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Review: ‘Orphan Black’ Season 4 Finale Brings With It Cliffhangers and Chaos

Lives hang in the balance as Rachel goes full psycho.

Tatiana Maslany and Tatiana Maslany in "Orphan Black."

Tatiana Maslany and Tatiana Maslany in “Orphan Black.”

Ken Woroner/BBC AMERICA

READ MORE: ‘Orphan Black’ Season 4, Episode 8, ‘The Redesign of Natural Objects’: Blood Ties and Revenge

Cloning Around

Ever since “Orphan Black” introduced the Rachel character in the earlier days of the series, she’s served as an admirable foe for Sarah and her sestras. Although they’ve been forced to work with her in the past in order to save themselves or achieve a common goal, Sarah and Rachel have never quite seen eye-to-eye. (Potentially, in all fairness, because Rachel lost hers while trying to give Sarah an oophorectomy.) For a while it looked as though this season could be the catalyst for change, thanks to Evie Cho and the neolutionist movement to abolish clones, but that just seemed to set Rachel off even more. By this week’s finale she had fully disowned her fellow clones, her adoptive mom Susan Duncan and her brother Ira when she went behind their backs to the board and proposed a new wave of science that would combine gene therapy and torture tactics with cloning; dangerous new territory that will potentially serve as the meat of the story in Season 5.

Science Class

Cosima finding the cure so quickly after coming up with the idea to make her own little clone-tastic embryo was anticlimactic, considering all the steps and heartbreak that led up to that big moment. Even with Susan Duncan wanting to use the findings to resume cloning, her character is such that it seems she would have rushed to cure Cosima first and not risk her dying. The duo shared a special bond over their science that Susan probably always wished she could have shared with Rachel, but then again maybe there’s also something to that nature versus nurture argument when it comes to mothers messing up their kids. If that’s the case and Susan always did put herself first, it’s no wonder Rachel attacked her with a kitchen knife by episode’s end. Now the only question is, is Susan destined to die, or will Rachel kick off some testing on dear old mom?

Rosemary Dunsmore and Tatiana Maslany in "Orphan Black."

Rosemary Dunsmore and Tatiana Maslany in “Orphan Black.”

Ken Woroner © BBC AMERICA

Island Castaways

With this week’s finale also came the revelation of The Messenger, aka the creepy guy who saved Delphine and seems to be in charge of yet another mysterious group. By episode’s endm we learned that he had something to do with Neolutionist author Westmoreland, a guy who somehow doesn’t ever die. While we won’t meet him until next season (if ever), it’s clear he’s the one running the show and even the likes of Delphine are scared of him. That sets up yet another entity for the sestras to fight, if they make it to next season alive. With Cosmia near death (but with the cure in her hands), Sarah potentially fatally wounded and alone on the island and Ferdinand holding Mrs. S and Kira hostage, things aren’t looking great. Fortunately for her, the writers have managed to get these characters out of tighter corners than that in the past.

READ MORE: ‘Orphan Black’ Star Tatiana Maslany on How Improv Helps Her Clones Come to Life

Joining the Ranks

For such a dark season, the emergence of Krystal has been a light spot of much-needed humor in terms of balancing out the overall tone. As several characters pointed out in the finale, she’s so wrong yet always getting the gist of it right, which makes her a comical presence. Even her reaction to learning that Sarah was her clone was classic (“she’s a seven, and I’ve been told I’m a 10”), yet also unexpected. She’s a character who can handle a heck of a lot more than the audiences (or other characters) give her credit for, so it was only slightly disappointing when Sarah went undercover as Krystal to take on the institute rather than letting the beautician actually contribute.

Tatiana Maslany in "Orphan Black."

Tatiana Maslany in “Orphan Black.”

Ken Woroner/BBC AMERICA

Dance Parties and Impersonations

After three seasons of pulling out all the tricks in terms of camera work and acting abilities by one Tatiana Maslany, the fourth season was somewhat subdued in terms of big clone-on-clone scenes or one clone impersonating the other. Sure, there was the big Sarah-Rachel fight in the finale and the aforementioned Krystal swap, but overall it seemed as though the writers were pulling back on the tricks and focusing more on the story. It’s hard to argue with the results.

Coming off a third season that felt off-tone and put way too much focus on Ari Millen’s version of male clones, Season 4 felt fresh and more in line with the story that made so many viewers go crazy for the show, all the way back in Season 1. Even with the callbacks, the show made great use of flashbacks and character development, something they should absolutely focus more on in a fifth season.

Lab Results

“Orphan Black” has never shied away from controversial issues in regards to genetic science and the moral questions that arise from that field of study, but this season it seemed to delve into the science of it all in a whole new way. Although it’s easy to have an evil corporation be the driving force behind a story, the writers managed to put a very human face on all the issues it presented this season, sacrificing characters where necessary and introducing new ones sparingly. As a result there may have been fewer Helena or Alison scenes, but for the first time this series felt like an ensemble show that made good use of all its actors while presenting a compelling and sustainable story.

Given the fact that they’ve finally gotten back on track story-wise, it’s almost a shame that the upcoming fifth season will indeed be the show’s last, as was confirmed on Thursday morning. Here’s hoping they can build on the momentum the fourth season presented, while also wrapping the story in a compelling and interesting way, for fans that have stuck through the thick and thin of it. That means finally solving this Neolution puzzle and figuring out compelling endings for each of the clones viewers have grown to know and love — while also servicing Felix, Donnie, Mrs. S and the rest of the supporting cast in a tangible way. It’s a tall order, but hey, at least they’ve got one more full season in which to do it.

Grade: A

“Orphan Black” airs Thursdays at 10pm on BBC America and co-producer Space in Canada.

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