The ORPHAN BLACK Radical: Why Every Clone Club Needs its Helena
By Alicia Lutes on May 21, 2014
There were more than a few skeptics unsold on the post-twisting return Helena, Orphan Black‘s renegade vigilante killer clone. We’d all accepted Helena’s death as collateral damage. And of all the clones she felt the most expendable; another antagonist on a show with several others looming. Couldn’t they just get rid of her and be done with it? Why weigh yourselves down? But the angry angel has become a reluctant asset of the clone club — which makes sense when you look at the women’s rights issue at the heart of the series’ drama. Like it or not, without Helena, there’s no moving forward.
In addition to being patented genetic material, Helena had the misfortune of being “raised” by religious nutjobs to believe she was not fit for society simply because she was born into the clone club. And then the more “enlightened” ones married her off to their leader and harvested an egg from inside of her — all against her own will. As it stands, Helena is the one who’s experienced the attack on all sides in the struggle for control of the clones.
The reason the clone aspect of the show is so riveting (and feels downright brilliant) is particularly evident when you look at it on a perspective level. How often do you see hashtags trending on twitter like #ThatsWhatSlutsDo or #LiesToldByFemales or #mygirlfriendnotallowedto? Terrible blanket statements about women and their behaviors, thoughts, and actions happen all.the.time. The idea that ladies all think and act the same (many vaginas, one mind?) is an old one: past generations and years engrained societal thought have allowed and perpetuated this for years. By making the main protagonists of the show female clones, Orphan Black forces the viewer — even though they all have the same face; even though they’re all played by the same actress — to see them all as unique, individual humans in spite of that. Because they’re autonomous people, they deserve the freedom from outside control that they seek: the right to govern their own body in whatever way they see fit. Ha! See where we’re going with this? The clone club is feminism!
Although the clone club has gotten bigger — Art and Felix are in it, after all — at its heart is these women. And, yes, it needs Helena, radical tendencies and all.
Helena was born out of circumstances and raised to believe she was less than human. She was mentally abused, told she must only live in the service of some power outside of herself, and do its bidding to be redeemed. (It feels safe to say her angel wing self-mutilation probably had something to do with all that religious nuttery, too.) She is, in a word, extreme.
But her extremes make her an asset. Helena ends up a sort of anti-hero the other clones needed to antagonize them into unification in Season 1. In many ways, by rallying to protect themselves from Helena, they created a united front ready to take on the DYAD and the new world Proletheans.
The clones mean different things to different people. To the science, they’re merely another step in evolution. To religion, they’re an abomination that should be repressed — except for those more, uh, progressive ones who believe that as long as they can control it, it’s fine, they guess. Government and religion are essentially fighting for the right to control these women’s bodies. Government and science (the DYAD) work together. They were a contractor doing work on the government’s behalf; work the government (at one point or another) wanted and had a vested interest in. (And heck, probably still do: hello, Paul and Donnie.) The clone club, just like Feminism, is fighting for the right to control their own bodies without interference.
To the people that run things, that is scary, and in their eyes poses a threat.
This reflects a lot of what goes on when any movement — but bares clear resemblance to the struggles of feminism over the years — begins a fight. Helena, like she had to the viewers who were unsure of her return, has become an exaggerated extreme that every entity trying to control the clones fears. Just as anti-men radical feminists (something the vast majority of feminists do not believe) are what many who disagree with feminism believe (fear) is its truth. Helena, you may be a radical, but you’re clone club’s radical, and they’re going to try and help you whether you like it or not. Because that’s what sestras do. Adopted or otherwise, they make a family.
With Sarah, Cosima, and yes, even Alison by her side, Helena’s contributions will, with any luck, lead to some changes. Maybe even the answers surrounding their creation. Plus, we’re holding out hope that she’ll figure out who her real enemy is (a/k/a not the other clones, her brother sestra Felix, and people like Art who are trying to help) in due time. Because just like every other person on this earth that’s breathing: Helena’s alive, and however she got here, she is a human woman. And she deserves the right to govern her own body and exist equally.
Even with all the bad you’ve done, Helena, the clone club still needs you: they are all but one of a few.