Season 4 of Orphan Black takes the sisterhood back to a time before Sarah came back to town and discovered her clone platform jumping before an oncoming train. A lot of old territory is given origins, like Cosima moving to Minnesota from UCLA to be closer to Canada and the rest of the sisters and Allison learning about guns for the first time. But there’s distinct new territory that manages to be interesting despite this all being a retcon.
After getting a call from MK, a LEDA clone named Mika, Beth goes out to the scene of a Neolution body dumping in the forest and discovers a man with a bifurcated penis and a chunk of his face missing. Mika is a hacker and has tricked Dyad into thinking she’s dead, which allows her to be the best investigator on the movements of Neolutionists and able to feed Beth information on their activities about town. After tracking a bifurcated-penis man to Olivier’s Neolution club, Beth makes an impression on an obvious out-of-the-clique Neolutionist who’s frightened at the thought of one of her own being killed and mutilated.
After walking out on Paul, and having sex with Art, Beth’s CI from the club informs her that her boyfriend is mixed up with people higher up in the Neolution food chain. Beth tracks the boyfriend down only to watch him be murdered and the same patch of face cut from him, which was used as incubation for a familiar Neolution parasite. Scared at the sight of a familiar face coordinating the whole thing, Beth suffers something of a panic attack as she tries to get away and inadvertently shoots a woman in the alley dead.
Going down this road of injecting prologue in a series never sits right with me. It always screams of writers desperately wanting to plant seeds in the chronological past in order to inform events in the present, giving the show an extra season or two of life than it deserves. Watching this episode already hints at that taking place in some form, but I kind of don’t care.
Tatiana Maslany has proven herself more than capable to present multiple characters in such close proximity that you forget that these individuals with similar faces are played by the same actor. And as interesting as the clones have been up to this point, none have really moved as fast in terms of development than Beth. There’s a lot of information thrown at the viewer in one episode without overloading them or ringing hollow. According to Cosima, Beth was the leader of the group, the anchor that kept everyone feeling safe and protected. That’s been hanging over viewers’ heads for three seasons of Orphan Black, but actually seeing her alive is much different. And, again, the acting makes that standout.
Beth is a mess. Prior to killing Maggie Chen, drugs were taking her off the job, an addiction that’s the apparent result of discovering that Paul is a spy, that she’s a common clone with at least three people depending on her, who she’s lying to and keeping separate to help her manage her own life, and nothing she does seems to help her move away from that danger. Literally everything Beth did in this one episode was to find more answers and help the sisters gain some clarity, yet every step she takes brings them all closer to this unknown threat that’s always lurking just beyond their vision. And Beth carries it all, which is rare for Orphan Black since it typically focuses on several clones per episode. This one was all Beth’s and it showcased a character that makes viewers wish she had been there from the beginning
In the present day, Mika has hooked up with Art to contact Sarah and fill her in on what the Neolutionists are up to in Iceland, which might establish the rhythm going forward with the past-and-present flow they’ve clearly set up. Now it’s just a matter of time to see if the acting skills presented are enough to make this an even more character-invested drama than it has been in the past without letting retconning undo what’s been three years of a pretty good show.