Orphan Black: 201 “Nature Under Constraint and Vexed” Review
Reviewed by Adam James Cuthbert.
The second series of Orphan Black kicks off immediately where the last series ended, with Sarah Manning now in pursuit of her daughter Kira’s kidnappers. With the rain beating down, as Sarah frantically runs down the street, it’s an engaging opening sequence: a reminder of the show’s gripping direction, and that its core appeal lies in the personal stakes facing each of the main characters, with Sarah motivated by her daughter’s well-being and safety. It’s worth noting that the intimacy of the stakes – Sarah and her daughter, Alison and her family, Cosima and her romantic relationship with Delphine – helps to keep the show grounded: in spite of their extraordinary circumstances, the characters always feel like real, believable individuals, with whom we have become attached. As a science-fiction show, it’s natural that Orphan Black should experiment with shades of other genres: the opening sequence evokes shades of film noir. When integrated with the rest of the episode, as a whole, it reinvigorates the viewer’s interest in the world of the show, and the characters’ relationship with a darker world than they originally knew.
Entering a cafe, Sarah tries to contact her fellow clones, but their phone services have been disconnected. Leaving a message with Paul’s voicemail, Sarah retrieves the mysterious photograph from her pocket: of the two scientists working on Project L.E.D.A., which had been in her birth mother Amelia’s possession. Her phone rings, with Rachel, the pro-clone, on the other end, who requests that Sarah surrender herself if she hopes to be reunited with Kira. Rachel is a fascinating character, and the episode fleshes her out substantially. Maslany evidently relishes the opportunity to more expansively portray the villain since last series, delivering another chameleonic performance: Maslany cannot be praised enough for creating the illusion of multiple actresses in the sundry distinct roles. While Rachel doesn’t appear stereotypically evil, she does occasionally slip into rather generic villain dialogue (“You won’t shoot me”; “Nobody lays hands on me”), which can be unfortunate since the character is such a novel creation, like her doppelgangers (although the former line of dialogue highlights her self-assured demeanour). Regarding Maslany’s performance, it’s interesting to see Sarah impersonate another clone, this time Cosima, as Sarah uses Cosima’s invitation to an event held at the Dyad Institute in order to get close to Rachel. It’s a plot device I’m glad to see employed, since it generates creative avenues of intrigue, capitalising on the potential of the show’s premise.
Hanging up on Rachel, Sarah reacts to the presence of two men, one dressed like a cowboy, who asks the cafe owner about the condition of his eggs in storage. His partner addresses Sarah. In the pivotal twist of the narrative, it’s revealed that the two men are Proletheans, the religious extremists Sarah’s enemy, and twin, Helena worked for, who are actually responsible for Kira’s abduction. The cowboy’s partner identifies Sarah based on “the lilt” in her voice. Retrospectively, it can be construed that the man recognised Sarah based on his experience with Helena, with Sarah and Helena sharing a voice pattern. It’s a subtle detail, one that reinforces the noir effect of the sequence as the lone heroine is cornered by confident killers who identify her based on a distinguishing trait. When the man informs Sarah he can reunite her with Kira, Sarah assumes he works for Rachel and the Dyad Institute. The twist is satisfying, allowing the Proletheans to become more of an active force in Sarah’s life. As an agent of narrative change, it prevents things from becoming too simple, by bringing Sarah into conflict with two organisations. It’ll be interesting to see how the relationship between Sarah and detective Arthur Bell develops, as they, imaginably, collaborate to rescue Kira from the Proletheans. I’m agog to see whether or not Sarah discloses the full story of the clones to Art, and how he’ll react. There are signs of tenderness between the characters that, combined with the chemistry between the actors, will make whatever turn of events unfold exciting at least.
Speaking of character relationships, the dynamic between Cosima and Delphine conveys moments of genuine warmth, with Cosima eloquently defending her love for Delphine and how it affects her actions (“I’m not going to apologise for my heart”). Although Delphine appears to reciprocate (she casually speaks of them as “we”, a partnership, during their conversation together about Cosima’s illness), she also hands Cosima’s blood sample over to Doctor Leekie, betraying Cosima’s trust. Interestingly, Delphine says that Cosima expresses the same respiratory symptoms as “the other two”. The fact that the audience is only aware of Kajta who shared Cosima’s sickness means that another clone exists elsewhere.
Overall, it’s a solid episode, which is only to be expected from the show’s consistently high standards. I do have a couple of issues with the story, however. I think it’s a bit of a stretch that Helena should survive being shot by Sarah (if she was conscious at the time, wouldn’t Sarah have noticed? And, bleeding profusely, didn’t anyone stop and try to help her on the streets?). I am ambivalent about her reintroduction, since her ‘death’ in the first series was an effective climax to her relationship with Sarah.