Orphan Black: Nature Under Constraint and Vexed

Posted on April 21, 2014

Orphan-Black-Season-2-Episode-1-Tom-Lorenzo-Site-TLOTatiana Maslany in BBC America’s series “Orphan Black”


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.

Caught up?

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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  • RussellH88

    I remember the first time I saw a picture of the cast and I thought “Wait, people have to be missing, it’s only 4 actors” and then it really did hit me that Cosima, Alison, Sarah, Helena, and Rachel are all played by the same person.

    It’s such an amazing feat of acting that she should win all of the awards.

    • ankali

      I caught myself thinking during an S1 episode, “Oh, I hope Cosima is in this one. But Alison’s already in it, and they probably don’t have the budget to have too many guest stars in the same ep…”

    • martha

      When they showed the opening credits, at first I was trying to figure out which actress played Rachel!

  • marlie

    I’m SO thrilled that you guys are covering this show!! I think I may start looking forward to these reviews even more than those for Mad Men! It’s also thrilling because, with the premiere of Season 2, people are finally seeing what the “big deal” is for those of us who maybe picked up on the show a little earlier. And in the understatement of the year, Tatiana Maslany is HELLA talented, and I hope she gets the recognition she deserves.

    • j_am

      Agreed on all counts! TLo + Orphan Black = supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

    • Violina23

      The fact that she had gotten so little recognition makes the whole Hollywood award machine feel less legit than ever. Not that they were ever lacking in politics, but still! I’m more interested in TLo’s red carpet commentary than the awards, unless maybe NPH is hosting 🙂

  • Emily Smith

    I have no idea wth is going on because I’ve never heard of this show until now. But now I’m intrigued.

    • marlie

      Go. Block out a day (soon!), and binge watch the first season. GO.

      • Emily Smith

        Binge watching is the only way to watch anything. I only have 5 episode of the tudors left so once I finish it. Which will probably be tonight…

      • Jaime

        I sat down to watch the pilot one morning while working on an art project, and next thing I knew, it was 8pm, I had marathoned the whole season, and done virtually nothing on the project.

    • @Biting Panda

      DO. IT.

    • Glam Dixie


    • Anathema_Device

      Watch it!!! Great acting and writing, with enough humor to keep it fun.

    • StelledelMare

      Stop whatever you’re doing and watch it now.

      • Violina23

        This includes working. Your boss Will understand 😉

      • Emily Smith

        Lol, binge watching black orphan > science. I think I might wait until I’m home…

  • @Biting Panda

    I finally got to sit down, in a quiet, empty house and watch my box set. I watched eps 1 through 8 in a fascinated, appreciative, daze. I started the last of the season as soon as I woke up, and watched the season premier immediately after. It has been a long time since something so hyped exceeded my hopes.

    • Glam Dixie

      Most Unfuckingbelieveable performance in a drama category.

    • Violina23

      Jordan not being British messes with me, much like Alexis Denisof from Buffy/Angel. When he speaks with his normal American accent I get irrationally annoyed. Although I fully admit to having a fetish for British accents…

    • twigg

      Jordan’s real accent sounds almost Southern. There’s a bit of a twang in there.

      • Crystal

        That’s probably why his British accent is so good. The dialects are very similar, with the only real difference being that in the British dialect the mouth opens more vertically, and with the Southern dialect the mouth opens more horizontally. That’s why British and Australian actors always end up in Westerns.

  • Glam Dixie

    Allison getting abducted and Felix’s chaps were the best moments of the show. But they were very closely followed by so many more. It was so good. I can’t wait for next week. Paul may be cardboard but he’s nice eye candy. Must see tv.

    • TropiCarla

      That abduction scene was so friggin’ hilarious. I almost busted a gut – trying not to laugh so hard that I couldn’t hear the dialogue.

      • Glam Dixie

        Wasn’t it amazing? I can picture the whole thing in perfect detail in my head. Alison is my favorite after Sarah, so prim and proper but really, really flawed.

      • tiny_bookbot

        It’s so bizarre when an abduction scene can be played for humor SUCCESSFULLY. It says a lot about how they’ve set up both Sarah and Alison as characters that the comedic timing of something so (potentially) dark was impeccable. Unbelievably funny, though nothing tops Alison vs Vic from last season.

  • IMNAngryLiberal

    I love Orphan Black soooo much. it is the first time I’ve ever bought a season pass on Amazon and Season 2, ep 1 proved that it was absolutely the right decision!

