Entangled Banks (1.8), Endless Forms Most Beautiful (1.10), Nature Under Constraint and Vexed (2.1), Ipsa Scientia Potestas Est (2.5), Knowledge of Causes, and Secret Motion of Things (2.7), From Instinct to Rational Control (4.4), Human Raw Material (4.5) and The Mitigation of Competition (4.9).
It's ironic that a countdown of the best episodes of Orphan Black starts with the opening two episodes that kicked off the journey. Working best as a two-parter, the pair of episodes had a challenge on their hands in setting the tone for the entire series. It generally succeeds with executing the intriguing premise with such mystery and ambiguity that has kept us coming back for all these years. While it is not quite as sharp as the material we have come to know and love from Orphan Black, it sets a very high standard for the rest of the series to run with. That very first meeting of Sarah, Cosima and Alison is enough to make any casual viewer heartily invest in the show and immerse themselves in the unfolding mystery. An excellent introduction to the show, setting the bar high for the adventures to come.
And from the first episode, to the latest, season's four season finale may feel sporadic in places but maintains a certain level of intensity throughout and puts us in a position where we genuinely do not know who is going to make it out alive - it's a bold move that we have never seen before, as although Orphan Black is renowned for its cliffhangers, we have never had a season end with quite so much at stake. Rachel's speech to the board is one of the most chilling things the series has produced, matched in intensity by her showdown with Sarah where Orphan Black's television magic is used to the best of its abilities and Delphine's near-death revisit pays off wonderfully and in a satisfying manner. Whilst I lament the episode for sidetracking Helena and Alison so drastically, it really allows us time to focus on Sarah, Cosima and Rachel - with another welcomed appearance from Krystal that gives us the best clone swap of the season. Delphine and Cosima's reunion is heartwarming and stunningly shot and is part of the reason the episode is so impressive: the wide range of emotions encompassed, and the ground the episode covers in just 45 minutes, is nothing short of incredible.
While Season 3 was generally quite capricious in quality - and the most underwhelming season to date - it had four shining episodes (the most of any on this list!) that saved it from being totally disappointing. Episode 8 is the first of such on this list and features the incredible introduction of Krystal Goderitch, after seeing a fleeting glimpse of her in the season's premiere episode, as a new LEDA clone like nothing we have seen before. It feels faster in pace and development than the majority of the season and removing Rachel from DYAD really gives the season that bolt to the finish, setting up the final two episodes nicely. A standout of the episode is Delphine and Cosima's meeting: they cannot be together but it is clear as anything that they still love each other. The Shay sting is heartbreaking but leaves a lot on the line for the following episode and her loyalty is greatly scrutinised. Exploring the notion as to whether the clones are safer in or out of 'the know' is most welcomed and the episode also marks the birth of one of our favourite pairings - Helena and Donnie.
7. The Weight of This Combination (3.1)
Season 3 kicked off to an incredible start with the season premiere. Although it couldn't keep up the momentum for the first half of the season, the episode introduced some incredible new dynamics for us to look at. Sarah playing Rachel interacting with Alison playing Sarah took the clone swap to a whole new level and was an absolute highlight of the episode, alongside the devastating Delphine/Cosima break up and the introduction of the ominous Ferdinand. Helena's dream sequence at the beginning of the episode is so vivid and drenched in paste candy colours acts as a wonderful way to constant the depressing state and darkness she finds herself in just moments later at the Castor camp; it is just one of the incredible ways this series plays to its strengths. The episode started the season with so much promise and the fact that the following episodes couldn't quite match up to it doesn't tarnish its brilliance.
I'd been amazed by Orphan Black long before this point, but never quite to the same degree as when Helena and Sarah meet again, after Sarah believed she had killed Helena at the end of the first season, and Helena proceeds to hug Sarah, instead of kill her as one would initially believe. The episode seamlessly counteracts the darker tones of this moment and Sarah's torture with the beginning of Alison's hilarious stint in rehab. We also get a small insight into the Sarah's backstory while at the very same time putting her in the most vulnerable position yet, following her run in with Daniel. It's an example of excellent pacing, both in terms of the singular episode and the entire season - an element that made the second season work so well.
