Orphan Black Season 2 Finale Review: Sarah and Her Sisters
A few weeks ago, at a panel discussion with Orphan Black creators John Fawcett and Graeme Manson, Fawcett alluded to bigger plans for Season 2 newcomer Ari Millen, who plays Prolethean gent Mark. Fawcett noted that Millen's character was originally slated to die in Episode 6, but after realizing that Millen was "such a cool, interesting, [and] weird actor," the show's writers decided they couldn't go through with their original plan and opted to let him live. At the time I was confused, because Mark didn't seem that interesting—and he certainly didn't have a whole lot going on, plot-wise. I assumed that what Fawcett meant was that they kept Mark alive to service Gracie's storyline, which did turn a corner last week, but still felt like an arc that would conclude by season's end. Obviously, I was wrong, because Millen's role, as revealed in the Season 2 finale, "By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried," is much, much bigger than just Mark.
I've already voiced my concerns about the introduction of new clones on Orphan Black; I fear they might pull too much focus away from Sarah, Cosima, Alison, and Helena. As the show's universe expands and the small world of Sarah Manning morphs in to the complicated web of Dyad, Topside, Castor, and beyond, then by sheer logic, the characters we've come to know and love will see less screen time. Season 2 contained several episodes where various clones didn't even make an appearance. No, their absence did not cause a rift in the space-time continuum, nor did it disrupt the flow of the story—and I am a big enough person to admit when I'm being unreasonable. But over the course of Orphan Black's 20 episodes, I've become quite attached to the four women who held an impromptu dance party in Felix's loft this week, and if wanting to spend as much time with them as I can is selfish, then I guess I'm just selfish.
However, I can't say I didn't see this coming. The introduction of male clones feels like the natural progression of this storyline, and it only makes sense that there was a male equivalent in the cloning experiment. And after spending so much time in the science lab, I'm looking forward to exploring the militarized cloning sector. Now, my greatest concern isn't whether Mark and his brothers will usurp too much screen time, it's whether or not Millen has the acting chops to pull it off.
Tatiana Maslany fully embodies each clone she portrays, right down to the way they move, which brings something very distinct to her performance. It sometimes feels like discovering an actress with Maslany's work ethic and talent—she just received her second Critics' Choice Award for the role(s)—was like catching lightning in a bottle for Orphan Black, like the show might never find that kind of success again. Millen has quite the challenge ahead of him; even if it's not warranted, his performance as Mark—and as the captive clone in Marian's basement, and as Corporal Styles, and as whoever else we meet along the way—will be judged, perhaps a bit unfairly, by whether or not he holds his own in comparison to the characters Maslany has brought to life. At the very least, he's an interesting choice for the role, and he certainly has the sort of presence that makes him stand out from a crowd, which makes me eager to see what he can do in Season 3 (hurry up and announce Season 3, BBC America!).
Of course, the male clones were only a tiny fraction of what transpired in the finale. Rachel is severely injured! Duncan took his own life! Paul returned and he's back in the military! Cal discovered the truth about the clones on his own and helped save both Sarah and Kira! Helena ate all of Art's food and then left her eggs (NOT the kind you eat) as a parting gift to her sisters! Delphine was shipped off to Germany! And Cosima is still dying because Rachel destroyed Kira's bone marrow in a hissy fit! There was quite a bit going on in this episode, and yet it never felt stuffed. In fact, I had to keep checking how much of it had elapsed, because there were several moments where I thought we were nearing the end of the episode—the dance sequence, for instance—only to realize there was still plenty of time for shit to go wrong.
And that's a good thing, because a carefree dance party doesn't feel like the type of ending that befits Orphan Black, a series that rarely takes a breather, let alone allows its characters to experience stable happiness. But I always appreciate a series that's bold enough and confident enough to wrap up its major storylines, like Rachel's abduction of Kira, prior to the final 10 minutes of a season finale, because it gives off the impression that the writers know where they're headed next. And as someone who needs to be able to see the road to make sure it exists—whether it's paved or filled with bumps and potholes doesn't matter—I like knowing that Orphan Black's writers have a plan.
It's unclear what happened to Rachel after Sarah shot a pencil into her eye with a modified fire extinguisher courtesy of Cosima and Scott (we're all in agreement that Scott is the best, right?), but she probably didn't die, yeah? I'm not a brain surgeon, but let's all hope she survived and this is what we have to look forward to next season:
Because what's cooler than a pissed off Proclone? A pissed off Proclone with an eyepatch! There are several dozen reasons why Orphan Black would be wise to keep Rachel around, but her unresolved feelings for her father—who chose to take his own life rather than be a pawn on the Dyad chessboard—have the potential to yield some pretty powerful storytelling. It's easy to forget that Rachel was only introduced at the end of Season 1, because she arrived almost fully developed and with a very clear perspective. Her agenda hasn't always been quite so clear, but all of her issues are a result of her upbringing as a sentient clone.
