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.  

Orphan-Black-Season 3 Helena and Sara

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.

Orphan-Black-Alison and Donnie Hendrix Naked

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?

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Posted on June 21, 2015, in Orphan Black, Television and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. Just before this season began I read a review that mentioned how the show got a bit lost with the Castor clones and the reason they weren’t as individual as the Leda clones was because Castor was military and they were meant to be similar. After seeing the season play out, I’m glad the Castor clones are down to one. They certainly weren’t as interesting and, while the actor who played them is good, wasn’t able to bring enough depth to the clones.
    I agree about the transmittable disease not being explored to its potential. It certainly would have been a disturbing storyline to develop. Maybe it was too dark of a direction for the writers/producers to follow.
    Alison is my favorite clone and the humor with her and Donnie’s story was fun. The scene with those two dancing on the bed with the money is burned into my brain! Alison’s mom was perfect as well and provided good insight into Alison’s personality and actions.
    Helena is definitely the emotional center of the show. Who would have thought a Ukrainian assassin would be so lovable and caring. I do hope the writers go away from the now predictable arc of her being kidnapped and then escaping. It’s been firmly established Helena can hold her own and deserves a more worthwhile plot.
    Fe also deserves better. Jordan Gavaris was excellent the first season and it’s disappointing he was sidelined as a caretaker most of the season.
    I continually forget Tatiana plays each of the clones. She is spectacular to say the least and her co-stars do an excellent job as well. This is no more evident than when a clone pretends to be another clone. Yes it can get overplayed. But hopefully the writers realize it and make it happen rarely.
    I liked the ending better this season than the last. But do see your point about the viewers having enough to walk away satisfied with the progression and what’s been revealed. I see this series as best if it’s kept to a minimal of seasons, five at the absolute most. A continued, convoluted show would be bad and disappointing for everyone. Let’s hope season four learns from this seasons misses and comes back stronger. Not that this season was bad, it just lost its way for a bit.
    Great season review!

    • Going into this season I was skeptical about a new set of clones but I tried to keep an open mind. I also watched an interview with the actor explaining how the military origins explained their similarity. It felt like a missed opportunity though and those clones didn’t get strong enough material. I don’t mind the actor, he does creepy very well, just wished we saw other facets. I think the more the show focuses on the Leda clones it’ll be for the better.

      Yeah, it would be too dark for the show to follow through with the disease spreading. This isn’t that kind of show, it’s more about a personal level drama than a world wide apocalypse event. I feel that it was an interesting idea that was brought up but kind of left in the sidelines.

      There were a lot of mother reveals this season, including Alison’s mom. Loved the dancing on the bed with the money and so funny when the kid walks in! So outrageously fun! Helena is a tricky character to write for. I agree, let’s hope she’s not imprisoned again. They’re running out of factions to kidnap her haha. Helena sort of started out as a fringe clone, it’s amazing how she’s now the emotional center.

      I think Fe is another character tricky to write for. Hopefully the writers can find a way to give him his own arc that’s also relevant to the major story line. I do like his relationship with each of the clones. He’s a great actor that can do much more than what’s given to him this season.

      I think this season was paced better than Season 2. Last season’s finale was crammed full of reveals even though this finale has them too they felt spaced out more. This season ended on a pretty much triumphant note, the sisters basically coming out ahead which was nice. It also came at a cost with Delphine’s death. Not sure how many people liked her this season but I thought her character worked. I may have been a tad hard on season 3, it’s still very watchable and mostly enjoyable. But there’s still things that can be improved upon. Five seasons makes a lot of sense, I hope it doesn’t become one of those shows that overstays its welcome and drags on. Thanks a bunch and it was nice to write about something other than GOT for a change lol. 😀

  2. I enjoyed the season. I remain as impressed as ever with Tatiana. Whether it is the characters she has been playing for three seasons or a new clone, she continues to amaze. And I never tire of the old having one clone pretend to be another trick. She plays it with such nuance, I remain impressed every time.

