Tweetable Takeaway: Season 4 is off to a slow, contemplative start on #OrphanBlack
Goddamn I love this show, you guys. I love this show and I want it to rain Emmys on Tatiana Maslany. After arguably its most compelling season yet (male clones! poisonous sperm! secret sterilization trials! oh my!) I was on the edge of my seat for the Season 4 premiere of ORPHAN BLACK tonight to see how these creepy crazy writers would follow up. But if you had given me an unlimited amount of guesses as to how the show would follow up its explosive 3rd season, I guarantee you one of my guesses wouldn’t be “oh, a flashback episode! Duh.”
Somewhat disappointingly, that’s what we got. We start out in the woods with some straight-up Samuel Beckett shit: a couple in mysterious uniforms bury a body, kissing as they go. A girl in a sheep’s mask watches. She puts a mysterious sticker on the tree she hides behind before fleeing. Next we cut to a scene between Beth and Paul in her apartment — which must be a flashback, because both are dead, remember? — and we learn Beth was a secret heroin user. She texts our sheep friend that she’s on her way, and the sheep pulls up her mask, revealing the face of — Sarah? Impossible to tell. Someone in the Clone Club, though. Man is it good to be back!
Beth meets Art in the woods, in the spot marked by Sheep-clone’s weird sticker, where they examine the body dropped there the night before — whose cheek has been cut out. The M.E. discovers that, in addition to copious tattoos, also has a “surgically bifurcated penis.” Shout out to Orphan Black for the most fun Google wormhole of my week: “bifurcated” means “divided into branches or forks,” so you guys can just let your imaginations do the talking from here.
Beth gets a call from Cosima, who’s in a bad way. She has to transfer schools and she just broke up with her girlfriend, who she lived with, so she’s literally out on her ass. It’s as if we’re seeing the origin stories of our sisters here; we see trouble clouding Beth’s thoughts and perhaps foreshadowing her tragic demise, and we see how she carried the Clone Club, much like Sarah does now, up until her death.
Thank God we also check back in with Felix — the light of my life — who’s cleverly sassing another cop in the precinct where Beth and Art work. Felix’s character has been one of the most innovative and ingenius conventions on this show since Day 1. In a world weighed down by such darkness as the one in Orphan Black, the most believable levity we can afford is the acerbic wit of a gay best friend.
Beth shows up at a sketchy airstream near a storage unit — if that’s not the beginning of a Law & Order: SVU episode, I don’t know what is — to find our telltale sheep mask hanging on its door. Beth goes inside and sees our little Clone Club spy from the woods, wearing her own sheep mask, talking to her from a screen. This is Mika, and she’s too skittish to meet Beth in person. It seems like Mika was the one who introduced Beth to this whole clonespiracy to begin with. When Beth asks Mika what she saw in the woods, Mika says ominously that she saw Neolution. She’s spooked. She’s paranoid about anyone else knowing — their other clone seestras, Beth’s partner Art. She tells Beth that the only reason she’s alive is because Neolution thinks she’s dead.
Beth and Art’s murder investigation leads them deep into the Body-mod community. Beth goes to a body-mod club, Club Neolution, to question its members and try to find the surgeon who bifurcated their victim. A club owner tries on tails in his office (like ya do). One of the club’s members describes Neolution as “creating yourself… an evolutionary choice.” She asks around about the murder victim, but nobody’s talking. She leaves her card and takes off.
Beth checks in with Allison, who already has buds of homicidal rage taking root. She’s playing with an unloaded gun in her kitchen and chomping at the bit for Beth to teach her how to use it. She delivers a basket of flowers to Beth, in which she conceals a bottle of her daughter Greta’s pee. Now that’s true friendship — and also the #1 reason to have friends with kids during your young and wild years.
Dr. Leekie talks to the guy in the Body-mod club who was trying on tails. They discuss getting Beth a new monitor because her relationship with Paul is disintegrating. He hangs up and turns to see Beth smiling at him, truly honored to meet him. She questions Leekie about his book on Neolution, saying it gives people permission to play God and tinker with themselves. A sharp tack named Eva Cho hovers over Leekie during this exchange and pegs Beth for a LEDA clone immediately.
