with Scott. (I mean, besides her reunion with Delphine, but that was less sweet and more HEART WRENCHING DESPERATE NEED FOR EACH OTHER, because, as Scott puts it, it’s always drama between those two). Hell Wizard calls her escape very Jason Bourne, and Cosima calls herself West coast. Scott tells her she’s home. Bless.

Geek monkey love fest

But unfortunately, Cosima now has to share her island knowledge with Sarah, and none of it is good news. She tells Sarah about DYAD harvesting Kira’s eggs and about Coady being head scientist on the island, about PT being a fraud whose identity is assumed, and relays her suspicions that neither Susan nor Ira are alive. I for one didn’t get the hint that Ira also died in the last episode but alas, he and Susan are lying side by side under wooden headstones with weird symbols on them on The Island of Westmoreau. RIP Ira.

Sarah is confused and freaked about DYAD taking Kira’s eggs, obviously. “She hasn’t even had her period yet,” she says desperately, and I am glad to see this totally unstigmatized talk about women and girls and periods and moms and stuff. (Except the specific circumstances are actually horrible). Cosima explains that we’re born with all the eggs we’ll ever have and technically, they could be harvested from an infant. The gross continues.

S is despondent that “they’re doing it to another generation of women,” and honestly, same, but Sarah is adamant: this is their window, they can still stop them. Kira will relay information via her coded story and they will figure out a way. This is possibly the most desperate situation Sarah’s ever been in, which is saying something, and the way she’s tackling it with all of her faculties and resources is ace. The Geek Monkeys agree to figure out who the man behind the PT Westmoreland-curtain is by researching men who went to Cambridge with Susan in the 60s who may have “died” aka faked their own death in order to assume this Westmoreland facade. Sarah and S will continue to funnel money-trail info coming from Felix and Adele (and presumably Delphine? Literally, what are you doing Delphine). Allison pops into this sestra skype sesh with a towel wrapped around her head saying she’s been in California but she’s back in Toronto the next day, so the sestras are gathering again and that can only be a good thing (if not 100,000x more work for Tatiana; thanks Tatiana!)

Meanwhile on the island, Rachel is bringing white flowers to Susan’s grave. We see flashbacks of PT showering sweet words on Rachel about how she is his daughter, how he couldn’t trust Susan but he trusts her, how he wants her to lead Neolution with him. He kisses her on the head, and she has tears in her eyes. She’s desperate for love and approval, a need that is universal, but in her case amplified by being aware from such a young age that she is one of many, she is a subject. Adult Rachel is a striking embodiment of what it might mean to grow up with this identity erasure. When PT calls Rachel his daughter, her longing for her own father is soothed. He has her sign an emancipation document, claiming that it will free her from her patent, that she will no longer be 779H41. (Which is literally encoded in her DNA, so no). For the audience, Rachel’s humanity is unfolding She’s never been an easy character to empathize with; sometimes even impossible. Even in this very episode, we see a flashback in which she kills a fellow dying Leda in order to get data on the clone disease faster than just waiting for the sick clones to die. Leekie, of all people, looks at her like she’s a monster and says, “What are you?”

Just another look of disgust from the patriarchy, it’s like being a woman on Twitter

It’s yet another moment in which Rachel’s identity as pro-clone, less than human, is drilled into her by the people who are supposed to love her. Her actions are horrific, to be sure, but she is not entirely to blame. We see that more now than ever.

At Susan’t grave, PT wraps an arm around Rachel and apologizes that Susan never believed in her. Because he’s LITERALLY THE WORST. Then he tells her that Coady is waiting in her lab- the basement lab of the Janis days, because she’s nostalgic like that- to examine her. Rachel is taken aback. More examinations? (P.S. Examinations means checking vaginas for growths because Clone Disease). PT and Coady tell her that it’s about curing the Leda disease and are syrupy sweet with her, because their middle names are manipulative and contriving, but Rachel knows that she’s being used, even if she can’t yet admit it. We know she knows because there are more flashbacks in which she is examined, by Leekie (her father figure, ew) and another doctor, who tell her she’s not exempt from the experiment and that they can’t share everything they know about the clone disease. We know she knows because after Coady examines her, Rachel asks for privacy and we see her take a tissue and wipe the gel from between her legs, a moment so intimate and vulnerable and exposed that we can’t help but empathize with her. (Again, shout out Renee St Cyr, it’s killer storytelling). And we know she knows because she sees her file on Coady’s computer screen, on which, despite her “emancipation,” she is listed as 779H41.

Back in Toronto, the Geek Monkeys and the Matriarchs (Sarah and S) are hard at work. They discover that Van Lear is head of DYAD, BlueZone (aka Tom Cullen’s cosmetics company from last week) and 11 other biotech companies that are all funneling money into a Kuwaiti consulting firm headed by a guy named Hashem al-Katib (sp?). Is this what it feels like to be part of the Russia probe? Because it’s very labyrinthian. They also find the real PT- a man named John Mathieson.

