Orphan Black Recap: The Clinical and the Humane

Photo: Ken Woroner/BBC AMERICA
Orphan Black

Orphan Black

Ease for Idle Millionaires Season 5 Episode 5
Editor's Rating 4 stars

The problem with immortality, as many stories have told us, is that the struggle to achieve it invariably comes with a disregard for the sanctity of life. That irony, of course, is why villains consumed by the search for the Fountain of Youth are compelling: In struggling to live forever, they sure do kill a lot of people!

This is the central focus of this week’s episode: Whether P.T. Westmoreland is a person or an ideology dominating several bodies over the years, he will stop at nothing to achieve greatness via everlasting life. His motives have always clashed: He insists he’s pursuing the betterment of mankind, even acting offended when Rachel wonders why he doesn’t simply kill his test subject (“Because this mutation is important to me? Because life, long or short, is never perfect?!” — a Chekhov’s gun outburst, as we discover later). Is this meant to demonstrate internal conflict? I’m more inclined to think he’ll say anything to absolve himself of ethical scientific responsibility. He claims to be “curing death,” and isn’t the inevitability of death what gives life meaning? If you really believe “life is never perfect,” why would you spend two centuries (or, if you’re lying, why assume a 170-year-old identity) attempting to perfect the human race?

Whatever he may say, now we know Westmoreland would rather kill a subject — his morlock, who we finally learn was a Latvian orphan named Yannis — than be embarrassed by one (Cosima).

Siobhan, of course, doesn’t buy Westmoreland’s Great and Powerful Oz act for a second. Consulting the impressive timeline our boy-geeks have compiled (did you find yourself wishing you had a copy as a guide to what the Hell Wizard is going on right now?), she reveals her master plan. She wants to identify all benefactors, associates, and romantic links to key Neolution players — in addition to following the money — to determine whether or not the Westmoreland who disappeared into the jungle in 1898 is the same Westmoreland who reemerged at Cambridge in the ’70s and is now holding Cosima hostage in an elaborate, Wellsian RPG.

This guy is a master manipulator, as I suppose you must be, whether you’re a con man or a 170-year-old mad scientist or both. He’s been playing Rachel like a harp, plying her with Champagne and Cosima’s treatments and telling her how very good and special she is compared to her garbage sisters. Rachel is essentially vying to be the model minority: She needs to be singular, exceptional, “good enough” for both non-clones and these world-bending scientists. It’s what makes her actively dominate both Susan and Delphine (observations like “You look so windblown!” and “Remarkable recovery you’ve made for a woman your age!” border on, dare I say, shade?), and it’s what drives her Neolution overachievements, procuring not only hella patents but also 1,300 (!) test subjects into which they intend to implant Kira’s eggs. It’s a stunning display of unethical scientific practice, but, lest we forget, not an uncommon one.

Speaking of ownership, Delphine returns from Sardinia, which, as Casey Griffin and Nina Nesseth over at the Mary Sue point out, is home to a population boasting unusually long lifespans, as well as one of the oldest and largest collections of genetic samples. In this universe, it turns out Westmoreland owns that biobank. Her return with the samples is again framed as a test of loyalty, but we finally dispense of that suspicion by episode’s end, when she reminds Cosima of her promise to protect her always, and the pair accept that their relationship will always involve Delphine acting without Cosima’s consent and Cosima taking everything to 11. (Since when do we equate “constantly lying by omission” with “acting on one’s principles”? Whatever.)

Cosima is on tooth patrol, sequencing Yannis’s (also patented?) genome and comparing it to Ayesha’s, a study which gets her into one of the weirdest dinner parties in history. Westmoreland has invited his Science Harem for dinner — even if you believe that Westmoreland is in fact 170 years old, asking 21st-century women to wear Victorian petticoats at your dinner table is a Paul Ryan–on–PCP degree of gross, not to mention kinky as hell — to which he insists on arriving with Delphine on his arm. It’s a petty yet deeply disturbing display of dominance over Cosima, reminding her that Delphine is just one more object he owns. In between bites of nothing (exactly one stalk of asparagus was consumed on camera by Susan), Cosima comments on the number of dead things in the house, is asked to talk about her parents, and finally confronts Westmoreland about Neolution’s work: They’re manipulating the expression of LIN28a, the gene that regulates the regeneration of stem cells.

Let me explain: In Ayesha’s tumor, they’re administering gene therapy instead of chemo (Cosima notices “low promoter methylation,” which in Earth language means they’re chemically encouraging that gene to let its little light shine). But in Kira, they’ve found that the gene is naturally mutated and is self-replicating without going overboard and becoming cancerous (so, more like a self-contained bonfire than a little light). They’d hoped that, when they synthesized Yannis’s LIN28a to make the Leda clones, it’d self-replicate in them, but thanks to evolution, it only started appearing naturally as a mistake … in a second-generation child who wasn’t supposed to exist. Now they want to effectively scrape Kira’s womb clean to see if her eggs can produce more mutant babies. Cosima is, of course, horrified.

“What a delicate balance you have between the clinical and the humane,” Westmoreland observes, as though those two things are mutually exclusive.

Meanwhile, our “bear in the woods” has killed a Revivalist, so a hunting party assembles to end him. Mud, who let him out in the first place, is forced to join. but Yannis recognizes her after killing the guy shooting at him (fair enough) and spares her. Eventually he charges back up to Westmoreland’s nightmare dungeon, where Cosima again confronts a now-armed P.T. who’s dying and using Yannis, who was “a healthy kid” before he “dismantled” him, presumably for his own gene therapy, to “cure” his own death. It isn’t until she accuses him of being a normally aging impostor, however, that he snaps, giving her the gun and telling her to put Yannis out of his misery if she’s so principled. She refuses, so as she attempts to speak to Yannis — effectively her family member — P.T. shoots him. That’s eugenics for you: When “imperfect” life is no longer useful to you, that life is not worth keeping around. Besides, now he’s got a new pet in Cosima, who’s now trapped in the same cage — and whose parents won’t come looking for her, or so she effectively told him at dinner.

Too bad he’s underestimating her sisters.

Scattered Notes

• Westmoreland or Westmorland? BBC America and the show itself have spelled it both ways.

• Helena’s advice re: Kira worked. She agrees to tell her mom about Sestra ESP (Extra-Sestra Perception?) in exchange for the full, grown-up truth. Sarah, being Sarah, decides that also means teaching Kira how to hustle Rachel. Questionable parenting, maybe, but truth can only protect you if you know what you’re doing with it!

• Screaming at the credits music. Tatiana Maslany and Kristian Bruun’s “Ain’t No Mountain” cover was great, but this children’s song adapted from that Neolution nursery rhyme is nothing short of chilling.

• Ira is glitching. Susan is regretting her decision more by the second. Will either find redemption in the end?

• Cosima’s tux! Did it just get really hot in here? I need a minute.

Orphan Black Recap: The Clinical and the Humane