A recent Entertainment Weekly article suggested that, to restore the reality of death on Orphan Black that was upset by Helena surviving the bullet she took at the end of season one, Sarah should be killed off, allowing Cosima to become the show’s main protagonist.
Even with the author’s “I know what you’re thinking, but hear me out” approach, they opened the door and I’m coming in, counterpoints ablazin’.
Let’s begin with Helena. Helena wasn’t brought back simply because she’s crazy and we love it! – in fact, let’s begin by not writing Helena off as the “crazy clone.” She has a role here in season two. She is currently our in with the Proletheans, now that they have her. The revelation that her internal organs are mirrored adds to the complexities of hers and Sarah’s biology, and potentially Kira’s as well. There’s more to know about her. Could we have learned it through examination of her body at the Dyad? Maybe. I’d rather see it unfold with Helena alive and on-screen, slinking around to that fantastic, dissonant score they composed for her. As for the “cheapness” of the “just kidding, she’s alive!” reveal, how much does it really cheapen a plot that’s been pretty much airtight since episode one? I’d say let the writers have this one.
Onto Sarah now, and I’m just going to say it: if you think Cosima is smarter than Sarah, you’re wrong. It’s easy to look at Cosima and her Ph.D candidacy and say yes, here she is, the brain of the show. But imagine the world is coming to an end. Giant alien monsters are destroying cities, the dead are rising and eating people’s brains. Who would I team up with when all hope seems lost? Not Cosima. It’s going to be Sarah Manning all the way. Nearly every episode, Sarah gets into some sticky situation worse than the last and I sit there tearing at my hair going, “Oh god, how is she gonna get out of this one?” And then she drinks hand soap or kicks out a bathroom wall and gets away, and basically, if you think Sarah Manning could be replaced easily, I don’t think we’re watching the same show. No one thinks faster than Sarah or has the survival instincts she has. Saying Cosima is smarter than Sarah does injustice to the nuances of both of their characters. Also, Cosima is funnier than Sarah? Have you seen Sarah play the other clones? Not only has that skill been key to all their survival, but it’s also pretty hilarious sometimes.
It’s not that I don’t love Cosima. As a queer woman living in the Bay Area, a queer female character from the Bay Area on my favorite show is a dream come true. But when people downplay Sarah’s importance on the show, I get defensive. It’s interesting the way some fans seem to see Sarah. The way they’ve latched onto Paul’s “punk-rock ho” snark like it’s a fitting moniker for her. The way gif sets keep popping up featuring all of the clones taking one of the labels from Meredith Brooks’ song “Bitch,” when the point of the song – and probably the point of Alison singing it – is that women aren’t just one way or another. Remember for instance that Sarah and Alison, with all their strengths and weaknesses, are both mothers. For some reason, the EW writer doesn’t dig Sarah when she’s “all about Kira-in-peril plot,” as if Kira’s well-being isn’t incredibly important to the story. She’s only the only known child of a clone, and the person Sarah loves more than anyone in the world. No big deal. Cosima’s love for Delphine is such a big part of her character (and to be honest, it makes me a little uncomfortable that they’re so easily shipped – Delphine’s loyalties still feel really ambiguous, more so to me than Mrs. S’s, but that’s a whole ‘nother post on its own). It’s important to recognize the value of Sarah’s familial love, not just Cosima’s romantic love. In fact, I’d say Cosima’s love for Delphine makes her a little less “cool” and “reasonable” than some would like to think she is. But here’s the thing: all of the clones are compromised. No one has an entirely clear head in this, whether it’s because of family loyalties, gorgeous bisexual scientists, or dead neighbors (RIP Aynsley).
It’s strange to me that the writer of the EW article does acknowledge that Orphan Black is full of complex female characters, and uses that as a defense for why it would be okay to kill off one complex female protagonist. Just because Tatiana Maslany portrays all the clones, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be treating this cast of characters as an ensemble, and the fact that there are multiple complex female characters on a show doesn’t mean the show can stand to lose one. That filled-quota-our-work-here-is-done approach is what’s still wrong with the majority of popular television in terms of diversity. Let’s not go there with Orphan Black.
So this all comes back to death’s role on the show, right? Presuming that Helena’s survival destroys the sense of high stakes and reality of death is almost insulting to what sets the show into motion: Beth’s suicide. Death was very real for her – it was the only way she could find out of the mess that our remaining clones are still fighting to survive. Death is also a very imminent threat to Cosima, now that she’s exhibiting signs of the mysterious illness that killed Jennifer Fitzsimmons, and that would’ve killed Katja Obinger had Helena not beat it to the punch. We’re actually going to see Jennifer’s video diary and her body. Death is very present on this show. We could very well lose Cosima (though if they do kill her off, expect another essay-length post from me about the fate of queer characters in media). Paul’s got a target on his back this season too. Daniel straight up told Paul he’d put a bullet in his brain if he helped Sarah.
It’s likely someone is going to pay the ultimate price the season, simply because the stakes are so high and tensions keep growing on all sides. But it shouldn’t be Sarah. There is only one Sarah Manning, and we need her.