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Orphan Black: “Ipsa Scientia Potestas Est”

Matt Frewer, Tatiana Maslany
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Every struggle on Orphan Black is inherently a power struggle. The Dyad Institute created the clones because they had the power to do so, and they’re determined to keep that privilege whether the clones want them to or not. The Proletheans see the clones as an extension of God’s power, and want to use them to execute His will. Then there are the clones themselves, who are fighting for the power to control both their own bodies and their own futures. Even Felix and Cal are asserting themselves by testing the limits of their own power. A scene rarely goes by without someone thinking about their place in the grand scheme of things, and more importantly, how they can improve their status.

The title of this episode claims that “knowledge itself is power,” but as Rachel Duncan (and Cersei Lannister) would say, sometimes power itself is power. The perk of being their creators’ adopted daughter is that Rachel’s been self-aware all her life, but she still pays the price of being their experiment. “I’m not exempt from the program,” she tells Paul when he expresses shock that she needs a monitor. Her face betrays no ill will towards that fact, but her painstakingly precise demeanor and love of domination tell a different story. Rachel’s aggressive sexual choreography is a fascinating, rare window into her psyche as well as yet another fascinating reversal of traditional roles in Orphan Black’s already rich inventory of genderfucks. Here, a beautiful man is the unwitting plaything of a powerful corporate woman, sexually satisfying herself exactly in her own terms. To be clear, Rachel coercing Paul into a sexual relationship he has absolutely no say in is assault—and she knows it. Rachel Duncan takes and abuses her power where she can get it. Yes, she’s attracted to Paul—we don’t need to see anything beyond her open-mouthed arousal to know that—but this is a defiant exercise of her own free will. She grabs his face as much to survey and dominate the property she’s acquired as she does to turn herself on. She’s the only clone who has always known that she’s sleeping next to her monitor, and so she’s the only clone who gets to dictate her own terms. When Paul tries to have some kind of agency in their foreplay, she shuts him down with a vicious slap. Rachel Duncan isn’t about to let him or anyone else forget that they’re just pawns in her game.

Rachel pulling Cosima’s treatment is yet another example of her abusing power simply because she can.  It also proves that Rachel wasn’t bluffing when she told Paul that she’s willing to make the tough calls. She’s looked at the options, run a cost benefit analysis, and decided that they can stand to lose Cosima if it means securing Sarah. It’s a ruthless move, but hardly surprising given Rachel’s self-consciously ruthless personality. Cosima’s just lucky that Leekie actually cares about preserving the experiment (I don’t believe for a second that he’s doing this because he’s warmed up to her as a person). Still, Rachel won’t take kindly to the fact that he circumvented her orders to give Cosima treatment. Whatever action she takes against her defacto guardian once she discovers the betrayal will be a turning point for her character. Will she double down on her previously merciless measures, or will she let the glimmer of humanity she showed as her hand fluttered over Daniel’s corpse crack through?

At the same time that “Ipsa Scientia Potestas Est” does an admirable job fleshing out Rachel’s motivations, though, it falters with Paul. I don’t know whether it’s Dylan Bruce’s deliberately blank portrayal or an abundance of cryptic clue-laying for later, but Paul is a total mystery right now, and that shouldn’t be the case for a character after spending over a season with him. He’s angry about Rachel forcing him to be her monitor, but is so cold when interacting with Felix that it’s hard to know what’s actually happening, there. Is the Dyad’s dirt on him that bad? Is he playing an extremely long con extremely close to the chest? Is he totally resigned to his role as the Dyad’s personal errand boy? Or is it something else entirely? It looks like we’ll get some answers next week, but as far as this episode is concerned, he’s just all over the map.

