Season 5, Episode 4 - “Let the Children and the Childbearers Toil”
Tatiana Maslany, Jordan Gavaris, Maria Doyle Kennedy
Regular airtime: Saturdays, 10pm
US: 1 Jul 2017
Ira: I don’t know how you can work for him and his insane vision.
Susan: Ira, do not mistake me. The vision is mine, as well. Our feud is only about the means.
Helena [about Kira]: She’s an old soul. You should share our horrors with her.
Sarah: God, I don’t want her dealing with what we do.
Helena: But she will have to, you know this.
“Let the Children and the Childbearers Toil” brings to the fore relationships between mothers and daughters in all their varied permutations. Orphan Black has always focused on sisterhood as the main unifying theme in the series, understandably, but it’s also often interconnected with that of mothers and daughters. Mrs. S (Maria Doyle Kennedy) is at the center of much of this week’s action, masterminding several plays all at once, while also cementing her relationship with Sarah (Tatiana Maslany).
Mrs. S has always been a protector, and her connections have been integral to hers and Sarah’s and Felix’s and Kira’s and all the clones’ survival time and again; this episode is an excellent showcase for those survival skills. She quickly but ably sets up a scenario to act out with Sarah in order to gain access to the credentials of a doctor who could lead them to a Neolution defector. Though not explicitly stated, it’s obvious that much of Mrs. S’s intel came from her secret meeting with Delphine. Still, she keeps Sarah in the dark about her source as they playact a dysfunctional mother/daughter team who have it out in a bar in front of Dr. Elizabeth Perkins (Sarah Orenstein).
Impersonating Dr. Perkins and her assistant, Mrs. S and Sarah head to Cedar Ridge, a psychiatric facility, and find Dr. Virginia Coady (Kyra Harper), formerly in charge of the Castor operation, sedated and being treated under the name Alex Ripley. Coady reveals that Susan (Rosemary Dunsmore) put her in Cedar Ridge and she explains that while their initial experiments on humans were horrific, and Susan had “no stomach for the wet work”, they were successful with one child, until he began growing tumors and deformities (“And we created a monster.”). Their opposite views on how to continue their work led P.T. Westmoreland (Stephen McHattie) to separate them—Coady to Castor, Susan to Leda—and as far as he knows, she’s dead.
This revelation ties directly back to Revival. The mysterious presence in the woods is this human experiment gone wrong. He escaped from Westmoreland’s basement lab and now only Mud (Jenessa Grant) is able to get close enough to bring him supplies periodically. She’s also trusted by Westmoreland to administer some kind of medical treatment to him. Cosima discovers Mud’s role and the man in the woods when she follows her, though Mud warns her away from all of it. Whether Cosima is able to get more information from Mud or just confronts Westmoreland directly remains to be seen, but she’s clearly through with being kept in the dark.
Meanwhile, Kira (Skyler Wexler) continues her sessions with Rachel and has begun cutting herself (as was alluded to a couple of episodes ago) because she “wanted to see how fast I could heal”. She finally reveals what happens during her time with Rachel and though it sounds benign enough, Mrs S, Sarah, and Felix know better. Kira’s own rebellion against Sarah mirrors Sarah rebellion against Mrs. S growing up, an effective parallel that’s at the center of much of the episode’s interactions. It’s even useful in framing Sarah and Helena’s brief meeting.
A standout scene, Maslany plays the dynamic between the two perfectly—both strong and often impulsive when threatened, yet never more vulnerable than when their family is in danger. Helena’s pregnancy has sidelined her to a degree this season from the action, but she never fails to articulate the larger themes in the simplest terms. When discussing her babies she says: “Miracle babies. Like us.” It’s a straightforward reminder of the sisters’ inherent survival abilities, and the children to whom they pass on those abilities.
Mrs. S’s work doesn’t only extend to finding Coady, but she also enlists Adele’s (Lauren Hammersely) help in following the Neolution money and learning more about the operation. Felix isn’t necessarily happy about bringing Adele into everything, but Mrs. S makes it clear that now’s a time for family and Sarah agrees, “We have to trust S now, more than ever.” This episode also marks the return of the Susan and Westmoreland working relationship. They agree to work together, though Susan warns him about Rachel’s role, saying she’s “too damaged for this responsibility”, but he doesn’t seem too concerned yet. They toast “to the future” and Orphan Black is one episode closer to the end of its run.
“Let the Children and the Childbearers Toil” deftly covers a lot of ground—the Neolution plot and the mystery of Westmoreland, revealed to be an early eugenicist, still have plenty to reveal—yet the relationships are always at the core of the episode. Mothers struggling to understand their daughters, daughters becoming their mothers, and the twisted relationships that arise from artificially creating life purely as an experiment, are all integral to the show’s larger themes. Orphan Black understands the emotional underpinnings to all the scientific questions it poses, and that’s what makes it so easy to invest in. Almost halfway through the final season, it continues to showcase the complex relationships of the sisters and those closest to them.