TV: Orphan Black (Season 2)

Orphan Black was such a home run for me out of the gates that I should have expected a drop-off in quality for the second season. Unfortunately there is one, although it’s hardly fatal to my enthusiasm. The show remains must-see television, thanks to the absurdly accomplished work of Tatiana Maslany and the show’s singular mix of science fiction, intrigue, drama and humor.

Having uncovered the true nature of their existence, Sarah and her clones (all played by Maslany) begin the year in a precarious semi-truce with the Dyad Corporation and its leaders, Dr. Aldous Leekie (Matt Frewer) and self-aware insider clone Rachel Duncan (Maslany again). Scientist Cosima has thrown in with them to work with her lover, Delphine Cormier (Evelyne Brochu). Soccer-mom Alison has agreed to cooperate, but maintains her troubled suburban life with husband Donnie (Kristian Bruun). And Helena, having miraculously survived her injuries, is sucked into the orbit of a weird religious cult. Meanwhile, Sarah struggles fiercely to resist Dyad’s influence to protect her daughter Kira (Skyler Wexler) from their exploitative agenda. But the clones have never really controlled their own fates, and the list of secret groups invested in their plight seems endless, throwing them into constant conflict with fantatics, profiteers, the military, the law, and more.

Season two takes a couple of episodes to find its groove, but it does, thanks to Maslany’s versatility, winning support from the rest of the cast, and the show’s characteristic surprises and outrageous twists. The tangle of maneuvering factions is considerably more complicated this year, as allegiances and loyalties constantly shift, an aspect of the show that lends it addictive spy-fi complexity. Jordan Gavaris is still great fun as Sarah’s foster brother Felix, and welcome new faces enter the mix, including Treme’s Michel Huisman and the ubiquitous Michelle Forbes.

On the other hand, I fear Orphan Black’s reliance on shocking escalation and WTF moments may ultimately paint it into ever trickier corners. This is particularly evident in the season finale, an enjoyable but disorganized mess. It has glee-inducing, fan geek-out moments, and introduces intriguing new developments, but its convoluted attempt to tie together all the loose ends is pretty sloppy, with glaring logic gaps and momentum-halting stumbles. Will it be able to sustain its hair-raising balancing acts through further seasons, ala The Shield, or spiral out of control and outlive its welcome, ala Dexter? Hopefully the former, but either way it’s walking the path of that type of show, and I hope it doesn’t lose sight of its core strengths — character, performance, interesting SFnal questions — in its pursuit of dazzling structural legerdemain.

These concerns aside, with its winning cast and rich subject matter Orphan Black should have plenty of gas left in the tank. And really, as long as Maslany keeps bringing her A-game to this amazing, star-making vehicle, the show will have my utmost attention.

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