Thursday, April 14, 2016

REVIEW: 'Orphan Black' - Flashbacks Show Beth's Previous and Deadly Run-In with Neolution in 'The Collapse of Nature'

BBC America's Orphan Black - Episode 4.01 "The Collapse of Nature"

After two months of respite, Sarah's hard-won refuge in Iceland is shattered by a Neolution attack. Once again forced to flee, she realizes no matter how far her family runs it will never be far enough.

Orphan Black lost itself quite a bit in all of the conspiracies of the third season. The show chose to go bigger and deeper into this world of mystery. It didn't always work out well. Multiple new characters and stories were introduced that ultimately pushed the core dynamics that worked to the back-burner a little bit. Plus, all of the plot machinations weren't always entertaining. It was a world-bending twist that Mrs. S' mother is the original DNA sample for both the Leda and Castor clones. But that really didn't mean anything because it didn't make much of an impact on the characters. And yet, the third season also closed with finality on a number of stories - namely everything that was associated with Castor. And now, the show has the chance to take a step back and simplify things in the hopes of making things entertaining and compelling to watch once more.

The show revisits its past in order to prepare for its future in "The Collapse of Nature." The season three finale teased that Neolution was going to make a big return to the show this season. A world of body modifications in the hopes of human evolution is the new antagonistic force the Leda clones will have to deal with this year. It was a threat previously in the show's life but not a very meaningful one. It wasn't surprising at all when it was cast aside to make way for even more complicated conspiracies at the center of the action. And yet, this premiere suggests that Neolution has been behind it all and has been a key player since before the show even began. In order to make that moment work as well as it should, the premiere flashes back to a time when Beth was still alive and trying to make sense of this conspiracy as her world was changing around her.

Over the course of three seasons, the audience has come to know a lot about Beth. Most of that information has come through Sarah. She has impersonated her several times in order to get to the bottom of these mysteries. But so much of what the audience knows is the minor details that Sarah had to take on in order to pretend to be Beth. This episode presents a first true glimpse into who this woman was and how her life was spiraling out of control to the point where she stepped in front of that train in the series premiere. Most of these details have already been known by the audience and characters for a long time. She shot a civilian which ruined most of her credibility with the police department. She was being monitored by Paul and could feel that he was pushing away from her. And yet, it is still compelling to see Beth as she is living this life in the pursuit of answers after a case with a dead Neolution body lands on her lap.

Beth gets this case purposefully too. The premiere already introduces the new clone of the season in M.K. - a reclusive European woman who is scared for her safety at all times but also wants to help Beth get to the bottom of what Neolution is up to. It's meaningful that Beth was interacting with her more than she was with Cosima and Alison. She kept M.K.'s presence from them. And in the years since Beth's death, M.K. hasn't reached out to the other clones either. Sarah and company got mixed up with Neolution before and got noting from her. So, it must be important that M.K. is becoming a part of their story now. It's a different type of character as well. She's someone who isolates herself in order to protect her safety. She's not afraid to get up close to the devastating acts that the Neolutionists are capable of. But she always wants to wear her sheep mask in order to protect her identity. That's an important characterization. She may have a ton of valuable information. But getting it out of her could be quite difficult to do.

This premiere also works because of just how straight-forward it is with its concept. It's largely about Beth investigating this Neolution murder. Orphan Black essentially becomes a police procedural for a week. Of course, it's not as simple as that. This hour only sets up more mysteries and questions for the future. It doesn't offer a ton of resolution or clarity to the new threat that Sarah and company will be dealing with this season. It confirms that Neolution is a movement deeply rooted in street antics. People are modifying themselves for some sick and twisted reasons. It's not clear what the purpose of all of these changes are either. Something nefarious is going on. This murder case eventually leads Beth to an abandoned building where Olivier and Astrid pull some biological entity out of a man's cheek. This whole story leads up to that reveal. The episode establishes the importance of the cheek early on - considering the dead man is missing his. It does nothing more than tease that Neolutionists are still up to something nefarious. But it's an effective tease nevertheless.

The hour also takes the time to explore Beth's life as it spirals out of control. She's coping with this newfound knowledge of clones by using drugs. It's just enough to keep her functional. But everyone around her is on edge and worried about her ability to do her job. They see that something is up with her. Art wants to know what's going on. She keeps all of them at a distance. She chooses to handle this world by herself. That's not enough though. She desperately wants to connect with someone else. Paul can't provide that for her. He's distant and she doesn't know why. She doesn't care either. With Art, they are able to act on their attraction. But it's still not genuine because she doesn't tell him about what's going on in her life. She relies on him after she shoots Maggie Chen by accident. The premiere does a nice job of flipping that event that's long been a part of the narrative on its head. Beth was fleeing capture by Neolution when it happened. It was a legitimate accident. But it still rocks her to her core. The only person she can rely on in this situation is M.K. She is there for her unlike anyone else. That establishes importance and intimacy with M.K. right away. That's going to be important too considering Neolution has found out where Sarah and the rest of her family have been hiding in Iceland.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Collapse of Nature" was written by Graeme Manson and directed by John Fawcett.
  • So much of the focus in this opening episode is on Beth. That really works too. Alison and Cosima do get their brief appearances though. Beth is manipulating both of them for her own reasons. She needs pee from Alison and Cosima to be close to help cure the German clone.
  • Also, is it a good or bad thing that the German clone doesn't pop up again? She had a very brief life on the show and this flashback could have made her important. Or it could have served as a remainder that it was an accent that really didn't work at all.
  • It's so amusing to see Alison really into the gun that Beth has just gotten her. She somewhat lost her edge last season with her run for School Trustee. Hopefully, this signals that she'll return to being a badass this season.
  • While the integration of Alison and Cosima into this premiere works, the Felix inclusion is really forced and completely unnecessary. It shows how criminal and chaotic his life was before Sarah returned to town and brought him into the clone conspiracy. But it's also framed as him being so close to Beth but not recognizing her.
  • Most of the stuff with Neolution died alongside Dr. Leekie. So it's not surprising at all that he pops up again here to help connect all of that stuff together. It largely amounts to him saying something cryptic about his colleague, Evie Cho, being associated with the Leda clones.
  • M.K. reaches out to Art of all people when she needs to warn Sarah that her safe house in Iceland is no longer safe. She knows about the existence of the other clones. But she still decides to trust the person that Beth trusted the most. Hopefully, that leads to a more active role in the story for Art.