During its first season, Orphan Black was easily the most interesting show on television. With its unique premise and strong acting talents, the show used Sarah Manning and the rest of its clones, played beautifully by Tatiana Maslany, as vehicles to explore complex questions regarding female identity in a male dominated world. With its world realized and its cliffhangers set, the question then became what direction would the show take next season?
To its detriment, the series fell into the second season trap of focusing more on world expansion over character enhancement. The main character’s all found themselves in new settings, surrounded by new faces, and starting new chapters in their lives but it was all busy work. Some of its focuses were burdened with recycled plot beats: Cosima loving than not trusting Delphine over and over; Helena escaping than being recaptured by the Proletheans over and over. The old minor characters were relegated to fewer appearances (Art and Angie), completed retooled for the new season’s story (Vic and Ms. S), or both (Paul). While the greatest shortcoming of the season was the new characters complete lack of use especially Trans-Clone Tony: introduced to the narrative as a one off than never seen again because… sure why not.
Thankfully those weaknesses were overshadowed by the series strong aesthetic and character work. The horror and comedic tones respectively utilized in the two standout episodes “Governed as It Were by Chance” and “Knowledge of Causes, and Secret Motion of Things” show how creators Graeme Manson and John Fawcett know how to shift narrative structure with intriguing results. “Governed” uses skewed camera work and screeching sound cues to create a beautifully horrific spectacle. Equally “Knowledge” uses snap dialogue and impressive editing skills to become possibly the funniest episode of the series to date.
But season two was truly at the top of its game when it focused on the deepening relationships between the ever expanding cast of Project Leda clones. The best onscreen chemistry on this show is easily between Tatiana Maslany and herself (in whatever forms she is taking at that time) as the stars amazing range displays the strong, personal bond the clones all share with one another. The season’s greatest feat, and ironically the only positive of excessive world expanding, was that each clone is no longer solely defined as a variation of Tatiana Maslany. Alison Hendrix is no longer Soccer Mom-Sarah and Rachel Duncan is not just proto clone-Sarah, they are Allison and Rachel complete unique individuals. The second best onscreen chemistry, between Jordan Gavaris (Felix) or Skylar Wexler (Kira) and Tatiana Maslany (in her various roles) also reinforces the clone’s separate identities as Felix and Kira interact with each woman differently. They became fully realized characters; women with their own identities completely different from each other but who are still forced to interact.
The Clone Club Dance Party in the second season finale, “By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried” is the thesis of this season and the series at its best. A family through genetics and bond, made up mostly of Tatiana Maslany, trying to enjoy and take control of their separate lives as their world slowly crashes down around them. As long as Orphan Black remembers this moment going forward the series will remain one of TV’s best!
Trivial But Necessary Grade: B+