‘Sestra-hood’ triumphs in the ‘Orphan Black’ finale

on Aug14

Sisterhood has always been powerful in “Orphan Black,” BBC America’s small but mighty clone drama. Creators Graeme Manson and John Fawcett were never afraid to take on all sorts of complicated issues — foster care, genetic tinkering, religious zealotry, suburban marriage — but during its five-season run, the show’s strength has always been in the clone sisterhood. The greatest proof of star Tatiana Maslany’s theatrical gift is how quickly the novelty of one woman playing more than a dozen roles wore off and left viewers thinking less about their similarities and more about their differences.

After Season 1, there was no shtick about this sisterhood and, not surprisingly, this sisterhood took the spotlight in the series finale.

[Warning: Spoilers for the final episode, titled “To Right the Wrongs of Many,” to follow.]

As an episode, it was a bit on the tidy side, but the finale’s pacing, plot and even the very obvious messaging, some of which was unapologetically directed at the show’s devoted #CloneClub fans, was quite satisfying. Perhaps the most satisfying, however, is that “Orphan Black” was unafraid of giving the sestras happy endings.

The action picks up right where the previous episode left off, with Sarah (Maslany) trying to save her twin (rather than clone) sister Helena (also Maslany) from the evil Neolutionists who want to use her about-to-be-born children for nefarious purposes, some of which are clear, some of which are not.

John Paterick Mathieson (Stephen McHattie), who had been masquerading around as Neolution founder PT Westmoreland, wants the babies to prolong his life; his hired brain (Dr. Virigina Coady, played by Kyra Harper) and brawn (Det. Maddy Enger, played by Elyse Levesque) are there to help.

But the mighty have fallen. Mathieson, who started the season as the powerful and seemingly immortal Westmoreland, has been reduced to a cartoon villain thanks to his illness and occasional injections of “pharmaceutical-grade methamphetamine.” Coady, who ousted rival Susan Duncan to become the lead scientist for Neolution, is no match for Helena, much less Helena and Sarah, and Enger can’t even get a pot shot off unchallenged.

“I survived you,” Sarah says to the man who would have reduced her to a patent. “We survived you, me and my sisters together. This is evolution.”

As “Orphan Black” pointed out in multiple occasions this season, “the future is female,” and these females are about to win.

Matthieson, Coady and Enger dispatched, Sarah returns to Helena, who was discovered by Art (Kevin Hanchard) while they were separated, as Helena prepares to give birth.

“Orphan Black” has always dealt with obvious themes of identity and choice. But while most dramas limit the second to morality, “Orphan Black” was never afraid to get physical, using eugenics and technology to tackle the complexities of identity, personhood, consent and agency. This season, more than any of the previous made clear that certain decisions, especially those involving a woman’s body, are strictly hers to make.

While the cloning experiments had always served as a thinly veiled metaphor for real-life women’s rights, the finale drops any pretense; as Helena labors, Sarah returns in flashback to a conversation she had with her foster mother, Mrs. S (Maria Doyle Kennedy), right outside a Planned Parenthood facility.

“It’s a woman’s choice,” Mrs. S tells the then-pregnant Sarah. “It’s the most personal one you can make.”

Now, after a years-long adventure that kicked off with Sarah watching a woman who could have been her twin jumping in front of a train to kill herself, Sarah is helping her actual twin give birth, providing the support her foster mother gave her years ago when she herself gave birth. Yes, things are coming full circle.

But the story is not done.

Skip forward several months to the day of Helena’s post-birth baby shower. The new mother now lives in the Hendrixes’ garage with her twin sons (who for most of the episode are called Orange and Purple.).

Things are looking bright, with Sarah preparing to take her high school equivalency test and sell Mrs. S’ house. Cosima, along with her lover Delphine (Évelyne Brochu) and Scott (Josh Vokey), is helping to cure all the Leda clones they can find. Even Felix (Jordan Gavaris) is getting more exposure as an artist.

Sarah, who insists she is fine, has actually been unable to cope with civilian life and the loss of Mrs. S. She’s falling into old habits of sabotaging her future while preparing once again to get away from everyone (although she at least plans on taking her daughter Kira (Skyler Wexler) with her).

But Sarah now has a real support network. Not clones, family, and her family is not going to let her run away.

The core four sestras share a scene together one last time, and even after five seasons, the magic Maslany (and her acting double Kathryn Alexandre) creates is still breathtaking. These are not four versions of one woman, they are four separate women. Where before, Sarah was the catalyst and the problem solver, Cosima, Alison and Helena now help her see that everything they fought for is this: To be a perfect imperfect family. It’s OK for each of them to have uncertainties, because they have each other and their story is not over yet.

Joining them, of course, is “brother-sestra” Felix, who comes baring one last gift for his “galaxy of women” — a list of all 274 Leda clones (courtesy of the reformed Rachel).

It is an unrepentant happy ending, for characters (and perhaps a nation) that could really use one. And while all the characters’ happy endings were a delight, Cosima and Delphine’s happy ending especially stands out in a time when plenty of queer female characters still meet violent ends on TV shows. Their relationship may have been fraught with trust issues, near deaths and estrangement, but Cosima and Delphine have essentially ridden off into the crazy science sunset together on a global journey to cure all the sisters. Now that’s love.

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Twitter: @tracycbrown

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