It’s hard to be impressed with a show as it ages. Even the best dramas tend to deflate somewhere around season four or five, losing potency and momentum due to the simple fact that showrunners don’t expect to a story to last so long. (Just ask Sleepy Hollow.) In such cases, a season premiere is a perfunctory thing: Here’s where we left our characters, and yes, we’re still going down this road.
Orphan Black should be particularly susceptible to this Curse of Meh, with its increasingly complex plot and elaborate scientific explanations and the fact that there are so many damned clones now that even Tatiana Maslany must get them mixed up sometimes. After spinning this Machiavellian web for three years — not to mention tying off last season’s insanity with a neat, joyful ribbon — Graeme Manson and John Fawcett really have no business starting off the fourth round of Orphan Black so strongly. And yet, they have. With a flashback, no less!
“The Collapse of Nature” begins with a one–two punch: A new clone and a split dick. Alas, the latter procedure is performed neither onscreen nor by Helena — it is but a forensic surprise waiting for Beth Childs on the body of a particularly enthusiastic Neolution recruit. New clone Mika, a.k.a. MK, tips off the late cop clone about it in the middle of the night, after tracking the two creepy paramedics (they’re hot for each other … and body disposal) to the middle of the forest, where they dumped the corpse of Edward Capra, a.k.a. “Base Pair 86,” sans a big ol’ chunk of his cheek. MK does all this, and seemingly everything else, while wearing what appears to be her own personal Guy Fawkes/Anonymous disguise: a sheep mask.
Beth’s story is basically a live retelling of what we’ve already pieced together these past three seasons: She’s snorting pills to numb clone-conspiracy stress; exploiting poor Raj to crib surveillance equipment to spy on Paul; and traffic-controlling the other clones, especially Cosima, who is transferring to her new school and nervously making lesbian U-Haul jokes, and Alison, who’s been enabling Beth’s addiction in exchange for a gun and shooting lessons. (It’s odd that she’s never really expressed remorse about this, right?) Art is still his sentimental divorcé self, covering for Beth with her drugs and risking his career. Angie is suspicious, per usual. Felix makes a cameo at the station, where he’s being written up for the millionth time on charges of being too fabulous for this world (i.e. prostitution and public urination — sorry, performance art).
Of course, a simple reenactment does not a good episode make. We also get to see some of what only Beth knew was happening: MK, an über-paranoid tech whiz with cute bangs who lives in a trailer and likes powdered iced tea (word, MK), has been tracking Neolution. She’s the one who discovered the monitor program, through Paul, and is convinced there’s another plant at the police station. (She’s half right, but it’s not Art, like she suspects.) Her intel about Capra — he was a “tadpole,” a new member groomed by the organization to willingly undergo experimental “modifications” — leads Beth to Club Neolution, where, unfortunately, we have to deal with Olivier and his gross flesh-tail again. (At this point, having a tail should be an explicit character flaw, like a fedora extension for your butt.) He tips off Leekie that Beth has been snooping around, talking to sweet-faced pregnant goths about magnetic implants and murdered clubbers.
It’s just in time, too, because as soon as they hang up, Beth has seemingly teleported herself to the venue where Leekie — alongside Evie Cho, a colleague we’ve never met who seems to be in charge of whatever research led to Capra’s murder — is about to give one of his
TED Talks presentations. Of course, Leekie feigns ignorance, while Evie is almost completely ignored, likely due to a combination of tunnel vision and prejudice. (Why would this diminutive woman of color be in charge of anything Neolution-related?) It’s not much, but at least Beth could get them rattled … before returning to the office to be sacked from the Capra case altogether … for reasons? Her boss doesn’t actually know she’s using again, and thanks to Alison’s daughter’s pee, he won’t be able to prove it.
Regardless, she’s now pretty frustrated, which of course leads to more drugs and a huge blow-up with Paul when he refuses to break up with her or even look at her. She tells him he’s hollow and points a gun at the back of his head, which he seems to sense is happening but doesn’t care, thanks to a fun emotional cocktail of guilt and impotence (stirred, not shaken). Honestly, these reactions aren’t unreasonable for either character, but that’s where sympathy starts to fade. Next thing we know, Beth is hopping on over to Art’s place, where he promptly sends his daughter to bed. After a weak-sauce attempt at getting his partner (still very sad and high as balls) to talk about her problems, he ~at last~ gives into her make-out attempts. Peaches would be proud.
Later in the night, their tryst is interrupted by that pregnant Neolution goth girl, who calls Beth thinking her boyfriend is about to go the way of Base Pair 86, and gives her directions to the apartment where he’s gone. (How does she know this?) Both men consented to a cheek implant they were told was a biometric scanner, but turns out to be one of those squirmy translucent red maggot things Nealon tried to stick in Delphine in last season’s finale. What are these things, exactly? Mind-control devices? Alien-esque larva in need of human incubation?
Beth watches through a dirty window as those creepy EMS techs cut the mystery maggot out of the boyfriend’s cheek, then show it to the real police mole — a sallow, bearded dude who happens to work for the police union. This wouldn’t be relevant, of course, if they hadn’t then heard Beth outside. As she makes a run for it, she’s surprised in the alley by Maggie Chen, and everything goes down like clockwork: She shoots, barfs, calls Art, and together they stage the crime scene to make it look like a justified kill. (Technically, this already happened, but the reenactment comes at an sensitive time, given recent revelations about police violence.) Everything looks fairly clean, but Internal Affairs will be reviewing the incident — and the mole just happens to be her union rep for the duration. We all know what happens next.
This is all a lead-in to the final five minutes of “The Collapse of Nature,” wherein present-day Art calls Sarah and patches another call through. It’s MK, who has finally resurfaced in a moment of crisis — though why now, so suddenly? — to warn her that the Neolution crowd has inexplicably figured out their location. Maybe it’s related to the fact that the runaway family has phone service in the middle of a literal tundra? Who can say? All we know is that, once again, it’s time to run. Somehow, that feels so right.