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?

* Buy your guns outside the EconoMart from a cashier who calls himself “Ramon.” If you’re buying the gun as a present for someone, put it in a bouquet and be sure to include a handmade card.

*Be a domestic goddess, fighting for your children and your life with whatever comes to hand, be it a sharp quip or a glue gun. Demonstrate the power and resourcefulness of the homemaker, and don’t let your husband get away with not doing his share around the house. This might include occasionally burying corpses in your garage. If so, put your husband to shame as you unflinchingly take in a bloody body, formulate a plan, and run a jackhammer like a pro. You are The Wolf with scrapbooking skills.

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*Pursue your passion for acting, be it impersonating your fellow clone to help her keep visitation rights to her daughter or performing in a community musical. Do, however, keep working on your improvisational skills: when a small child asks what her mother calls her in addition to “Monkey,” the answer, “Monkey … bum … face” is less than convincing.

*When you find your personal anthem, belt it without shame.

 

This list makes Alison sound unhinged, and at times that’s true. Nor do I mean to make light of her obvious problems with booze and pills, which she herself begins to face, on her own terms, in Season 2. Nor do I mean to elide her problematic politics, including her troubling reference to people of color, with palpable unease, as “urban.”

What I mean to emphasize here is that Alison has both transcended and held onto herself over the course of Orphan Black’s two seasons. It would have been easy for the show runners to reduce her to a caricature of a soccer mom—uptight, repressed, incapable. It would also have been easy to have the extraordinary events of the past twenty episodes smooth all her rough, jagged edges. But she remains, unapologetically, Alison: she tells Felix in Season 2 that she can’t go to prison because if women touch her in the shower she will “stab” them; she finally has sex with her husband on screen only when his controlling, aggressive mania rivals her own.

Alison is awesome because she knows who she is and what she needs, and that knowledge is only deepened by what she and the Clone Club go through together. She is a strange, repressed woman, given to small, equally strange gestures of her own version of kindness: sending guns with lovely bouquets, knitting fashionable gloves with the appropriate number of fingers for Vic, whose left pinky was cut off by a drug kingpin named Pouchy. Alison emerges from all this still herself: a homemaker deeply into glitter, and just as deeply committed to protecting her suburban family and her fellow clones.

This is evident in the famous dance party in Season 2’s finale, when all the clones cut a rug with Felix. You can pick out Alison immediately, jittery and repressed as ever, but there she is, with the “grifter,” the “monster,” the scientist, and her unlikely wingman, Felix (who, as Sarah S. argued, deserves a WEEK of posts about his awesomeness). Part of their group, but always herself, always knowing what she needs and taking steps to secure it. One of my favorite things about Orphan Black is how it continues to insist that these clones, despite their status as “genetic identicals,” are always, and fiercely, themselves.

 

Rachel B. is a postdoctoral fellow in English at the University of Oregon. She studies modernist fiction and is interested in authors and texts that are not traditionally considered radical or innovative (she was, after all, the baby in the family). She can often be found reading in a hammock chair and has been called, more than once, a “cat whisperer.”

 

 

 

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  1. I totally agree with your assessment that Alison is a survivor. The word that comes to mind when I think of her, just after “uptight,” is resilient. She might not take everything in stride right away, but she manages to fight back–and come back–no matter what is thrown at her.

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