thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

How to Be Awesome Like Alison Hendrix

In feminism, How to be Awesome Like, Television, Uncategorized on August 29, 2014 at 10:42 am

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Welcome to the final day of Orphan Black Week on Girls Like Giants! We launched this discussion last week with a post on the patriarchal metaphor that structures the show. This week we’ve been featuring a series of “How To Be Awesome Like…” posts on the women of “clone club.” Today our final contributor, Rachel B., gets at the heart inside the neuroses of Alison Hendrix.

Guest Contributor Rachel B.

In Orphan Black’s first episode, Alison Hendrix is nothing more than a Social Security card in a safe deposit box. At first glance, this seems an apt metaphor for the woman herself: contained within the cold, sterile routine of her highly regulated suburban life. Unable to think or live outside the box. Indeed, when Felix asks Sarah early in Season 1 why she decides not to inform Alison about the more frightening characteristics of the as-yet unidentified Helena, Sarah explains that if Alison knew the truth, she would “crap her lululemons.”

And sure, Alison is brittle and jittery. Sure, she walks and talks with the uptight carriage and demeanor of a woman on her last nerve, wound up, edgy, often self-medicating. Sure, she seems fit to do little more than teach figure skating classes, distribute snacks at soccer practice, and host the monthly potluck.

But here’s the thing: she is a survivor. She doesn’t fall down, helpless, when confronted with the enormity of not only her identity as a clone but also her peril. When her fellow clones begin to be picked off one by one, she doesn’t hide. She doesn’t run away. She acts. She buys a gun and has Beth teach her how to use it. She does what she can to help, financing Clone Club’s investigation into how they came to be and why someone seems bent on erasing them. When Sarah says she needs Alison’s help, all the schedules and activities of suburbia go out the window: Alison sends off her doof of a husband with a cutting barb and sits sentinel at her arts and crafts table with a gun and the pink clone cell phone. “Stupid suburban Alison” can actually handle a great deal of truth.

How to be awesome like her?

How to Be Awesome Like Cosima Niehaus

In feminism, How to be Awesome Like, Television on August 28, 2014 at 7:32 am

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Welcome to Orphan Black Week on Girls Like Giants! We launched this discussion last week with a post on the patriarchal metaphor that structures the show. This week we’re featuring a series of “How To Be Awesome Like…” posts on the women of “clone club.” Today our second guest contributor, Larissa Ennis, describes the multi-faceted stability of Cosima Niehaus, the brainiest clone and the one all of our writers wish they’d gotten to before Larissa called dibs.

Guest Contributor Larissa M. Ennis

We are introduced to Cosima in season 1, episode 2 “Instinct.” Cosima is introduced moments after the German clone Katja Obinger is murdered in front of Sarah-playing-Beth Childs. The disembodied voice over Beth’s cellphone demanding that Sarah/Beth find the German’s briefcase snaps Sarah back to reality as she reels from Katja’s murder, the revelation of another look-alike, and her near miss with a sniper’s bullet.

While to Sarah the woman on the phone is simply a mysterious voice assuming she is Beth, to the audience the voice promises that Beth and Katja aren’t the only “twins” (which Sarah is calling her multiple doppelgangers at the moment); there are more clones to come. Late in the episode, Sarah tracks down Allison, who reveals Cosima and the truth about who—or what—they are.

I must confess I find Cosima the most relatable of the clones. In season 1, Cosima Niehaus is a PhD student studying developmental evolutionary biology at the University of Minnesota; in season 2, she pits her brains against the corporate brawn of the Dyad Corporation and goes to work for them, a double-agent out in the open, as Aldous Leekie knows that having a happy clone researcher will get him a lot more results than no clone researcher at all.

While Alison and Sarah can pass for one another, or the departed Beth (and do) quite easily, Cosima has a style all her own, an eclectic fashion sense that helps set her apart. She doesn’t skimp on the eyeliner, a liquid black shaped into a vintage cat eye. She wears awesome black-rimmed glasses, slightly hipster but definitely intellectual; her clothes are a hodge-podge of thrift store finds, and her hair… The hair.

Cosima’s hair is almost impossibly cool, thick and black and shaped into awesome dreadlocks, which she wears back perpetually. But while she often slips into California slang, using “dude” liberally, her hair never seems to approach embarrassing white-girl-with-dreads territory.

How to Be Awesome Like Helena

In feminism, How to be Awesome Like, Television on August 27, 2014 at 6:00 am

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Welcome to Orphan Black Week on Girls Like Giants! We launched this discussion last week with a post on the patriarchal metaphor that structures the show. This week we’re featuring a series of “How To Be Awesome Like…” posts on the women of “clone club.” Today, we have guest contributor Bethany Jacobs writing on the deliciously diabolical, chillingly childlike Helena.

Guest Contributor Bethany Jacobs

*spoilers throughout!*

Aspiring to be like Helena is not for the faint of heart. And I’m not referring to having the stomach for getting shanked by rebar, cutting off tails, and sniper-busting a half dozen faces that LOOK JUST LIKE YOURS. All this ferocity is as much a symptom of Helena’s systemic brainwashing as any inherent badassery, and let’s be honest—nobody wants to be the Helena who has suffered horrific psychological and physical abuse by the religious zealots in Orphan Black known as Proletheans. Or at least no one should want to be that Helena, though to each her own. But there is a profound appeal to this rogue clone, and I submit that a great deal of it comes down to her being one of the fiercest, slyest, and most unapologetic people in contemporary television—and that’s saying something given her sisters are grifters, cops, murderous housewives and sexy-ass scientists of the genius persuasion (among other persuasions that I particularly enjoy).

But I can’t be the only one who thinks that Helena is somehow bigger than the other clones, right? Even as she rocks the same feline muscularity of her sisters, she’s got a hugeness to her that stresses once again Tatiana Maslany’s incredible skill at bringing multiple distinct characters to life. Helena is a body, a presence, all her own. Is it her ravenous appetite? Is it the jacket and combat boots and hair? Is it her shrieking, discordant electronica theme, declaring everything that is discordant and horrific about Helena herself? But her larger-than-life presence coupled with an insanely violent streak shouldn’t fool anyone into missing the complexity of that same theme, which builds a haunting melody out of chimes, percussion, piano and eletronica magic. This is no simple soundtrack. Sarah Manning’s quasi-affectionate nickname for the Ukrainian assassin is “Meathead” (“Do not call me this,” Helena always retorts). It’s charming, but inaccurate. Though she is eccentric, and single-minded—a walking blunt-force trauma—Helena is also intelligent enough to lead the Toronto police on a fruitless cat-and-mouse chase. She’s a brilliant tracker and strategist. That she is even remotely functional given what she has endured throughout her life, that she has a moral compass apart from Prolethean teachings, speaks to a strength of character that beautifully complements her physical power and vigilante skills.

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