'Orphan Black' Season 4: TV Review

Courtesy of BBC America
So fresh and so clean.
4/14/2016

It's back to basics for the cult show as the fourth season kicks off in lean, fresh and easier-to-follow fashion.

It could be that Graeme Manson and John Fawcett, the co-creators of BBC America's Orphan Black, which enters its much anticipated fourth season on Thursday, heard the feedback from the Clone Club, the super faithful fans of the cult series, to perhaps make things a little less confusing and sprawling.

Manson and Fawcett — as down-to-earth and nice as ever — have complied as Orphan Black gets back to its roots in a rather clever (and surprisingly quick) rebooting of the operating system.

And while the story grew from Sarah (Tatiana Maslany, in one of her many, many roles on this series) finding out that she was a clone to weirder, bigger, more ambitious (some might say unnecessary) twists and turns, it wasn't like the show ever became impenetrable. But essentially discarding the Proletheans, Dyad, remnants of the Castor project (and whatever bits the story might have tackled or tacked on next) in favor of a return to the Neolutionists as the sole big bad here — they were the first and probably the weirdest — is a welcome development.

That's because all Orphan Black ever needed was Maslany playing a ton of roles along with Felix (Jordan Gavaris), her adopted brother. Everything after that was gravy. And some of that gravy — Maria Doyle Kennedy as S, Kevin Hanchard as Art, Kristian Bruun as Donnie — absolutely needs to stay while many of the other recent additions can be swept away. (We could still see Evelyne Brochu as Delphine and we definitely get more Josh Vokey as Scott.)

There was a feeling among fans that an ever-expanding Orphan Black universe actually meant less of Felix and S and Donnie, and that wasn't a great idea. The show killed off Paul (Dylan Bruce) and Dr. Leekie (Matt Frewer), though the current season's obsession with the past yields necessary flashbacks where they get to reappear (meanwhile the excellent Michael Mando, who played Vic, joined Better Call Saul).

A more streamlined Orphan Black is an excellent idea because we're not done yet adding clones; a mysterious new one appears this season, linking the current season to the past (and Beth), a nice little bridge from Manson and Fawcett that makes sense, keeps the clones coming and only expands the cast in the sense that Maslany gets even more to do.

If the first three episodes of the new season are any indication, cutting away all the excess plot machinations has made Orphan Black sleeker and more focused. By having the Neolutionists as the core antagonists, it's a more coherent us vs. them type of situation with the added conceit that Neolutionists can be a lot of different things, keeping the enemy as intriguing as needed.

Also, cutting away complicated mythology looks like it will allow the series to expand a storyline for Felix, although oddly he's barely used in the first few episodes (and more Gavaris is always a good thing — he and Maslany have great, snarky brother-sister chemistry). Even if we don't see too much of Felix, the goal here seems to be to establish this rebooted version of the show first and foremost, then when all the pieces have been rearranged or eliminated, a Felix storyline — he's feeling disconnected (and perhaps slightly abandoned) — can resume.

If you've forgotten, Felix is having feelings of separation and loss because of the big revelation that Sarah is actually related to S, while Felix isn't. To explore that alienation would be welcome, certainly more than forays into the Castor boys and Kira's father.

Keeping it in the family, so to speak, could rejuvenate Orphan Black — if you thought it maybe needed it. For everybody else who remained joyfully entertained by the story and by Maslany's many roles, this slight rejiggering does clear up some distractions and brings back fond memories of season one, when this show was such a revelation.

All told, a nice turn of events.

Cast: Tatiana Maslany, Jordan Gavaris, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Kevin Hanchard, Kristian Bruun
Co-creator: Graeme Manson, John Fawcett

Airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. on BBC America.

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