Tag Archives: Orphan Black

Case of the Monstrous Wannabe Mothers

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Are we all still mad about Black Widow’s weirdly placed and (unintentionally?) offensive emotional revelation in Age of Ultron that she’s a monster because she can’t have children?

This has been up for discussion since the movie aired and is probably old news now in Internet Time, (there’s certainly been a lot written about it that is much better than anything I could say) but I think the issue surrounding it bears repeating or at least examining. Not just Natasha’s case, but the use of infertility as a tragically villainous trait, because it’s definitely something that keeps popping up. Among Orphan Black’s philosophical and allegorical dealings with female bodily autonomy and all that jazz, it’s revealed that one of the reasons why the decidedly domineering and villainous Rachel has such beef with Our Heroine Sarah is that she’s envious that Sarah and can have children and Rachel can’t. She also kidnaps Sarah’s daughter and is entirely ready to forcibly adopt her at the same time she’s got people about to harvest Sarah’s ovaries in the next room.

Like, whoa, girl. Calm down. Her infertility (part of her intelligent design in the cloning process) is not the only thing about her that concretes her as an antagonist, but it’s sure as hell part of her reasoning for doing what she does and being the way she is. While it might be unfair to say the narrative is implying that being biologically incapable of bearing children is a something that will turn you into a terrible person prone to physical and emotional torture… the implication, like Black Widow’s “monster” comment, is there. And it doesn’t seem quite fair. Continue reading

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The Importance of “Found Family” Stories

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“This is my family. I found it all on my own. It’s little and broken, but still good.

Yeah, still good.

Lilo and Stitch, making us all cry over an explosive dog-like alien since 2002

Orphan Black is coming back real soon, and I realise this means all the debates over what in the world is happening with Sarah’s love life are going to flare back up. Will she stay with Cal and make a complete nuclear family with their daughter? Or does she still harbour feelings for Paul despite their weird on-again-off-again-secret-military-clone-experiment relationship? Frankly, I’m just going to zone out, because what I’m really and actually invested in is her relationship with her foster brother, her daughter, her estranged reformed murderess of a twin sister, and all the closely-knit friends she’s made along the way. The family plotline, that is. Some of it blood related, most of it forged on her own terms.

“I already have a family,” she said to Helena in the finale of season one, refusing to be tied down by all the weirdness of her genetic family tree and referring instead to the bonds she’d forged by affection, and you know, the people who had actually taken care of her for her whole life and not started that life in an attempt to use her as a scientific experiment (an attempt they then mercilessly continue). Granted, she lets Helena into her life later on and they begin to form a messy but devoted sibling relationship, but that was still her choice. Sometimes, your family is a crappy place to be, whether it contains evil scientists or not, and it’s important for fiction to emphasise that it’s not only okay but sometimes better to make your own choice about who you call home.

Especially in kids’ literature, I think—there’s a trend towards unhappily adopted orphan heroes, as we’ll all know, who are lifted from the abuse/poverty/hilariously wonky living conditions they’re in by discovering that their parents were secretly wizards, or royalty, or holders of some great destiny that Our Hero is now tasked to take up. The truth of their bloodline saves the day, and you can dream of a giant busting through your door declaring “Yer a wizard” and scooping you off into the adventure you were destined for, away from your mundane and terrible home life. Continue reading

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“My Biology, My Decision”: Orphan Black and Character Agency

Orphan Black's Helena, handcuffed, eating doughnuts

[Spoilers for season one and two to follow, as well as discussion of dubious consent and pregnancy]

The clone characters in Orphan Black have been objectified—literally, their DNA sequence comes encoded with a patent, so from a business standpoint they’re all property. Seeing as all these women want to live their own lives and follow their own wants and agendas, this sparks a rebellious spirit among them, especially in Sarah Manning. As if it wasn’t enough that these ladies were all living in a world where women’s bodily autonomy is a constantly re-arising issue, now the problem has been thematically boosted by the terrible beauty of science fiction. Sarah’s reaction to learning she’s owned, of course, is to run away leaving the message “up yours”, which kind of speaks for what stance the story takes on such things.

Orphan Black begins with Sarah seeing a woman identical to herself commit suicide, from which point Sarah assumes her identity and plans to skitter off with a great chunk of her cash. What she quickly learns is that she’s embroiled herself in a biological conspiracy, and that she, her alter ego, and many other friendly and not-so-friendly faces along the way, are clones created as part of a genetic experiment. This is news, but it’s not as if Sarah walks into the kerfuffle and that’s what kicks it off—whether or not she knew it, she’s been part of this her whole life, and naturally discovering that her very conception was the result of someone messing around with science with little regard to her being is a bit of a kick to the gut.

This theme of lack of control manifests itself in all the characters and their storylines: Alison is pedantic (bordering on psychotic, and occasionally with murderous intent) about keeping her family together and the happy status quo she’s built for herself and her children remaining steadfast; Rachel, despite being The Pro Clone, clearly still feels used and craves power in all its forms (which is also part of her sexual behaviour, but we’ll get to the stuff with bodies in a moment); Cosima is in a constant battle to keep her research to herself and have the freedom to learn about her own biology when other people would clearly rather monitor and prod at her instead. And Helena, oh, dear Helena. Continue reading

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