Orphan Black (S5): Cosima and Rachel

Orphan Black (S5): Cosima and Rachel

I was late in the game with Orphan Black but I’m finally on the last few episodes and the last season’s focus on Cosima and Rachel is fascinating.  Ok, fair warning to those who have not watched Orphan Black. There will be **SPOILERS** ahead.


The best thing about the show, as many have said, is Tatiana Maslany in her multiple roles, especially Cosima Neihaus, the scientist. Cosima’s primary struggle through the show is the greatest human fear — her own mortality. She plays it stoic through much of the season, even after her break-up with Delphine who represents both lover and savior/healer. In season 5, after she finds a cure and starts taking it, her character becomes more expressive, even quite tearful. This could be retroactive grief or fear finding release but it also builds her as the “humane” scientist in contrast to the other scientists who have no tears for others. In Rachel’s case, this is at least partly literal because one eye is a machine and a tool for exploitation– including her own.

“In the Odysseus, the Cyclops Polyphemus, the son of Poseidon. Polyphemus makes a show of hospitality at first, but he soon turns hostile. He devours two of Odysseus’s men on the spot and imprisons Odysseus and the rest in his cave for future meals (Wikipedia)”. Rachel is the cyclops with Kira whom she invites into her cave with aim of harvesting her eggs for future clones. But Cyclops was also imprisoned by his father and Rachel is imprisoned by all her fathers. First, Adam Duncan who creates her, then Leekie who uses her as a lab rat and whom she thinks of as a father, and finally by PT Westmoreland who calls her ‘daughter’ but implants the artificial eye as a tracking device inside her. Obviously freedom will involve her gouging out the eye in a cold, gory scene.

Cosima and Rachel constantly play off each other in season 5, which is more satisfying than pitting Rachel against Sarah. In many ways, Cosima is the most evolved of the clones despite her illness. She’s the most intelligent, the most level-headed and the most giving. She has awesome hair to boot. She consistently takes risks for the people she loves and pursues self-actualization while the others are reactively flailing around their respective lives. Rachel is similarly strong-willed, hunting for ‘purpose’, but her’s is a search for self-actualization gone awry. “Follow the crazy science,” Delphine tells Cosima in one scene but it’s Rachel who puts the ‘crazy’ in that.

The two characters have interesting run-ins through season 5: in one scene, Rachel stands on the steps of PT’s mansion and Cosima is in the crowd. She takes the opportunity to run into the clinic and administer her own cure. She tries to inject herself but Rachel comes in — and our sense of horror gives way quickly to disbelief because Rachel is almost gentle. She administers the shot to Cosima. This is a far cry from the Rachel who stabs Sarah ruthlessly earlier. Sarah is her nemesis, the pencil-in-the-eye, the cause of her physical disabilities, but many of Rachel’s extremities seem muted around Cosima in these episodes.

It’s interesting to see how the show’s central theme of knowledge expresses itself in these two characters.  Cosima’s parents know too little about her life. In one scene, she says this is because she is trying to protect them. Rachel’s parents, including all those claiming that position, know too much about her life. Privacy is a luxury she’s never had and this need is part of her manic drive. By establishing her superiority to the other clones, she hopes to gain personhood and privacy. To be more than a number but also, to gain freedom and safety from being examined. Cosima is also examined because of her illness but it is of her own free will most of the time, much of it is done by people she trusts. Even in the end, she tries to administer her own cure. Yes, it’s hard and she finally lets Rachel do it but this too is an act of consent. Compare this with Rachel’s examination at the hands of Coady which takes place suddenly and without her prior knowledge. In fact, Westmoreland’s betrayal of her privacy seems to tip Rachel over the edge (towards good) at the end.

Here’s a clip of their first encounter–


Also, the opening credit sequence is all kinds of gorgeous.

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