August 13, 2017

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Finale Review: “Orphan Black”


ORPHAN BLACK is destined to be remembered more for the showcase it gave to the astonishing Tatiana Maslany than for its own narrative, although of course one couldn’t have existed without the other.  Series creators Graeme Manson and John Fawcett deserve credit not just for their tricky concept of a biological thriller that featured multiple clones constantly rescuing, victimizing and engaging with each other, but for the detail and imagination with which they endowed each clone.  They were less successful with tone and plotting, though, and from season to season (and even within them), the show veered between horror and thoughtful science fiction, political commentary and broad comedy–and, in one season, musical–alternately focusing on action, exposition or psychology.  The pieces didn’t always fit together (the Project Castor season felt like it could have come from an entirely different series), and the result didn’t have the sustained vision of truly great TV, which probably helped to keep its ratings at the “cult hit” level.

It was fitting, then, that the series finale (written by Manson and Story Editor Renee St. Cyr, directed by Fawcett) was presented as two quite distinct halves.  The opening half-hour was a serviceable B-movie horror thriller, in which a pair of Maslanys, Sarah and Helena–along with erstwhile Art (Kevin Hanchard)–fought off the show’s final villains, bent cop Enger (Elyse Levesque) and mad scientists PT Westmorland (Stephen McHattie) and Virginia Coady (Kyra Harper) in the shadowy basement of a medical complex, as Helena attempted to give birth to twins.  In the end, Enger was knocked out and Westmorland and Coady were killed, respectively by Sarah and Helena (the latter was such a trouper that she stabbed Coady in the throat while in the throes of final labor).  It was satisfying, but Westmorland and Coady were simplistic baddies who didn’t reflect the show at its more complicated best.

The finale’s second half rounded out the series with a sweet-natured, emotional postscript.  Set a few months after the traumatic births, it was built around the baby showers for Helena’s boys, whose temporary names of Purple and Orange were eventually changed to Art and Donnie (after clone Alison’s [mostly] supportive husband, played by Kristian Bruun).  The gathering gave Fawcett and Manson a last chance to show off their spiffy technology that allowed all the Maslanys to freely interact with one another (well, almost all–morally impaired Rachel had to sit in the car outside), and of course gave Maslany a last hurrah at simultaneously being British, Ukrainian, Canadian suburban, and US science geek.  The sestras helped Sarah through the hard time she was having after the death of her adoptive mother Siobhan (Maria Doyle Kennedy) in the penultimate episode, and happy endings were plentiful.  There was even a meta touch, as Helena turned out to be the family’s chronicler, with a memoir oddly enough titled “Orphan Black.”

Orphan Black had a remarkable first season, as Sarah learned the truth about herself and encountered body modification fetishists.  After that, it was never less than engrossing, even as it mashed up high- and low-sci fi.  Mostly, though, it was a vehicle for the instantly legendary performance(s) of its star.  In the finale, we learned that there were 274 clones around the world, and there’s no reason to think Tatiana Maslany couldn’t play all of them.

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."