This week on Orphan Black‘s season two finale … Sarah gives Rachel one in the eye. Helena finally meets Alison and Cosima. And Marian Bowles helps to uncover a secret which changes the landscape completely.
Other than a quick drop-in on Mark and Gracie, who elope to get married, the finale comprises a single, linear storyline, rather than the disparate threads which have run through the rest of the season.
Are you paying attention?
The revelations come thick and fast throughout the episode, starting small and building to the final, shocking twist. We learn that Sarah has had an abortion – a casual fact-drop that may become significant later. Cal‘s hacker is revealed as Marian Bowles, with whom he has been communicating. Paul‘s absence is explained – he has returned to the military, on whose behalf he has been operating undercover for many years.
Most significantly of all, we discover that the military never closed down Project Leda at all – they merely compartmentalised it. While Dyad brought the female clones to full term, the military did the same with male equivalents under the banner of Project Castor.
It’s Siobhan Sadler who is the catalyst in bringing all the players together and ensuring Helena is bartered to the military in exchange for Sarah and Kira‘s safety.
Cal puts Mrs S in contact with Marian, who wants information on Castor. In turn Siobhan puts Marian in touch with Paul, who provides her with files in exchange for help getting Sarah out. By episode’s end, both sides have physical possession of a piece from the other half of the jigsaw – Helena is in military custody, while Marian has a captive male clone. Stalemate? Or the beginning of a genetic arms race?
MacGyver, The A-Team and Mission Impossible, all rolled into one
We’ve been awaiting another showdown between Sarah and Rachel since the season opener, and it was worth the wait. Typically impulsive, Sarah abandons the post-mortem on Kira’s abduction and, with no plan, surrenders to Dyad. She’s prepped for a procedure which will remove one of her ovaries but is saved by a combination of Cosima and Scott‘s ingenuity and a cryptic drawing from Kira.
Sarah’s MacGyver-style escape is shocking – she fires a gas-propelled pencil which embeds itself in Rachel’s eye – but requires a confluence of improbable events that demands major suspension of disbelief. It requires Rachel to bring Kira’s drawing to Sarah and to helpfully clear the room. Then it relies on Sarah decoding the hidden meaning in the sketch and for Rachel to put herself directly in the line of fire. It’s a thrilling but implausible sequence.
There will be blood
Rachel shows her lack of concern for Cosima’s fate by reassigning Delphine to Frankfurt and using Kira’s bone marrow to negotiate with Sarah after her adoptive father Ethan Duncan opts to kill himself in front of her rather than give up the key to his synthetic genetic sequences – one final rejection that tips Rachel over the edge.
What now for Cosima? Delphine is gone. Rachel has destroyed the bone marrow which could have saved her life. Will the others be able to synthesise an alternative cure using the sequences Duncan left for them to find in his Island of Doctor Moreau book?
Dancing with myself
This season has seen the show’s four central clones – Sarah, Helena, Alison and Cosima – on mostly separate tracks. Cosima has been working in her lab. Alison has been in rehab and dealing with the fall-out of Aldous Leekie‘s death. Other than her brief road trip with Sarah, Helena has been with the Proletheans. And Sarah herself has been preoccupied with Cal and trying to protect Kira. It’s also easy to forget that Helena has never previously come into contact with either Alison or Cosima.
But everyone is brought together in one night of happiness which produces a first for the series, with four clones present simultaneously. Cosima puts on a reggae record (Adham Shaikh’s Water Prayer Rasta) and, along with Felix and Kira, the sestras party as if nothing else matters. (Although I wonder what Sarah would have gone for if she had been in charge of the music – Billy Idol’s Dancing With Myself, perhaps?)
It’s a beautifully choreographed two-minute sequence that took two days to shoot via a combination of green screens and acting doubles, with each clone having their own unique dancing style. It’s inconsequential in terms of the actual narrative but gives us pause to smile before the weight of the final ten minutes comes crashing down. And it’s also a celebration of both Tatiana Maslany‘s multiple performances and a production team adept at bringing us multiple clones played by one actress in new \nd interesting ways.
Of course, the moment cannot last. Helena sneaks out early the following morning, leaving her frozen eggs behind with her ‘family’, gets tasered and ends up on a military plane while Paul and Mrs S reflect that Sarah will never forgive this betrayal.
