Sunday, 13 August 2017

Orphan Black (S5E10) - To Right The Wrongs of Many (Review)


"My story is an embroidery with many beginnings and no end. But I will start with the thread of my sestra Sarah, who stepped off a train one day and met herself"

Orphan Black closed the door on the global conspiracies, personal tragedies and musings on sisterhood that followed the sestras for 50 episodes and five season just hours ago with its series finale. The defining piece of sci-fi thriller television - which cemented lead star Tatiana Maslany as one of, if not the, most talented actress in her field - ended the story of the LEDA clones with the second of two parts (see also, One Fettered Slave), To Right The Wrongs of Many - an episode packed to the rafter with revelations, emotion and power.

Discussing the finale is a difficult one, so please be aware you will encounter spoilers from this point forth.

So there we have it; after a rocky season, Orphan Black deliver one of their finest ever episodes in the form of the series finale. To Right The Wrongs of Many is an episode of halves; the opening half is an intense, nerve-shattering action-thriller, designed almost as a game of cat-and-mouse; the second half is for more reflective, raw and focused on the characters we have come to know and love across these five seasons, following a brief time jump. Orphan Black could have been tempted to throw every single question, conclusion and narrative thread at the wall with the final episode - but by focusing on the series' most important theme - sisterhood - it coalesces not only into a satisfying end for Orphan Black, but one of the series' best episodes to date and a fantastic series finale all round.

The Neolution baddies meet their end rather quickly, dispatched in record-quick time in a portion contained within the episode's first third. Virginia Coady gets a screwdrivers to the throat courtesy of Helena (and Art), while P.T. Westmoreland gets a cylinder in the head from Sarah - just one of the ways this final episode symbolises the mirror twins at the heart of its story. Continuing from where we left off last week, the first third is relentlessly intense, blistering and scorching, a masterclass in suspense as the game reaches its conclusion.

To have Helena and Sarah, once sworn enemies hellbent on ending the other, claim the freedom of the sisterhood by taking out the Neolution figureheads, the fight is over surprisingly quickly and with tremendous poignancy - and that poignancy doesn't end in the first third either. Soon after Virginia and PT are executed, Sarah is called upon to support Helena's delivery of twins: it is here that some of Orphan Black's best ever scenes play out.

While the finale is too busy to dedicate the hour solely to Sarah (in line with Alison, Cosima, Rachel and Helena's central episodes earlier this season), it provides us with some flashbacks of Sarah, utilised as a way to demonstrate her growth over the course of the series. Flashbacks reveal Sarah's life before Kira and Clones, one in which an angst-ridden, directionless rebel decides to become a mother, followed by the birthing process. She is coached through her delivery of Kira by Mrs S (who left us following her shocking death in Guillotine's Decide); as the birthing scenes parallel, some stunning parallels and symbolism plays out and we come full circle.

At the same point in season one, back in 2013, in an almost identical location, Sarah delivers a seemingly fatal gunshot to Helena; fast-forward (four years in real time) and a similar basement sees the birth of new life, in the form of Helena's miracle babies. In the masterful sequence as the scenes overlap, both Sarah and Helena defy every obstacle thrown at them, often in the grimmest of circumstances, to reclaim their own strength with the support of those that mean the most to them. This middle third of Orphan Black's ending provides the most emotional cathartic sequence witnessed on television in quite some time, an outpouring of warmth and passion and excitement, and every other emotion Orphan Black has ever made you feel across five years.

In its final third, To Right The Wrongs of Many strips things back to the characters, with an emotional, driven and suitable examination of the sisterhood, post-fighting. Each are awarded their own version of freedom; Cosima and Delphine, together and in love, travel the word to cure other LEDA clones with the inoculation; Alison and Donnie return to their suburban bliss and happiness; they happen to be nursing and supporting new mother Helena, raising her newborn twins - Orange and Purple! Wait, no, Donnie and Arthur!

Even Rachel Duncan is granted her freedom, away from the scientist and organisations and synthetic environment that raised her; she is still alone, incapacitated and responsible for some of the most bitter hardship the sister's experienced - but in some way, that is preferable to her monitored existence as the face of DYAD/Neolution/Pro-Clone. While she wasn't granted a happy ending in the way the other clones were, she was given a new beginning, unburdening herself and helping save hundreds of others in the process. She also provides us with means to meet another clone - Camilla Torres - using her knowledge and experiences within the organisations to grant a freedom to others.

The only person not at one with her freedom is the biggest player in achieving it: Sarah is empty, still mourning the loss of Mrs S - a feeling exasperated by her newly-discovered memories of her. After fighting endlessly and tirelessly for her freedom, she does not know how to accept it or use it; she feels she is a terrible mother and a lost cause, unable to stay still and haunted by her previous decisions. All told, she unfairly blames herself for their losses.

