Orphan Black's Back-to-Basics Premiere Heralds a Vastly Improved Season 4

Friday, 15 April 2016 - 10:17AM
Orphan Black
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Friday, 15 April 2016 - 10:17AM
Orphan Black's Back-to-Basics Premiere Heralds a Vastly Improved Season 4
While I've loved Orphan Black for its entire run, I loved it best back in season one, when it was an elegantly streamlined show that slowly unfolded the clone conspiracy in tense and clever ways, without getting too convoluted. And while I admired that it was always willing to upend the status quo, the addition of far too many vaguely evil organizations (Neolutionists, Dyad, Proletheans, Project Castor, etc) and completely unrelated subplots (Alison and Donnie becoming drug lords, as amusing as that was) made the show feel entirely unfocused. But if the premiere is any indication, the show is getting back to its roots, both in its mythology and a renewed interest in the Leda clone whose suicide kicked off the entire show: Beth Childs.

My love for (and curiosity about) Beth has been well-documented, and this episode almost made me wish that we could spend an entire season with her (although Dylan Bruce is still listed in the main cast, so unless he's somehow alive, maybe we'll be seeing more flashbacks??). Although we've technically never met her before now, she was essentially the heart of the show when it began, and we already felt like we knew her from Sarah's impersonation. This episode turned her into a fully-realized--and compelling--character, played to perfection by Tatiana Maslany as per usual.

We had the impression that Beth was a broken person, beaten down by her discovery that so much of her life was an artifice. And that's true enough; she was addicted to painkillers and mentally coming apart at the seams, which culminated in her accidental killing of Maggie Chen (incidentally, I'm glad that the show didn't cop out on that character beat just because Maggie Chen turned out to be involved in the clone conspiracy). But she was also much tougher--and more similar to Sarah--than I would have anticipated. While much of the suspense of season one depended on the differences between Sarah and Beth, and there are many, they seem more akin than arguably any of the other sister clone pairs. This episode confirmed what we might have guessed from their respective backstories: that Sarah and Beth both have self-destructive tendencies that they express in different ways. Sarah was openly destructive in the sense that she was a juvenile delinquent and con artist, but she developed the resilience that has allowed her to get her life back together, while Beth sublimated her reckless tendencies by becoming a cop, but then cracked under the pressure. Sadly enough, you get the sense that Beth and Sarah would have been good friends.

Many fans felt that the Neolutionist reveal in the season three finale was an anticlimax, but attributing everything that's happened to one organization (and the original one, at that) has given the mythology room to breathe. Now new and old viewers alike will have a clear villain to focus on, and the conspiracy will be far more interesting if it's simplified. Complexity is a positive trait when it comes to character development and relationship dynamics, but the mystery loses its impact when it's convoluted to the point of being incomprehensible. Although I'm happy we'll get to see Ari Millen again, I'm glad that the show is moving away from the tangential villains like Project Castor and getting back to the central questions of the show.

Orphan Black also seems to be returning to a focus on body horror, which has always been one of its great strengths. We haven't seen anything as crazy and weird as cheek worms and bifurcated penises (extra points for Beth's "corkscrew breasts" comment) since Helena lopped off Olivier's tail back in season one. Only on Orphan Black, am I right?
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