Orphan Black: “Instinct”
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Orphan Black: “Instinct”

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Orphan Black

“Instinct”

Season 1, Episode 2

For those of you keeping track at home, the subject of BBC America’s Orphan Black ad campaign still hasn’t come up by the end of this second episode. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit that I was spoiled, but I am not assuming the same of everyone reading this review. I will, however, say that spoiling the story for an easier ad campaign does a disservice to the show, which continues to walk a fine line with extraordinary subtlety and confidence. It’s a shame BBC America doesn’t trust Orphan Black enough to let its mysteries unravel, because Orphan Black is proving more than capable of pulling them off.

In short: I’m pissed.

I understand BBC America’s decision from a financial standpoint. Saying “it’s going to be awesome, you’ll see!” over and over again isn’t exactly the most effective way to get viewers, especially since so much of entertainment these days relies on a clear hook. It also feels like BBC America didn’t trust the attention span of Doctor Who fans. Giving Orphan Black the post-Doctor Who slot is certainly a vote of confidence, but that strategy only works as long as Doctor Who fans are willing to give the show a shot. In the age of Steven Moffat being showrunner, most of us are too mentally exhausted after an episode to want to launch into another complicated story, even if it’s not “timey wimey.” So I get that it was a risk to pick up a show where even the main character is completely in the dark about what the hell is going on. But when it’s done well, as it is in Orphan Black, it’s a treat to be confused right along with her. I’m enjoying the ride. I just wish I hadn’t been robbed of the chance to put the puzzle pieces together on my own.

So for the purposes of this review, I’ll assume you watched the premiere cold. I’m also assuming you watched the premiere, period. Todd’s review of the premiere was excellent for being spoiler-free, but since this second episode is even more action-packed, there’s just too much to discuss to thoroughly recap what happened last week.

When we last saw Sara, she was tearing away from her own memorial service as yet another a woman with her face lay in the backseat with a bullet through her head. This episode picks up nanoseconds after Sara finally picked up Beth’s mysterious second phone. If she’s hoping for answers as to why, exactly, she was interrupted by an assassination attempt, she’s disappointed; the female voice on the other end is just as unnerved as she. Sara incredibly manages to keep up the charade, panicking in character as Beth (only one thoroughly British "bloody hell" escapes). It’s a tricky piece of acting that Tatiana Maslany unsurprisingly nails, especially as Sara reacts to the Voice saying, "Holy shit, so it's true…someone's trying to kill us." You can see the wheels frantically turning in Sara’s head: “Us?” The voice recovers long enough to instruct Sara that she needs to hide the body ("How?" "I don't know"). Click. Time to stop panicking and move on. It’s the kind of layered scene that merits a second viewing, especially after the revelation at the episode’s end; it lays just enough clues to give me hope that they really do have a capital P Plan.

Sara drives through an apparent time zone to get to a pitch black forest, where she takes a look at the body, throws up, and drags it out to get a good look at the German. If she didn't believe it in the midst of her panic, she believes it now; she has not one, but two doppelgangers. The princess and the pauper situation she was sure of last week is a hilarious fantasy in light of the bloody crime scene she's stumbled into since. Sara searches the German's body  - her body - for clues, and finds her hotel key and a passport that identifies her as "Katya" from Berlin. This clarifies exactly nothing. Sara digs a grave, buries her doppelganger, and hoses her car down with what I can only assume is a fireman's hose for its supernatural cleaning ability versus blood-soaked leather.


Meanwhile (and I do mean "meanwhile,” as the scene is interspersed with Sara burying the corpse to dramatic effect), an impromptu post-memorial memorial is happening in Felix's apartment. Felix doesn't know anything about Sara's second "twin" or the assassination attempt yet, but covering for your foster sister's faked death is probably stressful enough. The gathering ends with Victor rambling through shots of vodka about how much he loved Sara, which bores both Felix and I to tears. Felix’s apathy is my apathy; there’s far too much going on to care about a self-pitying ex. This holds doubly true for Beth’s husband Paul. His confusion about Beth’s seemingly radical transformation is understandable, but as far as Sara and the show is concerned, he’s an afterthought. It doesn’t help that the monotone actor is far outmatched by Maslany, or that he has to deliver such unfortunate lines as “you screw me wild for the first time in months” and “why are you suddenly dressed like a punk rock ho?” Go back to Revenge where you belong, Paul!

Sara then slips into Felix's apartment to find out if her daughter thinks she's dead. Felix’s scenes have mostly been brighter spots of comic relief and affectionate banter, but when Sara discovers that Beth’s partner Art swiped the money, we get a glimpse at the true depth of their friendship. The second she realizes everything they’ve worked for was taken away, Felix’s entire demeanor shifts. “Okay, let’s not go off here,” he says, in the wary voice of someone who’s been down this road countless times before. Sure enough, Sara goes off, smashing everything she can reach until Felix finally yells at her that he’s still working on that, so could you stop Hulk-ing out on my art, please. In light of everything that’s happened to her (and what’s about to happen in this episode), it’s significant that this is the only time we truly see Sara break down.

