‘Orphan Black’ Review: “By Means Which Have Never Been Tried”

By  · Published on June 22nd, 2014

BBC America

The concern with Orphan Black – as with any series built on an ongoing mystery-based narrative – has always been that it’s a television show operating on the hope of continued renewal. They’re in no hurry to actually answer the mystery because the creators and network want the show to continue. Think Lost, Flash Forward or Prison Break. Unlike series like The X-Files or Fringe there’s no episodic structure to fall back on throughout the season as every episode has to deal with that main mystery in some direct fashion. Each step closer to the solution is paired with another two steps back worth of new questions, characters and story turns.

That fear came to fruition with last night’s rushed, poorly written and frequently ridiculous season two finale.

After losing her daughter to a wily Rachel last week Sarah gives up and offers her “unconditional surrender” to the folks at Dyad. While Mrs. S. is off ordering car bombs from 1–800-IRA-BOOM Sarah hands herself over to Rachel’s people where she’s poked, prodded and asked a series of highly personal questions before being handcuffed and coerced into signing away her next ovulation cycle worth of eggs.

I have to ask, in what universe does this sound like the best course of action for Sarah to take? A child has been abducted. There are witnesses, probable surveillance video and a man forcibly drugged in the process – so yes, the police would be highly motivated to rescue that little girl. Hell, not even Art could screw this one up. But no. Nobody calls the cops. Or hey, here’s a thought, maybe unleash Helena – who has a proven track record of being a force to be reckoned with – to help rescue the two people she feels closest to.

Cosima meanwhile gets word from Delphine (who, just one week after being promoted at Dyad has been booted to an office in Germany) that Sarah is going to be operated on shortly. Acting like the true geniuses they are, Cosima and Scott devise a foolproof and elaborate plan to rescue her. Seriously, this is some next-level MacGyver-like planning here and even includes a montage.

They design a one-shot device consisting of a fire extinguisher, a tube and a sharp pencil, and then they hide it in plain sight in an operating room populated by a dozen or so people. The plan is that Sarah will not only understand Kira’s coded illustration and the tag featuring a skull & crossbones and the word “squeeze,” but also that she’ll be the only one to see it. Because no one would question this contraption being in an operating room. Additionally, was the plan that she would shoot one person and then the rest would simply let her walk on out of the room? They could have had no clue that Rachel would empty the OR to talk to her “sister.”

It’s all made even more nonsensical by the fact that none of it was necessary. Other than getting Rachel into a nifty eye patch next season what was the point of this whole routine? The newly formed axis of flip-flopping evil consisting of Paul, Mrs. S. and Dr. Marian Bowles devised their own plan that not only got Sarah and Kira back home safely but they also got Cosima out without a fight.

It’s this whole stretch that seemed the most rushed as Cal returns with some dark internet b.s. that connect Mrs. S. to Bowles by way of Paul (who’s inexplicably back in the military, with a promotion no less, even though the last we heard Rachel was searching high and low for him). Some tantalizing glances and code names (Castor) are tossed around – surprise! Mrs. S. knows even more big secrets than she’s been letting on – and Bowles helps out in exchange for Helena. This swap makes Mrs. S’ comment about “hoping that there are still good people in the most corrupt places” seem disingenuous doesn’t it? She traded a life for a life. There are no good people here.

Bowles goes on to reveal something fairly unsurprising – there’s a male clone project being shepherded by the military – accompanied by a very specific reveal that actually does surprise. Prolethian Mark is that male clone. While he’s off marrying Gracie we see another of him by the plane taking Helena away and a third locked in a basement cell at Bowles’ mansion. It’s unclear if they also have genetic defects, although the basement one looks to have some possible social awkwardness to work through.

It’s the unspoken details of that plan that seem intended to lay the groundwork for next season’s new big bad as Dyad is effectively neutered at this point. They’re no longer holding any cards as the clones and Kira are free, Cosima has Duncan’s code key and a higher-up in the company (ie Bowles) has revealed herself as an, ahem, ally. Rachel should count herself lucky she’s still alive as the show’s habit has been to simply kill off the threats in lieu of offering solutions.

But as powerful an adversary as Dyad was it now looks like the military will be taking up the evil slack. They’re an uninspired enemy to be sure, but at least their threats will have weight behind them unlike the oh so terrifying patent claim(!) that ended season one.

The questions now become all manner of variations on what the heck do they want with Helena? Were the military and Dyad not communicating… because it seems like they were acting unaware of each other. Was Rachel actually sad at her father’s suicide (and his fantastic dying words, “You don’t deserve me anymore…”) even though she had him imprisoned and in handcuffs? How did those soldiers know Helena would be coming out of the loft, and how did that one big guy hide right in front of her in the hallway? Has anyone in the history of television been kidnapped more frequently than Helena and Kira? Seriously, who thought that extinguisher gag would work?

If it sounds like I’m down on this entire episode it’s because the episode was for shit. But that said, there were a couple highlights, and unsurprisingly they pretty much all came from Helena. From her talk of Jesse who she fell in love with before “he had to go to war and become tow-truck driver” to the wonderfully wry smile on her face as she denies knowledge of of the fire at “the fish people’s ranch” to her sweet joy at meeting her sisters and reuniting with Kira she remains Tatiana Maslany’s greatest and most consistently entertaining creation.

I hope we get a third season, and I hope the writers manage to rein in the outwardly spiraling conspiracy so we don’t lose focus on Helena, Sarah, Cosima and Alison. They’re the quartered heart of the series, and whether they’re dealing with relationship issues or enjoying an impromptu dance party they’re the reason we tune in week after week in the hopes that the threat hanging over their heads can be eradicated. I’d keep watching these characters well beyond the mystery’s resolution, but I’d be just as happy saying goodbye instead of seeing as they get swallowed up in a generic morass of military conspiracies, new clones and layer upon layer upon layer of fresh reveals until finally, five years from now, the series finale unveils the truth… Beth’s attempted suicide in the first episode landed her in a coma, and the entire series has been her inner struggle to either hang on to life or to let go.

Stranger things have happened on shows that lost sight of getting in, telling a great story and getting out.

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.