Thursday, 21 April 2016

ORPHAN BLACK Series 4, ‘The Collapse of Nature’ review

We needn't have worried about Orphan Black's fourth series. It's more than back on form - it's back to breaking new ground.

Hang on to your ego. (Image copyright: BBC America)

Or, to be more accurate, cleverly looking at the ground you thought you already knew from a different perspective. You’ve seen all the characters here before, but in a way you’re seeing them for the first time. They’re viewed from the point of view of the clone Beth, the police detective who started Sarah Manning’s journey into the moral murk of corporate conspiracy by committing suicide in front of her.

Sarah’s brother Felix (Jordan Gavaris) is there – hurrah! – but is dismissed in a short scene as a charmingly mouthy London rent boy being cautioned in the police station; the normally lugubrious Art (Kevin Hanchard) is seen as an attentive friend and single father, while Beth’s boyfriend Paul (Dylan Bruce) is a cold hearted bastard who doesn’t have the guts to end their toxic relationship – not surprisingly, as he’s a clone monitor employed by the DYAD Institute. It all fits around and illuminates what’s already been established skilfully and beautifully. The story forges forward too with the reveal of another clone, the slightly autistic M.K., living a solitary and paranoid life behind a (Dolly the) sheep mask, while informing on the sinister Neolution organisation to Beth.

There are cameos from the clones Alison and Cosima pre-Sarah, but what really impresses is Tatiana Maslany’s portrayal of the fragile Beth. Pills and booze are the only things holding this woman together. It’s completely understandable: she’s learned that she can’t have children, has an extended family of genetic duplicates and an emotionally withdrawn partner, as well as discovered that scientists are implanting maggot-like organisms in the cheeks of Neolutionists. If I had to endure all that I’d probably shoot someone in a panic, the tragedy that finally pushes her over the edge.

Put like that, the catalogue of disaster that befalls Beth sounds laughably melodramatic, but Maslany completely sells it with her believable realisation of a young woman worn out by events and emotional and moral insecurities. Beth’s collapse into sleep in M.K.’s caravan, because she has nowhere else to go, is a low key but telling coda to Beth’s story, particularly if you know what’s going to happen to her.

It’s the sign of a bold and confident series that it can spend most of the opening episode of an eagerly awaited fourth season concentrating on a character barely seen before, as well as looking back over four years to the beginning of the storyline. ‘The Collapse of Nature’ succeeds brilliantly not just because of considered, intricate and focused plotting: Orphan Black spends as much time developing its characters as it does spinning out it’s stories, so you never lose touch with the flawed, but on the whole likeable, people at the heart of its sometimes unwieldy web of conspiracy. For a series that’s always promoted the strength of family, that’s as it should be.

Roll on ‘Transgressive Border Crossing’. This could be a vintage year.

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