Sunday, 11 June 2017

Orphan Black (S5E1) - The Few Who Dare (Review)


Orphan Black. The Final Trip. After months of waiting - it's here. My favourite television show begins the countdown until the bitter end, with ten episodes ahead of us bound to be overspilling with conspiracy, tension and Alison and Donnie-related hilarity. The Final Trip is underway and in this one, Rachel expects the clones to come to heal as a new day breaks with the future of the clones at its most vulnerable and desperate.

The Few Who Dares picks up just moments from From Dancing Mice to Psychopaths, the fourth season finale, which left each clone at their most vulnerable; Cosima was on the edge of death having just been reunited with long-lost Delphine. She was calculated a cure and looks to Delphine to help finish it; Sarah, bloodied and stabbed, discovers that Rachel is the 'Big Bad' kidnapping Kira and Mrs S, running alone and scared to find Cosima and an escape; Alison and Helena, along with oafish Donnie, are living life off the grid in order to keep them safe, all while Rachel yields the power and colludes with P.T. Westmorland, the decades-old founder of Neolution - a group whose self-directed evolution is responsible for the history of the clones and those all important next steps into the belly of the final season.

As Orphan Black have seemingly mastered, The Few Who Dares affords a good chunk of the hour to each clone, all folding a different element into the mainframe, thus making it a season premiere packed to the rafters of mystery and intrigue, emotion and feeling, power moves and hierarchies and genuine intensity. It's good to have you back Orphan Black - but perhaps not for my nerves.

Unpacking a season premiere - particularly the final season premiere - is a difficult feat. It's a daunting thing to approach (both for the showrunners and writers, and the audience) because it needs to do and represent so much: we need to see something that will sustain the following nine episodes while beginning to demonstrate evidence of the end point coming into fruition. Season 5's launch does it rather well, aligning the pieces for the rest of the season. Rachel is given some of the episode's greatest moments, excellently asserting her villainy and turpitude, with her lengthy speeches inspiring a sense of dread, each as well-crafted and sensationally delivered as the previous. "We here shall drink from the fountain first", she vows towards the close of the premiere, poetically promising a reward - both for the corporation she partially controls and the audience who have witnessed the journey to date.

The Few Who Dares is a lot of that actually: promises. It is not a particularly revolutionary episode and does not always feel like the start of a new season, considering how much it bleeds from season four's finale and that should be respected. At this point, it is a titration; our whole solution is being changed only by small additions at this stage - including the incorporation of 'Revival' into the plot and the Neolution infrastructure - suggesting a solid foundation for the season to operate on going forward. It's a relief to see some restraint into the additions to this season, as the process of wrapping-up fourty-hours worth of content was daunting enough already without an abundance of additions.

The Few Who Dare is a dark episode, really. There's little in the way of lightness (although the fire-cracking combination of Alison, Donnie and Helena injects some of the fun at irregular intervals), with the episode gleefully sinking its teeth into the harder-hitting, grittier questions and concerns. Admittedly, it needs something to alleviate it a little, with these peppered moments failing to come regularly enough to counter-act the heavy narrative and structure; even season four's The Antisocialism of Sex infused lighter notes into an otherwise crippling episode that considered the suicide of two of our clones. While positive that we will reach a more balanced footing as the season progresses and we are afforded a little more time to breathe, the season premiere appears to forgo that in the name of advancing the grittiness of the themes, character dilemmas and wider narrative.

Another slight misfire here was the use of Kevin Hanchard's Art Bell, with his storyline - beyond the need to pressurise Mrs. Hendrix - a little redundant. I do hope they find something more awarding for Art as Hanchard is a terrific actor that deserves the substance. One final issue was the decision to have Donnie sneak away as Alison was in a troubling situation; it didn't feel natural and I fear it may undo the incredible relationship Orphan Black have sculpted for the pair.

We cannot go the whole review without checking in on Tatiana Maslany's performance and, as is to now be expected from the Emmy-award winning actress, she hits it out of the park; to see Sarah, once the strongest, in such a weak and fragile position mentally and physically, is enlightening and presented to us with Sarah's British determination wonderfully. Cosima's puzzlement, alongside our own, features the adorable quirks Maslany brings to the character, making her probably the most relatable - and human - of the entire bunch. This week's newly-created 'The Tatiana Maslany Most Valuable Player Acting Award for a Multi-Role Performance' (or TTMMVPAAFAMRP, henceforth) goes to Rachel and her incredible speeches. Not only does Maslany deliver each and every one with the precision and seething nature atypical of Miss Duncan so effective but props must be awarded to the writer's who make each so chilling and incredible.

John Fawcett, co-runner along Graeme Manson, takes the directorial reigns in this outing and does a strong job of introducing us to the world of Revival and further exploring the Island. We see a number of set pieces on the Island and each are bursting with new details to be taken into account; however, he still manages to make it feel like we are only scratching the surface of the Island, which makes for a very exciting prospect moving forward. The use of lighting this time round is also a point to praise, with some really efficient flourishes contained within the episode; as Orphan Black has evolved, the production design team has really upped its game as a whole and my appreciation goes out to team for managing to keep up with the expansive universe.

In the final moments of The Few Who Dare, Rachel Duncan promises "it's a new day', one where we've stopped chasing our ambitious tail and can finally look ahead at the end-point that has so often shifted alongside the show's general growth in scope and popularity. We're so close to the end of our times with these clones and The Few Who Dare launches it on a confident footing that I hope will only grow more stable as we approach the end of the lines of Sarah, Cosima, Alison, Helena and Rachel.

EPISODE GRADE: B+

Reviews coming weekly!

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