For a series whose seasons are only 10 episodes long, Orphan Black packs as much storytelling into those ten hours as some shows do with twice that amount of time. In the third season, the writers introduce us to a line of male clones, give us several awesome death scenes (with closure) for main characters, include half a dozen sideplots, send the characters on international wild goose chases, and introduce in the final minutes a new conspiracy from an old enemy – or is it?
It is amazing to watch the actors bring to life multiple characters. As has been the case for the past two years, star Tatiana Maslany manages to portray at least seven characters so flawlessly that one forgets that she is indeed playing them all, especially when they interact onscreen. They all have distinct looks and personalities: Sarah is the hardboiled action hero, Alison is the suburban mom, Cosima is the free-spirited scientist, Helena is crazy and pure-hearted, Rachel is stubborn and broken, Beth is tragic and eerie, and newcomer Krystal is the bubbly fun one.
Meanwhile, we get to meet some of the male-line clones, who we learn partway through the season are the female clones’ biological brothers. Unlike their sisters (called ‘Project Leda’ or the Leda clones), the male clones (called ‘Project Castor’ or the Castor clones) are much more alike because they were raised together as brothers and under military discipline. Thus they have similar mannerisms to each other and their actor, Ari Millen, does not have as much need to widely differentiate between them. However, he does have to subtly indicate which brother he is portraying, and it is interesting upon rewatching the episodes to see the slight variations in each of the Castors. Slight changes of voice, different posture, and more serve to augment the visual clues from the costuming and makeup department. All in all, well done to both actors!
Story-wise, the third season takes us on a wild goose chase to find keys to the research behind the cloning and the original DNA that might help save both the Leda and Castor clones from dying. Furthermore, Sarah attempts to rescue Helena; Alison tries to take over a suburban drug ring to finance her school trustee campaign; Cosima breaks up with Delphine and tries to find the meaning behind her near-death experience at the end of the second season; Helena finds a way to fit into her new family of sisters; and Rachel and Krystal find themselves pawns in a very dark conspiracy that only gets more complex each episode.
Amid all of these plotlines, the main characters undergo significant growth. The relationships between all of the Leda sisters solidifies as Sarah and Helena grow to trust one another and as Alison meaningfully connects with the others. Donnie and Alison’s marriage is healing and it is fun to see them interact as a team rather than as enemies. Felix comes into his own as a hero, albeit not to the extent that Paul does, and Art gets some closure with regards to what happened to Beth. All of the supporting cast are well-suited for their roles; seeing as this is the third season and the writers have to worry less about introducing characters and world-building than they did previously, the supporting characters get more chances to shine and new characters get more time in the spotlight.
Finally, the ever-rocky relationship between Sarah and her foster mother, Mrs. S, is finally beginning to heal as the finale comes to a close. We learn a lot about Mrs. S’s past and how she came to have Sarah in her care. She is an intriguing character because she is loving and maternal, but she is not sweetness and light. Even when she and Sarah have forgiven each other, there is still tension. She is still someone who would kill or die to protect her family. Sarah clearly learned that behaviour and now applies it as well.
Overall, this season is about family. Who is our family? Does being related by blood automatically make us family? How far are we willing to go for family? To what extent do we owe our brothers and sisters? Can horrible acts be forgiven and rifts mended? To what extent?
By the end of the season, the Leda family (such as it is) has been temporarily mended, but not likely for long.