When it was first announced that Orphan Black Season 4 Episode 1 would go "back to the beginning," I was wary.
All too often, when a show resorts to lengthy flashbacks, it acts as a drag on the present-day "main" storyline. It's hard to pull of an engaging prolonged flashback sequence (here's lookin' at you, Arrow).
Luckily, Orphan Black absolutely delivered, and the flashbacks are incredibly useful at clarifying some of Orphan Black's more clunky backstory.
As usual, Tatiana Maslany's incredibly strong and nuanced performance carried this installment to the finish line, making it something truly great. She spent most of "The Collapse of Nature" as Beth Childs, the clone whose suicide kick-started the events of the entire series.
I've always been interested in knowing more about Beth. In dribs and drabs we've been told what she was like, how people felt about her, and the circumstances that led to her death. Seeing it in real time, though, and having Maslany pull us so close to Beth's struggle, was an altogether different experience.
The season premiere takes place shortly before Beth accidentally shot Maggie Chen, and the lead-up to that moment is brilliant. We're not aware right away that what we're seeing is the lead-up to this major moment until it very suddenly happens.
At that point, everything fits together perfectly, and the impetus for her suicide snaps into place.
Let's rewind a bit.
In the opening moments of the premiere, we meet M.K., a brand new (to us) clone. It is also revealed that M.K. (or Mika, as Beth calls her) is sort of the brains behind the early clone team-up.
At one point, she chastises Beth for revealing to Cosima and Alison that they are clones. It's not directly stated, but seems to be heavily implied that M.K. is the one who reached out to Beth initially and told her all about the clones, Neolution, and all of the clone-adjacent madness.
M.K. is an interesting character so far, though we know little about her. Clone-wise, she seems to be most similar to Helena – offbeat and eccentric, but ultimately loving and loveable.
All of the clones are quirky in their own ways, and M.K. has her own twitchy, paranoid brand of quirkiness going on (her very exact powdered iced tea preparation, for one thing).
As usual, the writers do a fantastic job of making M.K. immediately distinguishable from the other clones, and Maslany's great performance does the same.
Maslany's accent work is flawless as always, with M.K., although that particular accent did make it slightly difficult to understand her at a few moments. For example, I'm pretty sure she called the paramedics/Neolution "sheep choppers" (?), but I could also totally be making that up.
Anyway: M.K. spots two paramedics burying a body and sneaks away to phone Beth, kicking off Beth's latest case. When Art and Beth arrive on the scene, it is revealed that Beth is lying to him (and everyone else) about her source, claiming it was an anonymous tip that led her to the body (not, y'know, her clone-sister M.K.).
I'd also like to take a moment to express my greatest appreciation for the reappearance of Janis Beckwith, a.k.a. the sassiest coroner in all the land.
OK, well, that's cheeky. Cause of death? Have to go with... exploding cigar.Janis Beckwith
I. Love. Her.
The victim is not only missing a cheek. He's also got several body modifications, like the one creepy white eye that's pretty much standard for all Freaky-Leekies. He's also sporting a bisected penis. Just hearing that phrase scarred me as much as seeing it apparently scarred Art.
Beth decides to track down her own leads solo, since she can't very well explain to everyone that her clone-sis is the one feeding her intel. Art is suspicious of her, her boss is suspicious of her, Raj is... well, Raj is not really suspicious of her, because it's long been established (since the days of Sarah impersonating Beth) that Raj had a serious thing for Beth.
Everyone is suspicious of Beth because she has a serious drug problem and it's pretty noticeable. Like most plot points in this premiere, this is something that was established early on in the series, but seeing it in real time, as we remain close to Beth, experiencing the events of the premiere focalized through her eyes, it's actually quite jarring.
We can clearly see Beth spiraling, and it's an absolutely harrowing portrayal of someone in the depths of depression, paranoia, and drug addiction. This is what I always imagined Beth to be acting like before her suicide, though it's absolutely heartbreaking to see it actually depicted.
Instructed by M.K., Beth goes to Club Neolution and tries to pry information out of the body mod kids hanging around there. She makes the most headway with a pregnant girl named Trina, who starts to open up to her before being pried away by her suspicious boyfriend, Aaron.
I'm immediately suspicious that whatever Trina is pregnant with isn't precisely a human fetus. It just seems too convenient, a pregnant girl and an implantation storyline. I have no idea whether we'll even see her again, but there's no way in hell she actually birthed a human baby. These Neolutionists are a bunch of nutters.
Eventually, Beth is called by Trina, who asks her to rescue Trina's boyfriend, Aaron. Trina explains that Aaron is one of those idiots who consented to Neolution implanting something in his cheek, citing that the Neolutionists said it was "biometric testing." And that now, whatever was implanted is growing, and he's gone to "hardcore" body mod enthusiasts to get it removed.
As someone who isn't particular squeamish except when it comes to body horror, this entire plot is basically my worst nightmare made manifest. Seriously. Gack.
Beth, who's been consistently snorting drugs and popping pills throughout the day, finds Aaron being operated on, and realizes that the two people he's gone to are the same paramedics that M.K. told her about – the same two who buried dead Ed Capra, cheekless, bisected penis man, in the woods.