Still, Paul’s story brings Felix head-on into the muck, which is long overdue. It’s felt weirder and weirder that Felix could keep a home base as everything with Sarah got more complicated. It makes perfect sense that the Dyad would seize the opportunity to get to Sarah through her readily available, totally vulnerable brother. It would have been unrealistic for him not to pay a price at this point for his close association to the clones.  It’s also great to see more of Felix as a person outside of everything else. Not only is his rendezvous with Morgue Colin perfectly set to Tears for Fears’ “Head Over Heels”, but it’s a refreshing chance of pace for portrayals of gay men hooking up onscreen. So many gay male sex scenes go straight to rough fucking, but between Looking and Felix and Colin, adorably clumsy gay foreplay is having quite the banner year. I hope Felix gets out of the Dyad’s clutches soon, and not just so he and Colin can be reunited for more playful applications of lube (though it wouldn’t hurt).


This all brings us—as it always has—to Sarah and Helena. The twins are struggling with their new relationship after that whole thing where Sarah shot her point blank, not to mention that Helena is silently struggling with what happened to her at the Proletheans’ farm. Watching women suffer through physical trauma on television is an all too common plot point that all too often happens because shows think making women suffer will automatically make them more compelling characters. The difference with such violence in Orphan Black, though, is that Helena’s rape isn’t purely sensational. It’s a horrendous, graphic violation that has real, awful consequences. She’s going to have to live through it, and so are we.

So after a few scenes of fan service where Helena gets to hiss at Felix and Art offers her donuts, Helena reminds us that she’s still a volatile character. Art treating her like a perp makes sense—as he reminds us, she was the serial killer they were looking for all last season—but she tenses up the second he frisks her. A shadow passes over her face as she says through gritted teeth that she doesn’t like to be touched, and we know it’s not just because it’s annoying. It’s because she’s been mentally and physically violated beyond all comprehension all her life. What would be a simple indignity for anyone else is an act of aggression for Helena. So while her snap back into assassin mode is sudden, it’s perfectly understandable in a grander context.


When Sarah steps in front of the steady sniper rifle to plead her case, Helena doesn’t bat an eye when she croaks, “you only want to use me.” Sarah blinks back tears and gives a very touching speech about how Helena saved her life, how she thought she killed her, how she couldn’t tell anyone what she had lost. It’s a beautifully shot scene in that soaring loft (which the Dyad really should have secured by now if it’s directly across from Rachel), and Maslany plays the hell out of it, but I don’t know how much I can believe Sarah in this moment. It’s hard to know how much she believes what she’s saying, and how much is just her improvising through blind fear for Felix’s life. Still, I hope her sisterly affection becomes true, even if it’s not all the way there now. They’ll need to be more of a team than ever now that they’re racing against the clock to find their creator, the “Swan Man” who played God.

That’s right—on top of everything else, we discover that the original genome sequence was lost in the lab explosion, but that one of their creators might still be alive. I’m as excited as anyone to see Helena and Sarah go on a road trip, but more importantly, to watch the clones chase something different. Now that they’re getting closer to why they were created, Sarah and Helena are finally joining Cosima in the pursuit of how. (And if their road trip includes an impromptu sing-a-long to “Bitch,” so be it.)


Stray observations:

  • Yahoo did a fascinating discussion with Orphan Black’s hairstylist (Sandy Sokolowski) and key makeup artist (Stephen Lynch), which reveals that not only does Rachel take the longest, but they actually do use more expensive makeup for her than for the others. Just another awesome example of how thoughtfully this show approaches its characters. (I also noticed that they made Rachel look noticeably thinner than the others, but I do not know how. TV magic!)
  • Felix telling Art Helena might respond well to food is hilarious, but also, how would he know that? And would Sarah really call Helena “meathead,” or is that just to get another fun clone nickname?
  • The Proletheans have always been in danger of veering into cartoon villain territory, and their stitching up Gracie’s mouth certainly dips into that territory. I hope she doesn’t have to carry the clone-human child, because wow, but it sure looks like she will.
  • Cal’s secret stash of alternate I.D. cards, cash, and guns proves that this guy isn’t what we thought he was, or he was at least ready to go on the run. I don’t think Kira’s in any danger, but still—yikes. My money’s on him being our link to the military.
  • “Very pretty dirty sexy Rachel”: coming to TNT this fall.
  • “Do you like to drink beer?” Cut to Leekie picking up a glass of wine at the bar.
  • Miss you, Alison.

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