***FULL SPOILERS FOR ORPHAN BLACK SEASONS ONE & TWO AHEAD***
Orphan Black was a surprise to me last year, to say the least. While I enjoy many BBC shows like Doctor Who, Sherlock, and Luther, I’ve never personally found one that I considered “must see” (Don’t worry, I realize you’re probably screaming at you screen after reading that). But I’d heard the internet rumblings about Orphan Black and decided months after its first season had ended, to give it a shot. It turned out to be one of the best television decisions I’ve made to date. The show has a wonderful story, well written characters, and is basically a master class in acting. Those reading this are of course aware, that the show is about a group of clones who discover one another and are thrown into a series of adventures. But bigger than that is that each clone is played by only one woman — Tatiana Maslany. Amazingly, each clone is so extremely unique, that I often find myself forgetting that I’m watching the same woman acting across from herself, sometimes many times over. It is also why I have formatted this review so that we look at each clone and their happenings throughout season two.
Let’s begin with the wild card of the bunch. Helena is the proverbial black sheep of the family, always creating mischief and getting herself, and others, into trouble. This year she has some really big, and fun to watch, growth as a character though. While the crazy evangelical from season one seemed bad enough, this year we find Helena being pursued by a cult that will seemingly stop at nothing to make sure she reproduces. Murder, sewing of lips, and incest all start to seem run of the mill for this group of psychos, known as the Proletheans, and you start to realize that Helena is rational one in most scenes, which speaks volumes. Her interactions with Art (Kevin Hanchard, Four Brothers) are also wonderful, and by the end of the season you start to believe she might actually be able to carry out a normal life with her clone family. She is also the character I am most looking forward to seeing in season three, which is a far cry from how I felt going into season two.
Rachel is easily my least favorite of the group, but I don’t know that she is supposed to be anything more. Rachel plays her role as the driving force of chaos very well. I did enjoy getting to dive a bit behind her icy demeanor this year and learn why she is the only clone working with The Dyad Institute. The reveal of Ethan (Andrew Gillies, The Virgin Suicides) as Rachel’s father and her growing attachment to him is played out wonderfully throughout the last half of the season, and the gut wrenching, yet semi-satisfying, turn as Ethan takes his own life right in front of his estranged daughter was surprisingly one of the highlights of the season for me.
Cosima somehow manages to be vital to basically every other aspect of the show, and still be the least interesting plot line by far. This is not to say that Cosima’s story is poorly written or acted, but it does tend to take a big back seat to all the happenings around it. Some of this may be because of the ongoing story involving her deteriorating health and therefore, her mostly stationery scenes throughout season two, but for me I think it mostly has to do with her utterly useless love interest Delphine (Evelyne Brochu, Inch’Allah). Cosima does have a few highlights though, namely her takeover of a table top fantasy game, where she proceeds to dominate amongst the stereotypical nerdy scientists she comes across, and her building of a sweet fire extinguisher-powered pencil cannon. Yes, that last bit sounds even more awesome when you write it out.
Far and away my favorite of all the clones, Alison is what some might call a “hot mess”. This year we see her trying to deal with her many issues, all of which are self-inflicted and middling in comparison to the troubles with The Dyad Institute or the Proletheans, but which are just as, if not more, intriguing. After a stent in rehab for her “drinking problem”, and a hilarious run in with Vic (Michael Mando, The Colony), Alison does what she does best — clean up after her husband Donnie (Kristian Bruun, Holiday Hypnosis). The man is a walking time bomb, and never is that more evident than in the accidental, and strangely hilarious, shooting of Dr. Leekie (Matt Frewer, Watchmen). Luckily, the shooting results in one of the best parts of the season, as Alison and Donnie spend a couple of episodes trying to dispose of the body. This not only results in many laughs, but also in an unusual, but also oddly fitting, strengthening of the two’s wonderfully disastrous relationship.
Sarah, while not as fun to watch as Alison, or as crazy as Helena, is certainly the glue that holds the entire group together. She is, of course, the first clone we meet in season one, and the only clone to have ever given birth. This makes her very important, and so she is the catalyst for a lot the action within the series. It also tends to mean she is surrounded by characters that are much louder and more colorful than she is. Not the least of which is Felix (Jordan Gavaris, The Curse of Chucky). Probably my favorite character on the show, his flamboyant personality and attitude make him a joy to watch in every scene. Sarah’s biggest break thought this year though is in reuniting with her daughter Kira’s (Skyler Wexler, Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town) father, Cal (Michiel Huisman, World War Z). Their initial meeting struck me as a quick diversion, and so I was surprised when Cal and Kira ended up together. But as the season progressed and Cal showed up more and more, I wasn’t surprised at all to see he and Sarah back together when all was said and done.
At the end of season one, we were aware of ten clones, though some were never actually met. This year the story focuses mostly on the core five, and backs away from throwing too many new faces (or the same face, as it were) at us, but we do get a couple of surprises. Mid-way through the season we meet Tony, a transgendered clone who’s spot on the show, at least for now, is limited, as he’s sent away quickly to protect him from the ongoing Dyad drama. And then in the final minutes of the season, two huge revelations are made. The first is Charlotte, an eight year old clone who is the only success of 400, in a second attempt to make female clones. The second is the real game changer though, the reveal of a set of male clones. How this will play out in season three has me borderline giddy.
Sure, the writing is great and the story is smart and well paced, but what really sets Orphan Black apart from the rest is the brilliant Tatiana Maslany. Thanks to equally brilliant scene setup and green screen work, she is able to play against herself several times over, to the point that she’s all four of the characters in the shot at once. But the real treat is that she not only gives each clone their own accent and look, but also their own distinctive mannerisms and fine details that allow you, as the viewer, to get lost in the story and forget you’re watching one woman play five to seven main characters in a single show.