We also learn some more about Felix and Sara’s childhood when he goes to see Kira and ends up having a sit-down with their foster mother, Mrs. S (Maria Doyle Kennedy of Downtown Abbey and The Tudors). She brought them over from London to give them a “fresh start” (which explains their varying accents), but had enough trouble with Sara that she doesn’t trust her at all anymore. This seems harsh until you remember the only reason they’re having this conversation at all is because Sara’s just faked her own death. Like you do.

Sara goes to confront Art with her best Beth face on despite her breakdown at Art’s. Skeptical that she won’t skip out on her hearing, Art informs Beth/Sara that he won’t be giving her back the money until she’s reinstated, because as it turns out, he’s been covering Beth’s “tweaker ass” for quite some time and doesn’t want to get dragged down into the mud with her should the hearing go south. Sure, it’s a dick move, but this time, Sara came prepared. Art grilling her is intercut with a flashback of Sara memorizing Beth’s case, learning all the names, pacing out the scene, and finally, mimicking the moment Beth accidentally shot and killed a woman. The editing is well done, as well as a nice callback to the similar scene with Sara digging the grave during her memorial. In both cases, we’re seeing the lengths Sara’s going through to get this money, or more accurately, to get this second chance. Sara aces Art’s interrogation, and later, she aces the second hearing to get Beth reinstated.

As if having to memorize an entire case in hours isn’t enough, Sara gets another call on Beth’s second phone in Felix’s apartment. Felix takes about thirty seconds to register the fact that the German was another Sara doppelganger, and oh yeah, that the past tense applies to the German, and could very well have with Sara had things gone a little differently. It’s refreshing how casually Sara drops the information when the show easily could have dragged out Felix’s ignorance for half a season; it’s like they’re actually best friends or something. The Voice instructs her to get a suitcase from the German’s hotel room, which Sara accepts with something approaching relish. Getting to play dress-up in Felix’s clothes and sneak into a hotel must seem like gravy after the night of burying and memorizing she’s just had.

Against all odds, the suitcase just makes things a hell of a lot more complicated for Sara, whose stress has probably surpassed Jack Bauer levels at this point. The case is full of documents, pictures, and addresses that confirm the suspicion she and the audience have had since the German showed up in the backseat of her car: there are many women walking around with a face identical to her own. Beth’s second phone rings again, but this time, Sara’s done playing. She drops Beth’s accent and slips into her own (“Screw it”). She knows she’s got nothing to lose at this point; she’s tired of being confused, and this doppelganger shit just got too complicated to keep sifting through as Beth. It’s the kind of startling, intriguing character decision Todd talked about in his review of the premiere. Sara may not have bargained for as much trouble as she stumbled into, but she’s also much smarter than anyone else has bargained for, too. Having Sara retain her intelligence while being perpetually two steps behind the grander story is a subtle point, but a crucial one when relying so much on a single character (Veronica Mars immediately comes to mind).

So when the Voice refuses to give her any answers once she drops the charade, Sara doesn’t let it stop her. She takes the addresses and goes to visit Allison Hendrix, who – surprise! – is another doppelganger. Much to Sara’s hilarious horror, she’s an “uptight soccer mom” who wears puffy vests and channels her rage into slicing oranges for kids. Much to Sara’s actual horror, Allison is not only furious at seeing her, but refuses to give her any information, even when Sara comes clean about Beth being dead. Even when Allison calls her later to tersely invite her over, Sara’s rattled enough that she brings Felix as backup (Felix: “I don’t even know what backup is!”). But if she was rattled then, it’s nothing compared to walking into Allison’s house and seeing not just Allison, but another doppelganger. “How many of us are there?” she croaks, desperation just peeking through. It doesn’t seem likely that she’ll get the answer any time soon, but if these first two episodes are any indication, it’s going to be a hell of a lot of fun watching her find it.

Stray observations:

  • This may get annoyingly repetitive, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t warrant repeating: Tatiana Maslany handles every curveball, new character, and impersonation upon impersonation with extraordinary deftness. With the exception of Jordan Garvaris (Felix), she runs circles around everyone else in her scenes.
  • The best thing about how little Felix indulges Victor's grief is that I’m sure he would be just as annoyed with him even if Sara were actually dead.
  • When Paul told Beth/Sara that he couldn’t take it anymore and he was going to stay elsewhere for a while, Sara slipping into a delighted, “Okay!” made me die laughing. Looks like the premiere’s distraction sex wasn’t good enough to make her care. 
  • Sara’s turn as the German was also a lot of fun (and her accent was markedly better than it was in the premiere, which is ironic given that she’s not actually supposed to be the German this time).
  • Sara’s confrontation with Beth’s therapist is yet another example of how good Sara is at reading and manipulating situations for her own gain. Paul dropped the hint that Beth had a pill problem, and Sara used it to get the therapist to sign off on another hearing. Smart, satisfying cause and effect.
  • The therapist session also gives us a throwaway line from Beth’s testimony that I suspect will be important later: “I glitched – a break or something.”
  • “Ugh, I never would have come if you told me we were going to suburbia.”
  • “Every time I think I know something, I don’t.”