Orphan Black (2013) Episode 1


What happens when the American arm of a UK-based media giant makes a show in Canada for an American cable station? A show like Orphan Black is born! Until recently, I wouldn’t have considered myself a fan of an “urban thriller” show such as this. I can’t say I enjoyed Dollhouse, Alias, or even Nikita. There have been, however, a few shows that technically fit this mold that I’ve loved this year. Utopia, Arrow, and now Orphan Black. It seems that these guys can layer a science fiction or comic sheen onto just about any genre and I’ll dig it – case and point is my disdain for procedural police dramas and my love for Life on Mars.

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BBC America has been on a roll lately with all of these well-received original shows. I’m a late comer to the show like so many, and only heard about it through the huge avalanche of critical praise this summer. When people like Patton Oswalt go out on an Emmy nomination campaign for a show, I knew something was up. Here he is giving props to the star of the show, Tatiana Maslany, via twitter:

She absolutely deserves an Emmy […] There’s just no argument to it. Not a nomination. AN EMMY. An. EMMY.”

I was intrigued after watching a trailer and a few interviews via The Nerdist a few months ago, but the show somehow slipped my mind, but this endorsement settled it; I had to watch this. Not having cable has made it to where I am painfully slow on discovering new shows sometimes. That is until today.

Orphan Black follows the misadventures of a young woman named Sarah. After witnessing a woman’s suicide in a subway terminal, Sarah assumes the strangers identity. You see, Sarah isn’t really a great person. She is an orphan, and has slipped into a life of drugs and other vices in a country that isn’t her native land. This would be hard unless the person in question was identical to Sarah in every way, and she is….well, was.  Expecting to solve all her problems by cleaning out the dead woman’s savings, Sarah is instead thrust into a mysterious conspiracy of epic proportions. As Sarah searches for answers, things just get crazier and crazier.

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It’s really no mystery that the conspiracy involved with this show is the fact that Sarah is just one of many clones, as they hyped the fact up in all the press stuff I’ve read. Tatiana Maslany does a fine job pulling off what is essentially many multiple roles per episode. Sarah Manning is the principle character, a street-wise British ex-patriate living in the vague Canadian-ish-American city that the show takes place in. We all know it’s actually Canada, but the production team has left it really vague for some reason. When she adopts the dead woman’s life, she has to change completely in accent, mannerisms, and temperament. It seems that the woman, Elizabeth Childs, was a troubled native police detective, and quite different than Sarah. We also see Katja Obinger, a German clone, although she isn’t around very long. One can see why Tatiana Maslany is getting all of these acting nods, as she is sometimes acting against herself in many scenes and is able to pull of very different characters with none of them blending together. This is only episode one, I can only imagine what is coming up.

Another nod goes to a young actor named Jordan Gavaris as Felix Dawkins, Sarah’s flamboyant foster brother and sole confidant. For an actor that has only been in something like three shows, Gavaris seems like a pro here. and to be honest I was amazed to find out that he was not actually British and was Canadian. He pulls off a camp “posh” accent fairly well here. Felix also acts as the comic relief of the show in many scenes. One in particular that made me chuckle was when he commandeered a phone at a local bar, only to get reprimanded by the bartender. To get his way, he shouts something like “do not snap towels at me Bobbi, I had a very traumatic childhood.” There is worry that Felix will become nothing more than a sassy one-liner machine, but so far his character is well-done.

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I will say that I was somewhat surprised at how raunchy the show was considering it not being part of HBO or something. there is quite a bit of brief nudity in a few scenes, but nothing like a show such as True Blood, this isn’t a “Skinimax” porn, and it wasn’t gratuitous at all.

So far, so good for Orphan Black. While this pilot episode only scratches the surface with the plot, what is here is plenty to keep the viewer guessing and build suspense. I’m glad I started watching this and recommend it to everyone that didn’t give it a chance at first. Yes, the hype is justified and BBC America has hit another one out of the park.

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Utopia: Episode 2 (2013)

Spoilers and speculation ahead:

 

At the end of episode one, our recurring question of “Who is Jessica Hyde?” seemed to finally be more clear, but we don’t get to that right away. Episode two of Utopia starts in the same shocking fashion as the previous episode. Just in case we all forgot the crux of all the show’s intrigue, a sought after manuscript for a second volume of an infamous graphic novel called the “Utopia Experiments” makes another appearance. If you recall, the book was written by a man who supposedly not only predicted the future, but went crazy and killed himself because of the first volume. Could it be a coincidence, or is the group of assassins seeking the book a dead giveaway that the pages of loose paper are more than they seem? This time we see a man looking at a hidden copy he has stored in his cellar, away from the prying eyes of a nondescript vagrant rummaging through trash nearby. After pulling up boards from a secret walled stash, the man wraps his find, places it in a post box, and nonchalantly jumps in from of a large truck on a highway.

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One of my biggest unanswered questions from episode one was the relationship between the health civil servant storyline and the graphic novel. I assumed we would have to wait weeks to find this out, but luckily this was explained (somewhat) within the first ten minutes. It seems that an organization was created in the 1970’s to stop bio-terrorism from the Soviet Union. Dubbed “The Network”, this organization answered to no nation and was left to get their job done by any means necessary. We can surmise that the graphic novel somehow predicted something to do with the network since we learn of the author’s connections to the organization. In the previous episode, we also found out that Becky’s dad died of a manmade disease called DEALS and the genetic code for DEALS was imprinted into the pages of the book. We find out that the two unconventional assassins that have followed around the main characters are in some way associated with “The Network” – we finally have a sliver of a clue what the over-all plot of this story is!

The cinematography is strong in this episode as well as the first, and even the small touches like a yellow camera filter used on most outdoor scenes, gives the show an otherworldly, almost unsettling, feeling. The saturation doesn’t make the show look purposefully old, like some other productions try to do with yellow filters, but it makes grass greener than normal, the sky brighter, and anything yellow REALLY stand out. I’m not sure if this is just a nod to the fact that the show’s logo is a simple yellow title card, or if there is some other meaning hiding in the background. General color theory holds that yellow is the color of sunshine. It’s associated with joy, happiness, intellect, and energy. This seems in stark contrast with the themes of the show other than the name “Utopia”, so I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

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The inclusion of Fiona O’Shaughnessy as Jessica Hyde is a welcome addition to the cast as her robotic, distant, and unfeeling nature really helps to offset the eccentricities of the rest of the cast. She’s like a cross between La Femme Nikita and Linda Hamilton’s character from Terminator. You can tell that she’s been out there running from “The Network” for years and has become a master manipulator in the race to stay alive. She hardened, has little empathy, and trusts few people. Her character has a mysterious past we learn a little about involving her father’s position in all of this. You see, Jessica’s father was originally named Philip Carvel – the man who originally helped start “The Network”. Carvel ended up in a psychiatric ward where he was given a new name – Mark Deyn – and started drawing as part of his art therapy. I bet you can see where this is headed: Deyn was the man who created “The Utopia Expiriments”!

Episode two of Utopia seems to have all the answers, but I wonder if we can take the Wilson Wilson view in all of this: This all seems well and good, but what if the whole thing isn’t this simple, I bet this is merely a cover for the real conspiracy within. Aside from that, they did tease us with another whopper of a question – Who does Becky work for? She’s been at odds with Jessica since day one, and for the most of the program I assumed it was just catty girls being catty girls as usual. Towards the end of the episode we see her slip into a payphone and inform someone that she has Grant and he knows where the manuscript is…..dum….dum…DUM!

 

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Onward to episode three!