Season finale review: 'Orphan Black' - 'Endless Forms Most Beautiful': Down the drain
Last night, "Orphan Black" wrapped up what turned out to be a terrific first season on BBC America. Liane Bonin Starr has been covering the series for us for a while (here's her take on the finale), but I caught up just in time for some thoughts of my own (on the finale and the season), coming up just as soon as I throw your felt Christmas angel in the garbage disposal...
I was pleasantly surprised by "Orphan Black" in my initial review, having no expectations for the creative team, the concept or Tatiana Maslany. That was written after I'd seen the first four episodes. By the time I began marathoning through the remaining six, the show evolved from pleasant surprise to genuine pleasure. Maslany only grew more impressive as she played the various clones — and, frequently, had to play one clone impersonating another — to the point where some of the wigs and costume choices became far less important in delineating Alson from Cosima, or Sarah from Helena. It's a great performance not just because you can tell each character from each other, but because several of the characters are so compelling that Maslany would be a knockout even if she was only playing one of them. I can imagine a very different sci-fi show with Alison as the only heroine, for instance, which is funny considering how she existed only as an accent to Sarah in the first few episodes. Maslany has no hope of an Emmy nomination — sci-fi plus relatively obscure network is not a combination that will get mainstream awards love — but she deserves that, and more.
I also continued to be pleased with the way the creative team unspooled the story, letting one decision by Sarah clearly lead to the next, to the next, and then introducing outside characters like Delphine or Dr. Leekie right when the plot needed some more goosing. This show is an excellent example of the advantages of a limited episode run: Graeme Manson, John Fawcett and company knew they had 10 episodes to play with initially, and could push the narrative pedal to the metal, rather than screwing around.
There was a bit of stalling in the finale, notably with the attorney showing up right when Sarah was about to tell Art about the clones, but the story pushed forward significantly in other ways: Sarah meeting "pro clone" Rachel, Cosima developing the illness that the German clone had, Sarah killing Helena, and Cosima and Delphine figuring out that the clones are considered intellectual property of Dr. Leekie's company.
It's those last two that were the most significant, and affecting. Helena was a great, damaged character, but also one who probably had a limited shelf life. It wouldn't be plausible for her to reform and/or be fully deprogrammed, and there comes a point where you start thinking less of some of the other characters for letting her live. (Sarah's not Batman; she doesn't have a rigid belief system where the Joker can't be killed no matter what.) And her death came after she and Sarah had discovered their deeper connection, met their birth mother, and Sarah had gotten her first hints that Mrs. S isn't who she seems. (Did Mrs. S spirit Kira away on Rachel's instructions, or were they both abducted?) The deaths of Amelia and Helena made for some grand melodrama, and I'll miss Helena, even though the show was probably wise to move her aside when it did.
And the idea that the company wants to own the clones — and their biological products like Kira — opens up a whole host of possibilities going forward. It's a classic sci-fi conceit (one of my favorite "Star Trek: The Next Generation" episodes, for instance, revolved around the question of whether Data was Starfleet property or an individual with the same rights as a human), and one that can play out in a lot of different ways, especially since Alison(*) has signed the deal, while the company has things it may be able to hold over Cosima (a cure for the illness?) and Sarah (the return of Kira?) to get them to do the same.
(*) I thought Alison's hot glue gun torture of her husband couldn't be topped as the show's most warped sequence, but then we got Alison's decision to stand there and let the garbage disposal choke Aynesley to death. Because Alison mistakenly believed Aynesley was her monitor (when it was her husband all along), it's slightly understandable, but it's still a very dark place to take her as we head into season 2. More, please.
What did everybody else think? Were you happy with how the season played out? Upset that Helena's dead? Excited to spend more time with Rachel and meet other clones?