Orphan Black Ends on a High Note with the Brilliant “To Right the Wrongs of Many”
(Episode 5.10)Photo: Ken Woroner/BBC AMERICA TV Reviews Orphan Black
Choice and responsibility. These are the two steps in Orphan Black’s beloved ideal of motherhood. These steps can absolve and transform the lowest criminals and craziest murderers. Two of those, Sarah (Tatiana Maslany) and Helena, happen to be the only clones able to bear children: miracles of science and arguments for the moralizing wonders of procreation. As the series finale begins, they find themselves trapped in the steamy gullyworks of all that stands against these ideals. Science is after them, corruption is after them, exploitation is after them. In the heart of the profit- and progress-hungry Neolution, the most natural of unnatural creations, clone mothers, make their stand.
The humor and action in “To Right the Wrongs of Many” make it so easy to take its core filmmaking devices for granted. Filming the finale with two clones always sharing the screen isn’t just a great final push for sisterhood, it’s a technological and logistical achievement in a series that’s made its name with its deft handling of on-screen clones. It helps that Maslany gives perhaps her finest performance of the series in this role-juggling finale. Praising her abilities would take a whole essay, so just know that she plays almost all the characters in the episode and has heartwarming moments with herself. That’s practically impossible. Another impressive feat is the genre-bending that gives Art (Kevin Hanchard, finally getting something to do) some genuinely fun pieces of action in his Die Hard one-man-army moments.
PT Westmorland (Stephen McHattie, looking like a particularly unhealthy warlock) and Virginia Coady (Kyra Harper, with some A+ makeup work making her face look like some post-MMA bout meatloaf) prove to be delicious villains until the end, referring to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang while hunting a woman actively giving birth. Methed up and murderous, Westmorland literally returns to his curtained Wizard of Oz status in the operating room. However, the creeping and conniving villains of the series are nothing compared to the pissed brutality (accompanied as always by a familiar musical sting) of its sestras. That certainly doesn’t change here, pushing the relatively violent season to its absolute goriest—unlocking catharsis the way slasher films empower their final girls with the chainsaws of their assailants.
Fittingly, the violence is not the finale’s climax. It never was, for Orphan Black. Instead, it’s the birth of Helena’s twins and the growth Sarah’s shown since her rebellious days annoying Mrs. S (Maria Doyle Kennedy). Women living to become the best parts of their mothers— especially poignant, in the case of a flashback to Sarah’s pregnancy with her own daughter—is worthy of applause whether in a sterile hospital bed or on a grimy boiler room floor. The connection and intimacy is the same. The camera lingers on the closeness of faces, the touching of hands. The teary, sweaty togetherness of two sets of twins. These are the important things to Orphan Black, not tension or violence.
The valuing of relationships continues during an epilogue. Sarah pursues a GED as the rest of the Clone Club prepares a party eerily similar to that in Helena’s scorpion-fueled desert visions back in Season Three. Cosima and her science posse push their care towards an international clone-curing initiative, helping spread their serum to all known and unknown clones (marking the brief return of trans clone Tony). The family unit created by the trials of the series crafts a pastel celebration for Helena’s kids, dubbed Orange and Purple (until a tear-jerking naming scene) because, well, of course they are, which then turns into a sister-to-sister intervention for the still-grieving Sarah.
The peace and happiness they fought for may only be the ability to safely administer self-care in an unmolested family, and that’s more than enough. Sarah may have a difficult time coping with her own shortcomings without abject evil acting as a reason to shape up, but everyone involved in the drama must eventually deescalate their reactions and embrace their failures. When one side of a black-and-white conflict is erased, the remaining color isn’t pure; it develops gradients and imperfections. Vulnerability is a luxury of the winners, and the return of complexity comes with the clones’ win. The last step to appreciating their victory is learning how to be normal. And that’s far easier with sestras.
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.