April 19, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Premiere Review: “Orphan Black”


ORPHAN BLACK:  Saturday 9PM on BBCAmerica

In the first season of ORPHAN BLACK, it was more than enough that the series introduced us to the incredible Tatiana Maslany, a previously almost unknown actress who delivered a jaw-dropping series of performances as clones who each had separate backgrounds and personalities (from suburban soccer mom to Eastern European serial killer) and who interacted with each other in a multiplicity that Maslany handled so well that it was easy to forget we were watching a spectacular one-woman show.  In addition, series creators Graeme Manson and John Fawcett did a cunning job of parsing out the crazy story about religious and scientific persecutors going after the clones, which at its best suggested an updating of David Cronenberg’s vintage biological thrillers.

Season 2, though, showed Manson and Fawcett having trouble keeping up with their star’s brilliance.  The storytelling became repetitive and choppy (and sometimes barely coherent), and there were problems with pacing and narrative balance.  The climactic revelation that there was another cloning program going on, this one called Project Castor and run by the military (with all the men played by Ari Millen), seemed to add more layers of superficial complication to a narrative that needed to go deeper rather than wider.

Tonight’s Season 3 premiere, written by Manson and directed by David Frazee, was busy and engrossing, but it didn’t suggest that the show had come up with a new sense of direction.  We picked up shortly after we’d left off, with Helena (assume unless otherwise noted that all the female characters are played by Maslany) a prisoner of Project Castor, Rachel in the hospital after Sarah had stabbed her in the eye with a pencil, and Sarah reunited with her daughter Kira (Skyler Wexler), whom she’d rescued from the evil Dyad Institute (whose Project Leda had created Sarah and her sisters) in the Season 2 finale.  The major plot developments occurred at Dyad.  Delphine (Evelyne Brochu), originally introduced as lover and monitor of clone Cosima, has been promoted to the local head of the operation, and we were introduced to Ferdinand (James Frain), a “cleaner” from Topside (and former lover of Rachel’s), whose assignment, it turned out, was to remove Sarah’s ovaries (she and Helena being the only fertile clones) and then eliminate all of them, which almost got him strangled to death by Sarah.  Helena, meanwhile, spent most of the episode locked in a trunk, with a presumably hallucinated talking scorpion, before being released at the end of the hour.

It was all fast-paced and had moments of excitement, especially toward the end when Sarah and Alison were both in dangerous situations, but the only thrill was the usual one of watching Maslany do her thing, especially in the episode’s set-piece sequence where Sarah-pretending-to-be-Rachel interrogated Alison-pretending-to-be-Sarah for Ferdinand’s benefit.  The Castor clones are so far nowhere near as interesting as their female counterparts, and the season seems ready to retrace many of the same steps it has before (Helena being subjected to awful abuse, Alison dealing comically with a husband who’s out of work and a local school election, Sarah being determined and heroic).  Turning Delphine into Dyad management also seems like a less than optimal use of Brochu’s strengths as a performer.

There’s plenty of season still to come, of course, but Orphan Black, which has the potential to be a truly great television series, so far seems only to have figured out how to be a good one that boasts a phenomenal central performance.  Perhaps new voices are needed in the Orphan Black writers room, because while entertaining, and always worth watching thanks to Maslany, this third season is in danger of feeling like a clone of the last.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."