I like a trip down memory lane. It’s a reminder of moments passed, those times that truly define a TV series in its early days, but helps to transition the show into the next stage of the story. BBC America’s Orphan Black traveled back to their beginnings (I’m talking pre-series!) for their fourth season to bring the mystery around and back on its head. And did it ever drop some truth bombs–including the fact that the show is ending after its fifth season. (I’m not ready…)
Orphan Black, at its heart, has been a show about the sisters and their interactions together. It’s shown their relationships grow from strangers to Sestras, after the realization that these ordinary people are part of an extraordinary scientific experiment. Though, even with the dances and one-liners, the mystery of the Clones’ mere existence has driven much of the story these last three years. What started as a malevolent organization and group of “Monitors” has become a complex, and arguably, bloated storyline. The fourth season positioned itself to change that by going back to the beginning with a familiar face: Beth.
Beth Childs. The conflicted detective, who inadvertently started Sarah’s adventure, returns all the way from Season One for a serious case of flashbacks. We get to see Beth’s life before she took a trip to the train station and how Clone Club fared in the early days without Sarah at the helm. What Season Four did well was introduce us viewers to the real Beth; not the mysterious character we hear about every so often, or the fake persona Sarah embraced in the first season, but the damaged person she truly was.
Beth experienced the many lows of Clone Club. She was the original Sarah–the one who took the lead, delved into the mystery of the Clones and had the world sitting on her shoulders. It’s a tough job for any person, let alone a detective. Her series of flashbacks are a cautionary tale, one that Sarah was poised to repeat again. As each new flashback revealed a truth about the mystery (the experiments of Neolution, M.K., her reason to commit suicide), it became painfully clear that the pressure to lead the group, and also live in this world, was too much for her. Her reasons for sacrifice are noble, almost reminiscent of Buffy Summers from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (keyword: almost, Beth found her destructive outlets with drugs), but while she saved her Sestras, she seemed happy to finally be free of something that was out of her hands.
Sarah has a similar conflict in Season Four, almost as if history was set to repeat itself. After the murder of Kendall, Sarah lets herself fall back into Season One/pre-series habits. She is ready to throw it all away for the drugs and drinks instead of dealing with the pressures head-on. It isn’t until someone else who loved her unconditionally intervenes to save her.
Another aspect of Season Four, which plays into Sarah’s conflict is the value of family. It affects not just the Clones themselves, but the characters living in their world. Alison debating between saving Donnie or her Sestras, Rachel coming to blows with her mother, and Sarah’s strained relationship with her daughter, as well as with Mrs. S and Felix, presents the severity of the tension. Season Four toys with the themes of family and sacrifice, offering up the choice several times throughout the season of what these clones may have to give up to help themselves or others. Alison risks her husband’s life for her Sestras, and Sarah was going to throw it all away by committing suicide until Felix convinces her not to–family is a constant in Orphan Black. It’s a shame Rachel didn’t value her relationship with her mother. And the less we talk about Felix’s southern sister, the better.
The main storyline of Orphan Black Season Four–the re-emergence of Neolution as the big bad and the Brightborn babies–is a complicated matter of discussion. The decision for the show to return to its roots and rein in the story to effectively choose a main enemy is a smart choice. The series, up until now, had continued to spread out its web of intrigue to multiple levels and clones–the problem is that it became too complicated! With Neolution as the main enemy, it now makes the structure quite clear: Clones (good) vs. Neolution (evil). And the enemies it presents are strong, well-developed adversaries: Evie Cho, Detective Duko, and the corporate villains of Neolution.
The issue I had with this season’s storyline is due to Brightborn. I’ve surmised that the Brightborn babies are a way to do genetic testing without the trouble of creating clones, but even then it still seems a tad convoluted. What is the end goal of Neolution?! There are conflicting motives and villains and that muddies the waters a tad. Rachel indicates during the Season Four finale her goal for the testing and it seems easy enough to understand. However, this moment isn’t the first time where I had to ask myself, “What is going on?”
Beyond the story itself, there are a few standout characters who shine in Season Four. Krystal re-emerges as a tough (yet still clueless) clone who isn’t willing to accept everything as is; obviously still paired with her amazing one-liners. Kendall opens up to her new clone daughters, and her death might be the most emotionally heartbreaking moment of the season (yes, possibly more so than the Cophine reunion). The main characters each grew to appreciate the value of family and what they really want in life, beyond the story of the clones. And I can’t forget the introduction of awkward M.K. with her tortured past. Orphan Black Season Four did a good job with developing their characters; though, I still don’t quite understand Donnie or Kira.
Orphan Black Season Four is the metaphorical train of the series. As each new episode is added to the story, it builds up the tension to offer a dramatic climax that will happen in Season Five between the Clones and Neolution. From its trips to the past and the development/introductions of characters, everything is coming to a head when the series ends next year. By then, I hope all the questions will be answered and the Clones get an ending in one way or another. The last thing we need is another layer of mystery or an organization involved in this experiment. Let the Sestras find a clear path to a resolution–whether it’s good OR bad.
Season 4 Rating: 8.5/10