Meanwhile, Donnie is frantically cleaning the house in advance of Allison’s return, but then she walks in the door with SHORT PURPLE HAIR and wearing a DENIM MUMU. She’s been studying Carl Jung and sucking the marrow out of life. She throws out all her craft supplies and busts out a keyboard and tells Donnie that she is so much more present now and won’t tell him what to do. They talk about starting a band. It’s disturbing and delightful all at once.

You still know she’s Allison though, #PraiseTatiana

Did I mention she got the best tattoo ever?

My next tattoo tbh

It says “live deep” but it actually says “liver deep” and it’s perfect.

On Westmoreau’s island, Rachel eavesdrops on PT talking to Frontenac about how worried he is about her bond with Kira, implying that Rachel is weak. She confronts him, and argues with him about his request to bring Kira to the island, which makes PT even more angry and suspicious, so she backs down, saying “You know best.” But she also notices a tablet he has in his desk. Before leaving the island, she sneaks into his office and looks at it. This is what she sees:



Literally everything that Rachel has said and done since getting penciled has been seen and heard by PT. And he can show her things through it- his own face, the beheaded swans from season 4.

Remember how I said this episode is uber gross?

Oh, and in case there wasn’t enough happening, Mark is on the island now too, ready to help Coady find Helena in exchange for a Castor cure. Guess how he’ll do that?

Yo Gracie

Upon Rachel’s return to DYAD, she’s straight-up rude to Kira but allows her to have a video call with Sarah. As predicted, Kira relays through her coded story that they plan to take her to the island. She and Sarah tell each other they love each other and cry, and so do I, like a lot. Sarah calls Rachel to beg her to stop holding her daughter hostage, and tries to blackmail her by saying they’ll tell the DYAD/Neo board that PT is actually John Mathieson, betting that they don’t already know. Rachel, now aware of how inescapable PT is, tells her no dice. In fact she sics DYAD on Sarah and S. There’s a lot of desperation all around.

Rachel quickly starts drinking martinis and watching her old movies again. She gets very drunk, but she makes a decision. It’s one of the bravest decisions any character on this show has made.

She gives Kira the sedative she’s meant to give her. Forces them on her. Kira asks her, who hurt her?

“All of them.” Rachel picks her fingers. “My mom used to do that,” Kira says.

Rachel goes to her meditation room and closes her eyes. When she opens them again, she’s put on an eye patch over her camera eye. She texts Art that Neos will be raiding S’s house, and he gets Sarah and S out. With the DYAD henchmen distracted, Art brings Sarah and S to DYAD and Rachel wheels a sleeping Kira into the elevator to meet her family. S mouths, “Thank you,” and it feels very full circle. Lastly, amid flashes of an irate Westmoreland in her eye, Rachel sends an email to the board disclosing PT’s true identity. Then she takes off her eye patch.


I literally made so many scared and horrified noises during this sequence that my family, who I am visiting, rushed into the room to see if I was ok. Which I was, but I also wasn’t at all.


Then the super dramatic music cuts and the last moment of the episode is a desperate gasp from our newest hero. Even this small effect is stunning.

Our girl came through, people. The character of Rachel Duncan is one of the most complicated characters on TV, one most people love to hate. But she is a Leda, and in the end, to echo S’s comment to Rachel last episode, the Ledas need each other.

This episode was a wild roller coaster of character study and a narrative force. It had call-backs (Donnie when he saw the glue-gun for one; priceless). It had extremely nuanced and complex moments of character development for Rachel that were effectively distributed across the timespan of her life via flashbacks. It had major plot movement driven by characters (Rachel, Kira, even Mark and Gracie) in ways that in earlier seasons would be totally unpredictable. And it had Rachel doing literally the most badass thing it was possible for her to do, because it was so specific to her character and the position of that character in the story.

I am blown away by this episode, and I say that as someone who for a long time did not believe Rachel would ever come through on behalf of her sestras. I say that as someone whose favorite parts of this show are Cophine, Sarah-Cosima team-ups and Felix doing anything. Of course I’m here for all of it, I just never imagined I would be this here for Rachel.

And I have to say, the flashbacks this season are really working for me. Flashbacks can be tricky, but the depth and breadth they give the characters in Orphan Black, especially now that we’re in the final season, is brilliant and fits so well in the overall story arc.

So many kudos to Renee St Cyr, Tatiana Maslany (who legit NEVER falters in her ability to fully and fearlessly inhabit a character, she is so in it and it has blown me the hell away every single episode for five years), and the team behind Orphan Black. It’s not fair that a show this good is ending. I mean I get that you need to quit while you’re ahead, but I don’t really accept that?

Lastly, a note about next week. There was one preview that refused to show us anything (while we’re doing shout-outs, here’s one for the marketing team who never fail to elicit ALL THE HYPE), and one in which Felix has an art opening with his Leda portraits and all the sestras are there dancing and smiling and also Delphine is there and Hell Wizard freestyles about clones while wearing a Future is Female shirt. COULD LIFE GET BETTER I DON’T KNOW


See you next week, if I survive the next episode!

All images courtesy of BBC America

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