Orphan Black Recap: One Baby at a Time

Orphan Black

Human Raw Material
Season 4 Episode 5
Editor’s Rating *****
Rosemary Dunsmore as Susan Duncan. Photo: Orphan Black IV Productions Limited

Orphan Black has a singularly exceptional capacity for addressing the real-life ethical implications of scientific progress. Make no mistake, tonight’s episode is monumental — not only for the narrative itself, but also for the way it confronts the sticky conversation around germ-line editing, a recent breakthrough that is both unprecedented and deeply fraught with ethical concerns. We haven’t gotten to the racial and gender-based issues raised by editing human DNA to produce an “ideal” baby, but “Human Raw Material” gives us a horrific summary about why it’s not to be taken lightly.

Back to the jokes. Sarah has finally calmed down about the facebot (even though Cosima just told her it is literally changing her DNA) for long enough to realize she needs to spend some quality time with Kira. They paint a mural on their safehouse bedroom wall (I guess the landlord doesn’t mind?) and visit Felix at his loft, where Adele, who is regrettably great with kids, charms Kira by teaching her ballet.

The Ledas discover that the company Felix and Adele used to find one another is owned by the Brightborn Group. Not at all suspicious! Sarah immediately poaches the siblings’ DNA and convinces Scott (who is enjoying a stack of comics while Cosima is away) to test it independently. The next evening, he calls in the middle of an extremely tense family dinner at the safehouse — to which Felix has invited his new sister without asking — and confirms that, yes, they are related. Crushed and embarrassed, Sarah gets some redemption later that night when Kira surprises her with a revelation: She’s a clairvoyant/empath, specifically with regards to the Ledas’ emotions.

I honestly still don’t trust Adele, as much as it pains me to say it. She now knows the location of the safehouse and about their hideout in Iceland — not enough to identify who she’s working for, specifically, but enough to raise an eyebrow. Even if she is Felix’s sister, she could have easily been approached by any of the groups out to get the Ledas. Blood relation, as we’ve learned quite well on this show, does not automatically warrant trust.

Naturally, Cosima is more than a little intrigued by the BrightBorn materials Donnie and Felix obtained last week. She immediately notes that “embryo enhancement” can mean anything — but probably nothing good, since none of their research has been published in scientific journals. She’s curious enough to volunteer as Donnie and Felix’s faux-surrogate and attend the BrightBorn orientation with Donnie to infiltrate their research facilities. She even lets slide Donnie’s obtuse suggestion that she “not play the lesbian angle too much” after she wisely asks him to dress more like a normal venture capitalist (i.e., like a “geriatric skateboarder”). Science requires patience, after all.

At BrightBorn, the pair are required to sign NDAs (red flag No. 178, but at least Cosima asked for copies?) and are informed that the CEO, Evie Cho, is there for a surprise visit! Great! Cosima hides her face as Evie tells the orientation group about her own motivation: She became a bioengineer after being cured through an experimental gene-therapy program of her compromised “bubble girl” immune system. At least it’s personal for her, and not just a ruthlessly capitalistic endeavor. (Also worth noting: The women attending the orientation are, predictably, nearly all white and singing some disturbingly cult-y praise for the program. Rich people!)

With Helena still missing in action, the role of unpredictable blonde sestra falls to Krystal Goderitch. Our hot-pinkest clone has been working overtime with the limited (and comically incorrect) information she’s gleaned about DYAD to protect herself, via enthusiastic self-defense training and an unfortunate attempt to infiltrate BrightBorn. She rolls up to the orientation juuuust in time for Evie Cho to recognize her as she goes downstairs to meet with Susan Duncan — and only minutes after Cosima disappears down into the labs to do recon, scaring the bejesus out of Donnie in the process. He creepily poses as a BrightBorn masseuse to find out what she knows about Project Leda. Not much, it turns out. She thinks they’re adding stem cells to their cosmetics. It’s going fine, if skeezily, until she mentions Delphine and he blows his cover, getting karate-kicked in the cojones for it as she flees.

Meanwhile, Duncan, Cho, and Ira have convened to discuss Cosima. Duncan has chatted with her, pretending to be an anonymous doctor, and discovered that, duh, she’s brilliant and knows exactly what’s going on — illegal germ-line editing experimentation on “donated” leftover embryos from BrightBorn clients — and therefore must be contained. There’s also a reference to the last time a clone became too self-aware. Beth? Or one of the Helsinki Ledas?

Regardless, one of the Ghoul Squad EMTs arrives and locks up Krystal by mistake, giving Cos time to steal some scrubs and accidentally get wrangled into helping an emergency birth. The mother is freaking out — and understandably so. In what is perhaps Orphan Black’s most horrific moment yet, the baby comes out horribly deformed. Like, X-FilesHome” levels of face-caved-in deformity. This is the cost of screwing around with human-gene experimentation. This is what can happen without the informed consent of embryo-donors or carriers.

After Duncan catches an aghast Cosima, she proves once again why she is the best: by ripping into “her maker” and Cho about their ethically unspeakable crimes. (Not to mention another milestone in a decades-long tradition of medical-ethics violations.) Duncan does one of her classic take-over-the-world-for-the-greater-good villain monologues about how her method, Project Leda, is so much better and more sophisticated than Neolution’s microbots or BrightBorn’s carrier program, and maybe even convinces Cosima to turn over Kendall in exchange for a cure for herself and her sestras? We won’t know until next week.

Is the Duncan/Ira bit in the pool at the end a bit much? Yes, yes it is. I get the need to establish that Susan has been warped by her obsession with “the work,” but turning her into a child abuser — the implication being that she’s groomed him from infancy — feels like a stretch. You’re better than that, Orphan Black.

Assorted Notes:

  • Detective Thin Man is still buzzing around, this time telling Art that he knows Bubbles was a prescription-pill front and that he’s coming for the Hendrixes, all of which Art relays to Sarah. Can the Ledas make these (very legit) criminal charges disappear? Alison will not abide a prison jumpsuit, I’ll tell you that much.
  • If Adele is still dangerous, who do you think she’s spying for? Are the Proletheans totally out of the picture? A few must have survived, right?
  • What is up with Sarah’s mullet-braid situation?
  • Did anyone catch the reference Cosima makes when talking to Duncan that last time, something about the Ledas being her … something mice? Ankh? The phrase bore no Google results I could understand. Genetics nerds, help us out?
  • I’m embarrassed to have taken this long to finally realize the origin of this season’s episode titles, but it’s certainly worth noting. That Donna Haraway’s works are being quoted is significant because (a) she’s an incredible feminist intellectual whose work fits perfectly with Orphan Black’s aesthetic and themes (especially A Cyborg Manifesto, which explores female agency and women’s relationship with their own existence), and (b) she’s the first female author to receive the episode-naming honor, after Charles Darwin, Francis Bacon, and Dwight Eisenhower. Is it too soon to start lobbying for Octavia Butler in season five?

Orphan Black Recap: One Baby at a Time