It takes her sisters, those who know her the truest, to remind her that we all make mistakes, we are never perfect and she too deserves to reap the rewards of their hard work, as they all are. In Orphan Black's most beautiful scene, Sarah, Alison, Cosima and Helena huddle around a fire in the garden, as their friends and allies socialise in the house, and reflect. It's deeply rewarding, a sigh of relief that - although they will face further difficulties, hurdles and obstacles - they themselves have discovered the importance of identity, unity and strength. They have finally defeated the organisations that have manipulated, victimised and terrorised them, all because they claim to own them as intellectual property. They are free from their shackles and continue to reclaim their uniquenesses and character.

Co-creators play two of the most important roles in To Right The Wrongs of Many: writer and director. Graeme Manson structures the final episode to perfection. Containing the Neolution defeat in the first third allows more time to be spent with Clones & Co. Every major clone (other than Krystal, who I would have loved to have seen make a brief appearance) is permitted at least a moment to bow their individual stories out with, while even managing to find time to check in on our supporting characters. Be it the mountain of theme works injected into the script, the beautiful parallels and symbolism of the pregnancy and sisterhood or the deft and satisfying way the story is rounded out, Manson excels.

John Fawcett provides us with some of Orphan Black's most sophisticated and impressive technical work ever. His decision to parallel the birthing scenes allow the show's central themes, such as family and sisterhood, femininity and personal agency, to shine. The emotion of filming these scenes last and wrapping for the very last time clearly heighten the emotion, but it is his talent and skill on display that balance the potentially cluttered episode out and guides it to the position as one of the show's greatest episodes. Similarly, the multi-clone sequence - the longest the show has ever attempted - captures the most appropriate tone imaginable for one of the series' last scenes, with some of the most breathtakingly beautiful scenes to boast.

The production design team fire on all cylinders here too: from the beautiful sets (Alison's lavish garden is my absolute favourite and the perfect location for the most monumental scene of the episode) and the effective lighting (the first half is dark and claustrophobic, while the rest is lighter, more hopeful in a way); the costumes and make-up (the final multi-clone scene using outfits that perfectly epitomises each clones) and special effects (which go by unnoticed, a real sign of sophistication); the show has mastered operating on a smaller-than-desired production budget. The art team are among Orphan Black's most unsung heroes but their efforts and contributions are clear and greatly appreciated in this closing chapter.

One woman has commanded Orphan Black from the very start though. Even throughout the most questionable decisions undertaken and misfires made by the narrative, Tatiana Maslany has never dipped below outstanding. Very often faultless, her portrayal of every LEDA clone has earned her countless awards and recognition has redefined 'strong female roles' in television, elevated by the writing team of course. In this final ever episode though, between the four-clone scene, dual pregnancy or rousing speech about surviving, defying, unity and evolution, she is incomparable. Every ounce of emotion, power, poise, dedication and craft she possesses is lovingly poured into this final collection of performances with clear effect.

Hollywood may not know what to do with Tatiana Maslany moving forward. I pray they do. She is, in my mind and without question, the best actress of her generation and Orphan Black will provide her with hours and hours and hours of showreel.

To Right The Wrongs of Many fixes a handful of mistakes the final season has committed along its cluttered way and provides one of the series' most superlative episodes. It should be admired for doing the impossible: tying up nearly every loose end while teasing a few options should it wish to continue in the future - and it feels totally appropriate and natural. Yes, Rachel could have joined the sestras in the back garden to officially bury the hatchet and unite as one - but that was never Rachel and the show refuses to provide us with a facade of depiction - something tremendously admirable.

Poignancy, parallels and symbolism elevate the episode and it strides very, very close to perfection. Some elements feel a little too loosely tied but that's part-and-parcel of approaching a series finale for a show as expansive and complex as Orphan Black. To Right The Wrongs of Many is exquisitely crafted, written and structured by Manson, visually masterful because of Fawcett, artfully designed by the rest of the team and performed to absolute, reliable perfection by the likes of Evelyne Brochu, Jordan Gavaris, Kristian Bruun, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Kevin Hanchard, Josh Vokey and Skyler Wexler and most specifically, Tatiana Maslany.

But, for all its memorable characters, moments, quotes and performances this show will be remembered for across its  five-season history, one thing will forever stay in my mind...

Helena, a once psychotic serial killer knocking off her lookalikes one by one, reaches for her diary, minutes before the credits role. The night is drawing in and her sestras' lives feel still for the first time in forever. Surrounded by the army of sisterhood consisting of Sarah, Alison and Cosima (and brother-sestra Felix, with the rest of her family snug in the house), she tells us; "(This) is a story about my sestras. I call it Orphan Black". In that moment, five seasons worth of conspiracies, fights, losses, love and Tatiana Maslany masterclasses come together in the most perfect, appropriate and timeless manner.

So long Orphan Black. You have been splendid. Thank you.

Episode Grade: A+

TTMMVPAAFAMRP (The Tatiana Maslany Most Valuable Player Acting Award for a Multi-Role Performance): Sarah, Helena, Cosima, Alison and Rachel.

Thank you for joining me for these weekly reviews. Do keep your eyes peeled for future Orphan Black posts. This isn't the end of my writing and adoration for a show I have admired, enjoyed and loved with every fibre of my being. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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