TV Review | Orphan Black | Season 4
Season summary: Sarah Manning reluctantly returns home from her Icelandic hideout to track down an elusive and mysterious ally tied to the clone who started it all – Beth Childs. (Orphan Black Wiki)
After season 3 proved to be such big step up in quality from the second season, I was looking forward to this season and I was both right and wrong to do so. It's unquestionably still far, far better than the poor season 2, but only because it feels like a copy (clone?) of season 3. Again, Orphan Black makes you wonder why it needed quite so many episodes.
The problem I have writing about this season is that I'm planning on doing a retrospective overview of the series as a whole after I've finished the next season and most of the issues I have with season 4 are problems that affect the series as a whole, with plot points and character beats repeated over and over again.
Nothing here feels fresh or surprising, but more like the creative team behind the show found a style that worked and stuck to it to the point of complete inflexibility. Characters actually growing and changing like real people do is strongly hinted at, but the show never follows through. For a series about bleeding edge science, Orphan Black plays it very safe.
It doesn't help that the show is suffering from the same malaise that plenty of other series have had problems with before: it doesn't know what to do with its characters now that we've spent so much time with them. This means that depth and complexity are replaced with the characters making choices because the story demands it and not because that's what the character would do.
In fact, narrative convenience may end up proving to be Orphan Black's Achilles Heel, with Cosima and the younger clone, Charlotte (Cynthia Galant), developing problems with their illnesses whenever a little extra drama is needed. In fact, it becomes so predictable by the end of the season that it ceases to have any meaning as something the audience needs to worry about.
However, the worst thing about replacing actual characters with people who make decisions based on what would prove most narratively interesting is that it renders almost the entire cast unlikable. By the end of season 4, there were a mere handful that I could say I actually want to spend more time watching because I enjoyed their character.
And as the person playing the most parts, Tatiana Maslany is the one who suffers most from this. Maslany's still insanely talented and obviously brilliant with how well she makes each clone distinct from the others, but she is not helped by scripts that make each and every one of the characters she plays a chore to watch.
Well, apart from Beth Childs, the police detective clone who killed herself and kicked everything off right at the start of the show. Practically the entire first episode is spent with her, following what happened before the events of the series began and it - along with the other flashbacks we see in later episodes - is easily the most interesting and enjoyable material of the whole season.
Hell, it actually made me wish there was an Orphan Black prequel series following Beth and her discoveries, even if it led to the same bleak ending for the character. Beth's story is also - strangely - the best-looking section of the show too, making everything feel like a far higher quality production than continuing to revolve everything around the clearly limited number of sets/locations for the rest of the show.
Then again, the reason I like it so much may simply be that it is a lot simpler, with none of organisations within organisations and corporations within corporations that plague the main story. Or it could be that Beth is having to discover everything while restricted by the structures and procedures of the police force.
Sarah's story suffers from the fact that she is so rootless that the writers apparently feel like they can introduce whoever they want, whenever they want and can justify it because her background is so fuzzy and there isn't anything to stop them. Again, it often feels like the writers are taking the easy way out of the corners they write themselves into instead of justifying why the characters are choosing to act a certain way.
Despite all the criticism, I did really enjoy the season. It is absolutely more of the same, with just a few new faces replacing those killed off before, but that doesn't stop Orphan Black being enjoyable - and I can only imagine that it was even more fun to watch each week when originally broadcast, with a year between each season. It just doesn't hold up as a satisfying narrative when bingeing it like I am.
Orphan Black season 4 is more of the same, with very little difference from the previous season. It's definitely very enjoyable, but it was just as much fun when all the same stuff happened before and I'm sure it will all happen again at this rate. If anything, Orphan Black just keeps on proving that it is not the type of show to binge.