Saturday, December 5, 2015

Idiot Boxing: Orphan Black, Seasons 2 and 3 (2014-2015)

Orphan Black: Season 2 (2014)

The plot gets twistier. A few more clones come out of the woodwork. And things get markedly more visceral. In short, it's still pretty good fun.

Season 2 of the series picks up with Sarah's daughter, Kira, recovering from a rather grave car accident. The sinister company Dyad has a few more of its tendrils revealed, one in the form of the clone Rachel. Rachel is a cold-blooded, calculating, high-ranking member of Dyad, and she is the only clone who has been self-aware from the very beginning. Figuring out her exact motives remains unclear for most of the season, but her ruthlessness underlies many of the more gripping elements of the story.

Sarah Manning remains the protagonist, though the other clones get plenty of time. Sarah often remains on the run from Dyad, even getting help from Kira's father, the extremely resourceful (and of course, impossibly handsome) Cal. While Sarah evades her pursuers, other clones deal with all manner of other obstacles. Large portions of season two feature the stories of Alison and Helena, two pieces of the overall story which are wildly different but equally engaging. Helena's is a tale mostly composed of horrific incidents made occasionally comical due to Helena's odd detachment. Alison's is a tale mostly composed of comical incidents occasionally made horrific due to Alison's increasingly dark compulsions.

The breakneck pace and solid direction of the first season continue right into the second. There are, however, a few aspects which are not the most appealing. One is that some characters' actions simply do not hold up to closer scrutiny. One of several examples is Cosima's infuriating soap opera romance with Delphine, who hardly seems alluring enough to compell a hyper-intelligent woman like Cosima to repeatedly act like such a dope. Another bothersome aspect is the increasingly graphic nature of the violence in the show. While there are certainly a few gut-wrenching scenes in the first season, season two brings us far more in the way of torture scenes, squirm-inducing medical procedures, brutal fights, and bloody deaths and attacks. Such things don't necessarily repulse me, but there are times in season 2 when they border on feeling gratuitous.

After this season, I still enjoy where the show is going. I do fear, however, that things may grow beyond the control of a good TV series. For now, I look forward to where it all leads in Season 3.

Orphan Black: Season 3 (2015)

Even more clones?? This is the season when I've started to grow a tiny bit weary of this series.

The major cliffhanger at the end of season 2 was the revelation that Sarah and her "sisters" are not the only batch of clones running around in the world. There are male clones all over the place as well, and several of them seem very deeply involved, mostly as soldiers, with the entire cloning program and its shadowy origins. Season 3 is mostly dedicated to various male and female clones' pursuit of one another, as well as a cure to the various genetic ailments which are killing several of their kind.

Production-wise, the show hasn't lost a single step. The acting is still phenomenal, and the look and feel of the characters and environments are as evocative and coherent as ever.

Season 3 does begin to uncover a few answers to some of the larger questions raised in the first two seasons of the show. I do get the sense that the "expansion" phase of the tale is complete, and we are now ready for the "resolution" phase to begin. This is a relief, as I'm not sure I could take much more of the "add a clone" pattern that was fascinating in the earliest episdoes but had become a somewhat tired element of the show. At this point, however, I was hoping to get a bit deeper into the ethical questions underpinning the science of human cloning. While there is a dash of this, the show is still mostly driven by plot and tense action. These elements are still strong enough to make the show interesting, but I'll be hoping for some sort of shift in tone next season.

Based on the general pattern in seasons 2 and 3, anyone in
a hospital is bound to get tormented, tortured, and very
likely killed in some brutal manner.
This season does, unfortunately, continue the unappealing trend of increasingly graphic violence and grotesque shock visuals. I'm certainly not above the use of such moments when they punctuate key points in a story, but some of the images in this season struck me as gratuitous.

Maybe I haven't done myself a favor by watching the entire 3-season, 30 episode series in the relatively short span of about 2 months. Still, I can't help shake the feeling that some of the intelligence and commentary hinted at in the very earliest episodes has fallen by the wayside in this series. I still appreciate the humor and acting in the show, and the intensity and grit of characters like Sarah and Helena  are compelling. All the same, the show has become more focused on tension and suspense than on character exploration or thoughtful science fiction. It has not gone completely off the deep end, by any means, but it is headaing that way. Fortunately, there is still time to bring it back to a place where we will be left with more food for thought than simply seeing a bunch of male and female clones duke it out for mere survival. This show started with much more promise than that. I hope that season 4 start fulfilling more of that promise than I received in this latest season.