Reviews

‘Orphan Black’ Review: ‘Nature Under Constraint and Vexed’

Orphan Black, Season 2, Iconic Image
Cast of 'Orphan Black,' Season 2. Photo Credit: © BBC AMERICA

BBC America’s dramatic conspiracy thriller, Orphan Black, returned last night with its much anticipated season two premiere, delivering the excitement, intrigue and dark humor fans have come to expect from the popular sci-fi series.

Before delving into my Orphan Black review for “Nature Under Constraint and Vexed,” I figured I’d make a confession. I was more than a little late to the Orphan Black party when the series premiered last year. While the premise piqued my interest, I was adamantly opposed to adding another new series to my already overcrowded DVR. It wasn’t until some friends, among them TVSource Magazine writer Johnathan K., recommended the series, that I decided to give it a try. By the time the pilot was over, I knew I had to watch the rest of Sarah Manning’s story. I ended up binge-watching the series before the season one finale; finding myself captivated by the Orphan Black universe in a way that few series have managed to do.

Warning: Full spoilers for the episode follow…

Season two hits the ground running with Sarah (Tatiana Maslany) in a desperate race to find her missing daughter Kira (Skyler Wexler). With a storm approaching, she finds protection from the weather inside a near diner. Attempts to contact her sister clones, scientist Cosima and homemaker Alison, fail as their numbers are no longer in service. Her last call is to Paul (Dylan Bruce), who doesn’t answer. Frustrated and worried, the kind and perceptive diner owner gives her something to drink and a towel to clean herself up. She receives a call from Paul, only it’s not from Paul, it’s from Rachel, the head of Dyad. Rachel tells her she can reunite with her daughter and foster mother if she turns herself in.

Two men enter the diner and try to force Sarah to come with them. The diner owner comes to her defense, sadly, the last thing he’ll ever get to do. Before he meets his end, he’s able to take out one of the creepy travelers, giving Sarah an opportunity to escape. It was a beautifully shot sequence that would set the tone for the difficulties ahead for Sarah in reuniting with her family.

As interconnected as the clones are, each one also has their individual storylines going on as well. The easiest way to breakdown what’s going on with them, without making this eight pages long, is to break down the happenings of the Clone Club one by one.

Sarah Manning, the Original

Orphan Black, Season 2, Episode 1, Mark (Ari Millen) and Sarah (Tatiana Maslany). Photo Credit: © Steve Wilkie for BBC AMERICA
Orphan Black, Season 2, Episode 1, Mark (Ari Millen) and Sarah (Tatiana Maslany). Photo Credit: © Steve Wilkie for BBC AMERICA

Sarah is waging a one-woman war against the people she holds responsible for ruining her life. The rest of the episode has Sarah trying to outmaneuver Rachel and her Dyad Institute muscle so she can get close enough and get the answers she seeks. What she doesn’t anticipate is a visit from Art, Beth’s old partner and Sarah’s for a brief time when she posed as Beth. Art is close to solving the mystery of the clones but isn’t ready for what’s ahead. Art wants Sarah to trust her, but Sarah doesn’t trust anyone – not even Paul.

Paul, Sarah’s lover and an employee of Dyad Institute, tries to appeal to Sarah to turn herself in, but faces resistance every step of the way. Paul believes if they work with Dyad instead of against them, they can use them to their advantage. It’s a theory that could work but that only benefits Sarah if Dyad can be trusted, which they can’t.

In an effort to get rescue Kira, Sarah pretends to be Cosima while attending a Dyad soiree. Though she manages to fool Dr. Leekie, Delphine realizes she’s Sarah, but is forced to keep quiet to protect Cosima. When Sarah reaches Rachel, she learns that Rachel never took Kira or Mrs. S, they were already gone by the time Dyad security reached them. Sarah doesn’t react to the news well and physically attacks Rachel. Paul arrives and stops Sarah from killing her, but lets her escape. It’s clear Paul loves her and wants to do what he can to help her, but can’t risk Dyad turning on him if he does.

With nowhere else to go, Sarah turns to her old pal Art for help. She tells him Dyad wasn’t responsible for Kira’s kidnapping, which he already figured out. Art reveals the man killed at the diner belonged to a religious extremist group – the same as Maggie Chen (season one reference) and the same group Helena belonged to – the Proletheans. Armed with this new information, Sarah asks if Art really wants to know what’s going on, preparing to tell him all about the conspiracy involving the clones.

Alison Hendrix, the Stepford Clone

Orphan Black, Season 2, Episode 1, Alison (Tatiana Maslany). Photo Credit: © Steve Wilkie for BBC AMERICA
Orphan Black, Season 2, Episode 1, Alison (Tatiana Maslany). Photo Credit: © Steve Wilkie for BBC AMERICA

Alison, the Stepford wife, is trying to get her life back on track after it was derailed last season. Finding out she was a clone and was being monitored by someone close to her (mistakenly accusing best friend Aynsley) led to some uncharacteristic behavior last season. When Fe pays her a visit (in search of a gun for Sarah), she relays she’s no longer drinking or taking pills.

Most of the humor in the episode involved Alison and her life. Whether she was getting illegal weapons from her friend Ramone, practicing for the community theatre musical or trying to fend off a Dyad Institute ambush with her rape whistle and mace, she provided some much needed comic relief at the necessary moments. My favorite was the care package she sent to Sarah’s – a gun hidden in a bouquet of roses. Yes, Alison sent her guns and roses. Too cute.

