June 20, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “Orphan Black”


The third season of ORPHAN BLACK was a step up from Season 2, although the show is still the victim of its plotting.  The main narrative for the season was set up in the Season 2 finale, with the discovery that along with the (mostly) female “Leda” clones, all played by Tatiana Maslany, there was a line of male “Castor” clones, all played by Ari Millen.  The Castor clones were developed by the military and the government, particularly Dr. Virginia Coady (Kyra Harper), to be some version of super-soldiers.

The show tried very hard to make the Castors into something compelling, revealing that they had a genetic anomaly that eventually made their brains explode but also passed along a sexually transmitted sterilization bug to the women they had sex with, and that they were genetically tied to the Ledas, so that sequencing their DNA might provide a cure for the respiratory disease that was killing some of the women, most notably Cosima.  But while there were good Castors and bad Castors (Mark and Rudy, respectively), none of them were remotely as varied and interesting as the Ledas, and although Millen put in a yeoman effort playing all the male clones, there was nothing to touch Maslany’s magic.  The grim Dr. Coady was the latest in a growing list of B-movie villains featured by the show.  The plotting toward the end of the season strained even Orphan Black‘s version of credulity, as with some jargon-laden explanation, it turned out that the genetic codes for both Leda and Castor came from none other than the birth mother of Siobhan (Maria Doyle Kennedy), main Leda heroine Sarah’s foster mom, who was able to serve as the hub of both male and female clones, without physically resembling any of them, because she had absorbed an unborn brother in the womb.

The season 3 finale, written and directed respectively by series creators Graeme Manson and John Fawcett, brought all of this to a head, and also set up Season 4, although none of it was particularly satisfying.  The Ledas kept their genetic originator away from the Castor team, which meant that the Castors would die off, sending Grandma (more or less) to the far North, where Sarah’s daughter Kira (Skyler Wexler) had been hiding for most of the season.  The finale’s reveal was that the Season 4 Big Bad would go all the way back to Season 1, as the religio-science fanatic Neolithians had, instead of fading away with the death of their leader Dr. Leekie, infiltrated the ranks of the Dyad conglomerate and the Castor group and become more powerful than ever, kidnapping former Dyad exec Rachel and (apparently) killing Delphine (Evelyne Brochu), whose promotion to the top ranks of Dyad was another less than convincing touch of the season.

All of this may make Season 3 sound disastrous, but actually it just made for some mental fast forwarding through much of the narrative exposition.  The rest was often delightful.  The idea of placing crazy-clone Helena in the suburban home of soccer mom Alison was golden, and having Helena thrive there in the midst of Alison’s school board election and illegal pill distribution business was inspired.  (Helena is useful to have around when you’re in need of a gangland massacre.)  Our introduction to a new clone, manicurist Krystal, gave Maslany yet another splendid character to play, and since we last saw Krystal forced into a Dyad hospital bed as part of Rachel’s plan to escape (which wasn’t supposed to end up with her in the hands of the Neolithians), presumably we’ll see more of her next season.  The success of Orphan Black has allowed for a higher grade of guest star, too, with people like James Frain and Justin Chatwin making extended visits.  Maslany, of course, is simply phenomenal, able to capture a moment like Helena’s panicky response to having to impersonate Alison at a campaign appearance brilliant from every angle.

After 3 seasons, it seems clear that Orphan Black will be a solidly crafted showcase for a spectacular performance, rather than an thrilling piece of television drama in its own right.  The show’s storytelling just doesn’t share the sparkle of its star.  Even if it only provides a setting for the jewel of Maslany’s work, though, that’s enough to make the series entirely worthwhile.  Her pyrotechnics remain unmatched, and very possibly matchable only by means of a clone.

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."