Clone vs. Wild: Orphan Black Goes Primal to Open Its Final Season
(Episode 5.01)Ken Woroner/BBC AMERICA TV Reviews Orphan Black
Let’s get something straight before this starts: Orphan Black is a lot. I have the pleasure of reviewing its final season for you, but if you’ve come this far with the Clone Club, you know that these episodes stuff more shenanigans and characters into one installment than most series do in a season. If you’re a newcomer, these reviews (and this week’s preamble) may seem like the ramblings of a clone-obsessed madman, but no—that’s just what this show does to people. When last we saw Sarah Manning (Tatiana Maslany), she was languishing alone with a stabbed leg on a frozen island. Her daughter and adoptive mother had just been kidnapped, her clone sisters (all also played by Maslany) were in as much danger as they’d ever been, and to top it all off, her phone was dying. At least one of these problems is completely relatable.
Her evil twin—well, kind of—Rachel has connived (or is it co-knifed) her way to the top of the biological-modification cult Neolution. That pinnacle is manned by the possibly immortal PT Westmorland, who lives in a crazy temple overlooking a strange village and has been pushing his philosophy for the better part of two centuries. This ramshackle town also houses Cosima and her ex-girlfriend, Delphine (Évelyne Brochu), both taken against their will because Neolution is nothing if not thorough. Everyone gets nabbed. The place they’re nabbed to seems tailor-made for Cosima’s dreadlocks: a yurted hippie commune called Revival, staffed by people named things like “Mud” and focused on genetically improving the human race.
Revival is as cultish as can be, a Disney-fied combination of brainwashed creepiness and amusement park silliness. A children’s book promising immortality clues us in, along with the knowledge Delphine has gained in her time there, that Revival is really just a large-scale longevity experiment. It’s campy and ridiculous, with music piped in from outdated loudspeakers stationed atop tribal-looking wooden stakes to announce word passed down from their holy, becurtained Wizard of Oz, but it’s unsettling nonetheless.
Outside Revival, everyone else slowly spins towards it, sucked in by the omnipotent gravity of Neolution. Sarah, in her search for Cosima and quest for survival, must carve a spear and start a fire like it’s my dream spin-off of Clone vs. Wild. Sarah burns a picture of her daughter to survive, which is a beautiful piece of imagery explaining the overarching character relationship at the heart of the show: an earnestly protective love that is ultimately destructive. Motherhood can face all adversity, but Orphan Black continues seeding doubt in every parent-child relationship it has. To top it off, there’s a huge Bigfoot-esque creature rustling about in the woods with Sarah and her Neolutionist hunters, chomping on wolves and blurrily tackling our clone-tagonist. I get the feeling that his eventual reveal will be a little like Charles Burns’ beautiful comic Black Hole, where tragic mutants live in the woods on the outskirts of civilization.
Alison and Donnie (Kristian Bruun) have gone similarly primal, living in Helena’s hut. Alison doesn’t last long before Neolution comes for her, nor do Art (Kevin Hanchard), whose new partner is a Neolutionist, or Felix (Jordan Gavaris). They’re all grabbed, but not harmed (not irreparably harmed, anyways) because Rachel has apparently passed down the order of a truce. What backhanded dealings this truce will entail is yet to be revealed, but if Rachel’s most recent action (stabbing and imprisoning her mother) is anything to go on, nobody should trust this development. Especially the two clones with kids, Helena and Sarah.
Speaking of, I’m so tired of seeing Kira’s face without it being backed up with meaning. The episode’s insistence on cutting to the same angelically-lit sunshine sequence of her saying “wake up” like she’s a Hobbit in Rivendell grates on the eyes and ears. It’s not endearing, but blindingly saccharine, like drinking a bottle of vanilla extract. Every time Sarah’s injured or dazed, the episode decides to bludgeon us with the same footage, and I need it like I need a stick in the eye. Or the stomach, as happens to the pregnant Helena after she kills her would-be captor. The only person left to care for her is Donnie, who managed to escape his wife’s assailants by hilariously retreating into the forest while dragging a very small rolling suitcase, in the episode’s finest moment.
The clones are slowly being pulled back together after last season saw them navigate more separate pathways. It’s a bit indelicate (mostly gunmen in all black bursting in and saying “come with us”), but it’s still effective. The set-up for a more single-plotted final season is certainly laid, but juggling all the characters and their placements from last season made this premiere an awkward bit of necessary logistical shuffling. Now that the factions have consolidated and only a few baddies remain (Rachel and this immortal PT), the show should be able to stabilize its erratic narrative and focus on its philosophical fascination with family and humanity.
Jacob Oller is a writer and film critic whose writing has appeared in The Guardian, Playboy, Roger Ebert, Film School Rejects, Chicagoist, Vague Visages, and other publications. He lives in Chicago, plays Dungeons and Dragons, and struggles not to kill his two cats daily. You can follow him on Twitter here: @jacoboller.