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No Gods, No Parents – Adoption in Orphan Black

In the second episode of Orphan Black‘s fourth season, “Transgressive Border Crossing”, there is a small but important side story happening with Sara’s brother – secondary character Felix – on an often-avoided subject that I am thankful to see become a plot point.

If you’re not familiar with the show, Orphan Black is present-day sci-fi, where several of the main characters are identical clones of one another. They’ve been living lives without knowing they were grown in a lab, until they fatefully start to find each other. They proceed to go up against dangerous corporate, religious, and military forces, trying to discover the secrets behind their genesis.

Throughout the show, the obvious focus has been on the quest to find out where the clones came from. Which, when you’re talking about cloning, eventually boils down to: where did their DNA come from? It’s the best clue they have, written into their very cells. And eventually, in Season 3, it leads them to a flesh and blood relative. Along the way, there’s interesting character development across the spectrum of the ensemble cast.

Orphan Black has always been groundbreaking with its complexity and diversity of characters – not an easy feat, considering it’s a show about clones. Multiple characters are homosexual, including Felix, and while this characteristic feeds into their personalities, it never feels forced or gimmicky. And yet, while Felix faces the world head on with regards to being a minority in sexual orientation, he is a minority of another kind. A kind that there’s not often room to deal with in the context of the show: he is an adoptee.

NO GODS. NO PARENTS.In “Transgressive Border Crossing”, Felix enters the episode from behind a stencil, the openings blotted out by a spray of paint. Flipping to the other side, we see what he has painted on his wall: NO GODS. NO PARENTS.

Felix’s entire flat is covered in paint. While the place has always been colorful, now there is more intention. He’s turning the entire thing into a singular work of art. He’s also aloof – more so than usual. He’s preoccupied, quickly annoyed by intrusions made by other members of the cast.

In a later scene, Sarah comes along and is distracted and uninterested in his change in attitude. She drags him to a club under the pretense of getting drinks and catching up, only to reveal that she’s looking for someone and she needs his help. He unhappily consents, and while at the club, she finally prods him about his attitude.

Sarah: I’m all ears.
Felix: I’ve been looking for my birth family.
Sarah: What?
Felix: Yeah. I made the decision while you were away.
Sarah: We asked you to come.
Felix: It’s not about that. It’s about me finding out who I am.
Sarah: Me, S, Kira. That’s your family, Fee.
Felix: No, that’s your family. You’re related to bloody everyone, including our foster mum. Go figure that.
Sarah: You belong with us, Fee.
Felix: No. I belong on the dance floor.

Sarah reactsSarah is clearly annoyed with this development. The news downright angers her, it’s written on her face. She feels betrayed, crossed. And why not? Up to this point, the brother and sister pair have been as close as siblings can get. You often forget they’re not related. So why is he so anxious to abandon her?

I’m not adopted, but someone close to me is. Over the course of the last several years, I’ve come to know many adoptees and their situations. Many were brought up to understand that their adoptive family is their only family. And with little information to go on – the majority of adoptions are “closed”, which means there is no contact with the birth mother after the transaction has been made – many adoptees can’t shake a deep feeling of abandonment. Logically, they can understand there may have been unavoidable circumstances, but emotionally, in the unconscious mind, there lies the inescapable truth: they were given up by their own flesh and blood.

At some point in almost every adult adoptee’s life, they do this. They do exactly what Felix is doing. They feel what he is feeling. They look for their birth family. Sarah’s reaction is also extremely common: non-biological family members will almost always feel hurt by this new need in the adoptee. Parents ask, didn’t we give you enough love? Significant others say, it doesn’t matter where you come from, I love you for who you are. Can’t you accept that? Isn’t that enough?

The truth is, those of us who grew up surrounded by people we’re genetically related to can’t know what it’s like to not have that. We take for granted that we know where we come from. It’s completely natural, and it takes a purposeful effort to overcome. To sympathize. To support. It’s hard, but we have to remind ourselves that when we look at a brother, a sister, a mother, a father, an aunt or uncle, and we see ourselves reflected back – so and so has her father’s nose, etc – we have a gift that an adoptee doesn’t have. If we really love the adoptees in our lives, we need to show them with patience, understanding, and support when they strike out on that quest to seek out genetic connections.

So here’s hoping that Sarah comes around to understand Felix’s need to find out who he is. It’s a drama, so I’m sure the show will create some conflict first. In any case, I have faith that they’ll do the subject justice. The conversation I highlighted was eerily close to real conversations I’ve witnessed. And if this development feels “out of the blue”, trust me: this is how it goes. Everyone hits an identity crisis at some point in their lives – hell, I think I’ve had several. For an adoptee, it’s natural that such an identity crisis would lead them to seek out their birth family.

Hat’s off to you, Felix, and good luck in your quest. Even if you fail to find genetic kin, may you find something of yourself.