Extremist puritans, remote government clone hubs, and whole lot of freaky science. If there’s anything we’ve learned walking into Orphan Black's fourth season, it’s this: for every question answered in its splintering plot line, yet another (or ten) will arise. The series follows the ineffable part-time swindler Sarah Manning (Tatiana Maslany), a single mother with a sailor’s mouth and a punk rock edge. After accidentally witnessing a woman with a similar likeness jump in front of a train, Sarah assumes her identity, effectively becoming Detective Beth Childs. As she inadvertently ensnares herself in Beth’s shady cop conspiracies, she encounters more women who look exactly like her, all of whom clue her in on Beth’s discovery of a government clone conspiracy. She and her doubles are the product of a secret operative to create the perfect human—and there are more of them.
The seminal meeting between Sarah and her sister clones fueled the Orphan Black plot line for the next three seasons. With each new clue about about their origins—and all of the highly suspect human experimentation they uncover along the way—we’ve learned more about the personalities of these similar but all too different faces (shout out to Maslany’s uncanny and hugely underrated ability to be ten people at once). But until now, the show still had one glaring plot hole: What ever happened to Beth Childs, and why did she step off that platform and in front of an oncoming train? This moment was, after all, the plot’s point of intersection. Orphan Black has kept us hooked with its sharp script, brilliant character development, and inventive pseudo science, but it's avoided answering that big question. With this new season though, we finally get some answers to fill the holes that Beth left in her wake, and you better believe it’s worth every minute of the three-season wait. (Spoilers ahead.)
As per its wont, the Season 4 premiere of the sci-fi series punted us straight into the middle of another shady cover up of unbridled fringe science gone awry. A bystander in a rabbit mask leers behind a tree as two emergency responders dig a shallow grave to dispose of a body. When we watch them kiss, we know we’re in for some trouble. How are they related, if at all, to the cover up of a clone conspiracy at odds with the government (and its subjects)? Who’s the masked observer? Who’s the body? And why, as we discover within minutes of the first episode, is the unidentified corpse missing part of his cheek tissue?
It takes a moment to realize that we’ve traveled back in time—further back than the show has gone to date. For the first time, we’re getting a real-time look at Beth’s life and relationships—to her partner, to her job, to her fellow clones. For the better part of three seasons, we’ve been given only glimpses of her relationship to Neolution—the mad scientist organization at the helm of clone oversight—and its bizarre rabbit hole of sketchy experimentation on human subjects. In the aftermath of her death, Beth’s been painted as a junkie pill-popper, a reckless cop, and a broken woman whose failing relationship ultimately drove her to her death. But this depiction felt hollow and unexplored. Beth was more an idea of a character that served to further the plot than one whose existence on the show had any significance. By hitting the reset button and allowing us to explore her world, we get to know another Beth entirely. She’s strong, fervent in her pursuit of the truth, and a fiercely loyal (albeit short-tempered) companion.
The most interesting part of season four is the map it creates for us of Beth’s inevitable unraveling. All we'd known of Beth up to this point existed almost as rumors, pieces of information intimated to Sarah along her journey to better understand the woman whose identity she'd essentially stolen. We knew about her prescription pill addiction; we knew about her fraught relationship with her sketchy boyfriend; and we knew that she was hot on the trail of her origin story before long before her untimely death. But all of this functioned merely as plot fodder. As viewers, we were unable to fully piece together her timeline. It was unclear how important a role she played until now, and we've seen some of the best the show has to offer with her character development.
For those of us who've been watching the show evolve in all of its long-winded, sometimes convoluted directions, the fourth season feels like payoff, a relief from the weight of those plot holes. By effectively hitting "reset" on the very foundation of the plot and building it out with this yet-unexplored but wildly interesting antiheroine, the show has rewarded its viewers tenfold. The first three seasons of Orphan Black were not without their fun. It is, after all, one of the most engaging sci-fi series currently on television, so there's no shame in wanting to go back and start the series from the top (also, Tatiana didn't win the label of "Best F***ing Actress on TV" for nothing). But Beth was one of the show’s most interesting and unexplored characters. Thank god Orphan Black finally realized it for its fourth season.