  • Anathema_Device

    Yes, yes, YES! to everything here. It hadn’t occurred to me how difficult it must be for Maslany to play so many different characters in one scene. I watched that recap special where the technology involved was explained. Really interesting.

    Felix and Alison together are TV magic, especially with Felix in ass-less chaps.

    I’m so glad it doesn’t look like the show-runners are going to screw up a good thing.

    • Qitkat

      Where is the recap special? I would love to see that.

      Felix! what else is there to say, but such fun.

  • Qitkat

    It may be because I am still on antibiotics that make me so tired, or that I didn’t rewatch last season, or some spacetime dis-continuum, or that I binge watched The Good Wife, Mad Men and Orphan Black last evening after returning from an Easter dinner, but I was thoroughly confused, after looking forward to this episode. I loved last season, but I’ve forgotten who some of these peripheral people are, although Tatiana Maslany is a truly awesome actress. For some shows (and books), I need crib notes, this is probably one of them.

  • jwatt85

    What gets me about this show is Sarah playing the other clones from time to time and still being Sarah while Tatiana is so present as the other clones herself. She’s truly magnificent and if the powers that be would catch a clue, she should be showered with awards.

  • sockandaphone

    I saw the first season in one sitting last summer and it is truly INSANE realizing this is a one women show. Tatiana is beyond talented. And I adore this show and so excited you guys are covering!

  • gabbilevy

    1. Yes, yes, everyone must watch this show it (or at least Tatiana Maslany) is just. that. good.
    2. Alison’s musical, “Blood Ties,” is real, and everyone else on state with her (minus one new character for the show) is actually from the stage production.
    3. Fe’s chaps were absolutely the TELEVISION EVENT OF THE YEAR.
    4. Big Dick Paul. He gets to stick around for that nickname alone.
    5. I flipped. out. when Helena’s screechy theme started playing. Love that the cast/creators spent the entire offseason lying through their teeth about that one.

  • StelledelMare

    I love, love, loved this opener. From what we were shown during previews I didn’t think this season was going to disappoint and eventhough we’re only one episode in, I firmly stand by that still. I practically screamed (in shock) at my tv the second Helena’s theme music played. And I always loved Alison and Felix’s relationship in the first season so I’m really glad we’ll be seeing more of that now. Tatiana Maslany is seriously genius.

    • mmebam

      I remember thinking “that’s Helena’s music.” And then I saw her face as she shuffled down the hall. Then I lost my shit.

  • Vanja

    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.
    ” This happens to me all the time. I love this show!

  • decormaven

    The dear uncles should get a medal- heck, a whole sleeve of medals! – for recapping Orphan Black and Mad Men back to back. This was a great episode to kick off the season. Helena’s back???!!??

    • ankali

      Eeeeeeeeeee, Helena’s back!!!!1!!!11!! Yayyyyyyy!

  • Mb

    I skipped your review after the first paragraph or so because I didn’t want to be spoiled. I just started watching the first season of this show last night, through episode 3 and I love it! Can’t wait to see where it goes. I agree, Tatiana’s acting is something special.

  • Frank_821

    I dance with glee you are giving this show attention. I am goignt o have to break down and get the amazon pass since I only get basic cable now. it’s worth it

    Thank god that Ms Maslany has at least won some of the critics awards. I recall the furor when she didn’t get the emmy nom. The critics were pissed. It was a long shot but even so

    I love Allison best especially recalling epsiode 9 from last season when her bitch friend staged that intervention and humiliated Allison in the name of helping her. Felix than gave her a pep talk that only a best gay pal can that inspired Allison to come roarly back with a veangence

    Interesting tidbit. Tatiana is dating Tom Cullen of this past season of Downton Abbey

    Othere interesting tidbit: When they arranged a panel on comicon last year, they assumed it was just another fledgling show and put it in a small room. I heard they were packed like sardines during her talk. Expect a much, much bigger room this year

    • TropiCarla

      Those scenes from ep. 9 were fantastic. I laughed the hardest at the little bit she and Felix had afterwards. “Well I think that went well.” LOL

  • M_E_S

    Alison is THE BEST. I don’t know why, but her character is just completely flawless. Such a brilliant take on the suburban mom archetype. Can we get a regular spot for Ramon the dealer? His reaction to seeing Sarah and Cosima together was perfection.

  • Nan

    Thank you SO much for loving and covering this show! I’ve been watching since the first episode aired. Tatiana is astonishingly talented, and this show keeps finding new ways to illuminate her skills and the characters brilliantly.

