No amount of praise is sufficient to reward Tatiana Maslany for the excruciating amount of dedication she puts into her work on Orphan Black.
When Season One of BBC America’s Orphan Black premiered last year, it emerged from complete silence to become one of the most loyally watched and talked-about shows of 2013. So many new television shows are promoted as “events” these days, with marketing campaigns starting months before the show is set to air. FX’s new show The Strain, for example, has been advertising almost nonstop since the fall and finally premieres this week.
But, that’s what makes Orphan Black so unique in the sea of extraordinary series on TV right now. Orphan Black doesn’t need any hype; the quality of the show and the unbelievable performances of its star speak for themselves. Season One was a thrilling, intelligent drama with a sci-fi bent that became more and more engaging as the story unfolded. Season Two amps up the suspense and expands the world in which our heroine finds herself lost and searching for answers.
To briefly recap Season One, Sarah Manning (Tatiana Maslany), a petty thief and con artist, discovers that she is a clone, part of some mysterious research project whose roots go back 30 years. She connects with other clones as more and more of the puzzle is pieced together. In all, Sarah knows of at least five other genetically identical clones by the end of Season One: Alison, Cosima, Katiana, Helena, and Rachel. The only person she can truly trust is her foster brother, Felix (Jordan Gavaris), and maybe their foster mother, Mrs. S (Maria Doyle Kennedy), though the latter’s loyalty seems questionable.
Season Two picks up immediately after the end of Season One. Sarah discovers that her daughter Kira (Skyler Walker) and Mrs. S have disappeared. Sarah doesn’t know if the kidnappers are from the Dyad Institute, the very shady multinational scientific research conglomerate, or the Prolethians, the ultra-religious sect that views Sarah and the other clones as abominations against God. To make matters worse, Cosima, the clone with a PhD in evolutionary development, is quickly succumbing to a mysterious disease somehow related to her clone DNA. Sarah wants to help Cosima, but the director of the Dyad Institute, Dr. Aldous Leekie (Matt Frewer), seems more interested in Kira than in saving Cosima.
Whereas Season One progressed slowly as we and Sarah tried to make sense of this bizarre clone business, Season Two jumps in at 100 miles per hour and doesn’t stop. For most of the first half of the season, Sarah is running either to Kira or away from Dyad and the Prolethians. As the scope of the Orphan Black world expands, we see less interaction among the clones and more of their individual lives. Alison, the suburban soccer mom who tries to maintain the picture-perfect lifestyle, enters rehab after her drinking and pill-popping gets a little out of hand. Her only connection to the outside world is Felix, with the two becoming the perfect odd couple. Cosima’s sickness is getting worse and her relationship with Delphine (Evelyne Brochu) is on the rocks, since Cosima discovered Delphine had been working for Leekie and Dyad the entire time they’ve known each other.
And then there’s Helena. Always the series’ most unpredictable character, the former Prolethian assassin is on the loose. Helena is trapped in the tortuous position of trying to re-learn the truth about who and what she is while also attempting to survive on her own for the first time. Helena’s journey in Season Two is probably the most circuitous and, without question, the most entertaining.
As with the first season, the biggest draw for fans is the incredible performances by Maslany. This season, she plays six different characters, all of who have fully realized and distinct mannerisms and speech patterns. No amount of praise is sufficient to reward Maslany for the excruciating amount of dedication she puts into her work on Orphan Black. In this season, especially, we see a much more emotional strain on each of the three main clones—Sarah, Alison, Cosima—and Maslany plays each beautifully.
The blu-ray or DVD includes some pretty engaging, though limited, special features. Co-creators John Fawcett and Graeme Manson indulge fans in some terrific behind-the-scenes footage, allowing the viewer to see how this mind-blowing production is put together. Two featurettes (“The Two Clone Smackdown” and the “Four Clone Dance Party”) pull back the curtain on the exhausting work done by the production team, especially the visual effects artists, who are the unsung heroes of Orphan Black. We watch as Maslany and her body double Kathryn Alexandre rehearse and block the scenes involving multiple clones, particularly the minute details it takes to ensure eye lines and placement are matched up. Depending on the scene, Maslany and Alexadre take turns playing the clone roles to allow the director (many times, co-creator Manson) and director of photography Aaron Morton to get the best possible coverage. The process is time-consuming and repetitive, but extremely rewarding when it is complete.
The other special features are brief, but offer a more in-depth look at the production than Season One offered. The “Script-to-Screen” portion is wonderful, especially because we get to see Maslany’s rough performances at the table read and how her character work develops. One of the most unique features is a “Hair & Make-Up” featurette, which breaks down how the clones are made distinct from one another through the artists’ collaboration with Maslany and Manson and Fawcett.
Orphan BlackSeason Two is more action-packed and fast-paced than the first season, and definitely deserves repeat viewings to fully comprehend the multilayered storylines. Now that it’s available on home video, that shouldn’t be a problem for loyal members of the Clone Club. | Matthew Newlin