The first half of this season of Orphan Black, one of my favorite shows, was nothing less than tragic to watch. Tragic because it seemed that this show had pulled a Broadchurch Season 2- that is, taken on a storyline that was doomed from the very beginning and filmed all the episodes before they aired, so that no changes can occur as the season played out, but rather this year was almost certainly destined to be a waste of time no matter what happened in the end.
That storyline was the teaser from last year's cliffhanger ending, with Ari Mullen introduced as the soldier boy clones. I knew from the moment we met him that whatever this "boy clone" situation was, the only way it could possibly work was if Mullen somehow possessed the same talent for playing multiple characters that one Tatiana Maslany had when she created Sarah, Alison, Helena and Cosima, and within about 15 minutes of the premiere, the answer very clearly became a resounding no. No, he does not. So from that point on we are saddled with a dreadful, boring, inexplicable plotline involving the same guy with the same haircut in a bunch of different outfits, going around stalking Sarah for whatever impossible to understand reasons involving the mysterious Project Castor, the brother to Project Leda, and you know what? It's not even worth talking about. This story was sunk the second it was realized that Mullen cannot distinguish between any of the clones he was playing, and the "big bad" of Season 3 was a massive failure.
This led to at least five terrible episodes in a row, despite the fact that Maslany still plays her characters well, and the supporting cast around her does a bang up job themselves- we still love Fe, Mrs. S, Donnie, Scott and Delphine, but none of that matters because SO much time is wasted on Castor and what they're doing and why they're doing it, and even though I did sit through those episodes, I couldn't tell you a single thing about what's happening in any of them. At the best of times, the mythology of this show was always incomprehensible, but this year it became pure gibberish. I was this close to quitting Clone Club, guys. And then we got to episode six, and suddenly the boy clones are gone. Just like that. And we get an episode of all Tatiana Maslany going between Beth, Sarah, Helena and back again. The one after that it's time for suburban hijinks with Alison and Donnie, but with Cosima thrown into the mix and more focus on a love triangle with Delphine and new flame Shea. I was pulled back, as I always am, by Maslany and her amazing ability to interact with completely different versions of herself, and then they introduce Crystal the ditzy manicurist, another new Maslany clone, who crackles with Felix in a hilarious con job act, and before I knew it I was back in. Episodes six through ten were good enough and fun enough and such a massive 180 turnaround from what had been the main arc of the season that I almost got whiplash.
So what happened here? A season that was going down the toilet suddenly saved itself midstream, even though this series had all been filmed ahead of time? My guess is that the Castor storyline was such a complete misfire that it became obvious during production, and the writers decided to shut it down as best they could and use Maslany to salvage what was left of the episodes. By the time the finale rolls around, the characters of duplicitous Delphine and murderous Helena and been boosted to be the most useful they ever have been, while Mullen is all but pushed off to the side, only to be brought back when absolutely necessary to wrap up what I suppose they felt was important about the Castor situation. I have to give them credit for managing to right the ship, because they did a pretty good job of it in the handful of final episodes. Helena moving in with the Hendrix's led to some outstanding scenes with her and Donnie, and since Donnie and Alison's drug dealing business had mostly been tangential anyway, the writers used it to bolster the material in the last few episodes, and precarious state of their marriage. And Delphine helps lead the always murky conspiracy story back to Leda and Neolution (the mysterious villains from the first season) and away from the god awful Castor stuff, while also keeping up with the character relationships and drama with Cosima and Scott (with an appearance or two from Rachel, the now one-eyed evil clone of the bunch).
So the show managed to win me back with the remainder of the season, which was every bit as good in places as the best of Orphan Black, but boy is that first half dire. I guess everyone makes mistakes, huh? At least Graeme Manson and John Fawcett were smart enough to realize that before it torpedoed the season completely. Still, the only good thing that happened in the first half was the shipping off of Keira, the forever in danger daughter of Sarah, to Iceland with her dad Cal (that was long overdue), and so I would honestly give this schizophrenic season two separate grades. An F for the first part and a solid B+ for the second. What does that average out to? I guess I'd say a C, only because if you are a fan of this show, get through the first five eps, and I promise you it will get better. And I think because of that we have the proof that the writers kind of know what works and doesn't, and that next season will have a more balanced approach. At least I hope so. Because Maslany still rocks, and the more you give her to do, the better the show becomes. No more boy clones, guys. Ever again.