If the series shifts its focus away from Dyad and toward the military, it might be more difficult to keep Rachel's character integrated, but her pyche is deep and worthy of exploration, should the writers find natural ways to fit her in. I would rather have no Rachel at all than a Rachel that feels shoehorned into the story, but now that Cosima has the keys to Duncan's cypher, she'll presumably be back at her lab, and that should leave the door open for plenty of Rachel interaction.
And speaking of the military: What's up, Hot Paul? I don't know about everyone else, but the scene where Paul and Cal met was probably one of my favorite moments of the series, especially because Paul was clearly sizing up Cal, and Cal was just so damn cool about it. The difference in their characters—one is calm, calculated, and controlled, and the other is rugged, wild, and laid back—represent two distinct periods in Sarah's life: pre-clone and post-clone. I will admit that I was bummed that Paul didn't get much screen time this season, and I hope that he'll be more prominent in Season 3 now that he's back in commandos, but I also hope Cal sticks around, because A) he's Kira's father, and B) he relaxes and calms Sarah in a way we rarely get to see. Plus, we kind of need a shirtless throwdown between Paul and Cal, right? Come on, writers, let's make this happen!
If this finale had ended with Helena's head-banging or Alison swatting Felix on the ass, I probably wouldn't've complained, because it's rude to complain about wonderful gifts, and also because it offered a glimpse of another life for the clones—a happier one without fear and the constant threat of a new enemy waiting around every corner. For that one night, Sarah, Alison, Cosima, Helena, Felix, and Kira were able to hang out and be one big happy, weird, family. But that's not really what Orphan Black is. This is a series whose success is dependent on momentum. Slowing down—or worse, stopping—could be a death sentence for a series as risky as the one Fawcett and Manson have created, and although it was fun to imagine a different life for the clones, even if for just one night, there's no way it could've been permanent.
Coming off such a well-received first season put a lot of pressure on Orphan Black's writers and actors to step up their game in Season 2, and fans and critics were anxious to find out whether the mysterious and thrilling ride would continue. It's clear now that the show's acclaim was not a fluke. Orphan Black, for the most part, has become a well-oiled machine, moving with the kind of speed and grace that would surprise even someone like Alison. I trust the series to make me laugh, to make my heart race, and to make me question everything I know at any given time... and to do a far better job of it than most other shows.
At times, "By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried" was confusing—what exactly does the military want with Helena? Why did she leave the frozen eggs in the loft? Why does Marian have a male clone hostage?—but the day I come away from an Orphan Black episode understanding everything that happened is the day I start really worrying about Orphan Black. The reason the show is so compelling is that it introduces viewers to thoughts and concepts most of us never consider or encounter in our everyday lives. It's the type of series that forces us to use our brains in ways that much of television does not require. If I don't walk away wanting or needing to do some sort of research, then someone is doing something wrong.
Looking ahead to *checks one more time seriously how is the show still not renewed* Season 3, we know we'll be exploring Project Castor, and we'll hopefully be seeing plenty of Michelle Forbes' Marian Bowles and her clone daughter Charlotte (OMG!). Cosima will be working on Duncan's cypher, whose key he cleverly left behind in the pages of the worn copy of The Island of Dr. Moreau he gave to Kira. I just hope BBC America recognizes that what it has is just about as beautiful and rare as the clones at the center of Orphan Black, and grants the show a third season. But if this is all we get, at least we'll always have this:
– "Helena, did you burn down the fish people's ranch?"
– Marian Bowles is raising a clone daughter—a surprising turn for her character, no? We thought we knew who she was, but once again, the writers laughed in our faces. I really need to stop making assumptions when it comes to this show. But anything that keeps Michelle Forbes on my TV screen works for me, because she brings a certain sense of quiet mystery to each of her roles, adding depth and layers that we don't always see upon first glance.
– Since Gracie is now carrying Helena's unborn children, and since she's married to a clone, I guess that means we'll be seeing her next season. I warmed to her character a bit last week when she stood up to her father, but I'm still going to need more before I welcome her with open arms.
– So Paul is back in the military, eh?
– Sarah hugging Mrs. S reduced me to a big pile of mush.
What did you think of the finale? What about Season 2 as a whole?
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