Last year, BBC America’s stylish and tension-filled drama Orphan Black made most other televised dramatic thrillers look daft in comparison, with plots that turned on a dime and character work that earned lead actress Tatiana Maslany immediate cult superstar status. (Though the Emmys bafflingly failed to acknowledge her skills.) In just ten episodes, Orphan Black served up an expertly crafted and well-paced mystery that most other series could never dream of cloning. And it’s all topped off with the wriest of dark humor. You’ll find yourself laughing, gasping and grasping at plot strands sometimes all within the same scene.
Yes, we’re huge fans of Orphan Black and its co-creators Graeme Manson and John Fawcett, who have promised even more slam-banging, head-scratching, eye-fooling fun in Season 2, which begins on Saturday night at 9 p.m. ET. And we want you to be just as jazzed about it as we are, so we’re offering up a simple primer for the mysteries the first season introduced, so you can jump right into the high-stakes shenanigans that Sarah and her genetic sisters will be getting into. Of course, watching Season 1 would be more insightful and amusing – you can do it right now on Amazon Prime – but maybe you don’t have the time.
Who are all the Clones?The series starts off with Detective Beth Childs committing suicide in front of small time thief Sarah Manning, who ropes herself into this story by posing as Beth in order to empty her bank account and start fresh. Before that happens, she meets a German clone named Katja who is assassinated by Ukranian clone-hunter clone Helena and soon discovers two more known clones, suburban queen Alison Hendrix and the science-happy Cosima Niehaus. (We find out in the last episode that Sarah and Helena were actually born from the same mother.)
A couple of other presumed deceased clones are mentioned, but it isn’t until late in the season that we meet another large piece of the puzzle, a pro-clone named Rachel Duncan that works with the Dyad Institute, the corporation possibly responsible for their creation. It’s a lot to keep up with, but Maslany’s killer performances assure no confusion will ever arise.
What’s more, the Season 2 promos have introduced us to Jennifer Fitzsimmons, and the creators have teased that we may see even more lookalikes before the season is complete. The first season has offered no clues as to how many clones are actually out there beyond the eleven that we now know about, but we almost have to assume there are more, and that Maslany’s bag of acting tricks is nearly bottomless. Maybe this question will be answered by the next question.
Who Created the Clones?While shadowy conspiratorial businesses are usually a drag in thrillers, the Dyad Institute is fronted by Dr. Aldous Leekie, played with the perfect amount of campy evil by Matt Frewer, as the head of the pro-genetically-modified group called the Neolutionists. As Rachel’s boss, he obviously knows more about the clones than he’s letting on, and we know through Cosima and Delphine’s storyline that he is definitely keeping tabs on all of Maslany’s characters through personal monitors. And though Delphine started out as Cosima’s monitor, she is drawn to the good side (presumably) by love, and also by the reveal that Dyad has somehow encoded a patent into the clones DNA, making them owned property.
We have yet to see the endgame behind Leekie’s research, or how it was all accomplished. Our biggest hint into anyone’s actual origins is Helena and Sarah’s birth mom Amelia (Melanie Nicholls-King) arriving with an explanation that she was approached in London by two people posing as a couple in need of a surrogate mother. She accepted the deal for money, but eventually got suspicious and balked, having her children in secrecy and sending Sarah to a foster home, where she was taken in by Mrs. S. (Maria Doyle Kennedy) and Helena to a church, where she was turned into a lunatic by Tomas (Daniel Kash) and his Prolethean cult. Before Amelia dies, having been stabbed by Helen, she tells Sarah that Mrs. S. is not who she says she is, and produces the picture below of two professors from Project LEDA. Did Leekie and his team really get a bunch of women pregnant all at the same time 28 years ago, with the sole purpose of observing them?
Where is Kira?Sarah’s daughter Kira (Skyler Wexler) would have been a cheap ploy in another series, added in to garner sympathy for the lead character, who only wants to be with her first born. Only, Sarah left Kira behind for a year so she could fuck around with Vic (Michael Mando), so we don’t exactly feel sorry for her at first. But as the season progresses, we learn that all of the other clones are barren, and that Sarah is somehow the only one who was able to give birth, making Kira one of the most important people on Earth, at least to those who know about her secret origins.
Orphan Black ends its first season with Sarah returning to Mrs. S.’ house to find it ransacked and devoid of people. The first thought is that of course Dyad's goons came in and kidnapped both the foster mother and the young girl, but now that we know that Mrs. S. might not be everything that she claimed to be, perhaps she was in on the kidnapping herself, and just messed the house up to throw Sarah and anyone else off. But then there’s a THIRD possibility that Mrs. S. realized that Dyad was going to come after them, so she just took Kira and ran off to some undisclosed location without telling anyone yet. For all we know, the Season 2 premiere may begin with a phone call from Mrs. S. saying they’re in a hotel. But I’m guessing it goes a little deeper than that.
Why are the Clones Getting Sick?So technically, Cosima is the only clone that we’ve actively seen go through this mysterious respiratory illness that all of the clones are at least susceptible to. We know that Katja had it, as she was trying to meet up with Cosima with the hopes of studying it. And we then start seeing signs that Cosima is also suffering, mostly through coughing and slight bleeding. But we still don’t know what it is, and neither do Rachel and Dr. Leekie, so they are just as interested in finding out what this biological clone killer could be. The creators were quoted in an interview with E! saying, “don’t get too attached to [Cosima]” and that “trying to cure Cosima’s illness is a huge ticking clock in Season 2.” I’ll be completely heartbroken if Cosima is killed off.
We know that Dyad is clueless in the matter thanks to the viral videos Orphan Black put out introducing us to the previously mentioned Jennifer, a teacher and swim coach struck by the disease who is much worse off than either Cosima or Katja. She is currently receiving treatment at Dyad, but from the looks of her breathing tube and hair loss, it doesn’t seem as if this will be fixed by one of those “rub a potato with it and then bury the potato in the backyard” kind of cures.
Is Helena Really Dead?Helena, with all her weird sadistic habits and vocal patterns, was both terrifying and hilarious every time she was on screen, though rarely did her hilarity involve doing good things. Brainwashed by the hyper-religious Prolethean sect, she was taught to believe the other clones were evil, and thus thought of herself as performing a higher power’s tasks. But her “relationship” with Sarah started to shatter that mold from episode to episode, and it seemed as if she would finally come around to the vaguely less diabolical side of things. Of course, she then went and killed Amelia, giving audiences another excellent double-layered performance from Maslany and extending the mystery. We see Sarah shoot her exactly once, and then we get the scene where Sarah and her monitor Paul (Dylan Bruce) are riding up to meet Rachel.
In the first place, it’s weird that Sarah would completely abandon both Helena and Amelia’s dead bodies down there, but if no authorities are going to check it out, it’s easy to assume Helena lived through the shooting, as she’d already lived through an infected stab wound. (What if this show introduced immortality at some point?) Season 2 will have a new breed of American Proletheans arriving to cause more clone-threatening havoc, so it might make complete sense for Helena to return and find she’s lost her place within the cult she associated with, and then joins the good guys in a “clones vs. cloth” square-off. But then, maybe she’ll be rotting in that basement for a while.
There are more mysteries to be solved of course, including Alison’s fate after signing her life away, the possibility of stepbrother Felix (Jordan Gervais) also having a secret agenda, and finding out more about Beth’s suicide. Answers may come when Season 2 begins on Saturday, April 19. In case you missed BBC America’s “Cloneversation,” here’s a clip of Patton Oswalt talking with Jordan Gervais and host Wil Wheaton.