Tuesday, September 1, 2015

"Orphan Black," Year 3

Minor spoilers ahead.

I was on the fence about continuing with "Orphan Black" at all, after a very shaky second season.  I'm glad I did, because "Orphan Black" managed to deliver a pretty entertaining new batch of episodes, despite not fixing most of the problems that I pointed out last year.  The ones that it did address, though, made a lot of difference. 

First, there have been some good adjustments to the unwieldy cast.  The show struggled to keep Sarah's multiple male allies in the mix, but now it's cut back on their involvement considerably.   Michael Mando has departed to "Better Call Saul," so no more Vic.  Art is now the Clone Club's cop friend who is hanging around out of obligation to Beth, and the entire subplot with Angie Deangelis appears to have been dropped.  Cal and Kira have both been neatly sidelined after two episodes, and the show is much better for it.  Paul, meanwhile, who was the most neglected of the bunch, finally gets something substantive to do that also guarantees a much more limited role in the future.

This lets the series put more focus on the secondary characters it's elected to keep around for the long term - Donnie Hendrix, who is now fully Allison's partner in crime, Mark and Gracie still on the run, and Delphine, who works much better as a conflicted antagonist to Clone Club rather than a conflicted ally.  Our four main clones, Sarah, Alison, Cosima, and Helena, remain mostly cordoned off in their own little worlds, but there's much more crossover among their stories thanks to the supporting players, including the beefed up team of Felix and Mrs. S., acting as important bridges between them.  While there are still a lot of different characters with different agendas to keep track of, there aren't many that feel extraneous anymore. 

On to the plot.  Cosima's still searching for love, and gets a new romantic interest in Shay (Ksenia Solo), but she's also locked in a power struggle with Delphine, the new head of Dyad, while trying to decode the notes Professor Duncan left behind last year.  She's way more active this year, and her storyline nicely connects to Sarah's in the last half of the season.  Alison and Donnie are up to their usual suburban criminal hijinks, which involve local politics, drug dealing, soap, and Portuguese mobsters.  Though their plot is more or less self-contained, it's consistently entertaining throughout, and the way they manage to work in appearances from Helena is just fantastic.  Speaking of Helena, she's stuck in a fairly passive role as Project Castor's prisoner for the first half of the season, while Sarah's big goal is to find and rescue her.  However, Helena sure doesn't take captivity lying down, and she's how we learn about the Big Bad of this season, Project Castor.

Freaky Topside operative Ferdinand (James Frain) is introduced as a new baddie this year, but Ari Millen has the juiciest villain assignment as all the different Castor clones.  Millen is not operating on the same level Tatiana Maslany, but does a good job with Mark, Rudy, and Seth, the main trio of clones who operate out of a Mexican military base under the orders of their twisted "mother," Dr. Coady (Kyra Harper).  Sarah has her hands full trying to keep up with them and figuring out their plans, which is a lot more fun than the stalemate she was trying to navigate with Dyad last year.  It helps that there are significant personal stakes this time out - Sarah's relationship with Helena takes center stage.  There's a lot more sisterly bonding this year, which is a nice change from Sarah's previously Kira-centric worldview. 

The tonal issues have also been largely smoothed out, so this all feels like the same show most of the time.  Scott's larger role in Cosima's story brings a welcome dose of goofy humor, while the Portuguese mobsters add some real tension to Alison's.  Also, there's Helena and her imaginary talking scorpion, which somehow works really, really well.  I'm getting used to the wild plot twists, ridiculous resurrections, and silly moments of fanservice.  The show has embraced the inherent nuttiness of its genre premise in such a way that it's never going to be great television, but it sure is a hell of a lot of fun to watch.  We're in guilty pleasure territory now, and that's perfectly okay. 

I don't know how much longer the show is going to be able to sustain itself, but I'm glad that it has answered a lot of the big questions and can't be accused of dragging things out.  I'm satisfied that "Orphan Black" has graduated from mystery show to a more typical action-adventure show, with a good collection of characters I'm interested in following for at least a while longer.  Can't wait to see what kind of mother Helena's going to be and what happens to Rachel.  And I kinda think that Art and Krystal would make a cute couple.

See you next year, Clone Club.

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