In the many writeups that followed the conclusion of Orphan Black’s largely undiscovered first season, much was rightly made of series star Tatiana Maslany’s ability to convincingly play multiple characters in a scene; some would say to a level of acting competence not seen before. More than one reviewer and online commenter claimed they’d never seen an actor pull off the kinds of technical stunts she was regularly pulling off with this performance. And we’re right there with them. Once you settle into the show (and we obviously recommend that you should), you’ll have these truly revelatory moments where you realize you’ve been watching one person play an entire multiple-character scene by herself and you totally forgot about it. You really have to work to remind yourself that Cosima, Sarah, Alison, Helena and Rachel are all played by the same actress. It’s the Number One draw of the show, as it should be, and we hope the heightened awareness of the show will get Tatiana the high-ranking acting award nominations she truly deserves for what she’s doing here.
But there’s another draw here, and the season opener demonstrated an encouraging awareness on the part of the creators of its importance. It’s how they progress the plot. They send it shooting off in wild directions on an episode by episode basis – and sometimes, like this time, over and over again in the same episode. They literally and figuratively hit the ground running, with a fantastic cold open of Sarah running in the rain after her abducted daughter and finding herself once again off in a wild direction she couldn’t have seen coming. This time, she’s suddenly in a diner facing off against what look like religious anti-cloning nuts and through a series of unlikely holy-shit-what-did-I-just-see events, finds herself barricaded into a restroom with no way out. And here’s where the show really shines, because Sarah makes a particularly good character to send careening off in unexpected directions. You corner this girl and she’ll always pull some desperate move out of her ass, from swallowing soap to literally tearing down a wall to get free. It’s her fierceness and the quickness of her mind that makes Sarah so interesting to watch.
In fact, even though Alison, Cosima and Rachel all got significant scenes (not to mention Helena getting the biggest WTF scene of them all), this episode was The Sarah Manning Show in a lot of ways. And that’s as it should be, for now. She’s always been the central character and the one the audience is meant to follow. She’s probably the only clone we consider indispensable to the story. So it was good that we got to see not only her ferocity, but also the kind of skills she picked up as the con artist and petty thief she was when we first met her; pickpocketing phones and access cards; using the types of people she can connect with easily on the streets to do her bidding, and even pulling off yet another astonishing scene of pseudo-mimicry as you watch an actress play a character who’s impersonating another character also played by the same actress while making it clear to the audience that she’s not the character she appears to be. We’ll take a minute for you to reread that one.
Anyway, our point is, it truly was a joyously fun and raucous opening episode with absolutely no sign of a sophomore slump. On the contrary, there’s a sense that the show really understands its strengths and is playing directly to them. It’s always that sense that something slightly funny or totally unexpected will happen, from Felix’s chaps (which we declared on twitter the TELEVISION EVENT OF THE YEAR), to Alison’s utterly bizarre community theater musical production, to Sarah AWESOMELY disproving Rachel’s bored “You’re not going to shoot me…” and utterly scaring the shit outta the bitch to the final reveal that somehow, Helena is alive after a point blank bullet to the chest and Kira is in the creepiest settings imaginable. There’s a whole lot of other stuff that went on, like the possible introduction of a new sect of anti-cloning zealots and the question of just where Delphine and Dr’ Leakey are on the hierarchy and where Rachel fits in. There seem to be an awful lot of new agendas springing up all of a sudden. Sure, the neolutionists and and all the goofy sci-fi stuff (like guys with tails) can sometimes get in the way of our enjoyment, but we sensed a subtly downplaying of the more SyFy Channel elements from last season and an energized focus on just telling a rip-roaringgood adventure thriller and let your highly talented actress loose to do what she does really best.
They’re off to a great start. We pray for many more scenes of high-off-his-nekkid-ass Felix and Alison bonding in that way that only high strung fruit flies and their queens truly do. Their scenes are all magic. And once again, you practically have to write it down on your forearm to remember that the crazy chemistry he has with Alison is partially to totally absent when he’s playing scenes with the exact same actress, playing someone else.
Does anyone else find Paul kind of not worth all the story time? We get it. Big blond stud. But he’s a piece of stiff cardboard up against anyone else in the cast. We kept thinking Art was becoming somewhat problematic as a character but the end-of-episode scene that implied he was about to be let in on everything represents a huge step forward for him. Without this, he was going to start coming off like something of an idiot being played by everyone around him.
And Angie is a bitch.
[Photo Credit: Steve Wilkie for BBC AMERICA]
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