Orphan Black “Nature Under Constraint and Vexed” Review

by Matthew Thompson (Images from BBC America. Orphan Black‘s site can be seen here)

The more I think about last night’s Orphan Black premiere, the more I love it. It seemed to do everything it needed to do and then some. It reestablished the characters, but without slowing the pace that made the back half of the first season in particular so thrilling. It continued to dole out its twisty narrative, but not without working in its trademark sense of humor. And then it finished with an ending that had fans screaming with joy.

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“You don’t own us.” -Sarah Manning to Rachel Duncan in one of the premiere’s climactic scenes.

The Season 2 premiere “Nature Under Constraint and Vexed” picks up right where last year’s finale left off. After being released from police custody, Sarah is frantically looking for her daughter Kira. When she finally stops to breath in a small diner, she is confronted by two men. Before you know it, one of those men (and the diner owner) is dead and Sarah is fleeing from the other, busting through a bathroom wall and narrowly escaping his grasp. Sarah may not be a fan-favorite amongst the clones. She isn’t as funny as Alison. She isn’t as quirky as Cosima. And she isn’t as wild as Helena. Plus she is a bit standoff-ish. But she gets stuff done and for that she is one of my faves. This episode also sees her do her best Cosima impression, a series first (though I wasn’t buying the hair!). While doing this she is able to lift a keycard from Leekie and confront Rachel Duncan who Sarah manages to make lose her cool, something we hadn’t seen from the always collected and under control Rachel so far. And the whole episode finishes out with her letting Art know what exactly is going on. For a show as fast-paced as Orphan Black, this is one moment that felt like a long time coming. Art not knowing in Season 1 made for some tense moments, but I am glad they made this move now and I’m curious how this will play out going forward.

This episode wasn’t all about Sarah though. We got a big dose of my personal favorite clone, Alison. She is trying to distance herself from all this, but she can’t yet and it leads to some of the show’s funniest moments to date. When Sarah needs a gun, Alison contacts her “gun guy” Ramon who turns out to be an employee at what seemed to be the Orphan Black equivalent of Wally World. When Sarah gets scooped up before the handoff can be made, Alison sends it in a way only she would: with flowers and a homemade card, one likely whipped together in her own personal crafting/interrogation room. And the biggest laughs of the night came when a couple of men tried to snatch her up thinking she was Sarah. Alison attempts to fend them off with some mace and a whistle to hilarious results. All this and I didn’t even mention her role in the local theater production (that is not Cats) or her interactions with a high, assless chaps-wearing Felix, a scene that quickly reminds viewers what a gold mine this pairing was in Orphan Black’s freshman outing.

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Totally not Cosima’s hair.

Cosima’s scenes aren’t as splashy as the nail-biting Sarah sequences or Alison more uproarious moments, but they get the job done all the same. She is trying to figure out the best way to proceed with her illness and her relationship with Delphine. Does she try and solve her problems on her own? Does she do it by going to work at the Dyad Institute? These are things she tries to work out while still helping out her new clone acquaintances.

And then the end comes and brings the episode up to a whole other level. I never believed Helena was dead. I wasn’t positive she wasn’t, but I’ve watched enough TV to know that I need a little more confirmation of death than Orphan Black provided for Helena at the tail end of last season. I mean given all the punishment Helena survived to that point, it seemed likely she could survive that gunshot wound. My suspicions didn’t make me any less excited about hearing that familiar theme cuing up and seeing Helena drag herself into the hospital still kicking. Sarah and Helena’s bond is one they just hadn’t explored enough after some of last year’s late-season revelations and she adds another unpredictable ingredient to the volatile cocktail that is Orphan Black, so her being back can only be a good thing. With the reveal of her survival, we also find out that the men who tried to apprehend Sarah early on were a couple of the religious zealots (Proletheans) that follow the ideology that helped shape Helena’s upbringing. They seem to be the ones who have Kira as well.

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Their reactions towards Alison’s friend Ramon even show the differences between Sarah and Cosima.

A few more things:

  • Clone Power Rankings: Before the episode, I made a quick ranking on Twitter and I feel like it works for this first episode as well: 1. Alison, 2. Sarah, 3. Helena, 4. Cosima, 5. Rachel. So glad Helena gets to stay in this ranking!
  • When I rewatched the first season, I felt like Paul was sort of growing on me in the back half, but he was as boring as I’d initially recalled him being in this episode.
  • I opted to focus on the clones in this review, but Felix was great and Jordan Gavaris’ acting skills probably gets overlooked a bit because of Tatiana’s work.
  • “I smelled lesbians in my bed last night.” Felix had some choice lines like always.
  • Alison describes what she needs to Ramon: “I have a friend who needs a piece… maker.”
  • Helena upon her return to the show: “Excuse me, my sistra shot me.”
  • I wish I could keep up weekly reviews of this and Game of Thrones, but I don’t think I can especially in back to back days. We’ll see though. Maybe I’ll be enjoying it so much I will feel I have to! Otherwise maybe I will just check back in on Orphan Black after the finale.

All the elements that made the first season such a fun ride are back here. Relentless pacing with a healthy dose of twists and turns send the plot barreling forward in thrilling fashion while we try to piece together what Leekie and Rachel Duncan are up to or how Sarah will get Kira back. It really delivers everything you’d want from the kind of serialized storytelling that can make television such a special medium. The mythology that backs Orphan Black seems like the kind that could take a wrong turn at any moment, but with the writers seeming so sure of themselves, I am more than willing to just go along for the ride. But it is the performance of Tatiana Maslany that continues to be the highlight of the show. The premiere has her once again playing five different roles that all feel like they are being played by different actresses (plus Sarah prentending to be Cosima which manages to feel like more than Tatiana merely playing Cosima… it’s crazy). Seeing all these different characters and how they react to different situations is as fun as ever. I am so glad Orphan Black is back.

What did you think of the Orphan Black Season 2 premiere? Who was your favorite clone in this episode? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading!

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3 comments on “Orphan Black “Nature Under Constraint and Vexed” Review

  1. Loved it. I love the fact that they all have something that they’re good at. And they are really good at it (almost as if they were each genetically modified to be) Helena is the killer and the survivor. Sarah’s got the spycraft down (which is why she vanished on them to begin with. It’s what she does) Rachel and her business acumen. Cosima and her science. I’m guessing the dead one was a good detective. But Alison feels like an overachiever at everything. I loved the scene where they try to kidnap her. My list of clones would rank them in order of chance to survive a kidnapping attempt. 1. Helena (who would have killed the all) 2. Sarah (would have seen them coming and gotten away) 3. Alison (w/o a piece- maker she nearly kicked their asses anyway). 4. Cosima (who would have just agreed to be taken made everyone fall in love with her and then they would have just let her go) and 5. Rachel (who seems a little wimpy for a clone but a badass in the boardroom) Love this show. Glad to have it back.

      • Multi-tasking! Alison’s talent is multi-tasking. She can do several things at once. Which is also why she was so kickass in that fight. With one hand she’s spraying mace while blowing a whistle and kicking a second attacker. Love that show.

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