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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Orphan Black Season 2 Review: Sestrahood.

Orphan Black is a quiet revolution of gender politics on screen. What started as a simple twilight zone mystery (what if you ran into your doppelganger seconds before she killed herself?) has evolved brilliantly into a treatise on women's reproductive rights wrapped up in a light sci-fi thriller. But even that sells this show's strong suit short. Because you won't find a better actor on tv right now outside of Tatiana Maslany and her one woman ensemble.

Even though it's writers are mostly male, the show is quite aggressively feminist. But it never, ever, approaches preachiness. Because the way the story is set up, there's no way to root for Sarah and her sisters without rooting for reproductive rights. But the kicker here is how it mainly becomes anti extremism more than anything else. Blind conservatism is just as violent and detestable as greedy, privatized, science. In that way the show gets it's political cake and eats it too. In that way, it's one of the best shows on TV right now.

So what all went down this year? But more importantly, was it "good?" That's all you really want to know from a review, right? The answer is yes. This is worthwhile television, gender politics aside. If you want to bail here to binge, please do. It's quite worth your 20 bones.

There's something weirdly Canadian about this diner...

Maslany is as solid as ever, (aside from her turn as a transgender clone which was fun in the moment but...  the story burned out real quick.) despite seeming like a story driven vehicle, this is mostly a show about characters. Alison is spiraling after intentionally standing by as her best friend choked to death, Helena finds stability after being ushered into a fertility cult (which is a real, terrifying, thing.), and Sarah mostly plays scooby doo with Kira's baby daddy by digging up the Dyad institute's origin story.

None of the threads this season were "letdowns" but Sarah remained pretty static. She got to play up her confidence artist roots a couple times and the paper chase around Dyad yielded a Sarah/Helana road trip. Which was the highlight of the whole damn season as far as I'm concerned. The fact Helena (and her deadpan animal impressions) isn't grating at this point is also a minor miracle. I would have been irked by her magical recovery from her season finale gunshot last year, if the reason she survived wasn't so damn clever. Now she's a central clone, and the fun thing is it makes sense. Her loyalty always being so fickle and childish anyway.

Also it's nice to see Peter Outerbridge (Canada's more talented answer to David Caruso) as the politely unnerving head of the Prolethean baby farm. Far and away the show's best antagonist to date. Realizing his relationship with his daughter wasn't so much familial as it was "master/slave" was the best recurring segment outside of the clones this season.

Seriously, screw the Quiverfull movement. Just... kill it with fire.

And while we're talking about villains, I gotta bring up Rachel Duncan... and why I hope she's dead. While pitting a queen's English trust fund baby against Sarah's cockney artful dodger sounds good on paper, Maslany really seemed to struggle with her. She just seemed bored when she should have seemed dangerous. Though, I usually tune out of tv sex scenes, her dominatrix fling with Paul ended up saying more about her character than the next 5 episodes of development could. And her creepy Sensurround movie theater/wet bar was a great set. I'm going to miss it.

Cosima ended up being more of a chess piece this year than a character. She went to work for Dyad and then started to get sick... then she played a copy write free settlers of catan, passed out a few times, fooled around with/barked at Delphine for loving her, now she has season 3's macguffin. It was a short shrift, indeed. All the story beats with Delphine were reruns from last year and aside from her weaponized fire extinguisher, she had very little agency. But she can dance. That we know.

But the dark horse from last season finished first this year. Because Alison owned season 2. She is the knee jerk comic relief no longer. She is now the most dynamic and most lovable clone as of the finale. Her budding alcoholism/decent into rehab was played for laughs, sure. But you felt bad about it. She was still in pain, and you hoped she got better, but you also thought Sarah's story was going to be much more interesting. Pretty soon, Allison and Donnie's broken marriage was the breeziest and most subversive character arch of the year. Culminating in a fantastic make out session over a shallow grave in their backyard. A moment coyly foreshadowed by the musical she had to drop out of before her rehab.

And let's not forget how this brought Michael Mando back from abandoned ancillary character island. What at first seemed like an apology for forgetting about him in season 1, has now cemented him as a solid mid season pitch hitter should the writers need to keep time for other story points. And I for one will never turn up my nose at more Michael Mando.

I haven't even brought up Mrs. S yet, and maybe I shouldn't. I've spoiled a lot here today, but I've purposely left a bunch unsaid. This is a really good show bordering on great. Even if it never truly rises to that level, it's still a giant middle finger to the protagonist patriarchy. Not only is a show better with solid Bechdel test passing women, it still works if the cast is positively loaded with them. This is not a witty and original feminist show. It's a witty and original show that happens to be feminist. 
I don't have a funny caption. It's just a really good cover.

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