Though far from outright awful, Orphan Black’s second season failed to escape the shadow cast by its debut. It frequently found itself bogged down and tangled up in its own mythology – losing a grip on the masterfully-paced escalation that made the show’s first season such a thrill. Season 3, however, hits a bit closer to the mark. It doesn’t quite eclipse the fun of Season 1 – but it comes close enough and proves the Orphan Black is a show with plenty of life left in it.
Picking up shortly after the big reveal at the end of the last season – the introduction of Project Castor, a male strain of clones developed by the military – the series wastes no time before diving back into the thick of things.
Season 2 regular Ari Mullen really steps up his game here. He imbues the major Castor clones, Rudy and Mark, with radically different performances that make a fascinating parallel to Maslany’s work. However, as a result many of the other Castor clones suffer from a lack of development. Disappointingly, they’re often reduced to plot devices and boring archetypes overshadowed by the diversity of Leda clones.
One of Season 2’s big missteps was its failure to find new roles for its supporting cast to play. While Siobhan Sadler (Maria Doyle Kennedy) and Felix (Jordan Gavaris) were caught up in the season’s main plot, I felt supporting cast like Paul (Dylan Bruce) and Delphine (Evelyne Brochu) were almost left behind. Season 3 reverses this problem with Paul and Delphine finally settling into interesting and satisfying roles at the expense of other regulars like Felix and, again, Art (Kevin Hanchard).
On the other side of things, one of Season 2’s strongest qualities was its commitment to transitioning Helena from feared antagonist to a beloved member of Clone Club. This development continues into Season 3 to great effect. While early episodes do, again, geographically isolate her from the rest of the cast, she soon finds herself in the orbit of characters she hasn’t spent much time with in the past. Season 3 attempts a similar maneuver when it comes to last season’s villain, Rachel. There are some very interesting developments for her character and it’s refreshing to see the show be bold enough to keep her in the mix when it would be both easy and far more convenient to write her out.
Unfortunately, the show is a little less adventurous when it comes to resident science clone, Cosima. Though a newfound interest in spirituality adds some additional texture to her character, Season 3 seems more interested in her love-life more than her scientific talents. Previous seasons have emphasized that Cosima’s sexuality is far from the most interesting aspect of her character and I hope Season 4 comes back around on this front.
However, where Cosima’s plotline dips, Alison’s soars. Team Hendrix’s Breaking Bad-inspired turn towards the suburban drug trade is one of the Season’s highlights. In spite of its relative-disconnection from the rest of the main narrative (though there are some fun ties back to Sarah’s past), it still manages to steal the show. Kristian Bruun in particular excels comedically this time around.
Orphan Black is a show that thrives on escalation and momentum. Though a few early episodes share some of the shortcomings of Season 2, the later half of the season breaks free of the series’ convoluted mythology and recaptures the frantic charm and fun that first hooked fans. It’s a strong return to form for the series and one worth tuning into.
Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The third season of Orphan Black has been screening on SBS 2 in Australia. Select episodes are also available on SBS On Demand. The first two seasons are available in their entirety on Netflix Australia and Stan.