  • Violentcello

    I had a visceral, “fuck you, bitch” reaction to Alison when we first met her, but then she was all “I hit my husband with a golf club!” and now she’s my favorite clone. I mean, Sarah Manning is resourceful, but Alison turned her craft room into an enhanced interrogation room.

    • decormaven

      That craft room is the best! It’s like a Pinterest festival of every craft doo-dad, lined up with OCD precision.

  • CPT_Doom

    I was sick over the weekend, and was unable to sleep after about 5AM on Saturday. Ended up watching the marathon of season 1 (didn’t see it all, but got enough) and have become obsessed with the show. I was intrigued by it when I first saw the publicity for its first season on BBC America, but somehow lost track of it. Alison’s intervention from Season 1 really got me hooked – “I’d tell everyone your husband slept with his spin class instruction long before me.”
    The second season premiere was amazing and Tatiana Maslany’s acting deserves every single accolade you can give her. The scene with Sarah playing Cosima, especially how quickly she switched back to being Sarah after Delphine figured it out (did the lack of cornrows not clue you in Delphine?), was brilliant, but the best moment was the confrontation with Rachel. Nothing like a bullet shattering the window behind you to break through the cold b*tch demeanor, amiright? Alison also got to have a lot of fun from the scene with Felix in the kitchen(“I can’t control the muse” – bwahahahaha) to her extracurricular shopping trip to see Ramon (of course Alison knows someone who can get you an untraceable gun), to that send-up of community theater, she is definitely my favorite clone. Another great feature of Ms. Maslany’s acting – how she makes the clones so similar to one another and yet so different. Each woman is whip smart, physically capable (who knew you could to such damage with some mace and a rape whistle?) and rash, as Alison pointed out, but in her own way. I have no idea how much back story they had to give Maslany for her to create these characters, but she’s simply beyond belief.
    The Helena return was huge, of course, but it makes sense given Kira’s ability to handle the car accident in the first season. These women are supposed to be some kind of advancement in evolution, so the ability to survive a direct bullet to the chest isn’t entirely crazy, and clearly we haven’t learned all we need to from Helena and Sarah being identical twins, as well as clones. That has to be part of the reason Sarah is the only one to have a child. I’m totally looking forward to the rest of the season now.

    • RussellH88

      Apparently Tatiana makes up a lot of backstory for the characters and since she has a dance background she chooses a different dance for each character and that influences her movement. She decided that Alison is someone who would have taken ballet, so her movements are more fight and controlled. She also has music playlists based on each character (Cosima is electronica, for example) and for Alison she listens to showtunes because she thinks that deep down Alison dreams of being a performer.

      I’ve read that she makes notes on the scripts in different colors based on the characters and she’s gone into a lot of detail in coming up with backgrounds for the clones.

  • tiny_bookbot

    I love how this show manages to portray motherhood without fetishizing it–so much of this series is Sarah changing from, really, a pretty selfish person into a much better one, and her process of becoming a good mother involved repairing her relationship with Mrs. S as well as strengthening the one with Felix, and ditching jerks like Vic. She’s nowhere close to perfect, but she’s evolving–not biologically, but as a person.

    The premiere was fantastic. No wasted time or momentum at all, and Alison and Felix were pure gold, as usual. Sarah may lack the quirks that make Cosima and Alison such favorites, but she is dead canny and resourceful and I love her, too. Maslany is unbelievable.

  • MilaXX

    Felix tripping balls was hysterical! The show is off to a great start!

  • schadenfreudelicious

    can i proudly say this show is Canadian? (we have so few awesome shows to crow about 🙂

    • You should just take the credit for all the good work Canadian landscapes and actors do for the United States!

  • FunButNutz

    Alison’s attempted escape from the kidnap attempt was worth the entire hour in it’s awesomeness. Blowing her rape whistle, spraying mace and karate kicking her “captors” simultaneously was hilarious.

  • kassy

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, for adding Orphan Black to the TLo list!!!!

  • nannypoo

    I’m so glad you’re covering this show, but I can’t read what you’ve written because I’m marathoning the first season and don’t want to run across any spoilers. This actress is amazing and the story is just creepy enough. I love it.

    And did you know that they have cancelled The Bletchley Circle after this season? I am so mad I could spit.

  • ankali

    This really was a great Sarah episode. I loved her taking out the wall with the fire extinguisher. Because for Sarah, vandalism is always on the menu!

