Every TV show should be so lucky as to have their own Tatiana Maslany.
The Canadian actress has been working steadily since 2003, mostly on television and the occasional blink-and-you’ll-miss-her film appearance, but she became a bit of a sensation last year with her lead role (roles?) in BBC America’s new series, Orphan Black. It helped that the show is entertaining, twisty and surprisingly funny, but the key to each and every episode is Maslany’s incredibly diverse and nuanced performances. That may be confusing if for some inexplicable reason you haven’t watched the show yet, but Maslany plays clones. Each one is unique in character and characteristics, in movement and expression, and she does masterful work bringing them each to individual life. Things get even more impressive when she plays one character impersonating another. And don’t even get me started on her frequently displayed derriere.
Season two premieres tonight, and since I’ll be reviewing the episodes going forward I wanted to take a quick look back at the first season to bring everyone up to speed. I re-watched all ten episodes and was reminded of the show’s numerous strengths, its handful of weaknesses and the seemingly limitless power of Maslany.
Sarah Manning (Maslany) is the focus of the show, and we’re introduced to her returning to town to make amends for her past. It’s at the train station where she first discovers that there’s someone who looks identical to her, but unfortunately it’s right before the woman leaps to her death in front of a train. Sarah steals the woman’s bag, and in an effort to elude troubles in her own life she proceeds to step into the dead woman’s shoes. Beth was a police officer, so Sarah steps into the role hoping to empty Beth’s bank accounts but instead finds a whole new world of trouble.
She quickly discovers that Beth wasn’t her only doppelganger and soon meets Alison the soccer mom, Cosima the PhD student, and Katja the Germa – nevermind, Katja is shot dead almost immediately. As if the revelation that she’s a clone wasn’t enough for Sarah to take in, Katja’s murder tips her off to the realization that someone is murdering the clones. At least three others have already been killed, and it’s not long before she meets the woman responsible. Helena (pictured above) is a psychotic avenging angel eliminating the copies under the instruction of an anti-science religious zealot who sees them as abominations.
As bad as the religious nut may be though, the pro-science folks aren’t any better. Each of the clones are being monitored by someone close to them, someone who ingratiated themselves into the clone’s life sometimes many years prior. Alison’s husband, Beth’s boyfriend, Cosima’s new girlfriend… trusted friends and lovers are working for a shadowy organization with nefarious interests in the clones’ well-being. As the season progresses we’re introduced to the people in charge including Dr. Aldous Leekie (Matt Frewer), a scientist pushing his own “religion” of Neolution, and Rachel, a clone raised in the care of Leekie’s group and who now heads up the business side of his Dyad Institute.
The show wisely delivers revelations fast and furious throughout its run instead of hoarding them for the season finale, and that’s part of why the show succeeds (outside of Maslany of course). We’re constantly receiving new information about the clones and their creation and about the intentions of everyone involved. It’s done through sequences that manage a fine balance of suspense and humor, and even better, while the show’s primary goal is entertainment it also serves to raise some interesting topics with real-world consequences.
Of course, that desire to stay topical also led to the finale’s biggest issue. The season ended with multiple threads hanging, but the one meant as the most dramatic was instead the most ridiculous. Cosima discovers a genetic marker in each of the clones that is meant to act as a patent claim – the clones are the property of the Dyad Institute. This is dumb. Orphan Black takes place in the present day, and even with its (currently) sci-fi premise we’re meant to see it as our world. Well guess what. There’s not a chance in hell any court would enforce Dyad’s claim of ownership over a person making this neither suspenseful nor dramatic. And not even the contract that Rachel is trying to get the clones to sign would change that.
That’s a minor offense though compared to the show’s portrayal of the police. Not only do they work out of the least convincing police station to ever grace the screen, but they’re idiotic to a fault. Cosima walks in without anyone noticing and rearranges an evidence board… and Beth’s partner Art (Kevin Hanchard) shrugs it off as other cops fooling around? Granted, Art is slow as hell in noticing Beth is acting nothing like herself, but still, catch a clue man. Later, Art arrests Sarah after (finally) watching the station video of Beth killing herself, and when Sarah proclaims she didn’t kill Beth Art asks if she knows who did. Again, he had *just* watched the video of her killing herself.
I make a big deal out of those things only because people are calling the show incredibly smart when it’s actually happy to settle for fun, entertaining, exciting and a refreshing change of pace from the norm. Orphan Black is highly enjoyable, and I’m excited for season two, but let’s not feel compelled to throw every possible positive adjective its way.
So where does all of this leave the surviving clones heading into season two?
Sarah has told Rachel to stuff it via text message, an unfortunate move as it gave Rachel time to order the apparent abduction of Sarah’s daughter and foster mother, Mrs. S (Maria Doyle Kennedy). Although it’s entirely possible Mrs. S is actually working for the other side. Sarah’s got Paul (Dylan Bruce), Beth’s incredibly bland boyfriend, on her side, but by his own admission the Dyad people have a very strong hold over him. Where will his loyalty fall? My guess is with the one who offers spontaneous sex on the kitchen counter, but we’ll see.
Alison is feeling fully content both on the homefront and the clonefront. She signed Rachel’s contract, she’s back with her husband Donnie (Kristian Bruune) and she’s offed the woman she believed was her monitor. Of course, it’s actually Donnie and she let an innocent woman die, so it will be interesting to see how she handles those bombshells once she discovers them. And by interesting I mean awesome because she is Maslany’s greatest creation.
Cosima was lulled to the dark side by her love of science and scissoring with Delphine (Evelyne Brochu), but she’s finally come to her senses. Unfortunately, she’s also coughing up blood. She knows that some of the clones developed health issues, so she’s rightly concerned. So are we as Cosima’s a close second behind Alison in the “Most Entertaining” clone contest.
Helena was shot by Sarah after the blond psycho stabbed their birth mother – did I mention these two shared a womb? – and hasn’t been seen since, but it’s a guarantee she’ll be back. She’s far too charismatic and emotional a character to be dismissed and left to die offscreen.
And Rachel? Well who really cares about Rachel. We know far too little about her, something that will hopefully change in season two, so for now she’s left high and mighty in her darkly lit office in the sky.
Tune in tonight for the premiere of season two, and be sure to swing back by here tomorrow to discuss it with us.