'Orphan Black'

The Importance of Family and Sacrifice Are the Heart of "Guillotines Decide"

by J.M. Suarez

1 August 2017

Art and death go hand in hand in one of Orphan Black's final episodes.
Mrs. S takes her final bow in the antepenultimate episode of Orphan Black (Photo Credit: Ken Woroner/BBC AMERICA ). 
cover art

Orphan Black

Season 5, Episode 8 - "Guillotines Decide"
Cast: Tatiana Maslany, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Jordan Gavaris
Regular airtime: Saturdays, 10pm

(BBC America)
US: 29 Jul 2017

My sister and I are orphans, you see. And we could have ended up anywhere. We could’ve ended up in any family, and if we had, we would have been entirely different people. But my mum, Siobahn, this woman, she chose us as her own. We are who we are because she carried two little London urchins on her wings to Canada. Watching her raise my sister, watching my sister raise her own daughter, finding my biological sister, it’s quite mad. It’s taught me that we are all mysterious works of chance. Of choice. Of nature verse nurture. So to my galaxy of women, thank you for nurture.—Felix

“Guillotines Decide”, an episode filled with gratifying and genuinely happy moments for many of the main players, also gives us our first major casualty leading into the finale. Though MK (Tatiana Maslany) died a terrible and gruesome death earlier in the season, she didn’t inspire the same level of viewer investment that Mrs. S (Maria Doyle Kennedy) does. Thus, when Mrs. S is killed in a showdown that’s been building for some time now, it’s as affecting as possible.

Opening on a scene immediately following the end of last episode, Rachel is whisked away from Dyad by Ferdinand (James Frain)—who’s finally revealed to be Mrs. S’s secret informant—and taken to safety, where she’s treated for her wounds and away from Westmoreland’s reach. Mrs. S and Delphine (Evelyne Brochu) meet with them and plead their case. They want to expose Neolution and Westmoreland for the frauds they are, while Ferdinand is more concerned with leveraging all they know to gain more money and power.

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What Ferdinand fails to ultimately understand is that Rachel’s been betrayed over and over, to the point where her life’s work has been for nothing, and her need for revenge is much greater than her need to gain more status and wealth; when he does realize it, it’s too late. She provides the information on bribery payments to Mrs. S, and Delphine and Cosima send all they’ve managed to dig up out into the world, exposing Neolution’s real objectives.

Meanwhile, at the center of the episode is Felix’s (Jordan Gavaris) art show. Although Felix has been sidelined for much of the season, here he gets the chance to not only interact with Sarah, Alison, and Cosima, but he also gives a speech that speaks to the heart of the series. Mrs. S’s death has been telegraphed throughout the episode, so when he gets a chance to pay tribute to the woman who saved him, Sarah, and the rest of their family, it’s a lovely moment with real emotional impact. Some may view the scene as too neat a bow to tie on Mrs. S, but as Orphan Black nears its end, it’s more welcome than not. Mrs. S deserves as big a send-off as any of the clones.

The art show also allows for some lighthearted moments, as Felix and his sisters dance and have fun even as the actions of Neolution still loom large. Turning the art show into a living performance by having Sarah, Alison, and Cosima all come forward to embody their painted counterparts, gives them the opportunity to enjoy themselves, even if it’s only for a short while. Orphan Black has always been able to inject some humor and lightness into a series that’s often dark and bleak. Even as the season has had to wrap up so much in only 10 episodes, it remains true to that integral piece of the show.

While much of the action revolves around the art show and Rachel’s final choices, Helena is also in danger. Gracie (Zoe de Grand Maison) found Helena at the end of the previous episode, working for Mark (Ari Millen) to help get his cure from Coady (Kyra Harper). Here she decides to help Helena over Mark when she denies that she’s found her. Unfortunately, the cell phone she uses to communicate with Mark is traced; they’re found by Detective Enger (Elyse Levesque) and her Neolution goons. She quickly kills Gracie and kidnaps Helena, setting up a rescue mission that’ll finally bring all the players together.

The ultimate showdown that leads to Mrs. S’s death comes when Rachel tricks Ferdinand into believing that she’s going along with his plan, but unbeknownst to him, he’s set up to fail in front of the Neolution board when he turns up with no real proof. He narrowly escapes the room and then nearly kills Rachel when he confronts her. In the end, though he comes close, he’s unable to go through with it and chooses to go after Mrs. S. While it was throughout the episode that she’d die, she doesn’t go easily, and takes Ferdinand with her. Her final word, staring at a photograph of Felix and Sarah, is “Chickens”; it’s a fitting end to the character. There was no greater protector, no one more aware of the stakes and willing sacrifice herself than Mrs. S; Kennedy’s always done a wonderful job of balancing her instincts as a mother with those of a revolutionary, making her death—in protection of her family—understandable.

Two episodes left and things are building to a final confrontation that’ll bring together all the sisters to take down Neolution, namely Westmoreland and Coady. The information proving their true intentions may now be public, but its leaders surely won’t go down without a fight, and Helena’s kidnapping gives them leverage when they’ve lost everything else. “Guillotines Decide” may have done a great deal to move the story forward, but there remain enough loose ends to offer much to look forward to in the final two episodes of the series.

Orphan Black

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