I’m looking forward to seeing Alison’s paranoia grow as the season progresses. She’s still unaware that her husband Donnie is her Dyad approved monitor, reporting to them on her every move.

Cosima Niehaus, the Scientist Clone

Cosima, the genius clone, stumbled upon a sinister secret at the end of last season involving Dyad. The company put a patent on the girls’ DNA, meaning they are the property of Dyad, and potentially their offspring (in this instance, Sarah’s daughter Kira). Her lover, Delphine (Evelyne Brouchua), continues to work for the creepy Dr. Leekie (Matt Frewer), but vowed to keep Cosima’s confidence while she battles a mysterious illness.

Unfortunately for Cosima, Delphine doesn’t keep her word, instead telling Dr. Leekie about Cosima’s illness. Whatever it is affecting Cosima lead to the demise of two other clones. Delphine relays to Dr. Leekie that she’s now invested in subject 324B21, implying she’ll do what’s necessary to help Cosima.

Cosima plans on working with Dyad Institute to find a cure, but will she live long enough to see it through?

Rachel Duncan, the Head Clone in Charge

Rachel wasn’t introduced until the end of last season but her expanded role in season two has me most excited. Rachel’s scariest quality is her calm demeanor. She always seems to be three steps ahead of the Clone Club; but as shown in the confrontation with Sarah, underestimating her foes might lead to her downfall.

Orphan Black, Season 2, Episode 1, Rachel (Tatiana Maslany) and Sarah (Tatiana Maslany). Photo Credit: © BBC AMERICA
Orphan Black, Season 2, Episode 1, Rachel (Tatiana Maslany) and Sarah (Tatiana Maslany). Photo Credit: © BBC AMERICA

There’s still a lot to learn about the character, but one thing we do know is her ability to commit to a lie. She purposely misled Sarah about having Kira, just so she could a face to face meeting. I don’t know if she was crazy or stupid, but it was a dangerous gamble either way. I’m also intrigued by her fondness for Paul. I mean, who could blame her, have you seen Paul? Good lord.

Helena, the Murderous Clone

Yes, our favorite Ukrainian psycho has returned from the dead! Well, we don’t know if she was ever dead, but Sarah certainly left her for it. Her appearance at the end of the episode was shocking, but I hope there’s a greater purpose to it. Suspension of belief comes with sci-fi series, but the show needs to be careful about venturing too far down the rabbit hole of bringing people back after fatal injuries.

Final Thoughts

It seems like this season is going to be Dyad versus the Proletheans. That possibility excites me to no end. Dyad represents science and evolution; Proletheans, the religious based organization, represents creationism. Talk about explosive subtext! What do the Proletheans, who are hell-bend on destroying clones, have in store for Kira?

We’re all aware of Kira’s special nature, though the show has yet to delve into exactly what it is. Last season, she was injured in an accident and healed rather quickly. Does Helena have that same healing quality?

Orphan Black, Season 2, Episode 1, Cosima (Tatiana Maslany) and Delphine (Evelyne Brochu). Photo Credit: © Steve Wilkie for BBC AMERICA
Orphan Black, Season 2, Episode 1, Cosima (Tatiana Maslany) and Delphine (Evelyne Brochu). Photo Credit: © Steve Wilkie for BBC AMERICA

Tatiana Maslany’s outstanding performances as clones Sarah, Beth, Cosima, Alison, Helena and Rachel continues to be the highlight of the series. All of the clones have their distinct personalities, mannerisms and accents, it’s easy to forget that one actress is playing all of these characters. As a friend of mine pointed out on Twitter last night, I’ve never known an actor or actress to have sexual chemistry with themselves. Don’t believe me? Re-watch the confrontation between Rachel and Sarah. It’s awesome, creepy and hot at the same time.

Co-creators John Fawcett and Graeme Manson (who also write and direct the series) have the unenviable task of keeping the series from drifting into wacky territory. Often, sci-fi series lose themselves in their universe and become camp fodder. In the hands of lesser show runners, the clone aspect would have become a gimmick, but Fawcett and Manson have kept a tight grip on the tonal shifts and I hope it continues.

I know the face-offs between the clones were a favorite of many last season, but I hope they’re kept to a minimum in season two. I’d rather more focus be put on developing the other members of the Clone Club, not seeing how many times Tatiana Maslany can out act herself. If you overuse the face-offs, it loses its impact.

Quotable Moments

“To combine is to create, to engineer divine.” – Dr. Leekie

“We have an emergency and you’re high.” – Sarah to Felix

“In the face?” – Paul to Sarah after she hits him with a weapon.

“I smelled lesbians in my bed last night.” – Felix to Cosima

“Look, I’m not going to apologize for my heart, okay.” – Cosima in response to Felix’s comment.

Obligatory Paul Photo

Because there wasn’t enough Paul in the episode.

Orphan Black, Season 2, Episode 1, Paul (Dylan Bruce). Photo Credit: © Steve Wilkie for BBC AMERICA
Orphan Black, Season 2, Episode 1, Paul (Dylan Bruce). Photo Credit: © Steve Wilkie for BBC AMERICA

About the author

Ryan White-Nobles

Ryan White-Nobles is Editor-in-Chief of TVSource Magazine. He's a natural #Heel who loves a spirited debate and probably watches too much TV. Follow him on Twitter at @SourceRyan to discuss all things TV, soaps, sports, wrestling and pop culture.