Orphan Black: Season 4, Episode 1 – “The Collapse of Nature”

The fourth season of Orphan Black seems poised to go back to its roots with “The Collapse of Nature”; that's a good thing.

Dr. Leekie: You must absorb a tremendous amount of pain in your work.

Beth: Comes with the territory.

Dr. Leekie: Yes. The paths we choose.

Clone Club, rejoice! Orphan Black’s back, and it wastes no time in dropping us right back into the world of Neolutionists, body mods, and an extended Beth (Tatiana Maslaney) flashback episode. Orphan Black has never had any trouble fully immersing itself in the science fiction world it’s created; this episode’s a wonderful reminder of how strange and unsettling much of what we’re already familiar with initially seemed, particularly through Beth’s eyes.

“The Collapse of Nature” opens on the kind of scene and imagery the show often revels in: a mysterious woman in a sheep mask in the woods stumbles upon a couple as they bury a body. Of course it’s not an ordinary body, as it has a piece of a cheek missing (amongst other anomalies). MK (Tatiana Maslaney), Beth’s informant on all things Neolution, masked spy, and fellow clone makes the kind of memorable first appearance that the series has perfected; she’s sure to be a fascinating addition to the season.

Although Orphan Black is a science fiction show with a penchant for dramatic moments and shocking revelations, it’s also managed to insert enough humor on a regular basis so that the plot is never so heavy it weighs the show down. Alison and Helena have consistently offered up moments of genuine hilarity, but this episode makes a case for Beth’s own dry and sarcastic humor (“Totally out of the blue, does she ever bifurcate dicks?” may go down as one of the series’ most unexpectedly funny lines). Plus, Alison never fails to disappoint even in the small scenes in which she appears.

Because this episode takes place so close to Beth’s suicide, she’s unraveling quickly. She’s dependent on drugs, suspicious of Paul (Dylan Bruce), and lying to Art (Kevin Hanchard). Based on MK’s information, she’s investigating the Neolutionists and aware that she’s in danger. The full extent of the danger doesn’t become obvious to her until the end of the episode when she accidentally shoots and kills a civilian, Maggie Chen (Uni Park), after seeing Detective Duko (Gord Rand) working with the Neolutionists. It’s the moment that cements the reach of the group and all of MK’s warnings (“Who do I trust now?”).

Tatiana Maslany certainly never needs to prove herself as an actress ever again, but in revisiting Beth, her obvious gift at fully inhabiting a character is on display to wonderful effect. In many ways, Beth and Sarah are the closest in appearance (which is a fine line when discussing clones), yet Maslany so clearly delineates the characters in mannerisms, speech, and overall physicality that there’s never any doubt that these are two distinct characters, in the same way that Sarah and Helena or Cosima and Alison are. It’s also further testament to Maslany’s tremendous workhorse acting that the magic of bringing Orphan Black to life isn’t all groundbreaking production tricks or excellent wardrobe and makeup (although they’re also outstanding).

As “The Collapse of Nature” focuses so singularly on Beth, the rest of the clones are only shown briefly or referred to in passing (Katja gets mentioned as “The German”). However, those few scenes reveal a great deal, not only about their relationships with one another, but also to how little they really knew at the time. Cosima is only beginning her scientific research into the clones, while Alison is essentially bankrolling their investigation. Cosima’s reference to Alison requiring an expense report for her tuition so perfectly encapsulates their personalities, as well highlights the distance that existed between them at the time.

Essentially, Beth served as the center of the clones. She was investigating their connection to the Neolutionists, serving as go-between for all the clones, and reassuring them whenever necessary; she was the link for a group of women connected by biology, but not yet true sisters. The contrast to the ways in which the clones would eventually come together again and again is striking and sad. Beth would never get the opportunity to share her responsibilities and worries with her sisters, or the opportunity to forge real bonds with them.

The fourth season of Orphan Black seems poised to go back to its roots with “The Collapse of Nature”, and that’s a good thing. Although heavily focused on Beth, the series still sneaks in a great Felix (Jordan Gavaris) moment as Beth notices him in the police station where he’s been arrested for solicitation, public urination, and possession. It’s a quick scene that foreshadows Felix’s connection to the clones, and also offers another moment of levity (“That was a performance piece and I never should have been charged”). Finally, the episode ends on the reappearance of MK as she warns Sarah that Neolution knows where she is (“Listen to me, Sarah, you need to run. Right now”), and the season’s off to a running start. Literally.

RATING 8 / 10