Orphan Black’s Neolution is Tryborg and Eugenicist

Tatiana Maslany as Rachel Duncan in a still from Space and BBC America’s Orphan Black. Rachel is a young, white woman with brown eyes and short, blonde hair. She wears a navy-blue suit and is lit from below in a tall building at night, making her look intimidating.

Tryborgs

Fashion and body modifications are frequently expressions of bodily autonomy for both individual and cultural reasons. This is especially true for people of color, LGBTQIA people, and disabled people. While the Neolutionists initially appear to be pro-bodily autonomy, this is ultimately a hypocritical, shallow message. They support bodily autonomy only for themselves and for people exactly like them: educated, wealthy, non-disabled, and conventionally intelligent and attractive. They believe they are improving themselves — becoming increasingly smarter and stronger than other people. As transhumanists, they consider themselves superior, even super-human. They do not want equal rights for everyone. The Neolutionists are bio hackers “enhancing” themselves. Most appear wealthy, white, and cisgender.

Sterilization

On Alice Wong’s Disability Visibility podcast in 2017, guests Rebecca Cokley and Maelee Johnson discussed how Orphan Black’s villains imitate real histories of eugenics, including forced sterilization. Neolution performs frequent, non-consensual experiments on the clones. It covertly hires trusted people in their lives to act as their “monitors,” which enables more medical abuse. Monitors make clones’ whole lives experiments and lies. Neolution deliberately infects Sarah to study her immunity to a virus that affects her sisters. They later cause a little girl named Aisha to die of cancer.

Gender Determinism

The show also defies and complicates the false gender binary. Viewers initially learn that LEDA created “female clones” and CASTOR created “male clones.” However, like the gender binary itself, this turns out to be an oversimplification. Tony is a LEDA clone who is a trans man. He is genetically identical to Sarah and all the other cisgender woman LEDA clones.

Inbreeding

In Season 4, Susan creates a LEDA and CASTOR blastocyst, seeking pluripotent embryonic stem cells, which can turn into most cell types. This is a desperate attempt to treat Cosima’s autoimmune disease after Kendall Malone has been murdered and her DNA destroyed. Malone had been the only source of both CASTOR and LEDA DNA.

Cults

The word cult is vague, but cults in many forms exist in Orphan Black. Within Dyad, the Neolutionists function as a more extremist subculture, an ideology, and a cult of personality around powerful individuals. The Proletheans and Westmoreland’s Revival commune on Neolution’s private island are both cults in the popular meaning of a fringe group.

Brightborn Eugenics Program

The name Brightborn evokes white supremacist, genocidal, and intellectually ableist connotations. The real, Nazi eugenics program Lebensborn meant “fount of life.” Westmoreland later uses a similar “fountain” image on his island.

Clones as Property

Cosima makes a shocking discovery in the Season 1 finale: “They patented us!” Dyad owns the LEDA genome because they can’t legally own people. It’s considered their “intellectual property.”

Westmoreland

Late in the show, we learn that P. T. Westmoreland, the 170-year-old founder of Neolution, is supposedly still alive. P. T. Westmoreland’s name could be an allusion to infamous, racist, ableist con artist P. T. Barnum or to the colonial expansion of “Western” countries (including westward across North America). He has an explicit, personal link to Darwin, Victorian England, and early eugenics. Darwin’s principle of “survival of the fittest” becomes eugenics, or social Darwinism, when applied to humans.

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