As Season 1 of BBC America's Orphan Black came to a close, I found myself thinking what a perfectly serialized show this is. Most genre television shows these days have some aspect of standalone-ness to them that fills in the dead air when the overarching story sputters, but Orphan Black was blessed with a 10-episode season–as opposed to 22 or even 13–that required no filler. With tight writing and multiple, thrilling overlapping stories, the season was a refreshingly dense viewing experience, one that was so addictive and moved so fast that at times it reminded me of (high praise incoming) Homeland's full-steam-ahead storytelling. But Orphan Black was able to do something that not even the buzzy Showtime show could do: maintain that pace for an entire season. Orphan Black is lean, every second counts, and Season 1 was so well plotted and paced that it just kept on getting better and better.
It all led up to tonight's great... no, excellent... no, some word better than excellent finale, which took everything the previous nine episodes did so well and dialed it up for one of the best freshman season-enders in recent memory. "Endless Forms Most Beautiful" was a perfect example of how a finale, especially one that's filed under science fiction, should operate. We expect satisfying answers, we expect big unexpected turns for characters, and we expect things to be bigger. Check, check, and check!
But most importantly, "Endless Forms Most Beautiful" felt like a really, really good episode of Orphan Black and not a stunt, like some finales can be. The pervading theme of individuality in a show about clones (I know, awesome, right?) remained thick in "Endless Forms Most Beautiful," especially in that amazing scene with Sarah, Cosima, and Alison sharing a bottle of wine. I love that the show didn't take the easy way out and turn into some "super team of clones vs. an evil corporation" series. Instead, each clone got to make their own decision of whether or not to take the deal from the Dyad Institute that would supposedly guarantee their safety. It made sense for Alison to take the deal in an attempt to return to normalcy and get any monitoring off her back, just as it made sense for Cosima and Sarah to remain skeptical. Though they're genetic identicals, it's their nurture, not their nature, that's dictating their actions now. And what a set up for Season 2... Alison signed herself over to Dyad, but Sarah and Cosima did not. We get to see BOTH outcomes of the contract, how cool is that?
As for the reveal that the genetic barcode in the clones' DNA was essentially a serial number and a patent that claimed the clones as Dyad's intellectual property, it's the kind of season-finale revelation that falls comfortably between over-the-top shocker and predictable secret. And that's what makes it work so well. It's not flailing for something to blow our minds just for the sake of blowing our minds, it simply fits so well into the overall story and opens the doors to Season 2 wide open while never diminishing the mystery. This is an intelligent, well-crafted series that confidently knows what direction it is heading, which shouldn't be praise for a show but have you seen some of the other aimless series out there? Again, the benefits of a 10-episode season are so obvious here.
We also met another character credit for Maslany in Rachel Duncan, a Dyad executive who is pretty high up the corporate ladder. Is she at the top? I don't know. Is she the original? Felix and Sarah seem to think she's the "proclone" but again, we don't know. Maybe she's behind it all, maybe she isn't. Maybe she's got all these clones running around so she can harvest their organs in case hers fail. Maybe she's just one of the clones who signed herself over a long time ago in exchange for a primo gig at Dyad. Maybe Rachel is really conceited and wants to look at herself all day. Maybe all the clones can join together in one giant clone called Clonetron! It's another present we get to unwrap in Season 2.
Of course we can't talk about adding a new clone without talking about the one we lost. Poor Helena, such a tragic character. But even though I got a little misty when her twin "seestra" (as Helena would say) Sarah shot her, she had to go. There was no way that both she and Sarah could have left that room alive, and sorry Helena, but Sarah is top billed. However, even though she was an out-of-control maniac that killed Sarah's birth mom, it was SO SAD. Her mental instability was a product of brainwashing and inhumane captivity by Tomas (though Dr. Leekie may argue that it's another possible clone defect), and she was a pawn in a game she never asked to be part of. Most of all I'll miss Maslany's feral performance, as Helena was the most distinct clone of the bunch. Again, the easy and happy-ending thing to do here would be to save Helena and bring her over to the good guys, but Orphan Black is showing its dark and daring side and keeping us off balance. It's the fact that Orphan Black isn't taking these easy way outs that makes it so compelling. And it must be nice to be able to kill a character off yet retain the actor's services. Heck, we've seen Tatiana Maslany die three times already.
Also hopping in a grave were Aynsley and Amelia, the former through comical circumstances and the latter a victim of Helena's rage and confusion. But I think I'd rather be stabbed in the stomach by a wildling clone than meet my maker the ridiculous way Aynsley did: by dipping the end of my scarf in a garbage disposal and choking. And Alison just stood there and watched. It immediately reminded me of (Breaking Bad Season 3 spoiler!) Walter White watching Jane choke on her own heroin-flush vomit. Like WW, Alison had the chance to stop the death but chose not to, presumably because Alison was still erroneously convinced Aynsley was her monitor. But maybe it was just because Aynsley was a huge bitch. I think we're looking at a murder investigation coming awfully close to Alison next season, and a possible Dyad intervention to keep Alison cooperative (like Dyad has Paul by the balls because of Afghanistan). As for Amelia, well she certainly didn't deserve to die at the hands of her daughter, but I think it was entirely within Helena's character to kill her.
If there was one story underserved in the finale it was policeman Art's. The police investigation into Beth's murder was tightening all the screws in the last handful of episodes, but in "Endless Forms Most Beautiful," he and partner Angela lost a lot of the heat they had stoked. Not a complaint as the episode was already busy enough, but aside from discovering the existence of Alison, they didn't seem to get any closer to Sarah's secret.
And so Orphan Black ends its stellar first season with Kira likely abducted by Siobhan, who we now know was somehow involved in the whole mystery. Was Siobhan who Rachel called when she said, "You know what you have to do now?" Again, another surprise that awaits us in Season 2. The one downside to a tight 10-episode season? We have about 42 weeks to wait until the next. But if it returns as strong as Season 1, it will be well worth it.
– UP YOURS, PROCLONE is the best email ever.
– Orphan Black looks like it has some numerology going on, though the little easter eggs appear to be simple winking nods and not anything deeper. Cosima's serial number was 324b21. The address of the building that housed Rachel's empty-floor office was 32-4. And Alison's address is 35. There was certainly an effort to make those numbers visible, too. Did anyone catch Sarah's address or apartment number? Anyone notice any other distinct numbers?
– Cosima has the bloody coughs! I love how they tied in clone defects to the story. Fixing her will be part of Season 2... I hope.
– What an outstanding score! Particularly the soft piano strokes of the opening scene and the increasing intensity of the closing sequence. It really elevates what's happening on screen. Remarkable work by Trevor Yuile.
– Hello, Alison Jazzercising! Too funny.
– One thing Orphan Black does so well is redeem characters. It was so great to see Vic in NarcAnon seeking help.
– "I don't want to be your sister, meathead." Sarah is so good at clearly showing where she stands with Helena but also respecting her rights as part of this clone mess. She has no problem telling Helena she doesn't like her, but also accepts that she deserves to know the truth about her birth mother and their relation.
– In our recent poll asking which clone is the best, I had Sarah as the third, behind Alison and Helena. But she was so good and smart and badass in this episode, I might bump her up top.
– It can't be said enough: Tatiana Maslany was amazing all season long. This show's success was entirely reliant on a strong actress to pull off the difficult challenge, and she killed it. Who else is obsessed with her?
– Between Rectify, The Americans, Hannibal, and Orphan Black, this has been an amazing year for new television.
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter if you want to: @TimAtTVDotCom