  • @Biting Panda

    Back to say…
    I really loved Alias. I was instantly hooked, like with OB. There were times when it could have been brilliant, but it always seemed to peak, at just below.
    Orphan Black is everything Alias didn’t quite achieve in story telling. It also shows why the cable networks, and independents, are bringing better products to the screen than the networks can ever hope to.

    • TropiCarla

      All the likes for this comment. You just articulated why I loved OB so hard upon first viewing. It’s rehab for frustrated Alias fans. Yes. Yes. Yes.

    • ShaoLinKitten

      Alias really was a letdown in the end, wasn’t it? Orphan Black gets it right. Tatiana Maslany is a better actress than Jennifer Garner, and the story is better written. It’s truly refreshing to see a show like this get it right.

    • Javacat7

      I’ve come to believe that the Emmy’s and the Golden Globes should have different categories for network and cable TV. How many eps is Orphan Black? Is it 8? Alias, Good Wife, etc. do 22 and there are many things that can’t be done on network that can be done on cable, literally not allowed on network. I love T Maslany, but also love J Margulis, both should get not just nom’s but awards.

  • GeoDiva

    I found Orphan Black last summer and watched season 1 on-demand. I am so excited for this season and had a true WTF moment when Helena showed up.

  • Jean Marie Downing

    Chiming in with love of Alison. Tatiana is amazing as all of them, but Alison is just fantastic. Totally my favorite clone. And I LOVE her and Felix.

  • spititout

    I found Orphan Black when I was grieving over the final episode of Fringe. Thank you TLo for adding this series to your discussion!


    Ass-less chaps for everyone!

    • MarinaCat

      Someone once said, “Chaps by definition, are assless!”

      • True! …Maybe it should be “Naked-ass chaps for everyone!”

      • In that case, “Naked-ass chaps for everyone!”

  • Prudentia

    Just saying it again, so glad you’re recapping Orphan Black! YAY! (I wish you’d do Game of Thrones a bit more regularly, but that’s just me being greedy.)

  • JP

    Paul’s the character that I want to shake and say “Shit or get off the pot!” One second he’s with Sarah, the next he’s on Rachel’s side. I’m getting whiplash.

    I love the twist of the premiere.

    Also, HELENA, OMG.

  • malarson2

    Couldn’t love this show more. And yes, when I saw Sarah playing Cosima and doing it in a way where it was so obvious it wasn’t really Cosima, and then I really thought about it being all the same actress in the first place, I sincerely had to bite my tongue to keep from yelling ‘She’s fucking amazing’ in front of my teenage boys (who might actually love the show more than me, something I wouldn’t have thought possible). And, I’ll forever be in debt to Patton Oswalt’s twitter account, as he was the first person I’d ever heard mention/recommend this show. That was last summer and I feel I’ve been a one-woman chorus of trying to get people in my world to watch it ever since. For their own good. SO glad to see you beautiful people loving it, too. It all just gets more people to pay attention to Ms. Maslany. And to get their socks knocked-off by a truly entertaining show.

  • KayEmWhy

    On your recommendation I started watching this On Demand yesterday and I love it. I’m only on just finished episode 102.

  • ellabob

    Love love this show…

  • elemspbee

    what a write up. that in itself deserves an award. so smart and spot on.

  • Lenora Dody

    I’m so glad you guys are covering this show. love it! The scene where Sarah was pretending to be Cosima totally amazed me because even though it’s all the same actress, you could completely tell, it wasn’t Cosima but Sarah playing Cosima!

    • Enferdame

      It’s really subtle and clever what she does. She let some of Sarah’s accent slip in, like she couldn’t quite wrap her mouth around the American pronunciations. It’s also physicality as well. Sarah always looks like she’s assessing her surroundings and could run at any second. Cosima usually stands taller, but there’s some more relaxed about her, like she’s not afraid to be where she is. Alison always has a stick up her ass (that’s the ballet for ya). Helena is feral, hunched, beaten. Sarah as Cosima- didn’t stand as tall, and definitely looked like she knew where all the exits were. And when she did Cosima’s signature head tilt, she stiffened it just a hair so it felt off. I’m sorry, I just love watching her work. It’s a master class.

  • Angel9125

    I was so excited to see this on your site! Just started and finished the 1st season this weekend and am absolutely obsessed with it now! Can’t wait to watch and read your recaps afterward!

    • Alana

      Thanks, TLo. Because of you I have binge watched Season 1 and not only am I highly entertained, I can now follow along with the recaps and comments. You, gentlemen, make the world a little less lonely.

  • malarson2

    Great article, thanks for the link. Makes me love the show more and even better, I love that my 3 teenage BOYS love it, too.