Evelyne Brochu, Tatiana Maslany / Ken Woroner, BBC America

The fifth season of Orphan Black may be its final one, but in the premiere, at least, a few things look awfully familiar. Sarah’s in a fight for her life, Cosima is trying to learn more about Neolution from the inside, Helena is trying to murder people. But their current circumstances are pretty drastically different from what they’ve been in the past.

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Sarah, of course, started the show as a deeply selfish person. She was separated from her daughter not because of some terrifying science cult, but because she wasn’t a good caregiver for her. To see her now, risking her life over and over again for Cosima, is a measure of how far she’s come.

It’s also an example in miniature of the extraordinary drive to survive that Sarah has always had. All of the clones are extraordinary in their own ways, but what has always set Sarah apart is not just her ability to get herself out of bad situations, but in her white-knuckled, tampon bandage-improvising burn to keep living, to keep staggering on through the woods.

But some of that drama is undercut by the underwhelming reunion scene with Cosima, who has decided, in a very short amount of time, to stay in a camp run by a woman she just witnessed trying to murder her mother. Does she have much reason to believe she can make something positive come out of this experience? Granted, the clones are very much at a disadvantage at this point, given the degree to which the Neolutionists are overwhelming them, but the risk she takes, particularly after seeing what Sarah has gone through to rescue her, doesn’t quite land.

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Of course, that does lead to the very fine scene where Rachel, ultimately, gives Cosima the cure. It’s easy to think of Rachel always in relation to Sarah, since the two of them have so often locked horns, but Cosima is now stuck on an island with her. And let us mention here the season’s first “wow, Tatiana Maslany is good at acting against herself.” The mingled fear, distrust, and hope on Cosima’s face as she lets the person she trusts least in the world approach her with a large needle to save her life shows how much work the show has done in its characterization of these women and their relationships with each other.

The focus on the island means that we get a bit less of the rest of the gang, and nothing at all of Mrs. S and Kira, who remain with Ferdinand, presumably. Felix is stuck once again in a sort of coordinator role, playing the middleman between the various clones, and the secret forest hideout gets found. How did they finally find them out there? It’s not like Alison and Donnie had been venturing in and out and leaving a trail.

The episode also generates a fair amount of sympathy for Art, who has perhaps the most peripheral connection to these people at this point. The reason he had for helping them in the first place is long gone, and in the time since, they’ve committed an extensive list of crimes, some of which weren’t particularly justified. And yet, he’s still stuck with them, endangered by his connection to them, painfully aware of the degree to which the police have been infiltrated, and now trapped in a holding pattern with a sinister new partner (who telegraphs EVILLLL perhaps a bit too much from the moment you meet her). The brief glimpse of a photo of his daughter is not quite enough to make up for the fact that we know very little about who Art is beyond his begrudging willingness to help the clones get through this. But it is pretty much par for the course that once a person gets inducted into Clone Club (see Scott, Delphine, etc.), they’re in it for the long haul.

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So much of the narrative drive of the show has been about the clones being able to one-up their enemies by being just a tiny bit more clever, and a great deal more scrappy. As we head into the show’s final episodes, though, we’re at a juncture where everyone is more or less out in the open. Virtually everyone is in the clutches of Neolution, with the exception of Helena, and even Rachel’s actions may be slightly more telegraphed, considering how close she’s keeping everyone. What happens when these people actually have to interact with each other face to face?

Stray observations

  • “Helena was out murdering God’s creatures and my husband abandoned me.” Just another Saturday night for Alison.
  • What the heck is up with Mud? If the Neos wanted Cosima to feel at home, maybe they shouldn’t have sent their single weirdest member to get her acclimated.
  • In case you were wondering which people you were going to dislike this season, the writers helped you out by having them spit threateningly. Sure, it only happened twice (Maddie the bad cop, and that dude who was hunting Sarah), but I will now be identifying all new villains by their tendency to spit.
  • I mean, obviously I was going to use the sweet Delphine/Cosima image on this one. But it does feel particularly trolly to reunite those two only to split them up again immediately, right? As ever, it is a relief to know that no matter where Delphine is in the world, she retains access to high quality hair care products.

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