At its core, Orphan Black has always been about agency. Anchored by Tatiana Maslany‘s striking performances as a slew of clones (especially the core four), the twisty sci-fi gem has tackled the boundaries of scientific discovery, the fluidity of sexuality, and what it truly means to be human. As the series reaches the end of its story, it’s hard to be grateful that the show is ending on its own terms, even with the sting of impending loss. Clone Club couldn’t go out any other way.
Season five’s premiere, “The Few Who Dare,” picks up where the finale left off, with the sisters united in purpose but scattered to the winds. After her violent confrontation with Rachel at the end of last season, Sarah is desperately trying to get off the Island of Dr. Westmoreland after the realization that the founder of the ever ominous Neolution had discovered the key to immortality. Alison and Donnie (Kristian Bruun) are still camped out in the woods, desperately trying to outrun the police after their side business as drug dealers caught up with them while also keeping Helena and her babies out of the hands of the Neolutionists. Cosima, temporarily reunited with Delphine (Evelyne Brochu), finds herself with some crazy science at her fingertips at Revival, a research camp of sorts on the Island. And finally there’s Rachel, the big bad whose last confrontation with Sarah leaves her angry and even more dedicated to her quest for control.
As the episode progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that while each clone is desperate to throw off the shackles that have come with their existence, what they consider freedom might not be the same for each. While Sarah makes it clear that she no longer cares about the “why” of Neolutionism and just wants to be left alone with her daughter to live her life, Cosima can’t help but be drawn to whatever discovery is being done, even if the ethical boundaries are seriously starting to blur.
The motivations of nearly all the characters are called into question during “The Few Who Dare,” between Donnie’s temporary abandonment of Alison in order to save Helena to Rachel’s apparent adoption of the Neolutionist cause. Everyone is clearly focused on survival at this point, and four seasons of intrigue and pain have taught them to play a more pragmatic game.
Rachel has always been the most difficult to read clone, and her seeming adoption of the cause is just another layer to the chilly exterior. While she may be embracing her roles as “a child of Neolution,” there is no way that the seemingly kindler, gentler Rachel has moved beyond the betrayal by her mother so quickly. Rachel has long walked the thin line between sister and enemy, so it’s safe to assume that the wheels are still in motion underneath that perfectly coiffed head of hair. Cosima, always too trusting, appears to be allying herself to the duplicitous clone out of necessity, but will surely find that the ends probably does not justify the means.
While the clones are fighting for their own autonomy, their focus has shifted to that of their children: Kira (Skyler Wexler) and Helena’s unborn twins. Because isn’t that always the way? In any fight, making things better for the future generations is the ultimate goal. Sarah’s always worked to keep Kira out of the hands of Dyad and the Neolutinists, putting her entire worth as a mother into that fight. The fact that Helena, her actual twin, is joining in that battle for her own children will strengthen their already unique bond for the final trip.
Orphan Black has always managed to keep a steady hand on its own mythology (even if things got a little messy with the introduction of a male set of clones), and ending before it loses the thread is the definitely the best creative choice. However, the thought of a television landscape without this smart and hopeful show is a bit grim. There is truly nothing out there like it: female focused, compassionate, and unafraid to ask some big and uncomfortable questions. Based on the strong premiere, that dedication will continue through the final episodes, hopefully crafting an ending that befits such strong character work.
A talent like Maslany will surely find other projects that showcase her gifts, but watching the attention to detail — down to routine gestures and vocal ticks — she has brought to the sestras has been a gift to fans everywhere. There is no way this journey will end without loss, but surely there’s some peace at the end of the tunnel, and I for one can’t wait to see how Maslany handles this final season, one hopefully filled with plenty of clones-pretending-to-be-other-clones madness.