'Orphan Black' Gets a New Clone So Let's Investigate Female Autonomy
It should go without saying but, spoilers ahead, Clone Club. So. There's a new clone on Orhan Black this season, as we knew was likely to happen. And while we're thrilled at the notion that we're going to see Tatiana Maslany continue to flex her mind-bogglingly good acting chops in another new direction, we're more excited about what this new clone means about the BBC America series' second season. Because this new clone is not only a great addition to the increasingly intricate storyline, but will also/hopefully be the show's way into dissecting the current climate surrounding body autonomy when said body belongs to a woman.
Which is pretty timely, all things considered, eh? In this country — as well as many around the world — the issue of whether or not women have the right to the management and decisions made regarding their own bodies and how to manage them has been a volatile one. In America alone, a woman's right to healthcare, family planning services, and control over her own reproductive health have all been hot-button issues. Around the world a woman's right to be defined as an equal to men has been at the forefront of many public policy debates and political system-gaming. To some extent the joke that there's a "war on women" is not all that hyperbolic a conceit.
And it's not hard to see how Orphan Black's concept plays nicely into this, becoming a sort of sci-fi morality play for the autonomy of women.
We see this in even just the details surrounding Jennifer Fitzsimmons. A 28-year-old teacher and swim coach from the midwest of America, Fitzsimmons is suffering from a debilitating respiratory illness that is, according to co-creators Graeme Manson and John Fawcett, "a version" of what fellow clone Cosima Niehaus is currently battling. It seems likely — based on her transformation from super-fit healthy pre-Olympian to barely breathing DYAD Institute medical experiment — that things do not end well for Fitzsimmons (we all saw the bald clone in the season two trailer, right?), and that her relinquishing control to this "other" has dire consequences. In a clip from her video diaries we hear her utter, "Every week the DYAD tries a new treatment: nothing works. I'm just getting sicker. ... Dr. Leekie said he could help. He lied." It should also be noted that Jennifer has no idea she's a clone.
All three women — Cosima, Jennifer, and now-deceased Katja — are technically patented property of the DYAD Institute's has-to-be-illegal human cloning experiment, but have all had wildly different experiences and level of knowhow regarding their situation. Now, technical aspects that we don't know aside, these women have all been fighting to save their own lives and have faced many, many obstacles as they've traversed this increasingly murky path. But the people in charge? So far they've either flat-out refused to help, or will only do so on their terms (and — by the looks of Jennifer — they may even be lying about whether or not this "treatment" is actually helpful or just another experimental measure). Sound familiar? Switch out the DYAD Institute for religious fundamentalists or, say, Republicans currently in congress, and it reads like something out of the newspaper instead of a television show.
Orphan Black has always been a feminist show and played with the idea of who or what owns us. Like all people, the conditions of our existence are fairly universal. (Egg + Sperm = tiny human!) But each clone faces a different set of circumstances — no matter how similar they might look or be, genetically speaking — based on the constructs of their surroundings. With Cosima (and now Jennifer's) illness at the forefront of the season's doings, the conversation shifts from "How much control can our 'makers' really have over the final product if that product is its own entity separate from its beginnings?" to "What are the ramifications of giving up that control?"
Jennifer, as a foil to Cosima, allows the show to pick at both and explore the ways in which outside influences and surroundings make us all wildly different individuals — even in the most extreme of circumstances. (Y'know, like if you were a clone!) And as with everything in life, the answers are complicated and dependent on far more than a DNA sequence and, regardless of genetic identicality, a truly individualized experience. Thankfully, they're all apart of a "sisterhood like no other." One that knows no limits to its capabilities and when unified is stronger than those in charge may have anticipated. We're pretty sure we're damn right about that.
Image: BBC America