“Transitory Sacrifices of Crises”
Posted by Kayti
Can we take a minute to talk about Orphan Black’s badass, nuanced, complex depiction of motherhood? Thanks. This feminist drama has always been a refreshing, revolutionary representation of what it means to be a mother on TV (i.e. you can be a mother and still get to be, you know, a person), but Season 3 is stepping it up with its diverse depictions of motherhood. Season 3, Episode 2 “Transitory Sacrifices of Crises” doubled down on this theme, showing us motherhood in some of its many forms…
Sarah is allowed to be both a mother and a badass protagonist. In this week’s episode, Sarah ultimately sends Kira away with father Cal so that she will be safe while she stays behind to a) get Helena back from the Castor clones, b) take down Dyad, and c) be a badass protagonist.
It is so, so heartbreaking to watch Sarah say goodbye to her daughter, the most important thing in the world to her, but — in watching this scene — I couldn’t stop obsessing about how great and rare it is to see a mother as the chief protagonist of a show, let alone a representation of a mother as badass as Sarah Manning.
This is kind of amazing because, forget badass action hero, women on television hardly ever get to be both a mother and the freaking protagonist. In Orphan Black, however, motherhood isn’t something that weakens or sidelines Sarah. On the contrary, she is all the stronger for it. Furthermore, she is allowed to have identities outside of her role as mother and not be judged for them. She is allowed to sometimes make mistakes as a mom and not be narratively punished because she is a complex, flawed human being who is just trying her best in a crazy, messed up situation. You know, just like action hero fathers are portrayed. All. The. Time.
Man, do I ever want these three fictional characters to start a support group. Except none of them would ever go. A drinks night, maybe? They can drink Bourbon and polish their guns and trade stories about their scars — some of which have been earned in battle, and some of which have been earned through the ordinary, mundane realities of motherhood. Make it happen, Internet.
Mrs. S. validates the role of the non-biological mother. In a thematic parallel to the struggle Sarah is going through in trying to protect Kira, Mrs. S. struggles to gain Sarah’s forgiveness for what she did to protect Sarah and Kira — i.e. handing Helena over to Project Castor in exchange for Sarah and Kira’s safe release from Dyad. This plight is treated with some serious sympathy by the show, not only in the thematic motherhood parallel, but through the validation of Felix (who everyone knows is the wisest, coolest character of the lot — even if all he gets to do these days is make tea and upgrade the clone phones).
In the season premiere, Felix told Sarah that, put in the same position as Mrs. S., he probably would have done the same thing: trade Helena for Kira and Sarah’s safety. This episode, he stays by Mrs. S.’s side as she recovers from the Castor Clone attack, encouraging her to get back to her shadow network dealings in order to help Sarah and Kira now. In the end, it is her contacts who are able to sneak Kira and Kal out of the country. Though Sarah might not be ready to embrace Mrs. S., she still goes to her when she needs help. She knows she can. It’s kind of, ideally, what mothers do: be there for you when you need them the most, putting you first even when you kind of don’t want them to. (Hi, Mom!)
In dealing with the Mrs. S./Sarah relationship, it’s also pretty great that Orphan Black never once questions the validity of the mother/daughter dynamic by bringing biology into it. Mrs. S. might not be Sarah and Felix’s biological mother, but she is still their mom, you know?
Meanwhile, somewhere in the Middle East (maybe?), Helena is saved from more “stress tests” — i.e. waterboarding — by her own unborn baby. Thank god. I could not take any more Helena Torture Scenes. I’m kind of bummed that we are going to get another season of someone torturing Helena in some way. Doesn’t this character deserve a break? If not for her own sake than for the sake of avoiding narrative redundancy. Like, what would Helena’s character be like if she had a stint of uninterrupted not-getting-tortured time? Alas, we may never know. We got a brief glimpse into carefree-ish Helena last season when she and Sarah went on an adorable road trip together to search for Duncan, but even that could not last.
We meet Dr. Coady, the clones “mother.” Helena is saved from more waterboarding by her nascent pregnancy, and is instead allowed to hang out with Dr. Coady — aka the Cigarette Smoking Lady (CSL), aka the adopted “mother” to all of these clones. So much of Project Castor is still shrouded in mystery, but it seems that Coady is intent on finding a cure for the glitches that lead to Seth’s death in this episode. Is she just another mother who will do anything to save her children? It seems more complicated than this. The way Seth and Rudy both treat women and interact with the world in general implies a problematic childhood. And, if the Leda clones allow for an exploration of how patriarchy affects women in our society, the Castor clones demonstrate how limiting that same structure can be for men. These clones were raised in a hyper-masculine, military environment and their domineering, violent, expectant attitude towards women reflects that.
They also have a certain desperation to their existences — forced to follow orders and eschew any matters of the heart. But they are human, too, even when they are also monsters. Seth loves his brother, going so far as to kill him to put him out of his misery when he starts glitching. And Mark loves Gracie, burning the Castor tattoo off of his arm to keep them safe from his brothers and mother.
Alison buys a drug business to preserve her kids’ playground experience. It says a lot about the strength of Alison’s character that, even though her storyline is so often separate from the main clone plot of this drama, it is often the most enjoyable. This was arguably true in this second episode, which saw Alison and Donnie buying Ramon’s pill-pushing business as a way to a) secure income and b) secure votes in Alison’s bid for school board trustee. Awesome.
One of Orphan Black’s greatest strengths is the equal validity it gives to all of its clones’ lives. The stakes of Alison’s storyline might be objectively lower than the stakes of Sarah or Helena or even Cosima’s storylines, but they are no less important. Sarah’s love for her daughter manifests in the decision to send her off to Iceland, while Alison’s is demonstrated through her willingness to become the neighborhood pill pusher in order to ensure her children don’t have to play on a gravel-lined playground. On this show, both are treated with the same level of respect, which is pretty great. Because, as cool as it is to see Sarah as both a mother and the protagonist of the story in a traditionally masculine way — i.e. aggressive, bold, stoic, action-oriented — it is arguably even more important to see a representation of a more traditional way of being a mother (albeit, a hyperbolic version of the “soccer mom” persona) depicted as equally heroic. However, the reason Orphan Black so totally rocks is for the way it allows for many stories, many ways of being both a mother and women — none less valid than the others.
Cosima and Scott are adorable besties.
What did you think of “Transitory Sacrifices of Crises”? Sound off in the comments below!