'Orphan Black' recap: Death and the maiden

Ethan Alter
Senior Writer
(Photo: BBC America)

Warning: This recap contains spoilers for the “One Fettered Slave” episode of Orphan Black.

There have been many painful deaths on Orphan Black this season, but the one that might just hurt the most is also the least physically brutal. And the crazy thing is, it’s the death of a character we’re not even supposed to like! After all, it was only three seasons ago that Castor clone Mark Rollins was part of the Proleathean clan that imprisoned and forcibly impregnated Helena. And when he returned earlier this season, he was once again tasked with bringing Helena to her new captors, Virginia Coady and John Patrick Mathieson, this time in exchange for a cure to his glitch condition. (Unfortunately, it proved to be a bargain that cost him his wife, Gracie, who was executed for lying about Helena’s whereabouts.)

In the end, Virginia’s “cure” is to put Mark into a permanent sleep. Acting on Mathieson’s orders, she injects him with a deadly drug and cradles him like a mother — which, in a very real sense, she is — as he slips away to a place where he’ll be “that much closer to Gracie.” “Goodnight, Mom” are his heart-tugging final words, to which Virginia replies, “Goodbye, Mark.” It’s a passing straight out of the pages of Of Mice and Men, and while this quietly devastating moment doesn’t absolve Mark of his past crimes, it does make his death matter.

(Photo: BBC America)

But enough about the dead: “One Fettered Slave” is mostly a testament to the power of a character who is still living. Every other Leda clone has gotten her moment in the spotlight in the course of this final season, and now it’s Helena’s turn. Her current status as a prisoner of Neolution’s dwindling army is intercut with flashbacks to her formative years, when she was the ward of a Ukrainian convent — a continent and entire world away from her twin “sestra,” Sarah — followed by her time spent with Proleathean true believer Tomas, who trained her in the art of killing. It’s a back-and-forth structure meant to reflect and comment on the episode’s title: in all three cases, Helena’s captors assume they can cajole and/or beat her into being a compliant servant, only to consistently underestimate her ability to assert her free will.

And Helena isn’t about to let her about-to-be born “behbies” grow up as prisoners, either. Confronting the very real possibility that there’s no escape from this particular prison, she dispenses her first bit of motherly wisdom to the in-utero twins: “You will not be an experiment, too.” With that, she plunges a pair of surgical scissors into her wrist, appearing to choose death over continued enslavement.

As a wise man once said, however, appearances can be deceiving. Having entered the lion’s den as part of a last-ditch Clone Club jailbreak, Sarah appears at Helena’s beside while Virginia is frantically trying to revive the final link in Neolution’s master plan. Drawing strength from her sister, or maybe just playing coy for Coady, Helena proceeds to grab the doctor by the head and slam her face over and over again into the hospital bed. Virginia falls to the floor, while the sisters get ready to head for the exit, Helena grabbing a scalpel as she rises. But their plan changes the minute she’s vertical; turns out these babies aren’t waiting another minute, even though we’ll have to wait one more week to (hopefully) meet them.

(Photo: BBC America)

For the last time before the finale, here’s how our clone power rankings stand.

1. Helena
Placed in a no-win situation, Helena nevertheless emerged victorious by being willing to take herself — and her children — off the board completely. It’s a decision few of us would be brave enough to make, which is why few of us are as powerfully badass as her.

2. Sarah
Sarah and Helena haven’t always had the easiest relationship, which only makes sense when you recall that their first meeting involved Helena trying to kill her twin sister. But Sarah puts that, as well as her own demons, aside when it counts the most. Somewhere, Mrs. S is smiling.

3. Rachel
Even though she’s turned her back on Neolution by leaking Mathieson’s real identity, Rachel’s still a wild card as the endgame kicks into high gear. That’s why Scott is left behind to keep an eye on her to make sure she doesn’t make a last-minute power play, even as Sarah co-opts her identity to infiltrate Neolution HQ. Much as we all adore Scott, they may have wanted to pick a more intimidating guard…

4. Cosima
Cosima’s not on the ground for the final assault on Neolution, but she does help reliable foot soldiers Sarah and Art draw up the battle plans. It’s always good to have a brainy tactician working behind the scenes.

5. Alison
Considering their own mixed track record tangling with the criminal element, it’s probably a good thing that Alison and Donnie mostly stay out of Helena’s rescue. They’re guarding the homefront, rather than manning the battlefront, which is probably best for all concerned.

Non-Leda Clone MVP: Mark Rollins
A round of applause to Ari Millen, who always found a way to make sense of the different Castor clones even when their storylines got muddy. His final moments as Mark were a fitting farewell to a line of characters that started off as traditional villains and evolved into something more tragic.

Orphan Black airs Saturdays at 10 p.m. on BBC America.

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