‘Orphan Black’ Review S02E01: “Nature Under Constraint and Vexed”

By  · Published on April 20th, 2014

BBC America

When we last saw the clones of Orphan Black (all played to individual perfection by Tatiana Maslany) they were in quite a bit of disarray. Cosima was coughing up blood and working with a known traitor (of secrets and hearts) in Delphine, Alison was feeling content in her false sense of security, Helena was presumed dead after taking a bullet to the chest, Rachel was feeling confident in her ability to control the escalating situation and Sarah was panicking after discovering her daughter and foster mother seemingly abducted into the night.

The season two premiere picks up immediately with that last and most important story thread, and it does so with an urgency missing from too many shows these days. The episode moves at a frantic pace, only pausing for a breath and some laughs when Alison appears. Even better than the energy and balanced tone, the episode directly deals with some of the first season’s biggest weaknesses and plot discrepancies while adding new characters and levels of intrigue.

Fair warning, this episode recap/review features spoilers, so if you haven’t watched the season two premiere yet bookmark us and come back later.

We first see Sarah running through the rainy, nighttime streets lost in her concern for Kira (Skyler Wexler) and Mrs. S (Maria Doyle Kennedy) and thirsty for hot tea. She stops in a diner, and it’s here where we’re introduced to a new pair of characters who waltz in, make a stink about free range eggs and kill the cook in their effort to grab Sarah. She escapes, but we’ve now had our first glimpse at the new faces of the religiously-minded Proletheans. These are the folks who raised Helena into the trained attack dog we knew and loved last season, and it seems they’re also the ones behind Kira’s kidnapping. They see the clones as abominations against God, but they seem to view the little girl a bit differently. Their new messiah perhaps?

Lest anyone think that lets Rachel, Dr. Leekie (Matt Frewer) and the Neolutionists off the hook though Rachel lets slip later on that by the time her people got to the house it had already been ransacked and emptied. So basically they were just too slow in their own kidnapping scheme. Sarah knows they’re still evil bastards and makes a bold attempt at a rescue before learning the truth, but by the ep’s end she’s no closer to finding her daughter.

She is closer to spilling the whole truth to Art (Kevin Hanchard) though, and this is long overdue. One of the problems last season was the ineptitude of the police in general and Art in particular, but it’s possible that with more knowledge on his side he may turn into a formidable ally for Sarah. Equally overdue is the idea of going to the authorities for help. There are arguments against that action after the fact of course, from the police department’s stupidity to the power of the Dyad Institute to the acknowledgement of court rulings on DNA patents, but it seems like someone would at least try to get the big baddies arrested or detained.

Art seems like a genuinely good guy, slow on the uptake maybe but good, but what are we to make of Paul (Dylan Bruce) and Delphine (Evelyne Brochu)? Both of them have made an art-form of playing both sides of the good/bad divide, and while both have come clean to Sarah and Cosima (respectively) they’re still acting a bit shady. Rachel is still holding those friendly-fire killings in Afghanistan over Paul’s head, so his dilemma is clear, but who is Delphine actually loyal to? She expressly went against Cosima’s wishes regarding her illness and the blood sample, but is it possible Cosima’s actually playing her somehow?

As good and exciting as all of the plot-oriented action I’d be lying if I said that Alison’s scenes weren’t the highlight for me. She’s removed herself from the drama by signing Rachel’s contract and offing her monitor (she believes so anyway), but she remains the most purely entertaining character by a long shot. Her community theater subplot may grow tiresome in the face of everything else going on, but I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt for now. She even makes the often insufferable Felix (Jordan Gavaris) a valuable player when the two of them get together. Last season had some rough tonal spots as he and others would crack jokes and act nonchalent while their world was collapsing around them, but keeping the laughs apart from the drama makes a world of difference. Seriously, I would watch and love the hell out of a sitcom spin-off with those two.

Finally, did any of you legitimately believe that Helena was dead? She’s far too likable, charismatic and volatile a character to kill off, let alone to let die off-screen. The fact that she didn’t die from the blood loss and direct shot to the heart raises an interesting question though. The hospital staff even comments on her survival, and if that sounds familiar it’s because little Kira’s car accident resulted in similar comments of disbelief by medical professionals. Why are these two so uber healthy while some of the clones are developing deadly health issues? Regardless of the twists to come in that department, I’m excited to have Helena back, and I look forward to her continued Frankenstein monster-like revenge on those who created her.

In comes as no surprise that Maslany continues to be on fire with her performances. There’s a disconnect that happens as you become more and more engrossed in the show in that you start seeing the clones not just as different characters but as different people. Logically you’re aware that it’s one actress behind them all, but they feel different enough that you forget as you watch. It’s what happens with great character actors (and occasional leads) who blend into their role so completely in ways well beyond simple costume changes.

Last season was fun and exciting, but I hesitated in my love for the show due to its multiple issues with non-clone characters. They lacked depth and often suffered from weak writing, but the season premiere has already made great strides in both of those areas. It’s too early to say if it will hold up throughout the season, but it’s a promising start to a show that already has a fascinating central conceit, story line and lead actress.

But enough of my blathering – what did you think of the episode?

Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.