'Orphan Black' series finale recap: The future is female

Ethan Alter
Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
Helena (Tatiana Maslany) and Sarah (Tatiana Maslany). (Photo: Ken Woroner/BBC America)

Warning: This recap contains spoilers for the series finale of Orphan Black, “To Right the Wrongs of Many.”

Well … you can’t say they didn’t warn us. Way back at the beginning of Orphan Black’s final season, creators John Fawcett and Graeme Manson promised Yahoo TV that they would be going for “all the feels” during the show’s last hour, which, I think we can all agree, is absolutely packed to the brim with feels. What they didn’t reveal at the time is just how much they were inspired by Battlestar Galactica‘s 2009 farewell episode, the three-part “Daybreak” extravaganza. (Part 1 aired the week before the actual finale, with Parts 2 and 3 airing back-to-back for a two-hour sendoff.)

And that’s not entirely surprising. After all, few contemporary series finales have proven as divisive as BSG’s, so admitting that you’re using that as your template would likely cause alarm bells to go off in the minds of half of your fanbase. But the structural similarities between the two are too apparent to be entirely accidental: both are built around last-ditch rescue missions (baby Hera in BSG and pregnant Helena in Orphan Black), both incorporate flashbacks to a period before the series began (how great was it to see Mrs. S alive again?), and both wrap up the show’s central conflict (humans vs. Cylons in BSG and Leda vs. Neolution in Orphan Black) by the finale’s midpoint in order to make room for an extended and emotional farewell to fictional people that we’ve grown to love like our own family.

A healthy chunk of Galactica fans didn’t care for how “Daybreak” rushed through the mythology to get to the mushy stuff, and there will almost certainly be Orphan Black fans who are equally miffed with how cleanly “To Right the Wrongs of Many” wraps up the larger Neolution conspiracy. But if you, like me, fight back an urge to ugly cry every time you watch Admiral Adama’s farewell to his son, Lee, chances are you were grinning and tearing up throughout the Clone Club’s last get-together. When Orphan Black started five years ago, the conspiracy took center stage by necessity as the writers were still defining the terms of the show’s universe, as well as observing what the cast, specifically star Tatiana Maslany, was capable of. Once it became clear that viewers were connecting in a very real way with each of the clones — seeing each of them as unique individuals who just happen to share Maslany’s face — the show started to boil off the extraneous mythology, reframing itself around one central mission: the Ledas’ fight for personhood.

In fact, this season mostly dispensed with the pretense of conspiracy altogether: From the premiere on, it’s been entirely clear who the threat is — Neolution co-founder P.T. Westmoreland, a.k.a. John Patrick Mathieson, and the remaining henchmen and henchwomen in his employ. Those goons fell away one by one until, at last, we were only left with three: Engers, Coady, and Mathieson himself.

Picking up in the immediate aftermath of the penultimate episode, “One Fettered Slave,” the first 15 minutes of “To Right the Wrongs of Many” was given over to a cat-and-mouse game featuring Sarah and Helena as the mice and the aforementioned trio as the felines. Engers was the first to lose this contest, followed by Coady, paving the way for a winner-take-all title bout between Sarah and John.

While the old man gets the drop on his “daughter,” the fight very quickly turns in her favor and she claims victory with an expertly delivered declaration of independence: “This is evolution.” Sarah doesn’t have a lot of time to celebrate, though, because Helena’s twin “behbies” are being born right the hell now. With Art’s help, she delivers two squalling boys into her sestra’s waiting arms. And if you’ve seen enough horror movies, you’re sitting there thinking that the monster can’t possibly be dead yet, especially when a happy ending seems oh so close. So you steel yourself for Mathieson to rise up behind the happy family and fire a bullet right into Helena’s head. But no — that dragon really has been slain and the Ledas are free. So … what now?

Sarah (Tatiana Maslany). (Photo: Ken Woroner/BBC America)

As it turns out, that’s exactly the question on Sarah’s mind as we take a BSG-style time jump into the near future where everyone is preparing for the group hang to end all Orphan Black group hangs: a Clone Club birth shower/BBQ. For roughly 20 minutes, all four clones are in the same space and frequently in the same frame, a combined feat of special effects and performance that the production, not to mention Maslany herself, must have been conserving their resources for all season long. (It would certainly explain that stretch in the middle of the season where we only had three clones per episode in our power rankings.) Not invited to the party are Krystal, Tony, and Rachel, although the first two are referenced and the latter is rewarded with an onscreen farewell from Felix for her part in bringing about Neolution’s downfall.

But this is primarily a fete for the Core Four, who certainly have plenty to celebrate. Alison has found her post-California equilibrium — keeping the funky purple hair, while also reasserting some of her domestic warrior ways — and Donnie is gainfully employed in the white-collar world. Helena and her two kids are happily living in the garage previously used as the Hendrixes’ makeshift burial ground. As for Cosima and Delphine, they’re madly in love and eager to start distributing cures to the remaining Leda population, which currently stands at 274 souls all around the world. Sarah, on the other hand, has been unable to adjust to life during peacetime. A plan to finally earn that high school degree has crashed and burned the same day as the BBQ, and her only desire now is to live somewhere, anywhere that isn’t her dead mother’s home. She’s a soldier in need of that now-elusive next battle, not ready or willing to face the war that’s taking place inside herself.

And now, at the end of things, we come to the place where Orphan Black parts ways with Battlestar Galactica. “Daybreak” ended with the Galactica crew going their separate ways to start their lives, and, essentially, the entire human race, over from scratch. “To Right the Wrongs of Many” depicts the characters heading down their own paths by drawing strength from their sestrahood, the story of which is preserved by Helena in her now-completed Clone Club autobiography called — what else? — Orphan Black. Once a source of fear and uncertainty, their shared history as clones is what forms the root of their individual power.

It even brings the eternally restless Sarah a measure of peace, helping her realize that she’s not alone in this world. The series began with Sarah witnessing a woman with her face leaping in front of a moving train, a suicidal fever dream that spoke to her own pervading sense of isolation. Now, five years later, it ends with her looking at the home she’s inherited from her mother, where she’ll in turn raise her own daughter with the help of Uncle Felix and her many aunts. “I’ll live on in your daughter — you’ll remember me,” Mathieson warned Sarah before she delivered the killing blow. Sorry, John, but Kira’s future is most definitely female. So say we all.

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