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  • Orphan Black and neocitizenship
  • David M. Higgins (bio)

Within Orphan Black, a multitude of forces challenge what might be considered the clones' seemingly self-evident rights to self-possession and self-ownership. Corporate, religious and military institutions repeatedly attempt to seize the clones' bodies in order to subject them to involuntary research and experimentation. The promotional campaign for season three draws its emotional power from a rejection of such threats to the clones' autonomy; many of the advertisements for the season feature close-up images of the female clones along with powerful slogans like 'I am not your property', 'I am not your weapon', 'I am not your toy' and 'I am not your experiment'. This repeated assertion that 'I am not yours' is one of the show's key gestures, and it is constantly staged against antagonistic forces that seek to define the clones–and thereby women's bodies in a larger sense–as materials to be owned, managed, experimented upon and exploited.

The opening scene of season three, episode six, 'Certain Agony of the Battlefield' (23 May 2015), chillingly demonstrates the various ways in which the female clones in particular find themselves under assault from forces that seek to exploit them as experimental property. In the beginning of the episode, Sarah Manning, who has been detained without trial by the military, dreams of a release from her imprisonment; as her dream transforms into a nightmare, however, she realises that while she has been unconscious, she was injected with the blood of a male Castor clone as part of a military research procedure. This blood transfusion is just one component of tests conducted by the Castors; they also sexually transmit genetic material to unknowing women as part of the scheme by Virginia Coady (Kyra Harper) to weaponise Castor DNA. Furthermore, the Castor clone's sickeningly erotic gesture of licking Sarah's hand during the dream drives home the fact that the violation is simultaneously medical, sexual, biological and perhaps even existential–it functions as an assault on her dignity and self-possession on many of the most horrifying levels imaginable.

Given the show's dramatisation of such terrifying challenges to women's ownership of their bodies, one might expect that Orphan Black would therefore champion the recovery of selfhood-as-property, or the reconstitution [End Page 391] of the Lockean model of liberal-human self-ownership that emerges from the Enlightenment (and often forms the ideological foundation of modern political sovereignty). In other words, if the show's basic assertion is that 'I am not yours', we might therefore expect its ultimate conclusion to be 'I am my own' or 'I own myself'. Although this reconstitution of Lockean self-ownership certainly occurs at moments in the series, Orphan Black is ultimately provocative because it refuses, in a larger sense, to retreat into the troubling liberal-humanist fiction of selfhood-as-property in response to various attempts to own, dominate, manage and control women's bodies.

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Season 3, episode 6, 'Certain Agony of the Battlefield' (23 May 2015), Orphan Black: The Complete Collection. BBC Home Entertainment, 2017.

Instead, the 'Clone Club' (a resistance movement among the female clones that consists of Sarah Manning, Alison Hendrix, Cosima Niehaus, Helena and their allies) resists efforts to turn them into property by forming a complex network of empowering associations that enable them to act collectively without subsuming their individual differences into an overdetermined group identity. But the clones do not conclude the series as heroic self-owning subjects, as one might expect; they are, on the contrary, richly interdependent, relying on each other for medical, economic and affective support. They form, in other words, a complex and richly divergent 'we', and they are able to do so (to a significant degree) on their own terms. Rather than retreating into the classic liberal position that 'I own myself', each of the clones embraces something closer to the recognition that 'I am ours'–they achieve a sense of [End Page 392] mutually affirming collectivity, while simultaneously retaining a vital sense of unique individuality.

This distinctiveness-within-community distinguishes the female Orphan Black clones from many other science-fictional...


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pp. 391-394
Launched on MUSE
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