by Matthew Thompson
I still recall watching the pilot episode of Orphan Black for the first time. I went in not knowing what it was about and found myself stumbling upon an intriguing new sci-fi thriller. The first season took me on a wild ride and was one of my very favorite shows that aired in 2013. It has never quite matched the heights of its daring freshman year largely due to some messy plotting and an ever-growing, overly complicated mythology with a conspiracy that always seemed to have one more layer. But it never ceased to entertain due to the amazing central performance by the series breakout star Tatiana Maslany. This year’s fifth season marked its final one. Despite a sometimes bumpy road to get there, it provided a satisfying ending to one of the best science fiction television shows of recent years.
I think the final season as a whole succeeds most by giving each of the clones time to shine. Orphan Black doesn’t have a huge cast, but because of the many roles Tatiana plays, it has a large amount of characters to service. The minds behind the show smartly decided to build full episodes complete with flashbacks around each of the major clones. We get to see troubled soccer mom Alison turn a corner in her life. We get to see how Helena’s past connects to her present. Even Rachel gets an outing largely to herself and the scene involving her mechanical eye and a broken martini glass is one I won’t soon forget. I’m glad Krystal made another appearance as she was probably my favorite clone outside of the core group. She always added a bit of levity to the proceedings and that was the case again in Season 5.
This past weekend’s series finale played out like two short episodes in one. The first half wrapped up the thriller/conspiracy side of the show in a satisfactory fashion. This whole mess concluding with a final showdown between Sarah and P.T. Westmoreland felt fitting while Helena going into labor added extra drama and stakes to the affair. They even slipped in some more of the aforementioned flashbacks, this time showing the parallels between Sarah and Helena giving birth.
The back half acts as an epilogue of sorts for the clones, seeing where their lives are headed now that the troubles that have dogged them are a thing of the past. Dedicating such a large portion of the episode to it was the right call. Helena is raising her twins – named Arthur and Donnie which is just perfect. Cosima is off with Delphine helping to cure the other Ledas without letting them know about any of the clone business. Alison has taken her life in a slightly new direction with the support of her family. Sarah is struggling with her mother’s death, but with the help of her sisters is able to persevere and prevent herself from running once again. And the bonds they built, this sisterhood, is helping them all with their new lives and we get to see them sharing some final scenes together before it’s over. Before watching a series finale, I wonder to myself what I’m hoping for from it. I don’t always know. Sometimes I can think of the broad strokes, but am unsure of the details. For Orphan Black, I just wanted the core four clones and their families to get a happy life going forward. For all they had been through, I felt they deserved that. This is basically what happened and it made for a very satisfying ending to the series.
I can’t finish a review of the final season of Orphan Black without once more lavishing praise on its leading lady. I’m not sure anyone has ever been asked to do so much for a television series, but Tatiana Maslany never failed to deliver. She played about a dozen clones throughout the series and they all felt unique. And then she’d find herself playing one clone pretending to be another like she did with Sarah dressed up as Rachel this season. A lesser actor might have just played those scenes as she did Rachel, but there is always more to them. A small difference here or an odd tick there. It was a performance so full of subtleties that it never ceased to amaze me. Here I was this past Saturday watching the fiftieth and final episode of the series when the scene switched from Sarah to Helena or Cosima and I’m having to remind myself that the same person is playing them. It’s astounding. Certainly the makeup artists and the wardrobe people and the effects team all deserve praise as well, but Maslany really did some special acting these past five years. I just can’t heap enough praise her way for the work she did on Orphan Black.
Along with Tatiana’s performance, my fondest memories of Orphan Black will always be of that thrilling first season, but I felt this final lap was a good way to say farewell to the show. It felt like they hit the notes they needed to. It felt like they tied off the storylines they had to. And most importantly, it felt like they left these clones – and their extended family – that I fell in love with so much over these past five years in a good place.
Season Grade: B+
Many more things:
- My favorite clone was probably Alison with Helena and Sarah close behind. It is hard choosing though. A testament to a great set of characters.
- I think I’d rank the seasons: 1 > 4 > 5 > 2 > 3. Not totally sure, but that seems about right. Though 2 and 3 sort of blend together for me now.
- While the clones all got the attention they deserved in the final season, Felix may have gotten the short end of the stick this year. Jordan Gavaris always did a great job on the show too.
- While it was sad to see Mrs. S go, I think her death was handled well. Some part of the core cast probably needed to die before the end and she went out in a strong way. MK’s death on the other hand was just a total bummer.
- Helena paired with Donnie or Art was always such a delight. It made the baby naming that much better.
- Looking back, I think the Castor stuff may have been a mistake. At the very least, it was not handled well.
- I loved the score on this show. The different clone themes were great. Hearing that Helena theme kick in was always cool. And this track from the end of Season 1 has always stuck with me.
- I’ll miss this show a lot. Despite me complaining occasionally about the mythology/plotting, I always enjoyed watching it each and every week.