When Orphan Black premiered in 2013, it was immediately heralded as must-see television. A shaggy sci-fi tale anchored by an ever-growing number of pitch-perfect performances by relative unknown Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black felt fresh from that first scene at the train station. As Sarah Manning, Maslany’s British con artist persona, watched a woman with the same face through herself to her death onto the tracks, she is plunged into a world of clones, evolutionary cults, government experiments, and more than a little murder. On top of being a consistently engrossing small-scale sci-fi thriller, Orphan Black has also dealt with themes of agency, ethics, and female bodily autonomy. In short, it’s unlike almost every other show out there.
However, as the series has progressed, it’s gotten bogged down in its own mythology. With the introduction of the male clones of Castor at the end of season two, things just got a little too crowded. While the contrast between military-grade clones (the boys) and the scientific ones (the girls) was compelling and Ari Millen’s excellent portrayal of the male clones, each more deranged than the last, did add some new layers, ultimately they detracted from the show’s big draw: Maslany’s core four clones. While the twists and turns and double crosses keep things exciting, Clone Club keeps it compelling. With so much going on, Alison and Donnie (Kristian Bruun) were essentially removed from the action in order to become drug dealers and run for local government, Sarah did her own thing in order to keep her daughter Kira (Skyler Wexler) safe, Helena murdered a bunch of people who tried to destroy her embryos, and Cosima spent most of her time dealing with her unidentified illness and bemoaning the loss of her relationship with Delphine (Évelyne Brochu). With the story going in so many different directions, the foundation was bound to weaken. Orphan Black is always at its strongest when the sestras have each other’s backs.
Well, it appears that the creative team of John Fawcett and Graeme Manson realized that things were getting a little off-track, as they have trimmed away all of the narrative fat and gone back to the very, very beginning. The season four premiere, “The Collapse of Nature,” occurs entirely within a flashback, taking viewers back to Beth Childs, the clone that killed her self in the series’ first episode. Aside from what we heard secondhand about best from the other clones, her boyfriend/monitor Paul (Dylan Bruce), and her police partner Art (Kevin Hanchard), Beth has always been a bit of an enigma. Why did she kill herself? Was it just the paranoia and emotional turmoil that came from finding out her history (which would be more than enough to drive anyone to the brink)? Was it the guilt from accidentally shooting a civilian? Or is there even more to the story that we’ve been lead to believe? It would appear to be the latter.
In the episode, we are introduced to an unraveling Beth. On top of working with Alison and Cosima to discover their history, she is also dealing with M.K., a new clone who prefers a life of utter solitude. Communicating remotely with Beth, M.K. is a hacker and knows way more about the Dyad Institute and and the body modification fanatics, the Neolutionists, than she lets on. Hiding behind an unsettling sheep’s mask (a subtle nod to Dolly), she feeds Beth just enough information to keep her on the trail without ever fully tipping her hand. Beth turns to drugs in order to cope with her newfound clone status and the feeling that her boyfriend is cheating on her (he’s actually monitoring all of her behavior and feeding them to the enemy, which is arguably much worse), which takes a toll on her ability to do her job as a cop. After unearthing a murder victim who is missing a sizable part of his face, Beth begins to dig deeper into the Neolutionists, leading to a number of Easter eggs for fans of the first season, including the return of departed Dr. Leekie (Matt Frewer) and a certain disgusting tail. As Beth gets deeper and deeper into the cult, she loses her grip on her sanity, pulling a gun on Paul, hooking up with Art, and ultimately shooting Maggie Chen by accident during an investigation.
All the events in the premiere get fans almost completely up to speed, but the final puzzle piece of why Beth killed herself has yet to be revealed. However, if M.K. connects with Clone Club in later episodes, the true nature of the Neolutionists and why they ultimately want to capture and destroy the clones comes to light, there will be major repercussions for the remaining clones. As the episode flashes forward to Sarah, Kira, Mrs. S (Maria Kennedy Doyle), and Kendall (Alison Steadman), the clones’ genetic original, fleeing their safe house after being tipped off by M.K. about yet another Neolutionist threat, one can’t help but get excited over what’s to come. With the show seemingly returning to the clone-versus-creator core, Orphan Black will likely return to being the taut narrative that made it such a compelling show from the beginning.