Orphan is the New Black

What if our darkest feminist nightmares came true?

Girls who disagree with their fathers get locked in a cage with their mouths sewn shut?

Women are killed unless they can reproduce? And when they can, they are no more or less than incubators?

Women’s bodies are objects of science, subject to constant observation and kept ignorant of their status as experiments?

Sometimes they are artificially inseminated using animal husbandry tools?

Sometimes fathers commit incest meditated by reproductive technology so it’s NOT ABOUT SEX AND/OR POWER AT ALL. Nor is it creepy. Nor is it anti-Christian.

Women on TV are seemingly infinite variants of the same thin, beautiful, vulnerably strong white woman in leather?

Everyone lives in Canada?



It’s no nightmare, friends.

It’s  Orphan Black.

Just ending its second season, the show portrays a group of clones besieged by the military/corporate forces invested (literally) in their bodily technology. Their bodies. Their technologies. The technology of the self—one exactly the size and shape of the other.

Everything you’ve read about this show is true.

When people say the lead actor, Tatiana Maslany, is really really really good, they mean that each clone seems like she’s played by a different actor.

When people say it’s feminist, they mean that women are central to the plot and men are peripheral.

When people talk about the twist in the season 2 finale, they mean that the closing revelation may threaten the estrogen dominance of the series. That it now appears to be a show about, loosely, girls against boys.

Here’s what I haven’t read much:

The clone premise enables farce more delightful than any farce since Shakespeare.

Lots of clones imitating other clones in many delightful scenarios: at a hot, robotic boyfriend’s apartment, at a high-pressure police hearing about shooting an unarmed bystander, at rehab (wouldn’t you want a clone take your place at rehab?), at the high-stakes custody visit. Many times, these scenarios are madcap and hilarious. Tinged with the threat of death, like the best farce.

The show’s social critique is not complex. Women are literally owned. Their bodies are the property of nefarious corporations. Property in the form of patented synthetic DNA sequences. Foxy! And very millennial.

This scary future slave science isn’t 20 or 200 years from now. It’s like 2 days from now. Plus! The show helpfully gives Scary Future Slave Science a history, not just by being about chattel slavery. But by a scene in the archives bringing us way back to eugenics and B/W pictures. On film.

Which puts the show firmly in the 20thC critique of Science (logic, reason, choose your flavor of this foundational Western ideal) as leading inevitably to death.

I’m looking at you, Nazism. And you, H-bomb. Also you, from the other direction, Postmodernism. Orphan Black‘s just like Thomas Pynchon in this way. Just like him.

But Orphan Black is also friendly to science, as personified by idealized queer stoner genius Cosima.

Cosima, whose frail, pale illness recalls TB. Coughing blood into hankies. Collapsing at emotionally challenging moments.

But just when you are starting to recall Sontag’s argument that TB in the 19th century was a metaphysical status of one’s life essence, because it’s a lung disease, and lungs were metaphysical back then, it turns out she’s ACTUALLY dying of a vague uterus/ovaries disorder.

Of course she is.

Because fertility = womanhood. Even for clones. Even for scientists. Even for lesbians.

Repro organs are the new lungs.

The new seat of the essence of human value.

Not DNA, like perhaps you thought.

Because in the plot, synthetic DNA sequences are secondary to the clones’ fertility/infertility.

Once more, women are less than the sum of their parts. Their ladyparts.

The show presents a fear of women’s sexuality: the clones were designed to be unable to reproduce. But it glorifies motherhood, not only by idealizing Sarah, the “defect,” but by presenting evil clone Rachel as secretly tortured by her infertility. Torture that makes her all murdery. Makes her cross the sororicide taboo of the show.

Next season the feminist stakes are significantly higher. Wither culture, wither science-fiction farce-thrillers. With the current Supreme Court disabusing us of the fantasy that women matter more than corporations, perhaps the only option for a show like Orphan Black is to introduce a whole bunch of clone dudes. Clone dudes that threaten our feminist friends in both the narrative and its meta. Plus, it needs a new set of nefarious enemies for the Clone Club to fight/seduce/flee/burn/bite/Skype. So there are now a bunch of clone dudes running around all over Canada. And the world.

Will their right to full personhood rely solely on their testicles? Will the threat to their full personhood lie there too?

It seems so, with slavering testosteroney boney clone dude snarling at the finale’s close.

Boney clone dudes snarling and slavering is pretty much all tv is now, amiright?

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