'Orphan Black' review: Sarah is on the run - but she's not out of moves
I wasn't too worried that the second season of "Orphan Black" would stumble at the gate. The first season was too tightly constructed and simply too smart for everything to fall apart, burdened by silly plot twists or the kind of hijinks that have been known to sink big four network series. Yes, Clone Club can rest easy -- the first episode of season two is just as twisty and smart and deadly as we've come to expect. I'd say it's better than "Cats," but you won't appreciate that until you've watched it.
When we left off last season, Kira had been taken, and the question of who took her and why is thornier and more complex than we might expect. Sarah's fierce mother love has seemingly grown with the size of the threat against her, and part of her determination to get back her kid (and Mrs. S) is born of her distrust for the Man in general, Rachel in particular, and Dr. Leekie by extension. The clone who's felt most disenfranchised in her "normal" life is the perfect foil for the Dyad Institute and its pristine, icy facade.
Of course, we have an entire cast of clones ready to add layers to the show, and more than ever it seems that Alison's job is to bring the funny. Watching her interact with Felix is almost "Odd Couple"-esque (with Alison in the Felix role, natch) and a tad more rewarding than seeing him bounce one-liners off of a largely distracted Sarah. While Alison's suburban existence is till a reliable punching bag for the show, Alison's role in a musical yielded scenes that were one theatrical hand gesture away from "Waiting for Guffman."
That the show never sloshes into silliness with Alison (and thus kills the tension of what is otherwise a non-stop race) is a testament to her development as a character. Of all the clones, she seems to be the one who initially irritated fans but who won them over with her weird, prickly, craft-loving persona. There's plenty of that here, and I suspect there will be plenty more. We also get a dose of Cosima and Delphine, though not enough to truly unravel where Delphine's allegiance lies -- though I have my suspicions.
Ultimately, though, Alison and Cosima's stressors are background noise in the premiere. What drives the episode is the game of cat-and-mouse that develops between the clones and Rachel. It's a battle of street smarts and plucky, David determination against a Goliath who's hoarding all of the game pieces and has a weakness we have yet to uncover. If this was the only battle in the show (which the clones believe), it would still be watchable. The fact that it isn't is what makes "Orphan Black" intensely addictive.
There's an international (and real-world) slant to this episode, and it's well-played. What makes the Dyad Institute scariest aren't the big guns but the big ideas -- of ownership, of DNA, of people, of governments. Okay, the guns are scary, too, but the grounding of "Orphan Black" -- the real world parallels-- is woven into the premiere and likely future episodes in a way that's smart without being ploddingly educational. Watching it a second time, I found myself thinking about these elements long after I'd stopped worrying about Sarah escaping the latest plot.
There are a few moments in the episode that are admittedly convenient -- it's not easy to get clones and bad guys and possible allies all together in the same place at the same time -- but they hardly defy credibility (someone may want to tell the CW to tune in for proof that you don't have to have a party in every episode of a show to get the main characters together).
At the beginning of the press preview of the episode, we're politely asked to keep major plot twists and maneuvers to ourselves until the show airs (I'll be recapping the episode to dig into all of those, by the way) and takes viewers "down the rabbit hole." I couldn't think of a better descriptor for "Orphan Black"'s sharp, scary and funny journey. I'm in.
Do you intend to tune in on Saturday night? Or will you set your DVR?