Friday, 17 June 2016

Orphan Black (Season 4) (Analysis & Review)


Orphan Black's latest fourth season run hit reset on the entire show after its complex and convoluted third run of episodes wrapped up last year. Castor had been defunct, DYAD was pretty much irrelevant and Sarah had fled to Iceland to live happily alongside Kira, Kendall and Mrs S in a safe house hideout. The stunningly poetic final shot of the finale, History Yet To Be Written, saw Kira lie in her mother's embrace as everything else, other than their love, faded around them. The sestras had finally found peace. Well, almost.

Iceland had some visitors in the form of the newer, bigger and badder Neolution and Sarah was forced to flee with her family after new clone MK alters them to their forthcoming foes. From there on, LEDA fall further down the rabbit hole and the show's goes back to the beginning. Tonally and aesthetically, season four resembles season one, reinforced further by the premiere episode being a wholly Beth-centric prequel (Beth being Elizabeth Child, who were first saw jumping to her death in front of a train, marking Sarah's first ever encounter with her genetic identical that kickstarted the series). This season saw goodbyes, introductions, reappearances and even more clones than you can count on one hand (Tatiana Maslany playing Sarah, Cosima, Alison, Helena, Krystal, MK, Rachel and Beth) so I've decided to break it down - episode by episode - and reveal my thoughts, feelings and ratings of each episode of Orphan Black's latest season.



The Collapse of Nature (S4E1)

What an incredibly brave move for OB to make, kicking off the premiere episode with a 42 out of 43 minute prequel to the first episode back in 2013, documenting the lead up to Beth's death. Yes, we've seen Beth through flashbacks before, but its during this episode that we realise that we never truly understood her; we are aware of Sarah's version of Beth, formed when she took over her life back in the first season, as well as the limited contact she had with Cosima and Alison, but we do not her at all. That's heartbreaking for a character who is responsible for the whole Orphan Black journey. An incredibly insightful and intriguing way to kick off the season, as we witness Beth's final days that lead her to the train station, answering questions we had, whilst also creating more blanks for the rest of the season to fill. In some ways, knowing the ultimate outcome of this episode makes it all the more gut wrenching.

Best Moments: Seeing life through Beth's eyes. We feel that we know her, but in reality, we know nothing about her.

A+



Transgressive Border Crossing (S4E2)

We take a few moments in the second episode to regain our feet, back in the present and with Sarah returning home from Iceland. With the help of Art, who is more active in this episode than he has been for the past two seasons, Sarah begins to investigate Beth's final days, while making contact with MK and surveilling Neolution, before their big coup is revealed - Sarah has a bot in her face with an unknown effects. Cosima is still shaken by Delphine's disappearance (after her shooting at the end of last season) which sets the wheels in motion and has the clouds looming over head for the season. It's a little slower episode than we have come to know and love, but it helps in re-establishing relationships and dynamics for the rest of the season and leaves us on an almighty cliffhanger, setting the danger for episodes to come.

Best Moments: Some absolutely cracking material this week, from Alison's "for the record, I don't find that remotely amusing" to "shit-take mushrooms, Felix!" when walking in on Felix nude painting. Also, Helena's "a little tired and many farts". Beth and MK's final meeting, 'please don't leave me/watch the others for me" and the realisation that Beth is wearing the same clothes as when she jumped in front of the train. All heartbreaking.

B+



The Stigmata of Progress (S4E3)

Following the discovery of Sarah's bot, LEDA search for a way to remove it from her, knowing the repercussions of incorrect procedures resulting in death. Knowing the advantages of understanding the technology, Alison and Donnie make the decision to exhume Doctor Leekie's body in the hope he possesses a bot for Cosima to study. Unfortunately, at the same time, police come searching for answers to three homicides possessing 'Vote Alison Hendrix' flyers, after Helena's murder spree last season. Moreover, Rachel begins to rise again with a new Castor in line and Ferdinand makes a reappearance having heard of Mrs S call for Sarah's help, who pays a visit to a dentist... Orphan Black does what it does best in this episode, juggling science and darkness with the light of suburban stresses, and while the episode is not as smooth as one may hope, it remains a thrilling instalment into a consistent season.

Best Moments: Donnie and Alison attempting to explain why they have Doctor Leekie's body under their garage floor to Cosima; "there will be a time to debate the dos and don't of certain decisions later" is not something most would say after revealing they are manslaughters.

B-



From Instinct to Rational Control (S4E4)

Sarah, still with bot, sees her relationships break down around and because of her; she snaps at Alison, Helena decides to leave the sestras behind and MK feels like she has been played when she realises that Ferdinand is part of Neolution and the spearhead behind the infamous 'Helsinki', which wiped out multiple clones and their families, including MK's best friend. Taking matters into her own hands, MK plans to seek her revenge in one of Maslany's best performances of the season to date (and there have been A LOT. I'm already starting the EmmyForMaslany campaign). As per, the episode does have its lighter moments, with Donnie and Felix entering Brightborn under the guise of two would-be parents and Alison bringing some surprising emotional heft that we rarely associated with her. The episode works in sending off two key clone players (including Helena, whose 'Goodbye family Hendrix' is genuinely emotional) while setting a lot up for episodes to come, including BrightBorn and Evie Cho, who, from the premiere episode alone, is known to have dealings with Neolution.

