Maya Reddy ‘17 / Emertainment Monthly Assistant TV Editor
Orphan Black’s season four premiere knows how long ago the events of season one feel, and for the most part, it makes remembering villains from the first season not a necessity. Sure, Olivier (more aptly remembered as the guy with the tail) and Detective DeAngelis are recognizable faces, but somewhere along the past three seasons they got a little muddled in the narrative. Did one of them die at one point in time? It doesn’t really matter, considering “The Collapse of Nature” exists with Beth – a blank slate from all the drama to come. It’s refreshing and simplistic in a way that Orphan Black hasn’t been since its first season.
It’s easy to forget there was a story before Sarah entered the picture, but “The Collapse of Nature” brings Beth, who’s suicide in the series premiere kickstarted Sarah’s story, to the forefront. This time, Beth doesn’t just serve as an unseen character in the backs of the Clone Club’s minds. Instead, Beth is fleshed out into a complex character with all the minute ticks and bits of body language only Tatiana Maslany can perfect. Maslany also brings a new clone to life – M.K., short for Mika is another European clone ruled by her paranoia.
Paranoia is largely present in this episode in both Beth and M.K., however the two deal with their paranoia in drastically different ways. For M.K., she’s extremely cautious and avoids confrontation at all costs, making the way she interacts with others endearing and insightful at the same time. However, Beth confronts her paranoia in the most dangerous ways which is what leads to the death of Maggie Chen. There’s something extremely off-putting about watching a couple of police officers covering up the shooting of an unarmed citizen. Regardless of the added backstory for Maggie, she was still a civilian in this moment. While yes, this isn’t in an American context and race doesn’t play into it, current politics make it difficult to look at this situation without a second glance. It also makes Beth and Art’s roles as police officers difficult to digest without a second glance. The scene is played with great heart by both Tatiana Maslany and Kevin Hanchard, but it still leaves a bitter aftertaste and a struggle to empathize.
Another prevalent theme in this episode, and reportedly in the rest of the season, is the body horror significant to neolutionism. From a bifurcated penis to magnet implants, Orphan Black doesn’t shy away from the uncomfortable. The body horror is utilized well, with the perfectly hard-to-watch slow zoom in on the slicing off of a man’s cheek. It also works in effortless tandem with paranoia, making Beth’s slow loss of control captivating to watch.
While other well-loved characters make their appearances throughout the premiere, this episode was solely Beth’s which is almost completely unique to Orphan Black’s usual juggling of storylines of all the central clones. This paves the way for a clear entrance back into the world of Orphan Black, which otherwise could have been far more overwhelming. It also showcases the relationships of current main characters with Beth. Most notably being Beth’s relationship with Alison and Art. It was hinted early on in the show that Alison respected Beth greatly, and it was touching to see the depth of the relationship on both sides. It was also interesting to see how Alison encouraged Beth’s drug habit. Perhaps this plays into Alison’s own involvement with drugs and drug dealing.
The relationship between Art and Beth, however, is one only recently brought up in the last season. Originally, it did seem like the reveal that Art had feelings for Beth was a last minute thought to give more material for Art who was often being sidelined in the plot. While that still may be true, the “The Collapse of Nature” manages to sell the relationship solidly and heartbreakingly. This added aspect to the relationship may have been an afterthought, but the end product was still sincere.
Paul (Dylan Bruce) and Beth however, lack that sincerity. Paul made a great exit last season, in his emotional sacrifice for Sarah and yet Paul’s return in this episode lacked anything particularly compelling for the relationship between him and Beth. Obviously there is tension between the two, but even that tension feels stilted and scripted. Beth’s voice in this episode is shown to be on the more introspective side, which works in all the other scenes, except for in her confrontation with Paul. Perhaps some of it had to do with the melodramatic piano music playing in the background as she contemplates shooting him, but the stakes didn’t feel high in that moment instead it felt like the stakes were supposed to feel high.
Overall, “The Collapse of Nature” returns Orphan Black to an equilibrium its last season teetered with continuously. Hopefully it will continue to keep the pacing sharp and the characters clear as it delves further into the mysteries of neolution.
Overall Episode Grade: A