Things go from bad to worse when Beth returns to work and finds herself booted from the case. She takes a routine piss test, with a little help from Allison and her daughter Greta, and goes back to her apartment where she carefully conceals a camera inside one of her paintings. Later, we check in on Beth’s personal life and see she and Paul are pretty much a typical white couple at their absolute whitest: he’s detached and aloof, she’s getting high out of her mind to compensate for it. She calls him “Hollow Paul” and pulls a gun on him. Paul puts the ball in Beth’s court to end their relationship, but won’t step up and do so himself. Strung out, stressed out, and dressed for date night success, Beth shows up at Art’s door, crashing a TV night with his daughter. Later, Beth comes onto Art and seduces him, planting the seeds for the feelings he harbored for her — and will, in turn, harbor for Sarah — for the next 3 seasons.
Beth gets a call from Trina, one of the members of the Body-Mod club, who says she’s worried about her boyfriend. He left with some “hardcore Neos” who match the description of our kissing killers from the teaser. Trina has a possible explanation for why Beth’s victim is missing a cheek: there’s a dentist in Chinatown who inserted a tiny little grain into some Body-mod enthusiasts’ cheeks, but now it won’t stop growing. Beth finds the doctor and observes him removing the growth from another man’s cheek, assisted by our killer couple from the teaser — it is bloody and squishy and looks like a maggot but way worse. She’s startled and accidentally makes some noise on the fire escape, which I don’t blame her for, but draws attention nonetheless and, in a strung-out stupor, accidentally shoots the wrong person in an attempt to escape to safety. The victim is the woman we learn Beth was plagued by guilt over in Season 1. Art comforts Beth. Helps her stage the crime scene to cover it up. Beth’s Sergeant introduces her to a man named Det. Ducho, who’s with the Union, and can sit with her while she gives her statement. Beth turns to see that this is the man who is putting bugs in people’s cheeks!!! WTF.
Beth finally meets Mika in person. She goes to her trailer because she has nowhere else to go. She can see why Mika lives like this; paranoid, secretive. The weight of all this truth is too much for her to bear, and we can see the pressure mounting.
At this point, just when I’m starting to wonder why the hell we’ve spent an hour in Backstory-Land, we snap back to the present day. Art calls Sarah, who’s in her secret arctic hideout with Kira. He patches her through to MK, who tells Sarah that Neolution knows where she is and they’re coming for Kendall Malone. Looks like Sarah’s on the run again.
I hate to say it but I’m disappointed in Orphan Black tonight, you guys. Every single episode of this dark dystopian drama has, at moments, made me feel shot out of a cannon, just like I felt in the end of the pilot, when Sarah gets a Jaguar windshield full of brains — and this episode broke that tradition for the first time. I felt inundated with contextual information that I either already knew or didn’t need (I mean, come on, were we really not supposed to pick up on Art being in love with Beth before now?), save maybe for the reveal of MK/Mika. But I don’t assume she’ll be a fixture this season, because this show also has a history of introducing totally badass Clone Club Cardholders whom we never see again, like Tony the trans clone from Season 2.
Long story short, this season premiere was a letdown that was even more noticeable because of how much they *brought it* in Season 3. Out of all the incredibly interesting storylines and characters we could have picked up on — Sarah’s armistice of sorts with Rachel, Mrs. S.’s relationship with her mother Kendall Malone, Cosima now having permission to tell Shay the truth about Dyad, Project Leda, and her illness — it was disappointing to see the writers choose Secret Option C: None of those things. A flashback/origin story episode feels tonally off and oddly emotional for a show as dark and cerebral as this one, and I also found myself asking “why now?” quite a lot. What necessitated this episode to happen right now? And what pipe did the writers lay for us that, sorry to say this, we didn’t already kind of know? Seeing the origins of Beth’s relationship with Neolution is interesting, and I have a hunch that information from this episode will come into play later on. But otherwise it felt like a moment of somewhat sentimental character journey in a show whose greatest strength is perhaps its lack of sentimentality and steadfast dedication to momentum, story, and drive. I’m crossing my fingers for more bullets & brains next week. We’ll see how it goes.
Ellen is a writer mostly because she technically can’t be a contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Ellen Duffy | Contributor