A fundamental reset
One of the soldiers transporting Helena is revealed to be a clone of the Proletheans’ Mark, with another being held by Marian Bowles. Sarah goes to her for answers and we finally discover who she is and why she’s so intrigued by Sarah.
Dyad is only the tip of the iceberg, part of a wider cabal of multinational companies involved in genetic engineering and controlled by an off-book organisation called Topside. They have been attempting to replicate the cloning process ever since the Duncans’ lab burned down, with only one survivor from over 400 attempts – a young girl named Charlotte who is identical to a young Rachel, and who Marian adopted.
The intelligence Mrs S obtained verifies an alternative agenda: the military’s Project Castor. In Greek and Roman mythology, Castor and Pollux are twin brothers – the former mortal, the latter divine – born from the union of Zeus and Leda. Now that she has that knowledge, how will Marian act and what will she do with the male clone in her possession? And how will the military respond?
This final revelation sets up a new dynamic for a series which has always been led by its female characters. We don’t yet know whether any of the male clones are self-aware or know of each other’s existence, which potentially sets them further back than the clone sisters were at the start of season one.
So now what? We’re left with a playing board that has been fundamentally reset, with many intriguing character and story mysteries to tackle in season three.
Is Delphine really gone? Will Cosima survive? Where is Helena being taken? Having come full circle, has Alison’s story run its course? What will happen to Rachel? Will Tony return?
Paul’s loyalties seem to be at least partially divided, but whose side is he really on? And has Mrs S burnt her bridges?
Beyond the central characters, what now for Art, Vic and Angie Deangelis, who have all been peripheral? Where will the show go with Mark and Gracie, a couple comprising a male clone and a girl carrying the eggs of a female clone fertilised by her (presumably dead) father?
So many question, so long to wait until we start seeing some answers.
A rollercoaster ride
Overall, how good has season two been?
I’m going to start by being critical. Plot is not Orphan Black‘s strongest suit. Beyond the big dramatic moments, the series hasn’t always lived up to its lofty ambitions.
It has struggled to service some its central characters for long stretches. Helena’s long and unexplained absence after the road trip was dismissed rather too casually by Sarah. Alison (my favourite character) spent long stretches sidelined in rehab, in a storyline which was played largely for laughs and lacked dramatic heft – although it did pay off brilliantly once Leekie had been killed.
Similarly, in order to satisfy some of the plot’s more shocking twists viewers were asked to swallow their credulity too much. From Cal’s perfectly orchestrated car crash to Rachel’s surprisingly convincing impersonation of Sarah to the manner of Sarah’s escape from Dyad, the series has relied on pulling rabbits out of hats a little too often.
A couple of potentially meaty storylines from last season quietly petered out. What happened to the big moral debate about the clones being property? Or the investigation into Aynsley’s death? (Surely the police didn’t just write it off as a routine ‘strangled by garbage disposal’ accidental death?)
And don’t get me started on Tony. I liked the idea of a trans-clone, but its execution was ham-fisted and caused other storylines to grind to a halt just when the pace should have been accelerating.
Season two as a whole has, in many ways, been rather less than the sum of its parts.
Having said that, the ‘parts’ have been outstanding, with the aforementioned trans-clone episode the only one that fell below a consistent level of excellence. Both Maslany’s array of performances and the effects work required to portray the clones interacting are extraordinary by any standards.
In this final episode alone, there are two gorgeous CGI sequences: the aforementioned four-handed clone dance and the mirror image of Sarah set alongside Rachel in Kira’s bedroom (see the image at the top of this post). Simply gorgeous.
In addition, we have had the season’s heart-thumping, noirish opening sequence of Sarah escaping from the diner, Alison’s amateur dramatics and, of course, Helena’s rendition of Sugar Sugar.
Maslany won a second consecutive Critics’ Choice TV Award for Best Lead Actress in a Drama a fortnight ago, and must surely be a serious contender when it comes to the Emmys. I frequently have to remind myself that each of the clones is actually being played by the same actress, so convincing and distinctive are their portrayals.
Overall, Orphan Black season two was more action-oriented but perhaps less cohesive than its debut run. Like the clones themselves, the show contains genetic imperfections but nevertheless rises above those to consistently deliver a blend of horror, spy-fi style action and dark humour that continues to impress. I can’t wait to find out how the producers are going to try to top that with season three.
Season 2 rating: 9/10