Spoilers for the "Orphan Black" Season 2 finale, "By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried"
BBC America’s "Orphan Black" wrapped up its second season with a game-changing twist, revealing that the Clone Club-spawning Project Leda has a male equivalent: Project Castor, of which Mark (Ari Millen), late of the recently torched Prolethean cult, is a charter member. It remains to be seen how this will complicate a show that’s often read as a feminist allegory about the appropriation of women’s bodies, but it’s worth noting that of the three male clones we’ve seen — two of whom appear only in the finale’s closing seconds — only one is definitely a success. Mark (aka Alby Grant, Clonehunter) has all his faculties, but the scarred figure who presses his face against the glass cage in Marion Bowles’ house seems little more than an animal, and the military figure of whom we catch only a fleeting glimpse has the marks of a mindless drone. (The credits refer to him as "Captain Clone," but I’m guess that has more to do with alliteration than his actual rank.) We leaned that the rate of failure for female clones was high as well and that Sarah’s fertility was not a feature but a bug, but Helena notwithstanding, the female genetic structure seems more amenable to replication.
It was an intriguing twist on a season that even "Orphan Black’s" fans concede has been a mess, with the show expanding the Dyad Institute conspiracy beyond its capability to keep up, then wiping the slate clean: Bye-bye Dyad, hello Topside. After consigning Sarah, Alison, Cosima and Helena to largely distinct plots, the season gave fans a sop by staging "Clone Dance Party" made little sense in the context of the episode’s plot but was a joyous (and highly GIF-able) moment all the same. Frankly, I’m on the fence about picking up again with "Orphan Black’s" third season, since its second provided little evidence that showrunners John Fawcett and Graeme Manson are working from a master plan; they seem to be winging it from one episode to the next, which instills little confidence in the revelations they’re purportedly building towards. But they’ve left enough hanging that it would simply be cruel of BBC America not to renew the show, and though it’s not official yet, it’s hard to imagine them pulling the plug on a show with this much buzz.
Reviews of "Orphan Black’s" "By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried"
Esther Breger, the New Republic
Though I can’t quite always keep the villains straight—there are corporate suits, military experiments, religious fanatics who hate science, and religious fanatics who like science—they all force the clones into a struggle for reproductive freedom. “Orphan Black” takes its brash feminism for granted, as its characters assert their humanity in the face of institutions that see them as experiments or genetic miracles or walking wombs.
Danielle Henderson, Vulture
I’m not sure how I feel about this season. It was sort of a slow roll to a great ending; there weren’t as many explicitly feminist moments as there were in the first season, but it made some very feminist statements overall and yes that is important to me. I feel like we kept going over the same territory but with lower stakes, so I’m glad that the season ended in a way that expanded the world instead of continuing to marginalize it.
Alan Sepinwall, HitFix
Season 2 had more of Maslany’s brilliance, but there was perhaps too much of it at times, while the story kept looping back in on itself until it was utter gibberish. I don’t know if the show can function without the conspiracy element — here with the added revelation that Mark from the Proletheans is actually one of a series of male clones — but I’d almost rather see the creators try than taking us deeper down this particular rabbit hole. I’m not saying the series should just be clone dance parties and wacky community theater hijinks going forward, but it definitely felt like there was no actual idea behind season 2 beyond maintaining the franchise, generating suspense, and trying to help Maslany win awards.
We’ve noted once or twice before that this season appears to have been put together in order to secure Tatiana Maslany an Emmy. And hey, we’re all about that, because she’s been doing truly impressive, truly unique work that deserves recognition. But it took us all season to finally come to the conclusion that the creators’ “Let’s give Tat the spotlight” plan for the season resulted in a right mess of a story. Sure, it’s a good thing to have questions. That’s how you keep an audience hooked. But we’re not even sure what the questions are supposed to be. Even "Lost" knew to throw out answers every now and then, even if it just meant showing you a polar bear cage and asking you to figure it out. We don’t know what we expected from this finale. We certainly didn’t expect it to wrap anything up, but it would’ve been nice if it had felt like an actual story was being told here.
Caroline Framke, A.V. Club
At the very least, this finale embodies both the best and most frustrating aspects of "Orphan Black’s" second season. There has been a constant push and pull between the show’s instinct to ground the story in realism and its palpable excitement at the prospect of deepening its mythology. "Orphan Black" started as a high-stakes procedural, a whodunit with a hefty dose of feminist stakes. In this second season, however, the complications gained layers and piled up onto each other, creating webs of conspiracy that were increasingly impossible to follow.
Pilot Viruet, Flavorwire
I commend "Orphan Black" for the fantastic second season because even with the slight missteps, it was still overall one of the best seasons of television this year. It didn’t exactly meet the quality of Season 1 — but that’s basically impossible — but it’s very close. “By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried” was definitely a great finale with a jaw-dropping ending but now the show has to figure out what to do with all those bombs it dropped.
Caroline Siede, Boing Boing
So what to make of this finale? In my opinion it’s probably the weakest episode of the season. It’s exciting potential is squandered by subpar plotting. Yet it must be said that even "Orphan Black" at its worst is better than most other shows at their best. If I’ve been harsh on this show it’s only because it sets the bar so incredibly high for itself.