Tatiana Maslany comforts Tatiana Maslany / Ken Woroner, BBC America

Welcome back to the trip, clone club! I hope you’ve spent the last year reminding yourself who all of the Season 1 characters are, because the Season 4 premiere, “The Collapse of Nature,” was one long trip into the past.

Yes, just in case all the Neolutionist talk in last year’s finale didn’t tip you off, we’re going back to our original villains here on Orphan Black. And more importantly, we’re finally getting a look at what happened with Beth Childs prior to Sarah Manning popping up in Not Toronto.

Tatiana Maslany’s acting justifiably gets endless kudos for this show, but it’s always worth giving credit to the makeup and costume department as well. As Beth, she looked haunted, exhausted, and ill, with tangled hair and a wardrobe that suggested a Type A personality that’s collapsed in on itself. Sarah may have had similar enough hair to slip into Beth’s identity, but in only a few scenes, the show quickly established how little that should have fooled anyone. Though we didn’t see what the final tipping point was that led Beth to that train station, we learned just how hopeless she felt, struggling to unravel a murderous cult while simultaneously figuring out exactly how much of her own life was fake.

The point was also reiterated, as usual, that the Leda clones are strongest when they stick together. Both Cosima and Alison showed up long enough to give a wink to the present day of the show and also demonstrate that this trio was not quite as tight as the Sarah/Cosima/Alison version. Sarah, who never really had the option of keeping them out, developed a support system and a pair of allies who saved her repeatedly. It doesn’t seem like a coincidence that the only time Beth seems to be at peace is when she dozes off on the mysterious M.K.’s couch.

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A very different show from Orphan Black would not have waited until Season 4 to explore the backstory of a character we meet in the opening scenes of the show. But part of what made the first season so effective was that the viewer was discovering the mysteries of the clone world alongside Sarah Manning, which both enhanced all the big reveals and made her ability to react to it in the moment all the more impressive. And in Season 2 and 3, to be blunt, Beth’s backstory didn’t matter.

As it turns out, a lot of that backstory has already been filled in. We knew she had substance abuse issues, we knew she was depressed, we knew Art had feelings for her, and we knew that she’d screwed up rather colossally and killed someone. The new information we’ve now picked up served to deepen that understanding, and also set up a few threads for this season. (Let’s just assume that that associate of Leekie’s is going to be reappearing shortly.) If this episode had a flaw, it was in the perhaps heavy burden it placed on fans to remember the details of Season 1 events. Did anyone else have to remind themselves what the whole situation with Maggie Chen was, or IMDb various minor characters to figure out whether or not they’d appeared before? It’s also hard to have to wait another whole episode to greet all our old friends, brief check-ins notwithstanding.

Still, the whole thing had a certain retro charm to it, serving up “freaky Leekie” references and mad science galore. Plus, there’s a level of satisfaction for anyone who’s stuck around this long to finally learn more about one of the show’s oldest mysteries. It’s unclear if we’re going to be getting more Beth flashbacks, but frankly, seeing her peacefully nod off with M.K. feels like a much more satisfying last glimpse of her than what we know happened next.

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M.K., of course, is our new clone (aside from Krystal. Krystal is coming back, right?), but we don’t get too much about her besides extreme paranoia, a new wig for Maslany, and a vaguely European accent. The ability of various clones to secretly and quickly cross borders in a post-9/11 world might be one of the more outlandish parts of this show, but we’ll just let M.K.’s intense spy abilities and Mrs. S’s connections account for how people are getting back and forth so easily.

And even if we spent a lot of time away from the present day on the show, we did end up back in a familiar spot: Sarah Manning is in imminent danger, and it’s time for her to run again. It’s good to see you again, Orphan Black.

Stray Observations

  • Though she clearly has some affection for them, Beth’s connection to Cosima and Alison seems a lot more business-first than Sarah’s: She needed Alison for money and drugs, and Cosima for help with the science.
  • “She wants an expense report” was just an amazing character note for Alison. Of course she does.
  • Felix being in the police station is obviously just a way to get Jordan Gavaris in the episode, but didn’t it seem like Beth was a little charmed by him? No Leda clone can resist Felix.
  • Paul’s face when Beth brutally reminds him they can’t have kids was like a brief story all its own. It was nice to see Dylan Bruce again, though notably his name was still in the credits, unlike Evelyne Brochu’s. A sign we’re getting more flashbacks?
  • Only for Orphan Black do you take notes like “bifurcated dick, one weird eye.”
  • Really? Beth has never heard of the lesbian/U-Haul thing? Unlikely.
  • Also, hi! I’ll be your new Orphan Black reviewer. Please feel free to share all of your most far-fetched theories in the comments, because I love reading about Orphan Black like Helena loves devouring refined sugar.
  • Speaking of, some light Googling didn’t turn up any easy answers on what this season’s episode titles are drawn from. Anyone have any ideas?

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