Judge Jason Panella has been Tatiana Maslany all along.
Our review of Orphan Black: Season One, published July 16th, 2013, is also available.
One. Of a kind.
Bigger, badder, messier.
Facts of the Case
The clones all go their separate ways to deal with their individual crises: grifter Sarah (Tatiana Maslany, Ginger Snaps 2) to find her missing daughter, scientist Cosima (Maslany) to discover a cure for her illness, and Alison (Maslany) to deal with tragic upheaval in her suburban life. All of their problems seem to point back to the mysterious Dyad Institute, where the ruthless executive Rachel (Maslany) plots. But there's an even more mysterious player making a move: a dangerous cult that has plans to alter the women's lives forever.
BBC America's Orphan Black: Season Two picks up mere seconds after the ending of the first, which shows how intensely serialized this series is. It has a single sprawling story and tells it at a breakneck pace, and I think that works overwhelming in its favor: episodes blaze by in what feels like a few minutes, with cliffhangers setting up the next installment (almost always) perfectly.
That's not to say that Orphan Black only runs on adrenaline. The show has a big brain and heart and (like the best sci-fi tales) at its best when finding a balance between trusty genre conventions and envelope pushing. This is a show that doesn't give easy answers, and even then the answers are shaded gray. As they search for answers to their origins, the clones tend to find that even the most benign responses are tinged with insidiousness. I love that the show puts huge ethical dilemmas into such an entertaining package. Show creators Graeme Manson (Cube) and John Fawcett (Ginger Snaps) do such a good job with this; even when the show isn't in top form, it's still more interesting than almost anything else on TV. The duo also do an amazing job of creating a diverse set of characters—in every way imaginable—and making them feel like people, period. Bravo, gang.
The first season centered mostly on Sarah and the rest of the clones discovering each other; even with all of the contemporary science fiction elements, the show clicked like a well-built crime thriller. The second shreds this template, pulling the clones apart and relying more on their own storylines. In doing this, Orphan Black gets to have the clones uncover the various conspiracies and machinations that rule their world. The second season spends a lot of time building up a mythos, and as a result the setting feels even larger and more menacing than it did in the first season. The mysteries are richer, and the different factions that join the fray feel nuanced and integral to the story. There's a cost, though—a few of the episodes in the latter half of the season feel like grand wheel-spinning, like the creative staff needed stall for time before the home stretch. The main story arc gets reined in, thankfully, but there's a brief moment where I was worried that all of the world-building had become a burden to the show's progress.
There're also some minor problems with the supporting cast. Detective Art Bell (Kevin Hanchard, Due South)—one of my favorite characters from the first season—is still a major presence, but his character feels like a fifth wheel in some scenes. Even worse off is Dyad muscle/love interest/professional brooder Paul (Dylan Bruce, Arrow), who mostly feels like he's hanging around because he was in the first season. Others get it much better. Sarah's (former) junkie ex Vic (Michael Mando, The Killing) has become one of the most consistently interesting characters on the show, and the same can be said for Alison's husband (and source of anxiety) Donnie (Kristian Bruun, Murdoch Mysteries). And Sarah's foster brother Felix (Jordan Gavaris, Unnatural History) is still the perfect foil to his sister. There's also a great little guest run from the omnipresent Michiel Huisman (Treme), who plays an important individual from Sarah's past.
And of course, there's Tatiana Maslany. She's what makes Orphan Black tick, and the skill with which she switches between clone personalities is stunning. It's gotten to a point where I don't even think of Maslany as playing these different characters; I just think of Sarah and Alison and Cosima and Rachel and Helena. Her work with all of the clones and their different quirks is laudable, but I'm most impressed when the story has the clones pretending to be one-another. The subtle shifts in voice and mannerisms are masterful (and often hilarious). Maslany shows up as a few clones on the periphery of the story, as she did in the first season, though one of them is a big misfire (you'll know it when you see it). This is such a minor thing compared to Maslany's work with the rest of the clone characters, which is nothing short of incredible.
BBC's release of Orphan Black: Season Two features all ten episodes on three discs. The standard definition 1.78:1 transfer is solid, with nothing rising above the ordinary and nothing appearing problematic. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track fares a bit better. The channels are filled nicely, especially once the show's frequent action kicks in. I think composer Trevor Yuile's (King) really shines here, too—his score is fantastic, and especially effective in some scenes. The set also includes a nice assortment of extras: "Orphan Black: The Cloneversation" (42:25), an excellent live special where host Wil Wheaton chats with cast and crew; "Clone Club Insiders," a series of seven shorts that briefly explore characters and staff (9:09 total); four "Behind the Scenes" featurettes that dig into the show's creative elements (38:17 total); and three short scenes deleted from the final episode (6:14).
Orphan Black: Season Two isn't victim of the sophomore slump. It's a great season of a great show, and BBC delivers a solid DVD release. Highly recommended.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
• Deleted Scenes
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