Best Moments: Air Italia. That is all I have to say.

A-



Human Raw Material (S4E5)

Having been sidelined to the lab for the majority of the past season, Cosima finally has the opportunity to do her own sleuthing, this time with Donnie as a partner, and undercover, they go to Brightborn in search of answers. We meet Evie Cho as the face of BrightBorn, although her intentions are still shrouded in mystery. Unfortunately, Krystal Goderitch - last year's shining light - returns with similar aims; the naive clone inadvertently finds herself caught in the clone crossfire and mistaken from her genetic identicals, as Cosima stumbles upon something that changes her entire outlook on Brightborn. Meanwhile, Sarah grows even more skeptical of Felix's foster sister, Adele. The episode feels like a build up to episode 6, which has always been conceptualised as a mid-season finale, but it also helps give us a clear insight into where the season is going and where the threats may lie. It once again manages to balance the humour perfectly with the darker themes explored in the most creative of ways.

Best Moments: Krystal's return is absolutely perfect, with leads to one of the season's greatest one-liners from Donnie; "I have to go - sh*t".

A





]The Scandal of Altruism (S4E6)

Orphan Black has never been better. The Scandal of Altruism is one of the most intense, thrilling and heartbreaking 45 minutes of television that I have ever seen. With a way to remove Sarah's bot, her and Cosima make a deal with Susan Duncan, their original creator, and Neolution - going behind the backs of their loved ones and putting them all in danger. When Evie Cho finally plays her hand, we must say the most heart wrenching goodbye in the series' history and everything around LEDA burns to the ground. Meanwhile, Beth's final moments make more sense than ever before, as we see who really is controlling the clone game. I've intentionally left this as ambigious as possible because the twists and turns are so insanely volatile and unpredictable that you have to see them to believe them. Four weeks after the episode, I am still lost for words when I rewatch this episode; if there ever was an episode to convince people to watch Orphan Black, it's this one. It has been crafted to perfection and everyone involved should be incredibly proud.

Best Moments: I speak about it enough, but Maslany's performance in this episode is absolutely faultless. When Cosima breaks down, as their hope for a cure and the hope of Delphine returning goes up in flames, her performance is utterly astonishing.  Moreover, the final moments of Beth walking to the train station and her ultimate death is harrowing, as we see what finally pushed her to do it.

A*



The Antisocialism of Sex (S4E7)

Possibly more appropriately titled 'The Dark Night of the Soul', LEDA is at their most vulnerable yet. With their original gone, along with their hope for a cure, they begin to spin off the rails; Alison is giving up to her faith, Cosima blames herself for the deal she made and the life she sold and Sarah pushes herself to the edge, at her darkest and most unforgiving yet. Krystal's vital information from the episode before can be used to save Cosima, while Sarah's own story begins to parallel Beth, so much so that it leads her to the very same train track. Tonally, it feels like a massive departure from what we have come to expect from Orphan Black and it pretty much pays off; we have seen the sestras low before but you truly feel like you are seeing their darkest moments, and the way Beth and Sarah's stories intercut and parallel is incredibly symbolic and moving. This episode is more character-driven than ever before and it is so refreshing to see.

Best Moments: Felix telling Cosima about Krystal's oddly effective investigation findings and saving two of our clones at the same time is incredibly and Jordan is excellent in this episode. Also, Alison's prayer brought some much need light to the episode and I still chuckle about it three weeks later.

A-



The Redesign of Natural Objects (S4E8)

After Donnie's arrest, Alison is in a vulnerable position with Detective Duko exploiting this and blackmailing her to reveal Sarah's location for the safety of her husband. Cosima attempts to rebuild their research after it was wiped by Neolution with the help of Susan Duncan, ostracising Rachel and Ira in the process. Sarah helps talk Mrs S down from making a decision she may live to regret and also reconnects with MK, who has a secret of her own. Alison takes centre stage (figuratively and literally) for the season's eighth episode and whilst it is another impressive instalment, with some excellent key moments (a character death sets a few interesting ideas to come, as well as Cosima's decision to visit the Island of Doctor Moreau), it does feel like a set up for the final two episodes to come - don't see that as a complaint, more of an observation, as it allows us to slow down ever so slightly before continuing down the rabbit hole.

Best Moments: Jesus Christ Superstar - another excellent OB set piece. Also, Maria Doyle Kennedy's "this is for my ma" line. Shivers.

B+



The Mitigation of Competition (S4E9)

With Rachel and Cosima effectively switching locations, some new clone dynamics come into play. Cosima and Susan begin crafting a new cure, while Sarah does Rachel's heavy lifting in bringing down their common enemy, Evie Cho. Its a race against time to their one hope of bringing down Evie and we see some genuinely touching emotion from Sarah, who we typically see as the clone holding it all together. Alison and Donnie have not quite yet escaped Neolution's clutches and Helena makes a triumphant and well timed-return. Oh, and talking about returns, what a TREAT that was. I guess it was always to be expected, yet I admire the producer's decision to keep us in the dark for over a year as it was handled exceptionally well and a massive pay-off for weeks of desire and longing, on the audience's and Cosima's behalf. This episode feels the closest to season one since the premiere - which perhaps might be down to the Sarah-Art dynamic - but it is lovely to see Sarah filling Beth's role ever so slightly, but this time away from train platforms. Adele continues to be an interesting character - you really want to like and trust her, but if there is one thing we have learnt from Orphan Black, it's that no one can be trusted. Still, she is sent off stage and put on the back burner for the rest of the season as we gear up for the finale...

