Just like that we’re back to the beginning. S3 of Orphan Black reintroduces the series’ original villains as the mythology becoming increasingly (needlessly?) complicated.
Let’s bitch it out…
I’ve often wondered if the creators of Orphan Black, John Fawcett and Graeme Manson,, truly understand what lures viewers in to their show. There’s no denying that Orphan Black became far too twisty and complex in S2, often to the detriment of its storytelling and characters. When S3 began, I complained about the seemingly directionless approach Fawcett and Manson had adopted, worrying that we were doomed for a repeat of the previous season when social media friendly moments were the priority.
In some ways my concerns were needless: the Boy clone Project Castor proved to be less dominant in the narrative than expected and we still spent plenty of time with our favourite Leda clones (even if at times the plots didn’t feel particularly meaningful). Still, as S3 closes, it’s hard to shake the feeling that Fawcett and Manson are more interested in things that make for sensational TV, not necessarily the things that make Orphan Black worth watching.
‘History Yet To Be Written’ is dedicated almost exclusively to the various parties seeking possession of the Castor/Leda original, Kendall Malone (Alison Steadman). With S’ (Maria Doyle Kennedy) mom safely hidden away – thanks Art! (Kevin Hanchard) – the seestras initiate a plan to wipe out their enemies. Sarah (Tatiana Maslany) makes a deal with the devil, aka Ferdinand (James Frain), to remove Coady (Kyra Harper) from the equation. Meanwhile Alison and Helena collaborate to lure Rudy (Ari Millen) into a death trap in the Hendrix garage, which has proved to be one of the most dangerous spaces on the series. With Castor defanged, all that remains is to give Topside the samples from Kendall that they want and conclude their business.
Naturally it’s not that easy, which is why the episode opens with Rachel and her nightmare about losing her father, Duncan. The foreshadowing of what’s to come is evident in the home video within the dream, which clearly includes images of Rachel’s long-presumed dead mother Susan (Christy Bruce), who – naturally – turns out to be very much alive. It’s barely a twist considering that Orphan Black loooooves to tie its conflicts into psycho-family dynamics at every opportunity. Presumably Susan is working for or running the Neolutionists, who are revealed to be the big BIG bads who sit at the top of the corporate hierarchy.
My concern is that it feels like we’re stuck on repeat. Introducing Duncan in S2 was intriguing because he held the potential to unlock the pseudo-science that plagues Cosima’s plotline. Ultimately, though, he proved to be little more than a cipher for Rachel’s parental issues. The same can be said of bringing back S1’s villains, the Neolutionists: Leekie was killed last year and there’s been nary a mention of them since. Bringing them back returns the show to its first season roots in a complementary circular fashion. Who’s to say that revisiting part of what made the first season great won’t turn out to be a brilliant narrative strategy? I don’t know. All I know is that reading interviews with Manson and Fawcett casts doubt on whether they realize that the series is less engaging when the focus is on overly complicated corporate machinations as opposed to emotional character beats. Give me Delphine’s (Evelyne Brochu) sorrowful kiss with Cosima, knowing that she’s really kissing her goodbye, or Helena and Rudy’s recollection of childhood memories as he lays dying on the garage floor over Topside vs Castor any day. Hell, even Sarah’s reunion with Kira (Skyler Wexler) and the promise of four generations of powerful women meeting is more entertaining than the thought of a new capital E-vil entity coming out of the shadows.
We’ve hit the latter beat for three seasons. It’s time for Orphan Black to try something new.
- I’m on the fence about the return of Jesse (Patrick J. Adams), Helena’s beau from 2×06 ‘To Hound Nature in Her Wanderings’. On one hand, it’s fun to see Helena get all excited about seeing her boyfriend again, but it still feels like the series doing a (mid-tier) celebrity cameo simply because the actor is a big fan.
- The same can be said for the blink-and-miss-it cameo by TVLine’s Michael Ausiello, the man who thinks highly of Alison’s chances at the polling station. Obviously Ausiello is less recognizable to the average viewer, but his appearance certainly took me out of the moment.
- RIP Delphine. Assuming that Cosima’s on again, off again lover truly bit the dust in that parking garage (which is by no means assured on this show), she had a strong final season. I will forever wish that Orphan Black could have worked around Michelle Forbes’ schedule so that Marian Bowles could have been in charge, but Delphine was a suitable replacement. Forcing her into the top position gave the character new angles to play, particularly with regards to Shay (Ksenia Solo). Still, it’s hard not to note that the series may have just killed half of its dominant lesbian couple, which is a tired trope for GLBTQ characters.
- Alison won the election (by 56 votes)! Do we care?
- At least everyone got something reasonably exciting to do: Felix (Jordan Gavaris) kicked down a door, Alison got to be bait for Rudy and Helena got to ram a screwdriver through his elbow (blech).
- Checkov’s acid bath: you knew someone was going into that pool the minute S poured it out.
- Finally: while I’m unsure if I like the return of the Neolutionists, the return of freaky body horror when Dr. Nealon (Tom McCamus) tries to force a worm down Delphine’s throat is most welcome. Orphan Black works well with weird shit.
- Cosima (to Kendall): “We’re kinda over the whole bad copy thing.”
- Jesse (to Helena): “Gosh sweetheart, you had me at soap making.”
Your turn: what did you think of the finale? Are you concerned that the show is just repeating itself with the (re)introduction of Susan and the Neolutionists? Do you think Delphine is really dead? Hoping for more body horror? Sound off below.
Orphan Black has finished its third season. It will return for a fourth next spring on BBC America. Thanks for reading!