Orphan Black Review: “History Yet to Be Written”

(Episode 3.10)

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<i>Orphan Black</i> Review: &#8220;History Yet to Be Written&#8221;

After nine entries of widely varying quality and plotlines both engaging and baffling, Orphan Black Season Three comes to an appropriately messy conclusion with “History Yet to Be Written.” Per Orphan Black tradition, some storylines are laid to rest whilst others duck back to fight another day. And while certainly satisfying in certain respects, the episode is not without the frustrating convolutions that have plagued much of this season.

Picking up from last week, Sarah, Siobhan and Felix have returned from London with original Leda/Castor mother Kendall Malone in tow. The woman proves to be as big a pill as one would expect with her constant complaining and general surliness. She even goes out of her way to tell Cosima that she is little more than a “bad copy” of her. Perhaps knowing the anger and frustration that comes with losing control of one’s body, Cosima responds with a sympathetic plea for help. It seems to do the trick and Kendall agrees to again be the test subject.

Moreover, as the episode begins, the sister-clones are preparing themselves for the oncoming forces—Virginia, Rudy and their militia on one end and the sleazy Ferdinand and Topside on the other. The gang eventually settles on a solution. First they strike a deal with Ferdinand to provide some of Kendall’s genetic material.

Meanwhile, knowing Virginia and Rudy’s MO, Sarah and Co. design two traps for them. One, they lead Virginia to believe she has Kendall’s location, only to send them to a Topside-dominated area where they are easily outnumbered. Secondly, given that Alison has long been considered the group’s “weak flank,” they arrange it so that Rudy, in an attempt to abduct Alison, ends up walking straight into a confrontation with Helena.

The latter idea leads to what can most easily be classified as a season climax—the showdown between a Castor and Leda clone. Unfortunately, given that Rudy’s body has been shutting down throughout the whole episode, we know from the beginning that he has little chance against someone who we saw massacre an entire gang last episode. As such, there’s not a whole lot of inherent suspense here. Nevertheless there is a sense of catharsis when a dying Rudy tries to draw a comparison between him and Helena, only for Helena to softly call him out on his excuse by pointing out that he is, for all intents and purposes, a rapist.

And so, unless the writers decide to either have Mark live on for longer than his allotted lifespan would allow, or introduce more clones in subsequent seasons, Rudy’s death seems to basically spell the end of the Castor plotline. Honestly, it’s probably for the best. Much of the season’s early foibles are tied to this plotline and all the screentime devoted to establishing this new breed of clones. I won’t say Ari Millen wasn’t an effective bad guy at times, he certainly was, but the Castor clones were simply never given the shading that made them feel like worthy adversaries. In the end, the Castor experiment only served to make an already confounding show all the more confounding.

However, and speaking of confounding, nothing in the hour can quite touch the finale’s “big” reveal. As the group begins the process of giving Kendall’s blood to Topside, Delphine ends up in conversation with Dyad doctor Nealon who unveils yet another layer to the show’s already padded conspiracy plotline. Apparently, Neolution, the movement spearheaded by Dr. Aldous Leekie way back in Season One, is the driving force behind everything that has happened in the show. What’s more, they plan on using Topside as a means of gaining Kendall’s genetic makeup for nefarious purposes. Nealon also shows that the group is holding Rachel captive and has given her a new mechanical eye (thus, ditzy clone Krystal made it through with both eyes intact). Nealon makes a final offer to Delphine to join their ranks but Delphine refuses. Then, in one of the most baffling scenes of the night, the doctor announces she’ll be “dead by morning” and proceeds to attack her while what appears to be some kind of mechanical worm emerges from his mouth, seemingly looking to infect her. I think that’s what happened, but I’m not exactly sure. Again, this is one of the more prominent examples of some weird element being introduced into the show at the last minute that confuses more than it intrigues.

Delphine fights Nealon off but realizes she has little time left. She manages to phone Sarah, who relays this twist of events to everyone else. Ferdinand then ends up taking a bat and brutally beating his associate to death, explaining that he’s most likely a Neolution spy and that their ranks are hidden everywhere. What’s more, he almost appears to take a strange sense of glee in this new challenge.

With the immediate threats (I suppose?) suspended for now, the clones and their family all get together for a celebratory dinner where Alison announces that she won the election (I know there was a lot to tackle in this episode, but the lack of Alison screentime does knock it down a couple of points). Likewise, Helena is given her own happy ending when Jesse, the blue collar worker she fell for back in Season Two, unexpectedly re-enters her life. Cheesy? Yes. But Lord knows Helena has earned some semblance of happiness.

Finally, Delphine and Cosima share one last kiss before Delphine finds herself being shot in the abdomen by an unseen assailant. While I have serious doubts that Delphine has permanently left the building (we never see the kill shot), it does make a compelling end to an ongoing subplot that has, in spite of the season’s messy structure, been quite good to her character. While she entered the show as mostly a romantic foil for Cosima who helped the clones out of love, this year has given her much more of a complex role as she had to struggle between her lingering affection for Cosima and the ruthlessness required to perform her new position.

With the season now wrapped up, much of my frustration surrounding this episode comes from just how many plotlines are left dangling. Yes, I’m aware that’s a function of a finale, but at a certain point it just feels overwhelming. Besides Delphine’s unresolved fate, we have the status of Mark and Gracie, the new threat of Neolutions, the capture of Rachel and the surprise appearance of the presumed dead Susan Duncan. That’s not event counting Bonnie and the Proletheans, who played a role early in the season, only to be tossed away and forgotten by the latter episodes. All these combined mysteries culminate in making the episode feel more akin to a tease for Season Four than a satisfactory end to the stories of Season Three.

This is all balanced out, however, via a lovely closing scene that depicts the emotional reunion between Sarah and Kira. Given that Sarah’s daughter has been off-screen for half a season, this makes the reunion all the more effective. Of course, this moment is sweetened considering it is soundtracked by Sigur Ros’ gorgeous “Njósnavélin (Untitled 4).” As mother and daughter embrace each other in the snow to the sounds of Jónsi’s evocative tenor, all the other major problems with the finale somewhat diminish. Frankly, it’s as beautiful a closing image to an Orphan Black season as one could imagine.

And therein lies the issue—“History Yet to Be Written” is a smorgasbord of elements the show gets right, combined with the tendencies that effectively undermine the good areas. If nothing else, here’s hoping that the reveal of the Neolutions as the ultimate Big Bad will help focus the show next season by depicting only one central antagonist—though, as I mentioned before, the Proletheans may still be out there so who knows if that subject may get picked up again.

Overall, Season Three of Orphan Black has been a decidedly mixed experience. Whereas the first half found the show at its lowest creative point, the latter half of the season proved that there’s still fuel left in this idea, presuming Tatiana Maslany does not eventually collapse from the sheer pressure this show puts on her. It’s a strange stage for the show to be in, but here’s hoping that the issues of Season Two and Three help the creative team structure a fourth year that avoids the standard pratfalls and limitations inherent to the show’s premise.

And that’s a wrap until next year. One final reminder—Emmys… Tatiana Maslany …you know the drill…

Mark Rozeman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.

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