Orphan Black – Season 2 (April-June 2014)

OrphanBlack Season 2

Once again, the creators and actors in Orphan Black have told a tale that is a perfect blend of frightening realism and action-packed fantasy.  Over the course of ten episodes, the writers wrap up the cliffhangers from the last season and set in motion several new plots, tapering them off in the season finale and leaving just enough open for cliffhangers for next year.  In other words, they executed a perfect season as far as writing is concerned.

Tatiana Maslany returns as Sarah, Cosima, Helena, Alison, and Rachel, and she brings at least two more characters to life as well.  Her ability to play each character as a separate, distinct individual is still as commendable as last year, since once again, a viewer could be forgiven for forgetting that she plays all of them.  Perhaps one of the reasons that she failed to win more accolades (besides her being an unknown actress in Hollywood) is because her characters are so distinct that her portrayals appear to lack subtlety.  In this show, that is a good thing!  On an individual basis, the clones do exhibit subtlety and a range of emotion that would stretch acting limits, but viewers might miss this in the stark contrast between Sarah (the Action Heroine), Cosima (the Geeky Girl), Helena (the Crazy One), Alison (the Fake One), Rachel (the Villain), and others.  However, the fact that Maslany fills all of these roles in the show necessitates a wide skill range.  Most actors get type-cast into one of these roles for much of their careers!

That said, the rest of the cast are also fun to watch.  Last year, we were introduced to a conspiracy involving clones.  We were introduced to a cast of secondary characters and now they get more of a chance to develop as individuals: Felix goes from sidekick to pawn to Mr. Exposition and back to sidekick; Donnie goes from confused husband to action hero; Kira gets to be a hero in her own right as well as kidnapping victim; and Mrs. S. gets a chance to shine as an action-heroine and conspirator.  Paul seems to shift allegiances more often than underpants.  The police officers seems to be in a different genre of story altogether, but Art remains helpful while Angie makes for an amusing sideplot.  Vic proves to be an annoyance.  Dr. Leekie is the consummate Evil Scientist while maintaining an affable exterior…or maybe not.  Delphine is sweet and torn between her love of science, her love of Cosima, and her sense of duty.

Furthermore, more characters join the party: Cal (a blend of action-hero and conspiracy-theorist), Henrik (a Dr. Leekie-type turned religious fundamentalist), Gracie (Henrik`s haughty daughter), Mark (Henrik`s lackey with a dark past), Daniel (Rachel`s fixer), and Marion, who seems to be an even bigger villain than Rachel, only to turn out to have ulterior motives similar to Sarah`s.  These and more make for an amazing ten episodes.

At the beginning of the season, Kira has been kidnapped and Sarah sets out to find her.  When she does, she seeks to protect Kira from just about everyone – only to be outwitted by Rachel in the penultimate episode.  In the finale, all seems to be well for Sarah and Kira, but what she learns from Marion might change that soon.

Cosima, meanwhile, is dying and spends the season trying to discover a cure for her illness.  In the end, she too is outwitted by Rachel, but she at least hangs on temporarily.  Helena…well, major spoiler alert – she is not dead yet.  Instead, she shows the surprising ability to forgive her sister and shows a desire to help her family.  Henrik and his cohort take a special interest in her, and by the end of the season, she might very well wish that she had died.  She seems to be destined to be a science experiment.

Alison gets to be the comic relief: she stars in a musical (giving Maslany a chance to sing and dance), goes to rehab, tries to outwit Donnie, and ultimately ends up playing Sunshine Cleaners while reconciling with her husband.  Rachel`s motives are hard to discern, meanwhile.  She is rather deranged underneath her calm, collected exterior.  She seems to want a family – something denied her through various means throughout her life – and she will go through many means to get them.  Her fate is uncertain, but as she replaced Helena as the season`s villain, it is possible that she will make a comeback next year.

As I said, the writers executed a perfect season, writing-wise.  Within the first couple episodes, the main questions from the previous season`s finale had been answered.  Throughout the whole ten episodes of the season, several plots began and ended.  In the last couple episodes, a few new storylines were introduced to create cliffhangers for next year.  Overall, however, the story arcs were complete and satisfying.  I was only disappointed in how quickly the time seemed to go when I watched this show.

Ten-episode seasons are a better method of storytelling than twenty-episode seasons if one is to present a coherent narrative arc as a show`s raison d`étre.  Unlike a crime procedural or formulaic show, the characters and plots are what draw the viewers into the story.  There may be a mystery to solve, but it is not wrapped up in nice, clue-laden, 44-minute chapters.  Procedurals can have longer seasons because so much of the storytelling is focused on individual mysteries.  Orphan Black, on the other hand, would end up stretching the plot.  One episode was particularly disliked for introducing a clone character, only to then send them on a bus for the rest of the season.  This is forgivable in a short season because it is a) one episode only, and b) likely setting up a plot for next year.  However, a longer season would create opportunity for many more episodes and characters of this nature.  A shorter season does not allow much room for nothing much happening in an episode.  It does not allow for many gimmicks or throwaway plots than do not go anywhere in future seasons.

Overall, the second season of Orphan Black is arguably better than the first.  The plot thickens, the characters develop, and the questions arise.  Even with legislation that would prevent people from being owned by corporations who created them, would that stop said corporations from believing that these people are their property?  When does a person stop being a science experiment?  What would a corporation`s responsibility be to a cloned person?  What rights does a cloned person have, particularly if they have altered DNA?  How do cloned individuals related to one another?

In other words, another season of food for thought until Season 3 in 2015.

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Happy Canada Day!

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