For the women of Orphan Black, the world is an open prison, and self-determination is a tenuous contract with the Powers That Be, who view them only as property. Some take this raw deal to survive. Prim, panicky Alison sells out for security in the suburbs with a schlubby hubby who is secretly her jailer. Brainy Cosima bargains with a Faustian devil for a gilded cage — her own superlab — where she and her ladylove can pursue a cure for the disease that’s killing her. But woe to the one who refuses to settle: Sarah is on the run with her daughter from men who wish to exploit their bodies and all of clonekind. Did I not mention the clone thing? Sorry. All these women are clones! Does that make a difference?
Now in its second season, Orphan Black remains high-order lo-fi sci-fi, brilliantly engineered for dynamic multiplicity — feminist allegory, conspiracy thriller, cheeky satire — electrified by Tatiana Maslany’s all-star performance(s). I love watching her rise to every challenge, which this year includes evolving her distinctly drawn clones and adding new doppelgängers, such as disease-stricken Jennifer. She has great chemistry with her costars — Jordan Gavaris (Sarah’s foster brother, Felix) and Evelyne Brochu (Cosima’s girlfriend, Delphine) — and most notably herself. The effects that place many Maslanys in the same scene mesh well with Black’s gritty aesthetic. Our awareness doesn’t distract — it embellishes. This is, after all, the story of heroes acquiring eyes to see the marvelous amid the mundane.
The early episodes do have a few disappointments. The narrative sprawl, emphasizing mythology excavation, keeps each clone on separate islands of story, some more compelling than others. Alison’s community-musical subplot is fun but flirts with silliness as it goes along. I’m not crazy about all of Sarah’s Not Without My Daughter running-around. The storytelling strains to rationalize all of its elements, such as the continued presence of cops Bell (Kevin Hanchard) and DeAngelis (Inga Cadranel).
Among many compensations: the Proletheans, a cult of psycho cowboys and supplicant women, led by a charismatic patriarch (Peter Outerbridge) trying to prod his retrograde religion forward by splicing science and faith. His progressivism is perverse, but it appeals to those cynical about change. Orphan Black has much on its mind, and maybe too much going on. But it knows to play to its amazing strengths — most of which are named Maslany. B+