‘Orphan Black’ Continues To Grapple With Huge Themes In Its Final Season

BBC America

As it barrels ahead with its final season, Orphan Black is leaning in hard on the themes that have typified the series since the beginning. Identity, scientific ethics, and struggling against a patriarchal society have been there since day one, and patient fans are reaping the benefits of seeds sown at the series’ outset. While some were worried (myself included) about the seeming addition of immortality, we should have kept the faith. While Orphan Black is indeed science fiction, it’s sci-fi that is first and foremost grounded in a believable reality.

As we reach the middle of the season with ‘Manacled Slim Wrists,’ the neolution island is melting down. P.T. Westmoreland (Stephen McHattie) has been revealed to be a fraud. He’s not the 170-year-old pretender god that he claimed to be, but yet another mortal, driven by an all consuming need to achieve immortality. After all of the trouble and pain that she’s caused over the course of the series, it’s hard to believe that Rachel Duncan (Rosemary Dunsmore) would be a moderating hand on their experiments, but even she begins to question the lengths that they’ll go in their quest for knowledge.

In terms of scientific experimentation, Orphan Black is wading into its darkest territory yet. After the eugenics reveal and their Nazi-esque pursuit of a master race, Westmoreland and Dr. Virginia Coady (Kyra Harper) — returned from seeming death — make it even more personal by going after Sarah’s daughter, Kira (Skyler Wexler), in the most vicious way yet. Because of the secrets still hidden in her genes, the neolutionist leaders want to scrape out all of her eggs and plant them in 1,300 surrogates for brutal genetic testing to discover the key to her gifts. Turning an eight-year-old child into essentially a farm of disposable embryos proves to be a bridge to far for Duncan, causing her to break from her life long study to help Cosima and Charlotte (Cynthia Galant) escape. She pays with her life, her crimes finally catching up with her.

It’s almost superfluous at this point to praise Tatiana Maslany’s talents, but there are no signs of fatigue. While we could always use a little more Alison, each clone is getting a shot at redemption this year, and Maslany is handling it all beautifully. None of the sestras have made it out of this war with their hands clean and are all looking for ways to atone. Helena — still wild — is finding a passion beyond killing in her babies. With the unborn twin’s miracle healing powers and Helena’s fertility, she still has a target on her back from Dyad, but her tender reconciliation at the convent with Sarah shows that the craziest clone has maybe found a little peace (which probably means that she’ll be the core member of Clone Club who doesn’t survive the season).

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While Alison is still on the run after temporarily leaving behind Donnie (Kristian Bruun) to figure out all the shit that she’s been through, I’m hoping for a happy ending for the Type-A clone. Aside from the brief foray into drug smuggling, the homemaker has taken to the life on the run the least. While she wants more than a quiet life in the suburbs, she still deserves to go back to normalcy. After a brief relapse into substance abuse, Alison has proven herself more than ever this season, showing exactly how far she’ll go for her sisters.

Orphan Black is still first and foremost Sarah’s show, as the leader of the group, and her motivations at this point are easily the most straightforward: keep Kira out of the clutches of Dyad. As she grapples with Rachel over the little girl’s loyalties, Sarah has little regard for her own safety, letting her maternal side take over completely. She’s given up everything in order to keep Kira safe and discover whether or not she’s a burgeoning superhero, seeking to atone for a lifetime of screw-ups. As long as she has Felix (Jordan Gavaris) and Mrs. S (Maria Doyle Kennedy) in her corner, there is still hope that his particular family will come out alive.

However, this is easily the Season Of Cosima. She’s been on the ground floor at the Island, and despite her early instincts to “follow the crazy science,” this episode and the last have forced her to look at her own willingness to push the boundaries of scientific ethics in the name of progress. After being imprisoned by Westmoreland, Cosima is faced with the fact that sometimes you can go too far, and Westmoreland’s manipulation of his followers and the exploitation of children in the pursuit of eternal youth has no upside. After realizing the truth of the clones’ creation, Cosima especially has struggled with the fact that she was born without agency, but has claimed her life, choices, and humanity for herself this season in stunning ways.

On top of the exploration of ethics and eugenics, Orphan Black is also deepening the long term theme of toxic masculinity. While there are certainly female villains in the mix, the themes of men controlling and dividing women and how to fight against that has been at the fore. From the brutal murder of MK at the hands of Ferdinand (James Frain) to the cult of personality built by Westmoreland, the dangers of a patriarchal society are alive and well, but these women are taking their world back.

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With only four episodes left, there are a lot of loose ends to tie up before Orphan Black‘s conclusion. Thanks to the show temporarily bringing Krystal back into the fold and Cosima’s escape from the island, there is a better-than-not chance that the remaining sestras will all be reunited soon enough, which is for the best. While they’re each strong in their own ways, the united family is what keeps them alive. The previous seasons got a little bogged down in their individual stories, but Orphan Black‘s final season is turning out to be a well-crafted run of television with a clear eyed look at the issues that it’s handling. It’s going out on a strong note, and its willingness to grapple with the darkness is a major reason why.

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