Orphan Black: Season Five Review
Sci-fi TV series typically fall in one of two categories: the straightforward genre exercises with some tropes that you've seen a million times, or the ones that earn the title of "unique" thanks to mind-bending storytelling or unique approaches to characters. Orphan Black is the rare show that managed to be both. The over-arching plot from season to season was all seedy science and corporate conspiracy that upped the ante but still remained familiar. Just based on the story, it's very possible that BBC Worldwide would've cancelled the program a couple seasons in. But Orphan Black separated from the pack thanks to an ex-factor that other shows could only dream of having: Tatiana Maslany.
We've seen actors play twins or doppelgangers plenty of times before, but in terms of simultaneous performances, Maslany takes the cake. The Canadian actress doesn't just dominate screen time in Orphan Black: as rebellious Sarah, brilliant Cosima, fierce Alison, cunning Rachel, dangerous Helena, elusive MK, and sassy Krystal, Maslany portrays almost every single major player in the show. She is Orphan Black's heart, soul, brains, and brawn. Even a performer of considerable talent could've dropped the ball on this, but Maslany completely nailed it. You hear all the time that someone has put in the performance of a lifetime, but rarely is it as true as it is in this case.
This diverse cast of clones (that may sound contradictory but it's surprisingly accurate) made its way into the hearts of a small, very dedicated fan base. These vocal supporters are most definitely the reason that this series lasted five seasons even though episodes didn't even pull in a million viewers, and they're probably why Tatiana Maslany garnered enough attention to take home a well-deserved Emmy. So there were a lot of eyes going into this final season. Would the series indulge too much in fan service? Is there such a thing as "too much" fan service for a show which was actually serviced by its fans?
Thankfully, nothing really changed throughout Orphan Black's last hoorah. The stakes are expectedly higher, but there are no surprise, hour-long character ruminations or wild excursions into the psyche. Each episode had tension, shocking revelations, and that signature electronic score. And somehow, the writers managed to introduce a centuries-old mad scientist and self-healing twins without losing too much of its grip on understandable, if not entirely plausible, science jargon. This is another season of Orphan Black as we know it, but this time, they don't replace answered questions with new ones.
In retrospect, this story was pretty impressively reigned in. A lot of shows would struggle to tie its plots into a neat little bow after tens of episodes, but Orphan Black's ending is refreshingly satisfactory. The execution wasn't flawless, though: since the Big Bad was only revealed this season, it made that last conflict feel less weighty and consequential than it would've had he been introduced earlier, even in a less immediate capacity. But the approach was very effective because it allowed each clone to contribute to the newest conflict while also achieving a true sense of finality.
These final outings also cleverly allotted the time each clone gets to reach a conclusion. Sarah, who has always been the central protagonist, gets the meatiest portion of emotional and action-packed scenes. Cosima stays in the center of the science drama, Rachel continues to walk the corporate tightwalk, and Helena continues her path from psychopathic serial killer to loyal sweetheart. I personally had to come to terms with the fact that some of my favorite supporting characters, like Krystal and Detective Art Bell, simply weren't important enough to be in it as much as I would've liked. However, it was odd that people like Felix and Alison were out of as many episodes as they were. By the end, Felix felt especially under-utilized.
I didn't write much about the plot because, at the end of the day, it won't be the legacy of Orphan Black. Instead, the series will be remembered for the way which Maslany made so many characters with the same face feel completely unique, and how commendably the creators and cast understood the importance of its fans. It's also a show where nearly every character of import is a woman and people embrace their uniqueness instead of blending in. Oh, and also, a mutated monstrosity conceived by a crazy scientist munched on human flesh. What's not to like?