5. History Yet To Be Written (3.10)
The second half of season three was thankfully stronger and more consistent than the exhausting first half, capped off nicely by the satisfying finale History Yet To Be Written, which wraps up a number of loose ends that caused the season to drag, and thankfully puts them to bed; Castor were all but wiped out, DYAD was defunct and we ended on a season finale that finally gave (most of) our clones some peace - a welcomed change to the high-intensity in the thirty episodes leading up to the moments Kira is embraced in Sarah's arms at the end of the episode, ending on a completely stunning and poetic shot of the two.
It also delivered one of my favourite scenes in the show's history: the Clone Club Dinner Party scene puts all the major players in one room, together and united, for the first time in the show's history and the mind-blowing premise and execution of the show's multi clone scenes steps up to its highest notch to date. It is beautiful seeing the clones interact with respective partners (both family and friends) in Bubbles, which leads to another special moment; Cosima and Delphine's meeting outside the shop, where both sense that something is coming; it is truly agonising but beautifully performed by both and Delphine's subsequent shooting is the finale's biggest question mark. An incredibly strong conclusion to the show's weaker season.
I'll hold my hands up here and admit that this is another cheat on the list, but the final two episodes of season two work so well together I simply couldn't split them. Whether it's the dramatic moment Rachel, playing Sarah, plucks Kira and injects Felix at the end of episode nine, or Sarah's attack on Rachel after smashing Kira's stem cells and delaying the cure in the finale, it is full to the brim of so many exciting action beats that it feels unwaveringly snappy and intense from the beginning until the end.
It's a lesson in edge-of-your-seat television. Watching Rachel deteriorate to her lowest, most desperate state is perfectly performed by Maslany, as she snatches Kira to regain the childhood that she lost, after she sits watching tapes of her and the parents that rarely loved her. Later, when she watches her father kill himself, we are once again reminded how Rachel has, in a way, turned everyone against her by her own reckoning and ascendant to power in these incredibly intense scenes Heck, even one of the lighter moments of the episode - the famous Clone Dance Party, where all four of the major clones unite for the first time - feels like we are simply sitting on a ticking bomb, worried for Cosima's health, demonstrating just the intensity this show is built on. It sets up a number of interesting ideas for the following season - Helena's kidnapping, Cosima's turn for the worse and Rachel's eyeball pierced with a pencil - while working seamlessly in wrapping up some season strands. An excellent and exciting Orphan Black two-parter.
3. The Collapse of Nature (4.1)
Setting the first episode of the fourth season before the events of the first episode of the first season is a risk very few could pull off; Orphan Black not only pulls it off - timing it perfectly to set the tone and narrative for much of season four - but does so pretty faultlessly, informing us of the doomed Beth Childs and the danger she got herself into that led to her death in the pilot episode, beyond that from which we already understanding through Sarah's eyes. Plus, giving the episode (almost) entirely to Beth is a testament to the complexity of her character.
Her scene with Paul is the most damaging of the whole episode, revealing each of their own demons while never victimising one over the other. Beth's infertility renders her to feel useless while Paul realises he cannot give her what she wants. It is a deeply affecting moment and one of the biggest revelations of the season. The scene is which we finally learn the truth behind Maggie Chen's accidental death, clarifying elements of Beth's story that have loomed over us until this point. Whilst filling in a number of blanks we have, it also gives us room for thought and maps out the upcoming narrative.
Knowing the outcome of her story makes it all the more tragic and you hold a sense of longing for her happiness when you full well know it cannot be. It is beyond effective and sobering for audiences who have watched figments and imaginations of Beth, but seen nothing more than her face seconds before stepping in front of the train. Tatiana Maslany gives a nuanced performance, as ever, in this episode: we can immediately tell the difference between Sarah's version of Beth, the Beth before the shooting and the Beth after the shooting, with such subtlety that it may be unnoticed to the untrained Orphan Black eye, but for fans it is incredibly illuminating, after all this time, knowing and understanding the real Beth Childs.
2. Certain Agony on the Battlefield (3.6)
Just when I thought the third season was down and out after a sluggish first half, Orphan Black pulled out their most impressive episode to date, changing the course of the season (for the greater good) and the show (with an emotional gut punch). Held captivate at Castor's base camp and abandoned by Helena, Sarah hallucinates Beth in a beautiful scene that parallels her final moments and gives the season that drive, determination and finally, urgency, that was previously lacking. Beth is a far more complexed character than we realise, all of which is epitomised in the most beautiful quote of the show - "we do terrible things for the people that we love. Stop asking why and start asking who". If this meeting of Sarah and Beth inspired the fourth season's premiere episode (as previously discussed), we have even more to thank this episode for.
