***WARNING: The safe word is Spoilers.***
Remember what happened at the end of last season’s Orphan Black? Too bad if the answer is, “no,” because the premiere episode dives right in where that left off without more than a minute’s worth of Previously On… to catch the straggler’s up. The sole bit of buffer offered is a brightly lit, candy colored dream sequence courtesy of Helena’s (Tatiana Maslany) funhouse imagination; a bizarro backyard baby shower barbeque featuring herself and her fave seetras, Sarah (Tatiana Maslany), Alison (Tatiana Maslany) and Cosima (any guesses? Bzzzt! No, sorry! It’s Tatiana Maslany!), with Felix (Jordan Gavaris) manning the grill and Kira (Skyler Wexler) flouncing about in a fairy costume because why not. What could possibly ruin this perfect, pastel family tableaux?
Well, how about the peekaboo appearance of a (very real!) jet black scorpion – that my bug phobic brain remembers as the size of a Smart Car – crawling out of Helena’s maternity dress and right up into her face? Tatiana Maslany is an amazing actress, but something tells me her wild-eyed, hysterical screaming in that scene did not require her to dig very deep into her emotional memory.
It’s enough to jolt Helena and the audience straight into the waking world and her real and far less cheery situation: trapped inside a wooden box in some unknown Project Castor hidey hole, with that same scorpion now doing chatty spirit animal duty.
From there, the episode zips forward letting Sarah have face time with Castor clone/naked workout buff/Renfield impersonator Rudy (Ari Millen), who was captured while hunting
wabbits Leda clones in a scene mostly notable for showing us security cam footage of new clone on the block, Crystal. It was honestly hard to focus on the dialog in this scene, as the background music was irritatingly cranked up to 11, along with Ari Millen’s slathering, starey-eyed crazy act. Imagining a future scene where Rudy and Helena meet and try to out-loon each other is both awesome and terrifying. But, the general gist was that the Leda clones were being scooped up for DNA harvesting and Sarah really ought to do a sororal headcount.
Realizing Helena has been clonenapped, Sarah makes it clear she’ll stop at nothing to get her back. And by nothing, I mean Delphine (Evelyne Brochu), who’s apparently been promoted over the hiatus to both Rachel’s job and her assortment of personal hair care products. It seems that launching a No. 2 pencil into a chief Dyad executive’s eye – even if she is an evil clone who’s making a nonconsensual surgical grab for your ovaries – and escaping into the night, has its inopportune consequences. Chief amongst them is triggering a security risk investigation headed by a Topside cleaner (and no, not the sort that buffs that nasty red wine stain out of your rug).
With Rachel out of commission (graphically illustrated by an O.R. scene that no one about to undergo cataract surgery should be allowed to sit through), someone needs to take her place to pacify the cleaner and shoo him off. And that someone is Sarah, who wants no part of it.
Also on the list of things she doesn’t have time for is Mrs. S. (Maria Doyle Kennedy), who’s a bit less than fresh after her encounter with Creepy Pencil Mustache Clone, Seth. Her teary confession about making a “wartime decision” to trade off Helena to the Project Castor crowd for Sarah and Kira’s safety earns zero sympathy. But it does wake Sarah to the realization that if she wants to find Helena, Delphine and her Dyad sources are the only means she has. So, playacting Rachel it is.
The scene in which Felix does a mad Rachel makeover on Sarah is pure gold. Not least because Maslany’s performance as all the various clones has been so specific, detailed and meticulous that it’s easy to forget you’re watching a character being coached and costumed to look and act almost like another character, …who are both played by the same person. I honestly hadn’t even realized how different their walks were until I saw Sarah-as-Rachel tromping down the hallway like a stevedore in a power suit and heels.
It’s all for the benefit of Ferdinand (not the Portuguese explorer …or Imelda’s hubby …or the bull), a sinister, but very sharply dressed, corporate assassin (played by – surprise! – James Frain, adding yet another slimy, dangerous doucheweasel to his already impressive résumé). Sarah tries to cut this party as short as possible by feigning the need to catch a plane, but Ferdinand will have none of it and insists on cross questioning both her and Delphine on the spot.
Things get even more complicated when he insists on talking to Sarah, who Delphine assures him, is still in custody. And it’s at this point we truly fall down the rabbit hole, as Sarah-as-Rachel confronts Alison-as-Sarah in the basement holding cell. If Ferdi has caught on that anything’s amiss, he doesn’t show it, despite the fact that a big ol’ strand of dark hair is poking out the back of Sarah’s Rachel wig and Alison’s Sarah wig is practically sprouting giant bobby pins and a $2 price tag. Also, her cockney accent sounds like it was coached by Keanu Reeves.
Going right for the creeptastical gold, Ferdi snaps on a pair of latex gloves and starts groping poor Alison in search of surgical scars. It’s a truly repugnant moment of violation that shakes Alison to her core and is only cut short by Sarah slapping her already traumatized sister to distract Ferdi and his wandering hands.
