A decade from now, most people will remember Orphan Black as that show with the clones where Tatiana Maslany — she’ll be EGOT-famous by then, for sure — played a hundred characters at the same damn time. Its left-brained accomplishments are indeed numerous: From intricate multi-clone camera work to an almost neurotic attention to scientific detail, the show has proven itself, in many respects, one of the most underrated “smart” shows on television. But a brainy show without a heart, much like a progress-obsessed scientist without moral standards, does not a classic make. It’s important to remember, as we exit the world of Orphan Black, that without its emotional core — without its uncanny ability to show how the scientific is always political, that the political is always personal, and that just because something is technically possible doesn’t make it right — this show would have been just another drop in an ocean of “hard sci-fi,” beloved only by jerks. The fact that it wasn’t should be a lesson for all storytellers, for years to come.
Our last adventure with Clone Club is bifurcated: The finale’s first act concludes last week’s nightmare climax, in which Helena’s babies finally begin shoving their way into the outside world just as John Mathieson’s cancer-and-meth brain cocktail sends the Neolution mastermind into a final tantrum that would have been completely pathetic had he not casually shot a doctor for commenting on his age and almost suffocated Sarah in the process. (Probably should’ve gone with PCP if you wanted to succeed at being an immortal homicidal maniac, but hey, I’m no expert.) Sarah and Helena run for it, making it as far as Dyad’s basement, where it becomes clear these babies shan’t wait for a better moment to arrive.
Against all sense, Sarah leaves a delirious Helena with only a screwdriver to defend herself (though Helena has probably worked with less) to search for clean sheets. She avoids Coady — unfortunately still alive, albeit bloody, and assisting security in the search for Dyad’s escaped biological property — but finds Art, fresh off nightstick-thwacking Engers and cuffing her to the stairwell. (“You’re a shitty partner,” he tells her unconscious body. Sensing a theme here.) He offers Sarah a firearm and a list of baby-deliverin’ tools, then heads off toward Helena — only Coady has found her first and surprises him. This genocidal maniac is no fool, and insists he do the baby-delivering himself, at gunpoint, rather than get close to Helena again.
Welp, turns out she’s still 10 percent fool, since Helena and Art are able to pull one over on her by inventing a bleeding complication. When she approaches, Art seizes her gun, drawing her attention just long enough for Helena to plunge the hidden screwdriver into her jugular. Meathead’s iconic REE-reeee theme song takes a victory lap as they watch her die properly this time. Helena spits on her again, for good measure. I’m not especially into hack-em-up movies, but leave it to a show about actual body horror to prove how effective gore can be when used sparingly, amirite?
Which, of course, brings us to the final and perhaps most satisfying crunch of all. Westmorland corners Sarah in the tritest, supervillain-esque situation imaginable, circling and taunting her from behind semi-opaque hospital curtains, then has the audacity to imply that she’s the predictable one, by returning, “as all lab rats do,” to her “cage.” I don’t recall lab rats ever being such impeccable marksmen that they could successfully shoot the experimenter blindfolded, but hey, again, I’m no expert. Nevertheless, Ol’ Heisen-biology is high as balls on that pharma-grade crank, so instead of just dying already, he jumps Sarah from behind, gunshot wound oozing, ready to suffocate her with the plastic curtain. Again, here’s where that PCP would have come in handy for Here’s Johnny: Gasping for air, she still manages to get her feet under his chest and launch him across the room, where he finally crumples. He continues wheezing and raving and taking credit for her family’s existence until the moment Sarah lifts an oxygen tank over her head, screams, “Oh, SHUT UP!” and brings it down onto his skull. I might have replayed this ten-second clip three times, just because.
Rushing back to Helena’s side as she bears down, Sarah holds her twin’s hand — literally taking Siobhan’s place as matriarch, reliving Kira’s birth (which, we learned in an earlier flashback, she almost terminated), and perhaps reclaiming a small corner of her self-worth — all to finally deliver two perfect little … BOYS? Ugh, I’d be indignant, but I’m too busy keeping my ish together as Helena, Sarah, and Art weep with relief, at the conclusion of both the birth and the past year of their lives.
But we’re not even halfway done here. (I know, it’s a marathon.) Instead of ending on the adrenaline rush of a high-intensity victory, this finale’s second act — the final 25 minutes of Orphan Black ever — becomes more literary denouement than fireworks display, moving a few months ahead to revisit the family as they experience, at last, real freedom together.
For that full-circle effect, we jump to the day Helena dreamed about between waterboarding sessions: her baby shower. She and Orange and Purple — the babies’ placeholder names only, thank the merciful gods — have moved into the Hendrixes’ garage, along with Helena’s overalls and creepy Blair Witch stick angels and canvas baby hammocks (“their sacks”). The cupcakes and ox livers of her fantasy are now blue-frosted donuts and “jamburgers” (literally cheeseburgers with jam, which is actually kind of a breakfast sandwich, if you think about it). Donnie has a new job, Felix is just returning from his big opening in New York, Art may have adopted Charlotte (!), and the nerd squad is working hard, identifying Ledas in advance of Cosima and Delphine’s Clone Cure World Tour 2k17™. Everyone is so happy … except one.
Sarah has never felt safe enough for happiness. She’s restless, sorting through Siobhan’s things, and planning to sell the house and bounce, much to everyone’s dismay. Though she’s been studying for her GED, her demons seize her at the last moment and she walks before the test even begins. When everyone at the party wants details, she obfuscates until forced to outright lie to avoid admitting her failure. Finally, it’s Alison who comes out and says it: She’s not okay. “Freedom looks different to everyone,” Sarah counters, evading the truth again. It may be true that she’s not ready to raise Kira “in the house where her grandmother was shot dead,” but the deeper truth comes out later, after dark, when Sarah is out by the firepit drinking and her sestras join her in silence (Cosima with a joint, natch). Like a soldier with no war, Sarah has no more system to fight, no more reason to rebel. In the silence of victory, all that’s left is her own voice in her head (and a disproportionate version of Siobhan’s), telling her she’ll always be a flighty, immature fuck up, “carrying around all these mistakes.”
But by those standards, everyone is a “shit mum.” Her sisters confess the ways they’ve screwed up with their children or lack thereof — “Every time I look, the babies eating sand. I turn around: sand. Where does this sand come from? I don’t know, so I let them eat it” — and everything is almost perfect again when Felix rolls in from the front yard. He’s been scheming with Rachel, you see. Not to bring her back into the fold — nobody wants that, not even Rachel — but to obtain one final object of reconciliation: a document with the names and contact information for all 274 (?!) Ledas. Now they have everything they need for their happy ending, including Helena’s diary, which she’s fashioned into a memoir called Orphan Black.
… sorry, you’re gonna need to give me a minute.
Ahem. Anyway, it’s the story of their lives together. It’s the story of the show. Her prose is astonishingly elegant. And yes, Alison, we know you’re not black. Delphine and Cosima embark upon their cure tour, Donnie gets naked (presumably for old time’s sake), Helena names the boys Arthur and Donnie, and Sarah decides to keep the house after all. All is as it should be: no cliffhangers, no unrealistic happy endings, just a bunch of people who fought to own their own stories and won. Guess they really did take capitalism and centuries of racist science down all in one go.
Now about that matriarchy …