Sarah Manning has come a long way since the pilot episode of Orphan Black. The show’s central character started out as part of a very small family comprised of her daughter, her foster brother and her foster mother. As the plot layers have unfolded over the course of three seasons, Sarah has discovered that her family is bigger than she ever could have imagined: sisters, brothers (and a brother-in-law), a birth mother, a niece and nephew, a father for Kira, and finally the original Leda donor. If there’s one thing that the season three finale of Orphan Black drives home, it’s just how precious Sarah’s strange family has become.

That’s important, because amid the ever-flowing stream of new adversaries and hidden motives and unfolding mysteries and straying subplots, Sarah’s family is ultimately what’s at stake in Orphan Black. There’s a moment in this finale when Helena faces off against Rudy in a deadly knife fight, and the outcome of Rudy managing to get a blow in and kill her feels like a real – and horrible – possibility.

The Clone Club is more than just the prize that everyone is fighting over; it’s also what has kept Sarah and her sisters alive for this long. Something that’s hugely gratifying to see in this season finale, ‘History Yet to Be Written’, is everyone working together and managing to stay one step ahead of Castor, successfully defeating Virginia Coady and killing Rudy by playing a dangerous game of cooperation with Topside. So it is that when Rudy goes after what he believes is the weak link in the Leda chain (Alison), what he’s actually doing is sniffing around some carefully laid bait.

Admittedly Sarah’s plans are thrown off track towards the episode’s climax, when it’s revealed that the Neolutionists are still around and have been pulling the strings all along, but by that point the key victory has already been achieved. It’s refreshing to see a season of a sci-fi thriller series like this conclude with a joyful moment of mother and daughter being reunited in the snow, and that’s probably a better reason to come back for season four than any number of dramatic cliffhangers.

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Before all the family hugs could get going, however, there was a fair bit of unpleasantness in ‘History Yet to Be Written’, starting with Siobhan’s pervasive threats to incinerate and/or dissolve her mother. She even has a bathtub full of sulfuric acid at the ready, which fortunately doesn’t suffer the same fate as Jesse Pinkman’s bathtub in Breaking Bad.

Kendall Malone, mother to Siobhan and genetic donor to Sarah and her sisters, is endearingly grouchy and it’s quite entertaining to watch her and Siobhan exchange barbs, hissing at each other like alley cats and intermittently threatening murder. Alison Steadman effectively conveys a character who’s caught somewhere between the malevolence of most of the Castor clones and the stubbornness and forthright attitudes of the Leda clones. It’s a powerful and dangerous combination.

Far away from all this drama, Rachel has been gifted with comfortable living quarters and a shiny new bionic eye, but isn’t happy at being left out of the loop. Fortunately for poor Krystal, the nail salon clone who was being used as a Rachel decoy, Delphine notices her suspiciously well-groomed hands and realizes that she’s been duped, eventually bringing her to the discovery of just how powerful the Neolutionists are.

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Given how season finales usually tend towards the dark and melodramatic, there’s a surprising amount of levity in ‘History Yet to Be Written’. Helena gets reunited with her ‘boyfriend’ Jesse, while Alison and her alarmingly pink campaign bus win the School Trustee election. It could be argued that Alison really didn’t deserve to win, since she defeated Marci Coates in part by bribing local mothers with drugs, but she’s part of the Clone Club and so we have to root for her. That’s what family’s all about.

The finale isn’t entirely without its dark moments, of course. After his fight with Helena, Rudy’s disorder finally catches up to him and he dies a quiet, melancholy death by his sister’s side. Delphine, meanwhile, goes out with a bang after sharing one last farewell kiss with Cosima and indirectly offering her blessing to Cosima’s new relationship with Shay.

This was a strong ending to an otherwise quite uneven season. The Castor clones were an experiment that haven’t quite worked out, and it’s not too disappointing to see most of them killed off in time for season four to move on to something new. Tatiana Maslany has always been and still is the main attraction of this show, and hopefully we’ll soon see her given even more opportunities to diversify her performance. Send in the clones.

Let us know what you thought of the Orphan Black season three finale in the comments.