Thursday, September 15, 2016

"Orphan Black," Year Four

Full spoilers for the series up to this point, minimal ones for the season.

One thing that I've come to admire about the creators of "Orphan Black" is how they're perfectly willing to cut characters and abandon storylines that are no longer working for them. So there's no sign of Mark and Gracie this year. Or Shay. Or Cal. Angie Deangelis remains MIA. Instead, we get a couple of new villains this year in the form of new Neolutionist leader Evie Cho (Jessalyn Wanlim) and the shady Detective Duko (Gord Rand), who may have been involved in Beth's demise. One new Leda clone and one new Castor clone are introduced, and Susan Duncan (Rosemary Dunmore) plays a much bigger role.

The year starts out with Beth, who the show has finally decided to spend some time with, clearing up all the lingering mysteries around her final days while setting up a new storyline in the present. The remaining Neolutionists behind Dyad are now backing a rival project, led by Evie Cho and her company, Brightborn Industries. It's not clear what Evie's plans are, but they involve some scary new implantable tech and extreme hostility toward all things clone related. Sarah is obliged once again to get involved, coming back to Toronto with Kira and Mrs. S. She and Art look into the case Beth was working on before she died, and its ties to Neolution. Meanwhile, Cosima steps up her search for a cure, Rachel continues her recovery, and Felix has someone new in his life.

Though it's all gotten very familiar, "Orphan Black" is in fine form this year. Everyone has something to do, and those who don't only make brief appearances. The creators finally learned that less Helena makes for a far more effective Helena when she does appear. It all feels like one show this time out, instead of three or four separate ones that have been mashed up together. But that said, the plot is constantly hurtling through different storylines, characters, locations, and ideas. It requires much more effort to keep up with what's going on. I've learned to live with the multiple loose ends and weird digressions that the show employs so often, but it was gratifying to see more callbacks to odds and ends I'd thought were left by the wayside. The Hendrixs' criminal career, for instance, finally catches up with them in a couple of different ways.

It was also clearly a tough season for Tatiana Maslany, who is juggling more characters than ever. However, she's still so good at giving every single one of them a full, interesting performance. I barely even notice when she's playing against herself in the same scene anymore. And when one of the major clone characters got sidelined for a few episodes, my first reaction as to wonder whether the actress was unavailable. Maslany is especially good as Cosima and Rachel this year, who had both previously been a little two-dimensional. Among the supporting cast, lots of characters only dropped by for part of the season, so it would be spoilers to say too much. However, this was a good year for Art, Donnie, and Felix among the regulars. Evie and Duko were supremely hateable, and Ari Millen fares much better when he's only playing one clone at a time, in this case a newcomer named Ira in Rachel's storyline.

We've only got one season of "Orphan Black" left, according to recent news. Though I'm sure that the creators could go on for quite a lot longer based on what they've done so far, and I really enjoy this group of characters, the announcement is a relief. One of the only parts of this season I found lacking was the character of Sarah, who is starting to become very repetitive. She took a backseat to other clones for much of the season, and there aren't many places her character can go without making some drastic changes. Kira and Mrs. S had the least to do this year, mostly just hanging around the safehouse and giving other characters someone to play off of. If Sarah has to remain at the center of "Orphan Black," then I think it's about time that they wrapped things up.

Besides, I can't wait to see what Tatiana Maslany does next.

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