When a TV series' freshman season is as successful as Orphan Black's was, there's nearly always a discussion of whether or not the series can maintain the same level of quality, the fear of a sophomore slump. Orphan Black quietly debuted last spring with Doctor Who as a lead-in, but it wasn't until approximately halfway through the season that critics and fans alike started to praise the series' complex central mystery and star Tatiana Maslany's excellent performance(s). And the Season 2 premiere, "Nature Under Constraint and Vexed," made a very good effort to prove Season 1's success was not a fluke. The episode resumed the show's complicated story so seamlessly that it really felt like a continuation of the first season rather than the beginning of another. It also managed to introduce new characters and set the table for new storylines in Season 2 without neglecting any ongoing plots. And it did all of this by coming out swinging (literally) and never letting up on the twisted, exciting action and drama that made the series so addicting in the first place. Everything we love about Orphan Black was present in the premiere. Well, mostly: Paul wasn't shirtless, but we'll deal with that later.
"Nature Under Constraint and Vexed" picked up right where Season 1 left off, with Sarah having recently discovered that Kira and Mrs. S were missing. She assumed they were taken by Rachel and the Dyad Institute as a means of getting her to cooperate—which was probably a reasonable assumption to make, considering Sarah told Rachel she was coming in, and then Cosima discovered that Dyad had patented the clones, and then Sarah told Rachel to suck it. Dyad was the most obvious culprit, which meant Sarah was on the warpath for most of this episode, even going so far as to impersonate Cosima to infiltrate a fancy Dyad event so she could confront/threaten/pistol-whip Rachel. But as it turned out, while Rachel might be a bitch, she wasn't behind Kira's disappearance. Resourceful and clever as she is, she simply saw an opportunity to get to Sarah, and she took it. She's a sneaky one, that Proclone.
Knowing that Dyad doesn't have Kira presents a whole new set of problems for Orphan Black to tackle. For one thing, we should all be giving Mrs. S even more side-eye than we were last season when that Project LEDA photo appeared. Also, if the Neolutionists don't have Kira and Mrs. S, it's likely that they were grabbed by the Prolethians, a.k.a. Helena's religious fanatics. The battle over individuality is right at the heart of the series, but Orphan Black also deals with the idea of science versus religion, and it looks like Season 2 is going to dive even deeper into the religious crazies after spending much of Season 1 introducing us to the scientists. Given that the Prolethians came after Sarah in the opening scene of the premiere, and factoring in that final scene involved a man taking Kira's photograph in what looked like a moderately shady motel room, it seems more likely that they're behind Kira's disappearance. Although, with that said, I don't know that we should count out Mrs. S being deeply involved in this conspiracy. Sarah and Helena's birth mother Amelia was insistent that Mrs. S wasn't who she appeared to be before Helena shanked her in the Season 1 finale, so the possibility that she's Sarah's monitor, or that she was involved in the original cloning experiment, is still on the table. We shouldn't count her out just because there are religious whackjobs after the clones, too.
The premiere spent most of its time focusing on Sarah and her attempt to find Kira, but since Orphan Black isn't just about Sarah, the episode's timeline was a bit confusing. Both Sarah and Cosima's stories seemed to pick up almost immediately following the events of the Season 1 finale, but with Alison's storyline, it felt like only a short amount of time had passed. Alison said she wasn't drinking anymore when Felix showed up at her door at 4am asking to borrow a gun for Sarah, but we saw her boozing away her guilt over letting Aynsley die. According to the rest of the premiere, that was less than 12 hours ago. Are we supposed to believe she's suddenly wrapped up in her community theater musical ("Oh my God. Not Cats?"), making costumes, and attending rehearsals? It's absolutely like Alison to throw herself into a new project now that she's signed her contract and thinks she leaving the clone stuff behind, but my God, that woman works fast.
As for Cosima, she's diving deeper into the clones' biology now that she's facing her own mortality. She and Delphine spent a romantic evening in Felix's bed drawing blood samples while 47 flickering candles watched over them, which I hardly think is pragmatic, but what do I know, I don't even have enough money to buy 47 candles. Cosima still doesn't completely trust Delphine even though she helped her figure out how to decipher the synthetic bit of her genome. And since Delphine turned around and handed over one of Cosima's blood samples to Dr. Leekie after Cosima expressly stated she didn't want the blood samples in the hands of the Dyad Institute, Cosima probably shouldn't trust her. The flip side to that, though, is that Delphine did it because she's invested in Cosima's life and well-being (I'm still not convinced of any romantic feelings) and doesn't want to see her die from whatever disease is plaguing the clones.
