A thrilling, if not entirely fulfilling, addition to the canon of the show, Orphan Black: The Next Chapter succeeds on an emotional level while adding a lot of — perhaps too many? — layers to the scientific conspiracies that led us here.
Orphan Black: The Next Chapter
Written by Malka Older, Madeline Ashby, Mishell Baker, Heli Kennedy, E.C. Myers, and Lindsay Smith
Narrated by Tatiana Maslany
It’s been more than two years since Orphan Black viewers saw their favourite show come to a close, but fan devotion hasn’t died down a bit. From a 2014 comic series launched by the show’s creators, Graeme Manson and John Fawcett, to a mobile game, to the still-active fan fiction communities around the internet, Orphan Black has stayed very much alive long after its official five-year television run has ended. Now, though, fans have been treated to something altogether new, a very different way of experiencing the world they’ve come to love: a full-length novel, Orphan Black: The Next Chapter. What’s especially fascinating about this addition to the show’s canon is its availability as an audio series on Serial Box, narrated by none other than Emmy award-winning actor, Tatiana Maslany.
The Next Chapter is set eight years after the show’s finale, and after a first episode devoted mainly to setting the stage, things get crazy in short order. Similar to the show, the audio series shifts between character perspectives, catching up with Cosima, Alison, Sarah, Art, Felix, and several others that may come as a (mostly giddy) surprise to listeners. Among the more jarring developments is how much time is spent with two characters who were just children at last sight: Sarah’s daughter Kira, and genetic wunderkind Charlotte. They’re about 17 years old now, and are fully involved in the same life that drove their predecessors throughout the television series. With a new scientific threat looming that may destroy more than just the clones, any fresh faces willing to step up for the fight are welcome ones.
What works best in The Next Chapter are the sort of moments one could argue were also the highlights of the original series. Emotional beats, like scenes between Cosima and Delphine, and comedic breaks (looking at you, Alison and Donnie), are the most memorable parts of the audio series by far. The writing team stays true to the spirit of the “sestras” and their supporting cast, and having each clone narrated by Maslany is nothing short of genius. Her voice makes it impossible not to picture each character as the same unique individuals they were on screen, which is something not many actors could pull off with such ease. One scene in the opening episode (which is available to listen to free of charge on Serial Box) will elicit some serious nostalgia as a callback to the first and only moment shared by Sarah and Beth in the television pilot.
It’s invigorating, too, to be able to check in on so many of the moving parts that kept the show going: some of the developments in Art’s life, for example, are surprising and touching, while no follow-up would be complete without finding out how Felix has been spending the better part of the last decade. The fallout from everything left behind by villainous clone Rachel is explored. And perhaps the most compelling question on the minds of devotees: where is Helena, and what does her life look like now?
Having said that, one could argue there’s too much of a good thing happening in The Next Chapter. There are a lot of new characters introduced, and the heavy-on-the-science plotlines are harder to follow without visuals attached. At some points, particularly in the early episodes before the series hits its stride, listeners may find themselves needing to go back and binge the entire television series as a refresher on all things Project LEDA, DYAD, the history of short-lived characters like Katja Obinger and how each clone fit into the weird science of the show’s mythology. It’s a wild ride, and one that requires a level of knowledge about the source material that casual fans may not immediately possess.
Of course, it becomes quite clear early on that the intended audience of the series isn’t “casual” at all, so that may be an unwarranted criticism. Just hearing the familiar theme song at the start of each episode will send diehard fans back in time, in the best sense. For those who were able to keep track of the frequently splintering narratives and deepening genetic mysteries of the show, simply strapping in and enjoying the ride might be all that is needed here.
The epilogue to The Next Chapter is made with perhaps the most purely distilled essence of Orphan Black, enough to make fans desperate for there to be a season two…which may leave some fans feeling unfulfilled. To say anything more would be spoiling the experience, but while no announcements have been made indicating that there’s more to this story, the writers have left themselves with a wide open door to further continuation. With a bit of tightening up and streamlining, more focus on individual clones and their stories versus a chaotic race through too many conspiracies to count, the next Next Chapter could be even more exciting and fulfilling than this one.