It's not exactly clear whether these two are straight-up murderers or just sketchy Neolutionist cronies. When Aaron is put under to have his cheek/the implant removed, he makes several sounds that sure sound like he's dying, but the male paramedic explicitly notes that it's a good thing this one "didn't try to remove it himself."
That sounds like Ed Capra cut off his own cheek and died that way, doesn't it? Or, more likely, that he tried to remove it himself and it blew half his face off?
Anyway, Beth is too high/alarmed at seeing a bug thing pulled out of someone's cheek to contemplate the nuances of what's going on. She flees into the alleyway, pursued by the bearded man, Detective Zuko, who showed up to chastise the paramedics about not trying hard enough to convince Aaron to keep the implant (the same bearded man whom she realizes is a plant in the police union), and ends up fatally shooting Maggie Chen.
Again, this development is not a surprise because we've known for years now that Beth shot and killed a woman named Maggie Chen accidentally, and that Art helped her cover it up.
What is remarkable is how well the scene is played and built to. The camera and sound work is really excellent, as a horrified and high Beth experiences auditory and visual disturbances right before the shooting. The premiere as a whole, actually, is incredibly well-directed.
All of the Neolution plot points are interesting and culminate in pitching us forward, into the present action, when M.K. finds Art and has him put her in touch with Sarah, who is still in hiding with Kira, Kendall Malone, and the rest in Iceland. She warns Sarah to run, because Neolution is coming.
I'm honestly not sure whether to be more surprised that M.K. managed to stay alive all this time, flying solo, or that Neolution somehow tracked Kendall Malone to middle-of-nowhere Iceland.
Even better than all of the plotty, action-y bits of the season premiere is Beth's emotional arc in this premiere. Of course I'm talking about Beth's scene with Paul.
Holy heck. The entire scene is phenomenally scripted and acted (mostly by Maslany; Paul Dierden is, as usual, something of a brick wall). The score is also absolutely beautiful.
Beth: Can you look at me? Look at me. Can you see me? Can you knit me together? Or just tear me apart?
Paul: Stop it. What do you want? Hm?
Beth: Hm? Touch me, touch me. Come on, you're supposed to reach inside me. Kiss me, kiss me, kiss me... Just kiss me. Make me feel real, please.
Beth is such an interesting figure, and I hope we get more of these "back to the beginning" flashback sequences scattered throughout the season. She may be dead, but there's so much emotional material to mine out from her character.
Maslany does a great job of balancing out Beth's heroism, her forced aloofness, her anger, and her vulnerability. She's easily one of the most complicated clones we've met so far, if not the most complicated.
Also, I'm sure I wasn't alone in wondering, back in the first season, why Beth would have stayed with a man who she knew didn't love her. It's pretty clear now – she's in the midst of an existential crisis, finding out she's a clone at about the same time she finds out the man she loves is a spy and doesn't love her. Hence, spiraling, right into Art's arms.
Beth: Hold me there.
Art: What's happening with you?
Beth: Look at me. See me.
The Art-Beth hookup is also something we knew about (or at least was heavily implied), but the context also speaks volumes about Art's character and makes me feel so, so bad for him, in retrospect, flashing back to how aloof and distant Sarah was back in season one, when she pretended to be Beth.
How confusing and heartbreaking that must have been for him, now that we fully understand the depth of his love for Beth. Oof.
Clone of the week: I'm going to try to pick one every week, hard as that might be (they're all so amazing). This time, it is definitely Beth, if for no other reason than how flippin' amazing she looked, high and drunk off her face, in that high-slit black dress in the Paul dinner scene.
- For the most part, all of the "surprise" appearances of dead folks and other characters during the flashback sequence felt organic and proper. The one exception was Felix's brief appearance at Beth's police station. That just felt a little too gimmicky and didn't really contribute anything at all to the plot. Don't get me wrong, I love Jordan Gavaris; it just felt as though he was shoe-horned in for literally no reason at all.
- I actually laughed at loud at Alison brushing off the idea that she'd given Beth her own pee – because, of course, Allison was on just as many different drugs back then. Hell, she may have even failed a drug test harder than Beth would have.
- The two paramedics took a minute to make out while they were burying Capra. That moment felt very pointed, but I don't understand how it is (or how it will be) significant.
- Gotta admit, those implanted finger magnets are actually sort of cool.
- Beth arrives at Club Neolution and sets off a chain reaction of people who are dead in the present timeline phoning other people who are dead in the present timeline to warn them about her. Astrid calls Olivier who then calls Leekie, who assures his colleague (new addition Evie) that he'll take care of Beth. This sounds ominous. Did Leekie have a direct hand in Beth's death?
- Of course Alison would have wanted an expense report from Cosima in exchange for covering her tuition. OF COURSE.
- We know that Beth doesn't shoot Paul, and yet that moment where she points the gun at him is full of incredible tension. Remarkable.
What did you think of the premiere of Orphan Black? Let us know what you think by hitting up the comments below and watch Orphan Black online here at TV Fanatic to relive all of the clone craziness up to this point!
Caralynn Lippo is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.