Delphine is eventually going to have to choose a side in this battle between the clones and Dyad. She can't keep straddling the line. If we learned nothing else from Sweet Home Alabama, we should at least remember that it's not possible to ride two horses with one ass. Delphine will have to choose: the science, or the person? It's going to be a tough decision, but I just don't see how she can continue to have it both ways. Plus, it's not as if the Dyad Institute is holding something over Delphine's head the way it is with Hot Paul. She's free to ally herself with whichever side she chooses. And speaking of Hot Paul, he's become Rachel's bitch boy, doing her bidding and chauffeuring guests around. He was the least developed character in Season 1 save for Art, and probably my least favorite character for most of the season, but as his feelings for Sarah grew, and as we saw him attempt to protect her from Dyad, he became one of the more interesting non-clone characters. He's still struggling to protect Sarah, and I assume his presence inside Dyad will become more important as the season goes on, but right now I feel every bit as betrayed by him as Sarah does. If there's any hope for Hot Paul, though, we saw it when he smugly told Daniel that Sarah's smarter than Daniel thinks she is, and again when he let her leave Dyad after confronting Rachel.
Orphan Black had a lot to prove in "Nature Under Constraint and Vexed." A lot was riding on this premiere, and I think the show was successful in replicating the action and anxiety of Season 1, even while introducing new characters and enemies for the clones. If the episode floundered at all, it was probably in the scenes involving Art and Angie tracking the clones. Now that Sarah is no longer impersonating Beth and her presence at the police station isn't commonplace, those storylines don't mesh as well with the rest of the ongoing plots. In a way, this works in the series' favor, because Art is still on the outside looking in; that's reflected in how his arc doesn't quite line up with the rest of the action. But it also makes it hard to care about whether or not he wants to help Sarah. I do want Art to eventually join Sarah's fight, if only because I'd like to spend more time with him and get to know him as more than just "Beth's former partner." He's so close to this conspiracy, even playing a small role in the Maggie Chen case, so here's hoping he dropkicks Angie (she's the worst) and joins the clones.
– By now it should go without saying that Tatiana Maslany's ability to portray several different characters is mind-blowing. But watching Maslany play a clone who's impersonating another clone is even more mesmerizing. Last season we saw Alison pretend to be Sarah and Sarah pretend to be Alison, plus all the Sarah-pretending-to-be-Beth stuff. Now we've seen Sarah pretend to be Cosima, and it's truly spectacular how she manages to bring out both characters in those performances. There are enough subtle nuances that you can tell it's not just Cosima, but rather Sarah impersonating Cosima, which means that in this episode alone, Maslany portrayed six different characters, basically. Mind. Blown.
– Helena's alive! I couldn't find a way to work this in above, and I suspect the reveal will become a bigger storyline next week, so I'm comfortable leaving it here in the notes for now, but OMG HELENA IS ALIVE! We all thought she was dead, but there she was, strolling into the hospital and telling the nurses her sister shot her. The question of how she survived is sure to have an interesting answer. Do you think it's similar to how Kira wasn't seriously injured after being struck by a car? Helena shares Sarah's DNA, after all. I'm just glad that crazy psycho is still around. I'm going to eat some jello to celebrate.
– Felix continues to be Orphan Black's greatest asset. From his ass-less chaps to his reaction to Alison's hand-delivered gun-in-a-flower-arrangement (complete with homemade card!), he's truly the gift that keeps on giving.
– Rachel mentioned a Supreme Court case characterizing the legal status of natural versus synthetic DNA, which was obviously a nod to the real Supreme Court case that ruled on the matter of human cloning just days after the finale aired. She also mentioned that Dyad is moving forward with a new round of patents. I don't know how much I truly care about that becoming an ongoing plot. I'd rather see how the clones being patented affects each clone. Sarah already told Rachel, "You don't own us," and Cosima made a big deal about this being her biology and what she does about it being her choice. Those ideas are more interesting than what Dyad is doing.
– If Orphan Black doesn't eventually recreate this scene from The First Wives Club with Sarah, Alison, and Cosima, it'll really be missing out on some truly great stuff.
– Of course Alison has a guy who sells her pills and handguns in the parking lot of Econo-Mart. Of course she does.
– "How's your mother?"
– "I'm not going to apologize for my heart."
– "I was supposed to ask you something ... Oh, can we borrow a gun?"
What'd you think of Orphan Black's Season 2 premiere?
AIRED ON 6/21/2014
Season 2 : Episode 10