Warning: This post contains spoilers for the “Beneath Her Feet” episode of Orphan Black.
Who are you, Alison Hendrix? Of all the surviving Clone Club sisters, this suburban homemaker has always seemed the least fully-formed in terms of her identity. If you were to describe the core four clones in Beatles terms, Sarah’s the Rebellious One, Cosima’s the Smart One, Helena’s the Crazy One, and Alison is… the Crafty One? The Stable One? The Pill-Popping One? Take your pick. The fact that she defies easy categorization is at once both a sign of her complexity and her confusion. Whatever personal journey she pursued early on in her life came to a halt when she traded rings with Donnie and she moved to a picture-perfect suburb, where she acquiesced to the community’s unspoken demand that she create and maintain the picture perfect family. Her own growth has been stunted in favor of what other people want from her.
It’s taken five seasons, but Alison is finally realizing how much she’s been shortchanged. “Beneath Her Feet,” then, becomes her declaration of independence. By the end of Season 5’s third hour, Alison has walked away from her neighbors, her sisters, and even her husband because, like the song goes, she’s been to paradise, but she’s never been to me. As she emphasizes to Donnie, though, their separation isn’t permanent. Team Hendrix will reunite just as soon as Alison decides what her new identity on this dynamic duo will be.
Taking a long view, “Beneath Her Feet” is the first step in Orphan Black co-creators John Fawcett and Graeme Manson’s stated master plan to pepper character-based clone episodes into a season that also has to wrap up the show’s elaborate mythology. And it’s a strong way to begin that initiative, using flashbacks to pre-Season 1 events as a way to underline how Alison arrives at this point, in the present day, where she realizes she has to evolve or die. The episode even digs up the couple’s former friends, Chad (Eric Johnson) and Aynsley (Natalia Lisinka), the former of whom she slept with, while the latter she inadvertently killed.
Both of those actions resulted in the destabilization of another suburban nuclear family — a fallout that Alison hasn’t had to confront for some time. And Chad never does learn about her involvement in his wife’s death; just as she’s on the verge of owning up to the crime, he mansplains her confession away. But admitting it to herself is almost more important that admitting it to him. It’s all part of a past that she needs to take one last long look at, and then bury for good.
Speaking of buried history, Alison’s not the only accidental murderer whose victim is exhumed in this episode. For four seasons now, the decaying body of former Dyad head, Dr. Leekie — the man that was on the receiving end of Donnie’s misfired bullet back in Season 2 — has lain beneath the concrete in the Hendrix garage. And that’s exactly where a determined Elyse and a reluctant Art, acting on the orders of Rachel, start to dig when a search of the Hendrix house proves empty of evidence of the cops’ actual target, the still-missing Helena.
With Donnie’s crime about to be exposed, Alison takes it upon herself to confess on his behalf to Rachel, bringing along Leekie’s remains as evidence. Believe it or not, it’s the first-ever in the flesh encounter between these particular sisters in the history of the show, and Alison walks away the winner, disposing of the only leverage Dyad had over them without sacrificing Helena in the process. Her selfless actions bring Rachel’s recent winning streak to an abrupt conclusion, and the two face each other on equal footing. “I should like to put my hands around your neck and squeeze,” Rachel snarls, to which Alison has the perfect reply ready to go: “Then we’re not so different, you and I.” After that encounter, is it any wonder why we’ve reshuffled the clone power rankings?
In the wake of “Beneath Her Feet,” Alison has a definite Beatles identity: The Bad-Ass Clone. Not only does she have the strength to stare down Rachel, she courageously confronts her own misdeeds and bravely bids farewell to her “rock” Donnie to embark on a solo journey of self-discovery. We can’t wait to see who she’s become when she returns.
Thanks to the kindness of friends, strangers and, now, nuns, Helena continues to evade Rachel’s grasp. The episode’s closing shot reveals her safely ensconced in an as-yet undisclosed sanctuary, furiously scribbling away in her journal. We’ll assume the nuns are meeting her unique dietary requirements.
The Neolution true believer was knocked down, but not out this week. For one thing, she’s slowly winning Kira to her side, introducing the girl to freaky genetically-altered mice who can shed their skin to avoid predators and, in general, being a calmer presence than her often-absent mother. Turning the kid against Sarah would be a victory sweet enough to make up for being outmaneuvered by Alison.
With Kira slipping from her grip, Sarah clings tightly to foster brother, Felix, even agreeing to pose for him while he indulges in his favorite pastime: painting in the buff. She may not have her daughter’s affection right now, but she’ll go home with a great piece of artwork.
Largely off-screen this week, Cosima’s primary job was to convince Alison to join the Clone Club in the flashback sequences. It’s a task that she failed to complete although, to be fair, you try explaining the mysteries of human cloning to someone tripping on magic mushrooms.
Non-Clone MVP: Donnie
Here’s to the world’s greatest highlander husband not named Jamie Fraser. Having long since forsaken his Leekie-assigned role as Alison’s monitor, Donnie has instead given his wife the space to be herself, even if that means her no longer being with him.
Orphan Black airs Saturdays at 10 p.m. on BBC America.
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