Sunday, December 24, 2017

"Orphan Black," Year Five

Minor spoilers ahead.

I appreciate that the creators of "Orphan Black" made some attempt to wrap up the loose ends of the series, though I don't think it was necessary.  The show figured out a few seasons ago that the best way to keep its momentum going was to cut the parts that weren't working after every season, and never look back.  And aside from some brief cameos, this is true of the final series as well.  So don't expect to see much of Paul.  Or Vic.  Or Angie.  Or Marion.  Or Shay.  Krystal makes a glorious return, but Tony, thankfully, does not.  

The theme of this year is parenthood, with Kira caught in a pseudo-custody battle between Sarah and Rachel after the pair agree to an uneasy truce.  Meanwhile, Cosima is living with a small commune built around Neolution leader P.T. Westmoreland (Stephen McHattie), still after her cure.  Rachel's mother Susan Duncan (Rosemary Dunsmore) and Dr. Coady (Kyra Harper) see their old rivalry reborn.  Meanwhile, Helena is preparing for the birth of her twins, Alison and Donnie continue to brave suburban life, and Felix remains fabulous.  

The technobabbly plot still makes very little sense, but this is the end of the line for the show, and it's well aware of that.  So there's no more stalling for time, no more running away to fight another day, and no more need to hold off on trouncing the villains too badly so there's someone else to fight next season.  "Orphan Black" definitively ends, Dyad and Neolution are permanently put on ice, and each of the four main clones gets a well-earned resolution to her story.  And, of course, just for fun we get a Krystal episode, an Alison and Donnie episode, and a rather touching Helena flashback episode to fill in a few more bits of backstory before we say goodbye.

The character I thought had the best arc this year was Cosima, who is in the thick of the action investigating Westmoreland's adventures in mad science.  In the past, Sarah would have shouldered the bulk of the investigative work along with battling Rachel, but it makes sense to split it up, and Cosima proves plenty compelling as she digs into Neolution's shady history.  Delphine is also back in the mix, but the dynamics have changed, so she and Cosima are on decidedly shakier ground romantically this year - and it's much more enjoyable to watch.  Sarah has plenty to do, dealing with her changing relationships with Kira and Siobhan.  I appreciate that after all the secret societies and corrupt corporations are dealt with, Sarah still has to face the personal failings that got her into so much trouble at the start of the series.  

It's fun to look back and see all the ground that "Orphan Black" has covered, and all the side characters and villains who have come and gone over the years.  However, in the end it's all about the Clone Club, and Tatiana Maslany's endlessly impressive performances as each of the sisters.  There is a lot about the fifth season that feels repetitive, like Alison and Donnie's wacky hijinks, and Sarah still being her own worst enemy, but we also see some breakthroughs and character growth.  For instance, Alison finally gets to square off briefly with Rachel, and prove she's as much of a force to be reckoned with as any of her fellow clones.  And Rachel engages in some self-reflection, which leads her to realize her priorities have changed.  And the show finally embraces being about bonding and family wholeheartedly, especially in its final moments.

This feels like the right time for "Orphan Black" to be ending, since the show's creators have pushed the original premise about as far as it can go.  Even with a few major deaths, the genre elements are difficult to take seriously anymore, and there's only so many times that we can be asked to care about Kira in peril or yet another of Art's new partners.  The final season isn't one of the better ones, unfortunately, but it does a fine job of helping us to say goodbye to this universe and everyone in it.  

Look out for a Top Ten list of "Orphan Black: episodes on its way soon.

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