Best Moments: Helena saving the day, Katniss Everdeen-style. Rachel's triple bluff was also lovely climatic moment that sets up nicely for the finale. We never quite know where to stand with Ms. Duncan; although, I'm sure the niceties will wear off for the finale...

A




From Dancing Mice to Psychopaths (S4E10)

Krystal, finally piecing together the investigation, gets semi-introduced into Clone Club in a hilarious exchange that demonstrates Maslany's versatility once again. Cosima loses connection with the outside world at the very same time she takes a turn for the worse, with only Charlotte on hand to try and save her. With Sarah in a spin and determined to help cure the sestras, she makes her way to help Cosima, leaving Helena, Alison and her family 'safe' at home. Evie Cho is dismissed and the HBIC makes her move to the top of the clone pyramid. This episode is so jam-packed that I needed a breather after it; we manage to tie up a couple of loose ends (including the reunion we have all been waiting for) while setting the game for the final run next year (Rachel finally shows her true colours) as lives hang in the balance. One line said by Sarah in the finale puts the whole thing into perspective; being immune from the disease that is killing off her sestras is also her biggest curse and makes the race to securing the cure even more desperate - it is also the first time I have worried for Sarah's safety; as she introduced us into the world, we automatically assume she is safe, but nothing is sacred in this show and this moment highlights it throughly. Rachel's story is also a particularly interesting one - we have always known that she is an individual obsessed with power and although we expected her to turn on her sestras, little did we know it would be so dramatically and with such repugnance. Overall, so many storylines are left on a cliffhanger and we are given more questions than we have answers for, but it is a satisfying conclusion to the strongest season yet, considering the scope covered by the season and what it needed to achieve in it final run next year.

Best Moments: Krystal and Sarah clone swap and the line "she's like a seven and I've been told I'm a 10". Incredible. Also, Alison promising to protect Helena made my heart go funny (what a team) and Tatiana Maslany trying to kill Tatiana Maslany.

A



With just hours before the finale aired last night, we received the news that the show would return with its 'fifth and final season'. With that in mind, I've made a list of the positives and negatives of the fourth run in the hope they take note of what needs to happen (and what doesn't).


Positives:

Maslany's performance as Sarah, Cosima, Alison, Helena, Krystal, Beth, Rachel and Mika are better than they ever have been and she continues to embody the clones faultlessly. All the awards please and may the improvements continue even further. (Update: the Sarah as Krystal switch in the finale made up for the otherwise lack of switches)

The support case are very often overlook but they're some solid performances this time round. They all bring their A-Game and I pray it continues into the last run. Jordan Garvaris, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Kristin Bruun, Kevin Hanchard, Rosemary Dunsmore and Ari Millen are all sensational and the return of Evelyne Brochu is everything I hoped and wished for.

Episode 6 being absolutely perfect television.

Consistency. Season 4 has been the most solid, consistent and unwaveringly strong season to date, with each episode having a clear focus as well as working towards the bigger picture and mythology. It solved the wrongs of previously seasons with no weak link in the episodic chain.

As much as I missed Delphine for 89% of the season, I appreciate how brave the producers were on keeping it under wraps for so long and really make us wait for it. It made the pay-off and her return so much more rewarding knowing it wasn't a quick fix at the beginning of the season.

More set pieces like Donnie being beaten up to Jesus Christ Superstar and Donnie being arrested to Happy Birthday.

I was very skeptical initially, but the Beth flashbacks REALLY worked in tying the season together. Everything might have been touched upon and unneeded in season five but this is a 'positives' list after all... But maybe we could pay a trip back to the train station in the series finale?


Negatives:

I needed myself a couple more clone swap sequences. They are my absolute favourite of the show, but off the top of my head, I can only think of the Sarah as Beth and Mika and Alison as Sarah. A few more next time would be perfect, although I do appreciate the hard work that goes into them. Also, I would NEVER turn down bigger multi-clone scenes, which I do feel this fourth season missed.

I feel like the show never knows what to do with Helena. I mean, sending her off for half the season is NOT cool and I don't appreciate it. Plus, she never got to meet Kendall; that is a match I would LOVE to have seen.

You can never, ever have enough Sarah Stubbs. More of her musical panache next time (heck, a spin-off would be PERFECT).

Be sure to go and check out the next post in my 'Orphan Black' series, where I countdown my ten favourite episodes of the four seasons!

Make sure you comment below what you thought of the season and whether you would like another Orphan Black analysis post - maybe a clone power ranking, or my favourite moments from each clone, or maybe a more in-depth at a certain moment or episode - and drop me your ideas too!

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