In Orphan Black’s fifth and final season, creators Graeme Manson and John Fawcett will get to share the ending they’ve had in mind since the show’s inception. And while it’s not surprising that they’ve taken the care necessary to give the series the right closure, it is impressive that they’ve been able to navigate such a wide-open premise—of an unknowable number of clones, and any number of parties with a stake in this experiment—and still go out with an energy and focus as strong as they began with. Forty episodes in, the stakes are as high as ever, and somehow it’s only gotten more remarkable to watch Tatiana Maslany inhabit all these roles. That’s not to say Orphan Black never got off track (see: Castor clones, Proletheans), but that, following the course-correction of season four, its final season is poised to be the momentous send-off the series deserves.
Orphan Black knows itself and its audience well by now. As last season’s strong return to form acknowledged, it’s Sarah, Cosima, Alison, Helena, and their loved ones who are the draw and the drive behind the story, and season five adheres to this vision, introducing only a few minor new characters to assist in wrapping things up. Overall, the show emphasizes its most compelling characters and dynamics, e.g., Donnie and Helena’s unlikely bond, Cophine’s star-crossed devotion, Sarah and Rachel’s acidic rivalry. The episodes feel pointed and agile in their narratives (as early as episode two, there are tearful goodbyes), while also indulging in the right doses of pure fun and fan service.
Characteristically moving full tilt, episode one picks up the very night that season four left off, with a wounded Sarah navigating the dark woods of the island after a gruesome showdown with Rachel. We are as close as we’ve ever been to the center of this labyrinth, as Cosima wakes up in a yurt at Revival, a small research commune on the other side of the island. As Delphine puts it, “This is the heart of Neolution.” Meanwhile, the Hendrixes, along with a very pregnant Helena, have gotten stir-crazy in their woodland hideout, and Felix is looking for Mrs. S and Kira, who are nowhere to be found after their run-in with Ferdinand. Things are mostly right where we left them, which means that Cosima’s cure has been stolen by the Neolutionists, and Rachel has violently ascended to the position of the cure’s keeper. So perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s Rachel who dominates the start to the season and who’ll likely do so to its end.
Now leading (and ramping up) the Neolution agenda with the blessing of founder P.T. Westmoreland, Rachel orders a full-court press to round up the clones and their co-conspirators. Nearly everyone at some point or another finds themselves hunted or snuck up on by a Dyad underling or the bobbed clone herself. But something’s changed about dear Rachel. Counter to what we all may’ve feared, her newfound power seems to have triggered an epiphany. She has moved past her bitterness and embraced her role as a “child of Neolution,” behaving unusually sympathetically to those she’s terrorized for years now. We can’t wholly trust this new Rachel—she’s pretended to play nice before—yet she shows less resemblance to the monster we’ve known her to be. This blurring of enemy lines lends a fresh tension to the show’s final major conflict, and leaves room for some radical shifts.
Although Rachel’s arc this season is bound to be the most far-reaching, everyone’s storyline thickens. Each clone gets an episode dedicated to her, with Alison up first in episode three. There is inevitably some momentum lost in slowing down and training the lens on one character, but it’s worth it here for the insight gleaned. With more time (and a lot of flashbacks), we better understand Mrs. Hendrix’s path and how this sisterhood has changed her, for better or worse. We also better understand what her path might need to look like going forward.
But the sisterhood, and its long and ugly fight for autonomy, has transformed everyone, not just the sestras themselves. Kira, for example, has been endlessly shuffled around and kept just out of frame, even though her very existence has driven much of the show’s action. Because we’re talking about autonomy and the future, we have to talk about the next generation, so naturally, both Kira’s interests and Helena’s babies come to the fore in this last chapter. Looking into Kira’s special abilities—and maybe even the abilities of Helena’s twins—means the future is open to fantastical elements that have so far only been hinted at.
If this season is about freedom, as the creators have said it will be, that freedom is going to look different for each character. We know that for M.K., who resurfaces early on, it’s about giving herself over completely to her sisters’ cause. For Cosima it could mean a successful treatment; for Krystal it could mean really being let in on the truth and joining the fight; but for everyone, it’s been a long time coming. Season five’s commitment to honoring these complexities suggests we can expect many thoughtful and emotional endings. And because this is Orphan Black, we can expect the wholly unexpected.
Reviews by Lisa Weidenfeld will run weekly