Orphan Black Season 3 Review: “Can Great Characters Save An Underwhelming Story?”
Orphan Black Season 3 Review (Spoilers)
Season 3 of Orphan Black had this feeling that it could go off the rails at any given moment. In a season that introduced a number of new moving parts in an already complicated story, ultimately the writers landed on what has been the show’s continual source of strength. The theme of a makeshift yet united family and the bonds of sestrahood is Orphan Black’s go-to cornerstone. The sestrahood, of course, being the characters played brilliantly by lead actress Tatiana Maslany. Because the sestras were very well established in its first season, even when their current arcs aren’t as satisfying, they firmly ground the show and it’s hard not to remain invested in the fate of these characters.
The balance between character development and a compelling conspiracy is a sticking point in Season 3. Going head first into Project Castor with Topside on the periphery, the story never gained enough traction to sink our emotional hearts and teeth into. A part of that reason is because the boy clones were cut too much from the same cloth. They didn’t become interesting individual characters on their own. In the early part of the season the boy clones were the source of conflict that endangered one or more of our sestras. This became a little too formulaic of a way to end a number of episodes in a row and in the final stretch of the season they didn’t play a strong enough of a factor.
It may have been a little too on the nose for some fans, but it worked to tie back all the major reveals to the idea of family: Project Leda & Castor are siblings and the original progenitor is Mrs. S’ biological mother. These developments loosely worked in the context of raising the stakes ie. a transmittable disease that could sterilize all women on the planet which in turn could lead to the extinction of humans as we know it and give way to a new evolved species eg. Helena’s expecting baby or Kira for that matter. Having said that, this season didn’t explore this idea to its full potential.
The unravelling conspiracy is impactful in how it might personally effect our sestras. For example, finding a cure for Cosima is a long-standing arc that despite dragging on we are still invested in because we care about her. For Sara, her story is tied so closely with the conspiracy that when this part of the show isn’t resonating, her character arc feels a little underwhelming considering she’s supposedly our main clone. However, the finale did a good job at addressing some of these issues. For one, aside from Prolethean Mark, the boy clones that we know of are wiped clean off the show. Secondly, with so many different factions this season to keep track and make sense of, it now all boils down to one major consolidated evil entity – the Neolutionists.
While Sara’s arc was less satisfying, Helena’s journey from being betrayed by Mrs. S. to becoming a welcomed and integral member of clone club is excellent. A good observation that has been said about Helena is that she’s the source of stability and engaging emotion on the show which is unexpected because she’s the most emotionally (and mentally) unstable sestra. Many of Season 3’s most memorable highlights involve Helena. To think that if she was killed off in the Season 1 finale, we wouldn’t have seen her eat a talking scorpion, take out a garage full of mobsters (well we didn’t actually see it) or smaller but weirdly funny moments such as teaching Alison’s daughter how to gouge a person’s eyes out.
Alison and Donnie Hendrix’s scenes hit the mark even though it didn’t have any connections to the other story lines. Their stand alone story is breath of fresh air as a satire of suburban domestic life with a spoonful of Weeds and a sprinkle of Breaking Bad. When the story is as much fun as this, it’s easy to overlook Alison’s unclear motivation to jumping through so many hoops to becoming a school board trustee. Actor Kristian Bruun’s comedic timing and talent is another bright spot in this story line. He’s the last surviving monitor from Season 1 and hopefully will continue to be written strongly.
Through the many twists and turns over the seasons, finding a place in the ongoing story that makes sense for the monitors were challenging, more so for Big Dick Paul than Delphine. There was a retconning of Paul’s character that was never quite believable. Revealing he’s a high-ranking soldier within Project Castor came off as the show needing to fit his character into the next big story arc. Like trying to shove a square peg through a smaller square shaped hole, it didn’t fit. However, his “sacrificial” death did leave him on a strong note, capping off one of the best episodes of the season, “Certain Agony of the Battlefield” although both Coady and Rudy unsurprisingly escaped the grenade blast.
Delphine’s evolution to becoming the head of Dyad was handled better. Actress Evelyne Brochu excelled at layering in different elements to her character’s persona in a believable manner. She was more colder, more ruthless which played off of our expectations compared to the warm-hearted person we’ve known her to be. It was a big question mark how much she could be trusted all season long, helping to build tension between her and Cosima. As much as Cosima’s new girlfriend was a light diversion, it’s fitting in the finale to acknowledge Cophine as the true love pairing. Solving Delphine’s murder will likely be a driving force to start off next season.
With so many characters for the writers to pay attention to Felix’s role was diminished to sidekick or BFF status in the first half of the season. It wasn’t until his confrontation with Rachel which reminded us of how strong of a character he can be. We can understand that his sister Sara is the most important thing to him and why he’ll cross some questionable lines to find her. His humiliation of Rachel was so brutal, it’s difficult not to feel some empathy for a rather unlikable clone. Another highlight is when Felix went undercover to meet Crystal, the blonde manicurist clone. Actor Jordan Gavaris got the chance to use his natural speaking accent and briefly play another persona, something that Tatiana Maslany gets to do every scene.
Tatiana Maslany doesn’t just carry every scene of Orphan Black, she is the show. While there is a potential of diminishing returns in the writers using the same old bag of tricks ie. one clone posing as another, it never gets old in watching Maslany work her magic. Many times we are so absorbed in her performance that we forget it’s the same actress.
There were definite high points in Season 3, although they involved the established characters. Unfortunately, the new characters, new factions, and much of the new story elements didn’t raise season 3 to another level. It’s not to say that there weren’t interesting story developments but that they are hard to emotionally invest in and didn’t fully capture our imagination. The concern moving forward with Orphan Black is how much story is there left to tell in this conspiracy saga where it doesn’t feel like the writers are throwing in a new twist just to keep the show going. Is the show mistaking complexity with convolution? From a personal standpoint, we’ve basically been given enough answers to walk away from the show feeling mostly satisfied, yet it’s the sestrahood and lovable cast of clones that’ll draw us back for more next season.
Did you find Season 3 frustrating or enjoyable for the most part? Which clone had the best story line this season?
Posted on June 21, 2015, in Orphan Black, Television and tagged Evelyne Brochu, Jordan Gavaris, Kristian Bruun, Orphan Black, Orphan Black Season 3 Review, Tatiana Maslany, Television, Television Reviews. Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.