This review contains spoilers.
1.9 Unconscious Selection & 1.10 Endless Forms Most Beautiful
So, the first season of Orphan Black has come to its end. Along the way, the show has consistently demonstrated its strong writing, superb acting (Maslany deserves all the credit and awards she has been given) and shown that it was possible to have a contemporary sci-fi show that wasn’t afraid to mix good ideas, adult content with appropriate (and genuinely funny) humour. The strength of the season prior to its climax was such that anything less than a strong showing in the final two hours would be nothing less than disappointing.
The end of Entangled Bank left us with the shocking image of Kira being hit by a car after being lured away by Helena. Unconscious Selection’s rapid resolution of this was a little disappointing at first, but as it became apparent that there was something special about Kira, it was clear that Orphan Black was going to leave no stone (or in this case character) unturned in adding twists and abnormality wherever they could. This though was one question that wasn’t going to be resolved, and to be honest, I don’t mind. So much happens at such a rapid fire pace that another significant revelation would have lost its significance amongst the multitude of others. Considering Kira’s importance to Sarah, and possibly the main clone plot, leaving this plot thread to next season where it could be properly expanded and developed was a good idea.
So just what did the last two episodes reveal? Only that Dr Leeke is not the big bad, but just another cog in an even greater wheel. Sarah’s birth mum turns up and Sarah’s foster mum (the only person that seemed on the straight and narrow, which in retrospect, should have set alarm bells ringing) is not all she seems. We learn that Helena is Sarah’s twin sister, not a clone, and that they were born at the behest of scientists who are connected to the neolutionists. Just when we get a handle on all of that, Helena kills their (Helena and Sarah – keep up!) birth mum, Sarah then kills Helena. We get introduced to Rachel Duncan a ‘pro-clone’ who seemingly works at a more inner level than that of Dr Leeke, we learn that Cosima is ill, and Alison has flipped her lid and is no longer safe around trash compactors. That’s a lot for an entire season, let alone two episodes.
That sheer amount of story crammed into ninety mins supports a past criticism of the show. When Orphan Black seems to be full speed ahead, logic goes out the window and some shine comes off the typically high quality of writing. So much happens over the course of these two episodes there’s actually very little time to think about the inconsistences or poor logic, instead, you’re pushed along with the flow. In a way, this does work in that when you get to the end, you do feel like the show has pulled out all the stops to make an entertaining season’s end. After you’ve walked away and actually started to think about what you’ve seen, it’s then that you realise that Orphan Black has sacrificed a little of its quality in order to pursue an exciting and gripping finale.
The relationship between Cosima and Delphine is the perfect example of the show’s need to ensure a fast-paced plot versus giving the story room to develop. I can buy that a relationship that is at first faked, but then naturally blossoms, can happen. I can’t accept that it happens in less than twenty-four hours after Delphine willingly betrays Cosima. Given time though, this could have become entirely believable. In this case the betrayal and the resulting absolution are key to driving the plot forward so that Dr Leeke understands what Cosima knows and also that Cosima can crack the code hidden within the clones’ DNA. However, those developments are undermined in that the relationship between Cosima and Delphine is lacking both chemistry and believability.
However, that’s not the most disappointing aspect of the season’s end. When the big reveal of the genetic marker was decoded to be the notification of a patent you could say I was left a little underwhelmed. To recap, an evil, secret organisation has conducted secret genetic experiments and the resulting progeny have been monitored, experimented upon, hunted and killed, but seemingly, that’s not the worst of it. No, they have a patent stamped on their genes. Yes that’s right, despite all the other abuse and fear that they’ve suffered, to now be faced with the news that should a full genetic work-up be ordered at some point in their future, someone will miraculously decode a random section (remembering that without knowing that they are a clone, it’s completely hidden) and say – ‘oh my, some evil secret company has patented you’, is, as the clones react, apparently horrifying. No, no it isn’t and if the writers were looking for some way in which they had to convince Sarah to stick with her gut and not trust the neolutionists surely they could have stuck with the evil, secret organisation bit without resulting to ‘patents’. Okay, perhaps I’m being facetious, and I get the psychological connotations of what it must mean to be ‘property’, but the failure of the show to explain just why this is so important when everything the neolutionists have done is illegal thereby likely nullifying their hold over the clones is both mystifying and undermines the point that plot is trying to make.
Which leads me on to – when is enough, enough? The clones, especially Sarah, have suffered and there is now sufficient evidence to point to the involvement of the neolutionist movement, so why not go to the police? That’s why the whole patent reveal makes no sense – they are their own evidence of the wrong-doing done to them. The only defence to this seemingly illogical development is that the government might be involved, and there is a throwaway line from Art indicating that Sarah’s case has now become Federal which could point to another layer in the conspiracy. Should the government be involved, it would make sense that seeking justice or retribution through official channels would be difficult, if not dangerous. However, by looking so deeply I fear that I’m being overly kind, but as Orphan Black has certainly thrown curve balls in the past, I’m similarly hopeful that it will be explained at some point in the future.
If you’ve stuck with the review this far, you may feel that the last two episodes were massively disappointing. But that wouldn’t be true. There is much still to praise and although it’s not as good as it possibly could have been it certainly gets the job done in an entertaining and thrilling way.
Highlights are numerous, but for me the real standout is the way in which Alison’s story turns horribly around. When we first meet Alison, she’s a control freak soccer mum whose housewife mentality is completely alien to Sarah. At the end of the season, she is someone completely different, and it’s to the show’s credit (and of course, Maslany) that her transformation is not just shocking but also entirely believable. Her story arc and development are so satisfying that it proves that when Orphan Black gives characters and stories room to develop they really fly.
I also liked how they dealt with Helena, sticking true to her fractured mentality and indoctrination meant that we didn’t get a sickly sweet resolution that would have rung hollow when compared to her previous actions. Nor was it a foregone conclusion that Sarah would kill Helena, there was sufficient nuance with the introduction of their birth mum that suggested things could have turned out differently, but Helena’s deception (well-played by the show) meant that a confrontation was all but inevitable.
Which leads us to the final, final reveal that Mrs S is not all she seems. In a show about identity, it should really come as no surprise that people are not who they claim to be. However the reveal that Mrs S., so well played by Maria Kennedy and written to be the bedrock on which Sarah can depend not only for her own stability but also for Kira’s upbringing, is involved with the cloning programme is a great twist and not only has ramifications for the here and now, but compels you to revisit her past actions (her belligerent protection of Kira, and reluctance to reveal Sarah’s history).
It’s an ending that satisfies and despite a couple of dips in writing quality, Unconscious and Endless still demonstrate just how good Orphan Black is and can be. Maslany dominates the show and it’s clear when looking back over the season just how much depended on the show’s creators choosing the right person who could create a multitude of distinct, yet believable characters and continue to do so not just for a single episode but over the course of many seasons. The writing, which has been generally strong, certainly helped and although I’ve lambasted some leaps in logic, Alison’s intervention and Sarah and Helena’s confrontation are good examples of when given room the show can get the mix between drama, tension, sci-fi and even humour absolutely right, making for one of the best contemporary genre shows around.
So it’s fair to say, I’m looking forward to Orphan Black’s next season…
Orphan Black is available on iTunes, here.
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