Orphan Black: The Collapse of Nature

Posted on April 15, 2016

 

Quick! How well do you remember how season 3 of Orphan Black ended? Something about running through the snow with Kira? Siobhan’s mother? Worms? Coming out of people’s mouths?

While we’re sure there are plenty of rabid Clone Club members who could answer all these questions definitively, we’re equally as sure that most of the show’s viewers have only a passing understanding of where we left things vis-à-vis the conspiracies upon conspiracies upon conspiracies that make up Orphan Black‘s considerably dense mythology. We don’t know about you, but we long ago decided to take the “X-Files” approach with this show and simply not think about it too much. After all, for us – and we’d wager for a lot of the show’s fans – the main appeal of Orphan Black is not the twists and turns, but simply watching Tatiana Maslany wow us over and over again with the greatest acting trick currently being performed on television. You can gauge an episode’s quality by how many times you forget that 80% of the cast is the same person playing different roles. We’d call this season opener a good one then; not just because it managed to inject a freshness into the show in its 4th season, but because we must have forgotten that Tatiana was talking to herself in most of her scenes.

This is why this episode’s major narrative step backwards was such a good idea. At first, you didn’t need to concern yourself with remembering where we left things when the show last aired. It was enough just to have an enjoyable romp through the show’s distant history. Beth Childs! Big Dick Paul! Freaky Leakeys! That guy with a tail! Maggie Chen, professional dead lady and series-long question mark!

But seeing all these ghosts started to force a somewhat sober reflection on just how many people have died since the show started. That struck us as a deliberate manipulation on the show’s part (there was a certain “Look! It’s that guy!” tone every time a formerly dead character popped up) in order to get us inside Beth’s head a little. We assumed the episode was going to take us right up to the moment Beth killed herself and Sarah stepped into the story (and almost literally into her shoes), but we realized by the end that it didn’t need to. By the time she was standing in shock over the body of the late Ms. Chen and Art was frantically trying to cover for her, we think the point of her instability and fragile psyche had more than been made. We don’t know how necessary it was to have this particular blank page filled in. We presume at least some of what we saw in this episode (not least of which is Leakey’s heretofore unseen partner/colleague and M.K., Tatiana’s latest acting trick and another clone from an indeterminate European country) will have repercussions for the coming season, but that’s not even the point right now. The point was watching Tat dive headfirst into this characters story and not just show off her skills, but contextualize and refocus the entire story.

Granted, that feeling we talked about? About not needing to remember how last season ended because the narrative took a major step backwards? It became a moot point as the episode unfolded, because we wound up having to wiki the hell out of most of the cast members, since we couldn’t remember who was still alive or how they all related to the story. After all, when was the last time you thought about tail guy? Weren’t there a bunch of fucked-up male clones last season? A para-military group and semi-religious cult? Best not to think about it. Go check and see if this bitchy Astrid from Club Neolution has ever shown up before (note: she has).

It’s not that we recommend a total shutting off of the brain while watching this show. It’s always been good about exploring topics like female agency, the limits of science as it intersects with moral choices,  the flexibility of the definition of “human” in the 21st Century, and of course, that oldie but goodie, nature vs. nurture. There are a lot of reasons to remain fully engaged in all the goings on surrounding these clones. But in the fourth season, when the show is making a point about just how dense and far-flung this story is? We have no problem admitting we tend to spend more time enjoying Allison playing with a gun in her scrapbooking room than wondering how the cheek-worms fit into all of this.

So, yeah: Beth Childs, total mess. Angie, always a bitch. Artie, never should’ve slept with such a distressed woman. Allison and Cosima, probably better people now that Sarah has taken Beth’s place. M.K., another weird clone, full of mystery. Felix, kind of a big ol’ whore. Sarah, on the run again.

We’re in. We can sweat the details later.

 

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