Fobbed off with the excuse that “Sarah’s” ovaries couldn’t be harvested while she’s ovulating, Ferdi switches gears to confer with Sarah/Rachel about “Helsinki,” which the audience already knows is linked with something very, very bad. Sarah, however, has no idea and less interest in that topic and insists on discussing finding Helena, instead. “Then I’ll come to you, tonight” Ferdi whispers. A promise with sexytime subtext that is not lost on either Sarah or the audience.
There’s no overstating the tension, sexual and otherwise, between Sarah and Ferdi as they verbally dance around each other; Ferdi trying to figure out what’s off about his favorite clone and Sarah trying to suss out the exact nature of their relationship and a way to exploit it to get what she needs. Turns out Ferdi is a rather jealous little S&M kinkmeister, who doesn’t appreciate someone else, specifically Paul (Dylan Bruce, last seen traitorously helping to pack Helena off on a military cargo jet), dallying with his dom.
He also doesn’t appreciate tedious Helena rescue chat buzzkilling the happy place that Sarah’s stiletto sends him to and interrupts with his own villainous exposition dump about the ominous “Helsinki.” Apparently, Topside has more permanent ways of dealing with problem clones and back in 2006, the Helsinki collection (6 clones and 32 “collateral”) were wiped out in the space of a two season marathon. This chilling news is then topped by the update that he and Rachel have been planning a Toronto-based sequel of their very own, the beginnings of which are underway even now over at the chez Hendrix.
Sarah coyly excuses herself to the loo to warn Alison, but the clone phone’s ring goes unheard over her Nordic Track. With Ferdi’s sous assassin (kind of like a sous chef, only executing people, instead of a dinner service) creeping ever closer, Ferdi chooses that moment to question Sarah about what she’s up to and who she is, forcing her to take the nuclear option of ripping off Ferdi’s belt, whipping him with it hard and finally strangling him on the bed. “Remember our safe word?” a deliriously ecstatic Ferdi asks. “No,” is Sarah’s reply, as she proceeds to tighten the belt around his throat like a recalcitrant twist tie around an overstuffed trash bag.
Before she can kill him, though, Delphine interrupts the festivities. Acting on intel from the newly conscious and helpless Rachel, Delphine forces Ferdi to call off his dog and leave the Hendrixes alone, making it clear that if Topside discovered his and Rachel’s little plot, he’d be the one targeted for cleaning.
All this while, Helena’s been stewing in that wooden box with nothing but her spirit bug, rambling about boxes within boxes, for company. She hasn’t been entirely alone, however, as a creepy old chain smoking woman, who looks like she wandered out of a 1960s Soviet prison movie, has been watching her on closed circuit via laptop. She sends a soldier in to unlock the box and when the lid opens we see him from Helena’s perspective: Another Castor clone.
Speaking of which, Seth has been busy tracking down Rudy and wastes no time blowing his guard’s brains out to free him. Something tells me, despite their teary-eyed, huggy reunion, this pair will not be buddy comedy material.
Also notable in a very industrious episode: Delphine breaks up with Cosima because now that she’s the new Rachel, she must promise to love all the sisters equally. And that means things need to either get strictly platonic or very, very awkward.
Cosima is feeling a bit more chipper, thanks to Kira’s magic stem cells. And she manages to keep Scott from squirreling off in a fit of self-preservation, by teasing him with a look at Duncan’s very special annotated edition of The Island of Doctor Moreau, which may hold the key to a cure for all the clones’ deadly DNA.
And when they aren’t being threatened with imminent death by sous assassins, Alison and Donny (Kristian Bruun) are starting to get on with their post-Leekie murder lives: Alison mulling over the possibility of running for School Trustee, if only to stick it to the chirpily corrupt incumbent who wants to redistrict her kids right into another school, and Donny getting in touch with his newly empowered self by quitting his job in the most bridge-burning way possible.
All in all, a very full dance card. Yet, Orphan Black manages to keep all the players spinning along the floor. While this season’s opener didn’t quite have the heart-thumping, pure adrenaline moments of last season, it nevertheless managed to deepen and broaden the OB universe and make both Topside and the still-murky Project Castor real and credible threats.
We haven’t had much of a chance to see the Castor boys in action, yet. So, the jury’s still out on whether Ari Millen is going to be able to hit the very high bar in multi-character assaying set by Tatiana Maslany. But I’m certainly in for the ride to find out. After all, as Helena’s spirit buddy would say, we’ve only escaped the first box.
Missed an episode? Catch up on BBC-A at http://www.bbcamerica.com/orphan-black/
Got any questions, comments, raves, reservations or revelations about the ep? Let the wide world know in the comments below.
New episodes of Orphan Black air on Saturday at 9/8c on BBC America.