Orphan Black: Back to the Beginning – 3 Takes on the Season 4 Premiere

Orphan Black. BBC America. Tatiana Maslany. 2014

Orphan Black returns for season four by taking viewers to a place we did not expect: the past. The episode opened by throwing us right into the mystery that started it all, but from a whole new angle and through the eyes of a brand new clone, and the clone who started us down this rabbit hole: Beth.

Wendy: Going back in time four seasons later is a great narrative choice.  I can’t think of a show that has gone backward to reveal so much so well—and in just one episode. Lost comes to mind, but we know they were making that all up as they went along. In Orphan Black the writers have been carefully “throwing out tentacles” (as Kevin Hanchard describes it in After the Black) that have sucked us in over three seasons only, it turns out that everything we’ve believed is—not wrong, but even as we get answers to many questions, it is so clear how little we do know after all this time.  It’s revealing lots of little details about relationships that we could only speculate on, but the most important thing is how far it is taking us into the depths of Beth’s tragic life. We knew she was hurting when we saw her walk into that train but this is just heart breaking. Drugs, sex, lies: everything she can do to fill an endless void. So many powerful lines poured out in barely five minutes of such a powerful series of scenes.

Megan: Return of the worms! So many more manipulations by Leekie and his Neolution operatives than we ever knew—what was his full play with Neolution? I can’t wait to find out more because it’s clearly not the same agenda as the military or other power plays we got to know in season two and three. Also interesting to learn more about the inner workings of the Dyad Institute and the opposing agenda to Leekie’s. Not only have we gone back to explore Neolution more, we’re learning it’s got competing agendas within the movement. And what. Are. The. Worms? I must know.

Wendy: Khan. It’s Khaaaaan!

Megan: No. Je refuse!

Kate: At the Orphan Black pressroom at Wondercon that was one of the things that Kevin Hanchard mentioned—that in order to move forward they would have to look back. It’s one of the things that made me excited for the season, and I think it’s a really smart strategy that avoids jumping the shark (which I kind of felt we did a little bit at the end of season three with Castor and Leda, and the whole Kendall being related to the clones et. al.) and instead creates new context for old things—and Beth and Art in particular. That said, I wish that the entire episode hadn’t been in flashback; I would’ve preferred a little more in the present.

Megan: “You’re hollow, Paul. There’s nothing inside. I filled you in with hunches.” WHAT A LINE. This episode was such a trip. Like you say, Wendy, so many relationships look different now. Sarah’s early relationships with the season one characters are cast in such a different light.

On After the Black Tatiana Maslany and Kevin Hanchard talked about the opportunity to play an “honest partnership” between Beth and Art. Because in season one Art is interacting with Sarah playing Beth, this episode required they figure out, in depth, a whole new relationship. We’re used to seeing Tatiana produce what feel like fully realized characters in only a few scenes—new clones MK this year and Crystal last year—already feel unique, but it was nice to see Kevin have a chance to stretch. Once the show moved away from Beth’s life, the police station, and those season one characters, they gave him less and less to do.

Kate: MK is interesting, but her sheep mask scares me. Also I’m a little leery about introducing a new clone who Beth was working with, who is some kind of computer hacker person, but who apparently never met Cosima? Really? I was under the impression that Cosima, Allison, and Beth were a tight knit unit, and this has undone that—and I’m not sure it’s good.

Megan: Well, Beth had contact with at least one other clone that the group didn’t meet: the sick Russian clone who died. There may even be more. An interesting possibility is that MK is working with other clones who Sarah et al haven’t yet come into contact with. How many are still out in the cold?

Wendy: Tatiana describes this episode as “adult.” The writing certainly has always been mature and what I really like, after having so many issues with other favourite shows lately (looking at you The Walking Dead), is that it remains focused on telling its story and being so raw, rather than taking advantage of fans and manipulating emotions. When things that I don’t necessarily like happen on this show, I feel confident that they are genuine in their rationale, rather than it feeling like a gross tease. This episode … I’m not sure I would call it “adult”—perhaps more like it respects its audience and our intelligence. It wants our brains to work as much as it does our hearts. Maslany expressed as much at her TIFF “Conversation:”

Maslany acknowledged the “Clone Club” and how important it is to have such a strong following of fans that makes everyone in the cast and crew take their work so seriously. She noted that it’s easy to get lost within the bubble of being on set, but knowing that fans are so invested, “you can’t not take that love with you on set.” She loves the response from fans and she loves that the show can break hearts with characters like Delphine. For herself, she enjoys shows that make the audience struggle with loving or hating a character or situation and loves being shocked by things that come out of left field.

Kate: I know you are both all about Paul (and the return of Paul’s abs), but I loved seeing Cosima, Allison, and Felix as well. It’s so wonderful to be reminded of how far they’ve come and how much their characters have grown. Also, to wonder what might have been, as the official Orphan Black twitter alludes to!

Megan: Felix was gorrrrgeous is this episode. His skin was glowing. The lack of stress looked good on him. But with that said, I agree Kate, this was a good reminder of where they’ve been and the hard road they’ve traveled. And it avoided one of the chief weaknesses of flashback episodes by being so honest and raw—this wasn’t a nostalgic episode, it was a necessarily painful one that answered questions and asked new ones.

Overall I really loved this episode, and it’s got me desperate for more. 

Kate: I’m excited. I don’t think I’ve ever really gotten a chance to watch Orphan Black live and to experience it in this serial state with the rest of Clone Club, so I really hope this season is as epic as this first episode promises!

Megan Purdy

Megan Purdy

Publisher of all this. Megan was born in Toronto. She's still there. Philosopher, space vampire, heart of a killer.

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