BBC marketed the show as a Canadian science fiction television show, but don’t let “Canada” throw you off. It’s legitimately one of the greatest shows on television right now, and about 85 percent of that is in the star, Tatiana Maslany.
As a TV show, “Orphan Black” is very complicated. I highly recommend taking your time when watching season one so you don’t miss any of the smaller nuances, especially in Maslany’s acting. She does a great job of embodying each clone and making them truly unique. She draws on those talents once again in the premiere and truly shows the audience why we hated the Emmys so much for snubbing Maslany.
The best parts of the show will always be when they put the clones together and have them interact with each other. It is as if each clone is played by a different actress who just happens to look exactly like Maslany. Even better is when they have the clones interact with Sarah’s foster brother, Felix.
Big spoiler alert here if you haven’t seen the first season, but Maslany basically carries this show on her tiny little back. She plays Sarah Manning, Alison Hendrix, Cosima Niehaus, Beth Childs, Rachel Duncan, Helena and various other clones. Yes, clones. Suspend your disbelief, people, the show really knows how to sell this gimmick.
Season two picks up right where season one left off. Sarah is racing through the city trying to contact the various clones and family members she has to find out the location of her daughter, Kira. You have to hand it to both of the co-creators of the show because they really know how to amp up the tension through the writing and directing of this episode. The shaky camera, taut music and creepy point-of-view shots throughout the cold open (the opening scenes before the title sequence and opening credits) drag the viewer to the edge.
Maslany does a great job of reminding us that Sarah Manning really is the main character of this show. Sarah is the ultimate con artist, and she will do anything for her daughter. Her desperation is clear, and we truly believe that when locked in a bathroom with nowhere to go, Sarah would take a fire extinguisher and break a hole in the wall to get away from her attackers instead of giving in and allowing herself to be caught, thus pushing her further away from her goal of reaching Kira.
The best Maslany point in the episode has to be when she is Sarah Manning sneaking into a party as Cosima Niehaus. Sarah is portrayed with a cockney accent while Cosima has a casual American drawl. Maslany’s portrayal in that specific scene is so perfect, though. You know it is Sarah just by the small bits of body language, and at one point, Sarah is so nervous that she lets a little bit of her cockney slip out. It’s so small that you have to watch it carefully to notice, but it’s in those small details that this show really and truly shines.
Aside from the perfection that is Tatiana Maslany, “Orphan Black” is just a really smart show. The premiere was fully aware of the world in which it lives by casually referencing the US Supreme Court ruling from last year where they declared that you can’t patent naturally occurring genetic material, but you can patent synthetic material. Cosima verbalizes the serious issues of morality and autonomy for herself and her fellow clones. In season one, we found out that the clones were patented by a group known as the Neolutionists. Cosima wonders about her own autonomy and how far the Neolutionists would be willing to go in order to keep their patents and their information, because in the end the clones are just test subjects to a group of scientists. It doesn’t matter to them that the clones have lives and families, and “Orphan Black” does a great job of subtly asking these questions and placing the audience in a role of complicity within this universe.
“Orphan Black’s” writers also went ahead and adjusted their second “villain” of the show, the Proletheans. They were set up as a caricature of religious fanaticism from last season’s Helena (witch, ugh), but by the end of the premiere the Proletheans were opened up as a group, portrayed by actual actors and given more purpose for the rest of the season. With these introductions, the “Orphan Black” universe just got richer and more intriguing.
While “Orphan Black” addresses some serious topics within its narrative, the writers also know when to draw back. The pacing is wonderful in every episode, and the writers know how to keep the tension rising before allowing for that much needed bit of release through the comedic breaks. Any time Felix is on screen, you know you’re going to get a respite from the high-strung intensity of the show. Our first shot of him this season was in a gay club, in the middle of a harem of men, casually wearing ass-less chaps. Fans from the first season will love that Felix stayed the same throughout the series, and the slight gags are hilarious.
The premiere set the tone for the rest of the season. It helpfully eliminated the stray police procedural storyline from the beginning of season one and actually gave Art, Beth’s old police partner who began to investigate the clones during season one, more of a purpose with the show and the clones than just randomly showing up and arresting Sarah. The writers set up the season so it can go in any different direction, keeping with “Orphan Black’s” theme of sudden twists and turns. Moving into the rest of season two, I am immensely excited for where this season will take us. There’s a great line-up of guest actors coming in plus the great surprise at the end of the premiere leaves me begging for the next episode right away. I honestly can’t wait until Saturday—you all know where I’ll be.