BBC America is understandably proud of “Orphan Black,” a series that gained a cult following and had TV critics campaigning for (and subsequently lamenting the oversight of) Tatiana Maslany for Emmy consideration. Yet one can admire Maslany’s dazzling multifaceted work on the show — playing an assortment of disparate characters — while still finding the series somewhat impenetrable, especially with the introduction of a new set of male clones this season. So while “Orphan Black” provides its star a wonderful showcase, the many faces of Ms. Maslany represents one of those marketable gimmicks that frankly overwhelms the program itself.
Maslany’s various personalities have gradually learned about their shared origins, the product of something known as Project Leda, but much of their background remains mysterious. Part of season three hinges on clues potentially buried within a book, as well as the revelation of male counterparts, known as Project Castor, a group of highly trained soldiers fully aware of each other’s existence and brought to sinister multi-headed life by Ari Millen. (Facial hair is a boon, it turns out, in helping distinguish these replications from each other.)
It’s an intriguing twist, but also a lot to juggle, especially as the various subplots involving Maslany’s different roles continue to unfold. Beyond the Castor clones, there are also some welcome new faces in the cast, among them Justin Chatwin and the seemingly ubiquitous James Frain.
Co-created by writer Graeme Manson and director John Fawcett, “Orphan Black” is certainly an ambitious undertaking, both in terms of its larger sci-fi implications and the minutiae associated with the wardrobe and continuity issues created by Maslany’s chameleon-like work. Ultimately, though, it’s a challenge to lose oneself in the escalating mythology while constantly being reminded of the visual trickery necessary to, say, put several version of her on screen simultaneously, a wrinkle only magnified by the Castor plotline.
Granted, there are enough converging storylines to keep those who have become invested in the program hooked right up until the end, and the series qualifies as a hit by BBC America’s standards (in addition to its international appeal), with an audience sure to return each time they send in the clones.
From the perspective of someone who never fully bought into the premise, however, the series remains a modest diversion, with curiosity about the current story tempered by the dizzying contortions that a season filled with two sets of clones portends. And while it will be interesting to see where “Orphan Black’s” sisterhood finally winds up, as opposed to hanging on every subplot until that day arrives, please sound an alarm when it’s almost over.