June 17, 2016

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “Orphan Black”


Effective showrunners learn from their mistakes, and the 4th and, as we now know, penultimate season of BBCAmerica’s ORPHAN BLACK was altogether more satisfying than Season 3.  Creator/showrunners Graeme Manson and John Fawcett had gotten ambitious in all the wrong ways last year, creating a line of male “Castor” clones (all played by Ari Millen) to go along with the “Leda” female line (all Tatiana Maslany), without having any interesting character ideas for the Castors, not to mention, no offense to Millen, lacking the spectacular Maslany.  The Ledas, for their part, were kept apart or off-screen for too much of the season.  In addition, the season’s storyline was built around the far too familiar sci-fi trope of the military wanting to weaponize clones.

Season 4 addressed those concerns.  Most of the action took place in the show’s home base of Toronto, and there were plenty of opportunities for the various incarnations of Maslany to interact.  We got to meet a new clone, mysterious MK, and there was a lot of the delightful Krystal, a unique mixture of shrewdness and incomprehension.  The Castors were reduced to a single representative named Ira.  In addition, the plotting returned to a smaller if no less dangerous scale, with the evil Neolutionists hiding behind a medical technology firm called Brightborn.  For most of the season, the clear Big Bad was Brightborn head Evie Cho (Jessalyn Wanlim), rather than layers and layers of ambiguous villains.  We even learned through flashbacks the full story of Beth, the clone whose suicide had kicked off the whole series.

The season finale, written by Manson and directed by Fawcett, concentrated on three of the core clones, heroic Sarah, evil Rachel and brilliant (and dying) Cosima, leaving Alison and Helena mostly to the side.  (It did, however, find room for perhaps Krystal’s finest moment so far when, finally faced with the revelation that she was a clone, she matter-of-factly refused to accept that Sarah could be her genetic duplicate, since Sarah was a “seven at best,” and Krystal herself had been told she’s a ten.)  After toying with the possibility for much of the season that Rachel might ultimately make her peace with the sisterhood of her clones, she became more villainous than ever, stabbing both Sarah and her own adoptive mother Susan (Rosemary Dunsmore) with steely rage so that she could take possession of the new genetic line that Cosima had created as a cure for her fatal disease, using it to finally become head of Neolution, where she vowed to create more clones for the express purpose of using them as lab rats, about as far from sisterhood as one can get.  Sarah and Cosima, meanwhile, were hoping to survive, although Cosima did manage to salvage a bit of the cure, and had the pleasant additional discovery that it would be administered by her long-believed-dead love Delphine (Evelyne Brochu), who’d been spirited away by Brightborn for reasons as-yet unclear.  An additional cliffhanger had the odious Ferdinand (James Frain) with a gun on Sarah’s adoptive mother Siobhan (Maria Doyle Kennedy) and daughter Kira (Skyler Wexler).

It was all sharply put together and of course brilliantly performed by Maslany, who not only got to play both halves of the Sarah vs. Rachel confrontation, but had one of her trademark double-clone bits when Sarah impersonated Krystal to get access to a high-ranking Neolutionist.  The stakes are set for a final battle between the forces of Sisterhood and those of ruthless “science,” power and commerce, with one wild card that could go very well or very badly for the show:  the reveal that the creator of Neolutionism, PT Westmoreland, is somehow not just alive but still running things at Neolution despite being well over a century old.  (Even Sumner Redstone would be impressed!)  Clearly he’s been using some form of his science on himself, but we won’t know until next season whether he’s going to be depicted as a cartoon villain or someone more interesting.

Orphan Black has never quite deserved Maslany’s transcendence, but at its best it’s an entertaining and even thought-provoking show, a level it often held during this season.  Whether it can pull off a satisfying climax–a task that better shows have found daunting–is a toss-up, but certainly worth the wait to find out.  And although it was probably a decision informed by the ratings, which have never been strong and this year, with a move to Thursdays, turned disastrous, 5 seasons seems a fair amount of time for this series to run without wearing out its welcome.  Then  Maslany and her amazing chameleon qualities can be let loose on the entertainment universe at large.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."