One episode was provided prior to broadcast.
As Orphan Black reaches its final stretch, a few questions remain rightfully unanswered: What’s the true fate of the sestras, and will Tatiana Maslany ever be able to top her historic performance in this landmark series?
The answer to the latter is hopefully yes, and the first good thing to note about the season 5 premiere (“The Few Who Dare”) is that Maslany still has some performative tricks up her nine sleeves, even when the show itself feels like it’s entering a deliberate slowdown before the climactic conclusion.
While season 5 feels like a subtle return to the roots of the series, especially in the survivalist derring-do of Sarah, it also feels like an “Episode 11” of season 4. The show’s breezy serialization has never been a hindrance to its best moments, in no small part due to the showrunners’ willingness to reinvent the core characters (not just the clones themselves) whenever needed.
But there’s a noticeable abruptness to the happenings of this new season, which does much to set up Neolution’s endgame and Rachel’s recent turn to sympathetic villainy, without getting to the heart of why we should be surprised or more invested than we already are in the mystery behind its elusive founder. As always, the sestras themselves bail the show out by taking our minds off of these head-scratching narrative decisions and focusing instead on their well-being, almost as fiercely as they look out for each other.
Sarah, for example, is willing to put everything on the line for Kira and Mrs. S, right as the new season opens. Even at the detriment of her life, Sarah’s character arc continues to reiterate how far she’s willing to go (even to her own death) in order to ensure everyone else’s happiness. But the episode also takes care to propose several other possibilities in its foreshadowing, including a haunting moment when Sarah chooses to burn a photo of Kira to keep herself warm throughout the night.
Every sestra gets a similar moment in the premiere, as Neolution hunts them one-by-one. If Neolution were the only threat left to worry about, there might be less tension in Sarah dodging their men in the woods and Cosima slowly discovering the enigmatic “Revival” she’s stumbled upon, noted as the “heart of Neolution.” It’s here that much of the exposition for what we can expect from Rachel and PT Westmoreland’s true aims get revealed, and there’s enough here to second guess the assurances of Art’s new partner, a Neo plant, who suggests “we all live long, healthy lives.”
While secrets of life-extension and perhaps new forays into cloning are discussed in and around Revival, the sestras experience some of the most brutal circumstances. But through it all, there’s a sense that this season will be about resilience in the face of great danger. When season 4 ended, almost everyone was in dire straits, especially Sarah and Cosima. Now we find them in rebound, but in more danger than ever before, while their sestras (Helena and Alison) face even harsher obstacles as Neolution closes in all around them. As a continuation of season 4, it works brilliantly to wrap things up, but it does very little to lead us into a strong and healthy season 5.
It does, however, feel far more focused than it has in the past. There’s a real sense that creators Graeme Manson and John Fawcett have placed the pieces for some actual closure, here, keeping its main ensemble since season 1 mostly intact and rightfully at the heart of this story. It could have been quite easy for the show to have dropped Felix, Donnie, Mrs. S, or Art early on, serving as plot point deaths to impact and drive the sestras. But instead, the show warmed up to more intriguing directions for what turned out to be one of TV’s most endearing dysfunctional families.
That said, I’m not entirely sold on what the show has chosen to do with Rachel, especially in light of Susan’s death last season. Her maniacal bitterness suggested her to be more than unhinged at this point, but season 5 instead finds her in a calm afterglow. Something extraordinary has happened in between these seasons, perhaps with Westmoreland, that the show wants to tease out a bit longer, and there’s just enough reason to stick around and see what happens before making any judgements.
Sarah, however, is the true star of season 5’s return. By the time we get to her mid-episode chase scene through the woods, the audience needs a win from her. We’ve seen Sarah in so many impossible situations, only to find her scrappy wit to be the obvious solution no one can predict. So it’s jarring to find that while she’s still making the hard decisions to stay alive, there’s still some luck aiding her as well, though it’s the kind that could also sneak up on her and turn sour at any moment. This is Orphan Black at its best, and it appears season 4 did the work necessary to get us back to this point. It’s a new day, indeed.
This is Orphan Black at its best, and it appears season 4 did the work necessary to get us back to this point. It's a new day, indeed.