    Helena was definitely the clone of the year. Alison was my favorite for the first two seasons, but Helena stole the show this year. I thought her scenes with Donnie in the second half of the season were particularly great.

    I don’t really know how I feel about all the plotting and conspiracies. For whatever reason, I just don’t find myself all that intrigued by it anymore. The Castor stuff didn’t do a ton for me this season. Just in general, I’m never dying to find answers to the questions they raise. I think the general what the fuck-ness of the clone introductions in Season 1 was the highlight of this side of the show. It was back then that the show was at its best, combining both the great characters/acting with an interesting initial mystery. Maybe after three seasons of circling around with different companies and groups and secret organizations, I’m just kind of meh on that side of things. Because of that I’m not sure they can recapture the lightning in a bottle that was the first season.

    Despite that I really enjoy watching the show each week for the character relationships and acting. The rest is kind of just there. Anyway, great review. I think you nailed the strengths and weaknesses of this season.

    • I’m continually impressed with Tatiana. I heard she had the idea for the blond airhead Crystal clone during season 2 and the writers worked with her to bring that character in this season. The show is pretty crowded but I hope to see more of Crystal.

      Helena is amazing. She’s consistently well written and played to perfection. I’m not sure how the writers come up with stuff like the talking scorpion, but its very weirdly interesting to get inside her head like that. Yeah her scenes with Donnie were great and I like how much she took an immediate shining to Donnie.

      You described very well why the conspiracy stuff isn’t clicking lately, I think better than what I tried to get across in my post haha. When I look back at some of the big reveals like the original Castor, my reaction isn’t so much OMG, it’s … well okay. And for Rachel’s mom reveal, I didn’t know who she was; I was mixing her up with Mrs. S’ mom. It’s also not a burning question for me to find out more about Susan Duncan and what she’s been up to.

      I totally agree with all the points you made about season 1. It felt fresh and my interest in the mystery behind the clones was at it’s highest. Pretty crazy stuff. I think the writers had more time developing Season 1, it was an idea they were working on for a long time. Now there are many different organizations yet I don’t think a show stealing villain has ever emerged from any faction.

      I do enjoy the show, I’ve been watching them in big chunks this season. Last month I watched eps 4-6 in one day and last Saturday I watched 7 -10. Then on Sunday I unleashed my reactions in this post lol. Thanks a lot, I wasn’t sure if I was being too harsh or if others felt the same way. I’m still learning to capture how I feel in these reviews.

  3. I was very impressed by Tatiana Maslany in Woman in Gold. I might check out this series as it’s on Amazon Prime. Not sure when I’ll get to it though, but have heard great things!

  4. Good to hear she’s getting movies roles too, I haven’t heard about Woman in Gold before. I think it’s worth a try on Amazon Prime if you find the time. The pilot opens really strong and leaves the viewer wondering what’s going on and what’s going to happen next. And there’s not too many sci-fi shows on air right now that has as many solid female lead characters.

  5. I don’t read your review at all as you said it contains spoiler.

    my friend recommended me this series just last night, I wonder what you think, should i give it a try or not ?

  6. So true, character driven for sure-great actors, castors a bit of snore, but can’t wait till next season:)

  7. Season 3 was definitely convoluted, and the Castor clones did not move me in the same way the Leda clones do – but then, this show is really about the Leda clones, they are the heart, so that makes sense.
    I find it interesting that you say solving Dephine’s murder will be a driving force to start season 4, when we aren’t really sure that Delphine is dead, and many fans hope that indeed she is not.
    Let’s hear it for Maslany’s Emmy nomination, btw!

    • I agree the Leda clones are the heart of the show. Too bad though about the Castor clones.

      Yeah, the producers are playing coy on how grave Delphine’s gunshot wound is, which is a sign she’ll probably be back. I really like that actress. I was so excited when I heard Maslany got the Emmy nom! Thanks for commenting and stopping by.

  1. Pingback: Everybody’s Chattin + Question of the week: Supporting cast you wish got the lead role |

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