June 11, 2017

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Premiere Review: “Orphan Black”


ORPHAN BLACK:  Saturday 10PM on BBCAmerica

A somewhat meta line of dialogue about “consolidation” is a sign that ORPHAN BLACK has commenced its final (and 5th) season.  Series creators Graeme Manson and John Fawcett (Manson is credited as writer of the season premiere, Fawcett as director) have started to move their pieces toward the center of the board, not a bad idea for a series that’s often been unwieldly, a shaky vessel for the titanic central performance(s) of Tatiana Maslany, who plays every one of the show’s adult Project Leda clones.  Although the series put BBCAmerica on the original programming map, it never became the breakout hit that seemed within its grasp, and at least in part that was probably because of its uneven storytelling.

After the initial origin-story season, the tone of Orphan Black has often wobbled between philosophical science fiction (episode titles refer to the writings of Darwin, Bacon, Dwight Eisenhower, Donna Haraway, and this season the poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox), dark comedy, conspiracy thriller and horror.  (The less said about the Project Castor season, with its military male clones, the better.)  It appears from the Season 5 premiere that action-adventure will be the presiding genre of the final stretch.  The corporate mad scientists of the Neolution movement appear to be merging with the more individualistic cult of the purportedly 170-year old Dr Westmoreland, the father of the cloning process, whose followers live in yurts on a far-off island that also seems to be occupied by the products of his failed genetic experiments.  The persona of the combined forces is the clone Rachel, who by the end of the premiere had been responsible for capturing most of her sisters in a multi-pronged attack both on Westmoreland’s island and the mainland.

The question for Season 5 will be the same one Orphan Black has always faced:  whether the writing can keep up with the extraordinary Maslany.  We’ve already had plenty of shadowy conspiracies, and we’ve seen Rachel being ruthless, Sarah heroic, Cosima foolhardy, Allison high-strung, and Cosima fruitfully insane.  What we’ve heard so far about Dr. Westmoreland has made him sound like a B-movie villain, and the introduction of a presumably monstrous beast on the island doens’t exactly raise one’s hopes that the series is heading in an unexpectedly ingenious direction.

Even if Orphan Black remains the medium-level thriller it’s mostly been over the past few seasons, it will be worthwhile as the showcase for Maslany, who will probably never have this kind of opportunity in a single drama again.  And perhaps the series has some surprises up its final sleeve, twists that won’t feel like they’ve been cloned from genre tropes.  It would be marvelous if our last ride with Clone Club could be the best.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."