Midway through the season finale of Orphan Black, Cosima (Tatiana Maslany) arrives at a nondescript warehouse to meet the “chimera,” Kendall Malone (Alison Steadman), genetic template for both Castor and Leda, mother to Mrs. S (Maria Doyle Kennedy), and embittered, sharp-tongued ex-felon. Undeterred by the sniping, Cosima induces Kendall to provide the necessary medical samples with a nod to sorority. “So,” she asks gently, “could you give a sister a little blood?” The knowing look they exchange in this rare, genuinely heartfelt moment, far subtler than any speech, returns Orphan Black to the notion of kinship that’s marked the series from the start, which is that family is more than the sum of nature and nurture. In this, “History Yet to Be Written” emerges as an almost wistful hour, to be filed, after a truly disheartening season, under “too little, too late.”
The episode is a time capsule, with Rachel’s paternal dream, Sarah’s toast to Beth Childs, and the insidious power of the Neolutionists freshening the characters’ connections to all that’s come before. By extension, then, “History Yet to Be Written” sets Orphan Black’s recent weaknesses in stark relief: It’s warm, varied, even sentimental where much of this season has been cold, clinical, emotionally flat; it confidently brings together several narrative threads, including Helena’s prison break, Alison’s campaign, and the Castor Project’s conspiracy, that the nine previous hours left dangling. Here, Orphan Black reclaims what was lost in the expansion of its fictional universe this season: an extraordinary sense of balance.
It emerges as an almost wistful hour, to be filed, after a truly disheartening season, under “too little, too late.”
There is still, as Helena might say, “much moly,” from Rachel’s captivity in an unknown locale to Delphine’s (Evelyne Brochu) testy encounters with Shay (Ksenia Solo), Ferdinand (James Frain), and Dr. Nealon (Tom McCamus), but as in the past, the series manages to drift from one tonal register to another by lashing each new development together under a unified thematic banner. Thus Delphine brooks no nonsense from that creepy mouth-breather Ferdinand, with his love of being “under the heel of a woman,” while Helena, after a bruising scuffle with Rudy (Ari Millen), sets the Castor clone straight when he attempts to draw a comparison between them. “We had a purpose, just like you,” he avers. “No,” she corrects him. “You are rapist.” Similarly, the humor of Helena’s brief dalliance with Jesse (Patrick J. Adams), interrupted when she says, “My family needs me,” finds echoes in the story of Kendall Malone driving Sarah and Mrs. S together, or in Alison’s victory celebration. “I’m all speeched out,” she admits, as if to ward off the insincere posturing of “Community of Dreadful Fear and Hate.” “I know that whatever comes next, we’ll face it together, as a family.”
It’s strange, perhaps, that an episode named for the future should be so concerned with the past, but I prefer to see “History Yet to Be Written” as a strangely fitting end to my own kinship with Orphan Black. Tonight’s finale, with its ludicrous last-minute return to the well of presumed-dead parents (Rachel’s mother) and Neolutionist interference, isn’t enough to overcome the niggling feeling that Orphan Black has passed its expiration date. (And who knows, really? I signed up to recap the fourth season of Homeland last fall fearing it was dead as a doornail, but instead found the series in the midst of a major resurgence.)
And so there’s Helena, softened by the receipt of kindness, asking Donnie (Kristian Bruun) in a childlike voice, “Are we going on election bus with sestra Alison?” There’s Crystal, emerging mostly unscathed from her unconsciousness to indulge in a little slapstick with Delphine as she complains of the “weird things” that keep happening to her. There’s Alison triumphant and Cosima at peace, Felix (Jordan Gavaris) and Mrs. S as badass as ever, Sarah finally reunited with Kira (Skyler Wexler). There’s the sense, in “History Yet to Be Written,” of a fine stopping point for those of us uninterested in the next chapter, because the compassionate sisterhood it constructs within this world of crazy conspiracies and anxious cults is exactly what attracted me to Orphan Black in the first place. Back then, its shortcomings were a matter of unrealized potential, and enough time has gone by to know that the uneven narrative, sometimes baffling and sometimes brilliant, was woven into its DNA all along, but I’m glad that my last memory of the series will be a fond one.
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