“Orphan Black’s” third season starts Saturday night on BBC America — and, for the premiere, on AMC, SundanceTV, IFC and We TV — which means Clone Club is almost back in sessions. With the revelation that Sarah and her genetic identicals (all played Tatiana Maslany) have less perfectly former male counterparts (Ari Millen, doing triple duty for starters), the show’s universe continues to expand — and that, say critics who’ve seen the new season’s first two episodes, could be a problem. “Orphan Black” took most of its first season to find its footing, and then wound up its second season by losing it again.
The finale, which apparently did away with the mysterious Dyad Institute and replaced it with a new unknown entity called Topside, seemed like a tacit admission that the show had lost its way, and critics are split on whether it’s found it again. Maslany performances are, as always, the show’s biggest selling point, but showrunners John Fawcett and Graeme Manson seem insistent on expanding the show’s mythology without laying the groundwork first. Or at least they were. Perhaps Season 3 will tie off some of the threads that have started to unravel. “Orphan Black” is at a critical juncture right now, still trying to expand beyond its nifty initial premise into an overarching story that expands the show’s themes without diluting its intensity. Clones may be perfect copies, but “Orphan Black” can only retrace its steps so often before the trail starts to fade.
Reviews of “Orphan Black,” Season 3
Caroline Siede, A.V. Club
“Orphan Black” explicitly explores the female experience through a sci-fi lens — adding male identity issues could have diluted that thesis statement, but the show thankfully keeps its focus on the female Project Leda clones first and foremost, continuing to explore themes of female agency and consent while using the Castor clones as supporting players. That’s a smart choice for the show as a whole, but it’s a slight detriment to the premiere, which struggles to define its three newly introduced Castor clones (Ari Millen now plays Rudy, Seth, and Miller in addition to Mark, the previously introduced reformed Prolethean).
Pilot Viruet, Flavorwire
The “Orphan Black” writers have already proved skillful enough that they will surely find a way to make the male clones complement and intensify the female agency that drives the show (and the Project Leda sisters), rather than distract from or overpower those themes. Two episodes in, and there’s already a stark contrast between the sets of clones. The women are most valued for reproductive purposes — there’s always been a not-so-subtle allegory to reproductive rights throughout the series — and used in experiments where someone claims their bodies; it appears that the men were created for their strength and perceived lack of emotion, to form a terrifying military, representing how damaging and toxic this emphasis on masculinity can be. Yet it’s hard not to worry about this expanding universe and the increasing reliance on twists and violence in a show that works best in the smaller, smarter character moments.
David Wiegand, San Francisco Chronicle
Manson and Fawcett knew how to set the show spinning, but they have taken an easy out in a failed attempt to keep it fresh: Last season, they introduced male clones and complicated the characters of several central figures in ways that seem contrived just to muddy the waters. The result is a confusing mess, enlivened only by Maslany’s various performances. Maslany was always the most important reason to watch “Orphan Black,” but now she’s about the only reason. And while it’s still a kick to see this gifted chameleon switch so effortlessly from clone to clone, the script is a mess, the rest of the show makes little sense, and the breakneck thriller aspect of the show (complete with unintentionally comic background music) has all but eclipsed the thematic base of the series. What was once a unique, feisty, ambitious series has become just another middling show whose creators seem to be in way over their heads.
Elizabeth Lopatto, The Verge
Project Castor — a little half-baked, but world-expanding nonetheless — is emblematic of what worries me about the third season. Part of what made the first season of the show so much fun was that its premise was just “clones!” The framework never felt especially well thought-out; the propulsive motion forward meant it didn’t have to be. But the first two episodes of this season suggest we’re in for a lot of origin mythos, both for Project Castor and Dyad. The first episode explicitly sets up a backstory for Rachel, as well as political machinations within Dyad. Naturally, this is boring, even with the addition of a murderous / masochistic “investigator” who is — this is going to sound familiar — trying to kill the clones.
Merrill Barr, Forbes
Wisely, the writers of “Orphan Black” spent the first two seasons building their universe in tiny increments that chose to put more emphasis on character action and purpose over plot twists. But, with the Castor unveiling, the world of the series must now be expanded just for the sake of accommodating that many more personalities. Luckily, based on the first two episodes, it can be said the series pulls off this expansion successfully. Not so much in the season premiere — which puts most of the focus on the sisters — but rather in episode 2 where we really get a sense of the show’s scope.
Brian Lowry, Variety
From the perspective of someone who never fully bought into the premise, however, the series remains a modest diversion, with curiosity about the current story tempered by the dizzying contortions that a season filled with two sets of clones portends. And while it will be interesting to see where “Orphan Black’s” sisterhood finally winds up, as opposed to hanging on every subplot until that day arrives, please sound an alarm when it’s almost over.