We also say goodbye to Paul, a character we have journeyed with from the beginning of the show, as he goes out all guns blazing protecting Sarah. His "It was never Beth I loved" is both heartbreaking and affirmative, realising that despite his shady connections, he was truly doing it for the sisters, and most importantly, Sarah and in Beth's memory. It is a painful goodbye, furthered by the heartbreaking montage with him and Beth, before the conspiracies began and shows the just the cost that sisters have had to pay to go down the rabbit hole. Another heartbreaking moment, but perhaps not for the same reason, is Rachel's breakdown. Despite the hatred this character oozes, when she breaks down as a prisoner to DYAD and after Felix declares that no one is coming because nobody cares or loves her, one cannot help but truly feel for this character and it adds complexity to her, beyond being the villainous pro-clone we have come to know her as; we see emotion and this type of character building is a revelation so far in to the show.
Alison and Donnie twerking as cash flies in the air is a truly hilarious moment that adds much needed levity to the darkness of the episode and Helena's return to save Sarah offers some light and hope to their sisterhood as we move forward, finally at a more urgent rate. The excellency in this episode is through its ability to expand storylines as well as propels them forward, managing to check in with our four main clones without the episode ever feeling overstuffed; my one criticism with this show is it can occasionally lose sight of some clones (understandbly, to ease Maslany's workload) but this episode manages to juggle them simultaneously and it really works.
The Scandal of Altruism is Orphan Black at its very best. Despite clocking in at just past the half-way mark of an already astonishing season, this is the biggest non-finale episode of a show I have ever seen and changes the whole series landscape with the revelations and loses. Six episodes in, the season's big bad finally rears its ugly head and take Kendall Malone to her death, who not only serves as Leda's cure but their family too. It's an incredibly risky decision - to rip down everything the show has worked towards in just 45 minutes - but the payoff is grand in the most thrilling, tense and harrowing 45 minutes of television I have ever seen.
Tatiana Maslany, unsurprisingly, is absolutely incredible; I've spoken about it on my season four analysis and review, but her performance as Cosima, breaking down having watched her original and cure go up in flames and being told that her soulmate was murdered, is enough to reduce you to tears, as is her conversation with Kendall (played by the sensational Alison Steadman) and one of the most powerful moments in the show's history. As Sarah, she transitions from grit and determination to sorrow and devastation at the realisation that her fatal decision has cost them everything and as Beth we see those final steps in the direction of the trainstation and that she killed herself for her sister's safety - the ultimate sacrifice. For an episode that centralises on family and sacrifices, both entities have seemingly failed and the clones are left surveying their destruction. It also worth noting the incredible performances from the supporting cast; Maria Doyle Kennedy's Mrs S is utterly convincing as the protective, concerned mother/daughter and Jessalyn Wanlim's nonchalant villainy is captivating.
Scandal of Altruism rarely pauses for breath (which is possibly what makes the next episode, Antisocialism of Sex such an enjoyable character-focused interlude) and brings so much into the fold for it only to be destroyed by the time the credits roll. It is television that the edge of the seat is made for. It sends the show off in uncharted territory where the clones genuinely could not be in a darker situation and introduces new dynamics that sends the show capitulating towards the final four episodes of the season and the fifth and final season next year. You can read more on my thoughts about this, my favourite episode of Orphan Black, on my review and analysis of season four.
A few things of note...
While I consider S3 to be my least favourite season to date, it features the most amount of episodes of the four seasons on this list, all of which truly earn their place. I think that says a lot about this show.
S4, my favourite season so far, has three episodes on the list and would have taken the next two spots with 4.5 and 4.9 if I extended it. I also consider it to be the most consistent season to date.
All season finales made it on to the list, other than S1, which made it onto the 'notable runners up' list.
All season premieres made it on to the list, other than S2, which again, made it onto the 'notable runners up' list.
Tatiana Maslany is the greatest actress alive.
So, that's that. My favourite episodes of Orphan Black, ranked and reviewed. Be sure to let me know your favourites in the comments section below and what you want to see next in my 'Orphan Black' series. Thanks for reading and be sure to share with Clone Club!