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Orphan Black: Gag or Throttle

Kira: "Who hurt you?"
Rachel: "All of them."

This could be the best episode of the entire series. I'm not sure. I do think, however, that its final ten minutes are the best ten minutes of television this show has ever produced.

Rachel Duncan is a badass. I find myself tempted to write that over and over, because, wow, was she the boss here. Before watching this season, I wondered if the writers would maintain Rachel a foe or give her a redemption arc. We already had a clone villain convert and join the Clone Club – Helena – and I wasn't sure if turning Rachel into a good guy would work at all. To be honest, the worst aspects of Rachel's personality are so grating that I didn't want her to have a redemption arc. What "Gag or Throttle" offers, though, is not only a terrific insight into the character's mind, but a believable turn for her.

Rachel is the typical person who belongs to a minority but has enough privileges that she doesn't see herself as part of an underprivileged group. She is the "pro clone," the one who was raised with self-awareness, who believes she is superior to her sisters because she is with those who rule, not among the oppressed ones. She gets to run Neolution, she has the power to send out orders to kill her sisters if needed, when she loses an eye they give her a bright new one, she is first in line to get the cure to the illness that kills the Ledas. That's a lot of power and it disables her to see that, in the end of the day, Westmorland, Coady and the likes of them think of her as part of their experiment, not as their equal.

It's delicious, then, to watch Rachel's distorted vision be deconstructed little by little until it is finally wrecked in one punch. First, Coady and Westmorland have her go through an exam she wasn't even aware of. Then she sees that in her medical record, she is still referred to as 779H41, her ID tag. Of course she is. A few weeks back, when Westmorland had her sign her letter of manumission, her ID tag was right there before her name. Clone Rachel. Black Rachel. Lesbian Rachel. Female Rachel. You name it. It's naive to think that, if you are part of an oppressed group, the oppressors will ever see you as anything different than what puts you under their power. But the significance of it went right over Rachel's head. Heck, back in season one, Rachel offered the clones "freedom," she knew it was a lie, but she still thought that this time, in her case, it had to be true. Until it became clear it wasn't.

The revelation that Rachel's eye was also a camera was a gut-punch. I have to be honest, I didn't see it coming. Looking back, there were signals. Last season Rachel had visions of a swan, and it is clear now that those were computer-generated images. This season, Westmorland was always one step ahead of her, aware of details he could only know if he had some kind of surveillance in every corner of Dyad. Turns out he had Rachel under his constant surveillance. Icks. That is disturbing. He had access to her every moment, her intimacy, her body. No wonder Rachel was in total dismay when she found out. Not only wasn't she free as she thought she was, she was even more controlled than her sisters. From that moment forward, I had no idea what she would do next. Would she proceed as planned and take Kira to the island? Would she turn her back to Neolution and do the right thing for once?

Alas, "Gag or Throttle" takes us through Rachel's emancipation, and it is absolutely riveting television. Having the villain bond with the child is an easy writing trick to make the villain sympathetic, or even to have them switch sides, but it makes total sense in Rachel's case. She always wanted to be a mother and always envied Sarah for having the ability to conceive. In another reality, Kira could have been her daughter. In this reality, she is Kira: taken from her family, trapped inside Neolution, treated as an experiment. She drinks, she pretends to be cold to Kira, she watches, with teary eyes, the footage of a day in the park with her deceased parents. She is nervous, heartbroken, about to collapse. But about to claim her freedom, for the first time ever. For real.

A glass of pain, a glass of freedom.
I was so excited when Rachel put her plan into motion, and she executed it to perfection. Dosing Kira, giving Neolution's gunmen a reason to leave Dyad, contacting Art, using the eye-patch to trick Westmorland, and finally giving Kira back to Sarah and Mrs. S. She didn't go with them, she didn't join Clone Club, she didn't ask for their help. She had to finish the job herself. The excessive drinking was part of the plan, as she was dosing herself to ease the pain of extracting her own eye. That eye, a symbol of Neolution's care for her and also their instrument of control. I usually look away when there is a gross-out scene onscreen, but I couldn't take my eyes out, absolutely no pun intended.

As Rachel cut her eye out, Westmorland lost control. And the episode blacked out with the image of Rachel in agony. The agony of being a woman who had to sacrifice a part of her own body, the agony of being perceived as a mere experiment, the agony of being hurt by those whom she trusted. But also, for the first time, the agony of freedom.

Keeping Up With the Clone Club

Sarah's reaction to Kira being kidnapped was, surprisingly, telling Siobhan to keep it cool: they would find a way. While I love the character development of Sarah becoming less impulsive and thinking more strategically, I could not believe that she would just sit and do nothing when she realized Kira was going to be taken to the island. Why is Sarah so passive this season?

Alison is back and she had, uh, a hair cut. What the hell was that? And is that really Alison? There was something off for me. I don't know if it was the wig distracting me, if the wig was distracting Tatiana Maslany, of if Tati was indeed playing someone else pretending to be Alison. Anyway, Alison met an Jungian and tattooed "live deep," a Thoreau quote. "Liver deep," Donnie read.

Gracie found Helena. How did she find her? That can't be good.

Was this the first episode of the season in which all main five clones appeared?

Neolutionist Bits and Prolethean Pieces

- It looked like young Rachel knew the ID tags of every Leda clone.

- Why was Rachel, in one of the flashbacks, being examined in Leekie's office? Did they run out of sets?

- Rachel killed Miriam Johnson, an already-ill clone, to dissect her in the search of a cure. That shocked Leekie, who saw Miriam as a human being rather than just an experiment.

- The Clone Club discovered Westmorland's true identity: John Patrick Mathieson forged his death in 1967, then assuming the identity of Westmorland. Sarah told the truth to Rachel, who pretended to dismiss the information, but later told it the board. "His anomaly is his ability to deceive."

- Kira gave Rachel a friendship bracelet. Good timing, Kira.

- Mark! There was another Castor clone alive. I totally didn't remember, and I watched this season already. Coady confirmed, though, that he was the final Castor clone standing.

- Donnie had a quick panicked expression on his face when Alison grabbed the hot glue gun. Hee.

- It's stating the obvious at this point, but Tatiana is amazing. Gold acting stars. My favorite bit of acting is the way Rachel looks at the glass, the physical fear of knowing the pain she is about to put herself through.


Rachel: "You raised me to be objective."
Leekie: "Neolution raised you. Here... in a corporation. What are you?"

Sarah: "You knew he was a fraud."
Rachel: "Fraud? We're all frauds."

Rachel: "Why don't you run?"
Kira /Young Rachel: "Where would I go?"

What a terrific character turn. Four out of four self-extracted eyeballs.

1 comment:

  1. As you say, it was a terrific episode, just riveting stuff. As unlikable as Rachel has been, I couldn't help but admire her strength of will and intelligence. What I found most satisfying about it's so perfectly in character. So often I find myself doubting these sorts of big side-switching moves by characters and feeling that they're done for a plot twist rather than an organic character development, but this was dead on.


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