TV Episode Review: “Orphan Black” “Nature Under Constraint and Vexed” (02.01, 2014)

Lots of people have played multiple characters in one project (whether film or television). Usually, the hair, makeup, and costuming do most of the work. What makes Tatiana Maslany so amazing is that she isn’t content to leave it to those external factors to separate her characters. When Sarah walks into the Dyad party pretending to be Cosima, it’s obvious that it’s Sarah and not Cosima, even with the hair and costume matching Cosima and even without the slightly heavy-handed trick of having her peek over the glasses that would restrict Sarah’s vision. Her bearing is different. The way she moves her eyes is different. Her stance when she walks is different. Most actors would need the peering over the glasses to tell us that it was Sarah, but with Maslany that little trick was so unnecessary as to be rather annoying.

It’s instructive to compare this series’s narrative structure to that of Breaking Bad. Breaking Bad was the greatest series in history, and what it did best was to build tension. It built tension by standing still–repeatedly leaving us desperate to know the next step in the saga of Heisenberg but making us wait for it. Orphan Black is similarly tense, but it builds its tension in a completely different way–by relentlessly moving forward and doing it on a clear path through the twisting wilderness that it inhabits.

The plot of this series is a complex mass of weirdness. There is a batch of many clones created and owned by a shadowy, bizarre company. Some of the clones have had mental stability issues. Some of them seem to be failing physically. A shadowy religious organization is hunting them.

However, the narrative of the series is rather simple: We follow Sarah Manning, one of the clones, as she discovers all of this information after seeing another clone, Beth, commit suicide by jumping in front of a train. The series doesn’t have the flashbacks and flash-forwards that Breaking Bad had and rarely gives us anything of a sidetrack, instead just following Sarah through every scene. It’s a clever technique that simplifies what could otherwise be a dizzyingly complex story and helps us to keep track of the various identities Maslany is playing, though her performance does that enough on its own.

In this episode, we jump right back into the story where we left it at the end of season one. Sarah, having discovered her daughter missing and the house where she was being kept ransacked, starts searching for anyone who may be able to help as she moves forward, ducking into a dumpy diner only to be accosted by armed men whom she assumes were sent by Rachel. She narrowly escapes them and decides to get a gun and somehow go after Rachel, without a plan about how to accomplish it. Eventually, she succeeds only to discover that Rachel didn’t actually kidnap her daughter–instead, it appears that she was kidnapped by the radical religious group that has been hunting down the clones. Rachel just used her worry as bait to get Sarah there.

It’s a tense, taught episode that clearly and succinctly continues the story while interestingly revealing almost nothing. The entire episode really existed only to tell Sarah that Dyad didn’t have Kira, and yet watching her jump through the hoops to discover that fact was actually the point, and that’s what makes this more action-oriented series so different from Breaking Bad and so compelling in its own way (well, besides Tatiana Maslany).

Notes

  • Am I the only person who was bothered by this? A sexy woman walks into cheap, crappy, deserted diner all wet and bedraggled and this big guy behind the counter doesn’t charge her for her tea, and she’s just totally okay with that and not creeped out at all. That just seemed like a sexual assault waiting to happen. I know Sarah is definitely tough enough not to be scared, but to be as calm and accepting of the free tea as she was seemed a little weird to me.
  • I still can’t decide how I feel about Matt Frewer’s performance as the nefarious Dr. Leekie. That weird over-broad smile and high-pitched voice are so bizarre and unnatural that, while they logically make sense for Leekie, they still just strike me very oddly. Evelyne Brochu is less extreme but similarly confusing to me.
  • Does anyone else think, “Hey, it’s Mr. Big Dick” every time Paul is on screen? And does anyone else find Dylan Bruce so wooden that you wish Paul would just go away somehow?
  • Cosima is still my favorite clone.
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10 thoughts on “TV Episode Review: “Orphan Black” “Nature Under Constraint and Vexed” (02.01, 2014)

    • Maybe I’m just overly paranoid. It also may be a bit of an issue with having lived most of my life in small towns (I lived in Boulder for two years of undergrad and St. Paul for law school, but otherwise where I currently live with its 80 000 person population and two movie theaters dwarfs everywhere else.)–that kind of dark, heavily-used big city location always seems dangerous to me, and so an old guy working in that location is more likely to seem lecherous and creepy than fatherly. I’m imagining that if it were the diner from “Looper,” I would have felt differently.

      I actually think I like Cosima mostly because I like the energy of her movement. She’s frenetic compared to the others, which is rather anti-stereotypical considering that she’s also the scientist. Sarah is a controlled ball of rage, so she keeps herself physically controlled; Cosima is bursting, bubbling intelligence, so she moves. Plus, science is hot. :)

      And I love Sarah, too–she’s just barely below Cosima for me.

  1. Pingback: Orphan Black “Nature Under Constraint and Vexed” Review (2×01) | Polar Bears Watch TV

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