Orphan Black: “Nature Under Constraint and Vexed” (S2, E1 review)

The impressively large cast of Orphan Black season 2, mostly composed of Tatiana Maslanly (image via TVLine)
The impressively large cast of Orphan Black season 2, mostly composed of Tatiana Maslany (image via TVLine)

 

Whoosh!

And just like that, and understandably so given her daughter Kira (Skyler Wexla) and foster mother of dubious intent Mrs S. (Maria Doyle Kennedy) have just been kidnapped, Sarah Manning (Tatiana Maslany) is once again off and running, frantic to save the only family she really knows.

A family who may have been taken by The Dyad Institute, home to Evil Boss Clone Rachel (a brilliantly ice cold Tatiana Maslany, who is so good at bringing all the clones to life, you’d swear there are different actors playing the parts), Dr Leekie (Matt Frewer) and the torn but no less duplicitous Delphine (Evelyne Brochu)?

Or by the religiously extremist, free range egg-loving Proletheans, who wander menacingly into the diner in which Sarah pauses to collect her thoughts and have a spot of warming tea while trying unsuccessfully to call fellow clones, the amusingly Stepford Wives-like Alison and ailing Cosima (both played by Maslany, of course), her leather clad gay foster brother Felix (Jordan Gavaris in fine form as usual) and one time handler and lover Paul (Dylan Bruce), none of whom are mysteriously answering their phones.

Where the hell is everyone?!

The Prolotheans are particularly creepy, all tightly buttoned up shirts, slicked down hair and crazy eyes, proof that radical true believers of any stripe are the most dangerous, deeply unsettling and yes potentially evil people around.

 

Just another relaxing night for Sarah in her local diner (image via Orphan Black official site)
Just another relaxing night for Sarah in her local diner (image via Orphan Black official site (c) BBC America)

 

You have to feel for Sarah, adrenaline pumping through her veins, a million thoughts racing through her mind, desperate to do something, anything but unsure of exactly what her next move should be.

It’s an impressive scene, rich in a thousand and one contradictory swirling emotions, and yet stripped starkly bare, all neon lights, clipped sentences and looming murderous intent.

A scene that could go anywhere and does, with everything happening at once, sending Sarah off and running again into a very wet, cold night, in search of an ally aka anyone who will actually answer their damn phone!

She finally tracks down Felix, who is at his flirtatious best and getting ready for a leather five way with a bevy of men in one of those darkened pulsing clubs that only really seem to exist on TV – or maybe I’m simply not going to the right places which is entirely possible – who, to his credit, snaps to attention when he finds out Kira and Mrs S. are gone.

He enlists the help of Alison, who alone among the clones in signing a contract with Dyad, is doing her best to slip seamlessly back into her ordinary, bland suburban existence, even going as far as joining a musical society for a performance in which she ends up with the lead part.

It is Alison back at her amusing best, perennially put out that her carefully constructed world of bake sales, mall runs and sewing is continually interrupted by people like Felix wanting guns (for Sarah) or Dyad, mistakenly thinking she’s Sarah and trying to kidnap her (she is a dab hand at whistle blowing and capsicum spray it must be noted).

She is undoubtedly one of the best characters on the show, a prim and proper ticking time bomb of apoplexy, always just nano-seconds from being hilariously aggrieved and gifted with some of the best lines in the show.

 

Alison goes shopping with her good "friend" Ramone, their meeting an hilarious exercise in pretense (image via Orphan Black official site)
Alison goes shopping with her good “friend” Ramone, their meeting an hilarious exercise in pretense (image via Orphan Black official site (c) BBC America)

 

Her parking lot purchase of a gun from her drug dealer Ramone is one of the funniest scenes I have seen in a show anywhere, its dark underbelly papered over by  determinedly fixed smiles, and anodyne carefully-considered conversation which finishes with the oh-so-polite “How is your mother?”

It gives this grim but compelling show some needed levity, enhancing its storytelling complexity by adding some amusing layers to what is essentially a battle to death between competing, merciless ideologues, intent on re-shaping the world in their own malformed image.

Not that either party sees themselves in that large, both convinced their glowing halos are firmly in place and that right and might are firmly on their side.

Sarah, of course, cares little for their turf battles, intent only on getting Kira back, who is shown just once being readied for some kind of abduction video, heartbreakingly passive and alone, and gutsy enough to take her battle into the heart of The Dyad Institute where she comes up against the monstrously remorselessly cold Rachel (aka Evil Boss Clone).

I am looking forward to further battles of wit and brute force between these two, Rachel’s chilled persona a striking dramatic counterpoint to Sarah’s impulsive “plan what plan?” emotionally hot-headed but undeniably effective approach.

In this opening episode of season 2, while their initial pushing up against each other is brief but explosive, there is the promise of violent battles to come which can only end in one of them getting their much deserved comeuppance (and we all know that it won’t be Sarah at the pointy end of bloodied fate don’t we?).

Their ongoing venomous pas de deux is going to be one of the most enticing parts of this season of Orphan Black, a show that cannily remembers that well drawn characters interacting with authenticity and narrative-propelling intensity are the heart and soul of any intelligent thriller.

 

Rachel discovers via a pistol whipping Sarah that malevolent posturing alone is not enough when you're dealing with an opponent determined to win at any costs (image via Orphan Black official site (c) BBC America)
Rachel discovers via a pistol whipping Sarah that malevolent posturing alone is not enough when you’re dealing with an opponent determined to win at any costs (image via Orphan Black official site (c) BBC America)

 

It’s this mindset, which see Sarah also growing closer to Art (Kevin Hanchard), dead clone Beth’s former police partner and now possible (though again of dubious intent) ally, and Cosima keeping Delphine close despite her misgivings about her loyalty, that gives Orphan Black the raw emotional power it turns on incredibly effectively with consummate ease.

Another point in the show’s favour, and one I appreciate greatly after the muddled mysterious mess that was Lost, is that it is willing to give us some insight, sooner rather than six seasons later, into who is doing what and why, all without diluting one gram of the tension that weighs welcomingly heavily on the show’s taut, never-slacking narrative.

Giving away some of the secrets works because we’re not just watching the show to find out what is really going on; we’re also heavily, and I would argue primarily, invested in the rich, deeply detailed characters and their interactions with each other.

Yes we want to know stuff – we are human after all and who among us doesn’t like to have mysteries revealed in all their glorious, squalid detail? – but that means nothing if we don’t feel like we’re spending time with people who are worth the investment of our precious viewing time.

Full credit to Orphan Black for not losing sight of this for a second and for giving us a gripping, utterly immersive show that gives no sign it is planning to drop the quality, rip-roaring storytelling or intricate character work as it barrels with all guns blazing into what promises to be a powerfully dynamic second season.

 

 

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