Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Orphan Black (S2)

My re-watch of Orphan Black continues with season 2. The first time I watched it, soon after the stellar first season (read about it here), it was a bit of a letdown. This time I think I liked it more.

er-orphanblack2Orphan Black (season 2)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
Sarah’s fight for control over her life continues with the villains now better-defined. Both the evil corporation Dyad and the group of religious freaks want to use the clones for their sinister ends and for most of the season the characters try to escape or outsmart them. Or just burn them to the ground.

How I found it:
Once I watched the first season I couldn’t wait for the second one.

Summary judgment:
It’s better than I remembered it, even if it couldn’t remain as good as the first one.

Best things about it:
With the main characters in place the show may now focus on deepening the relations between them and despite many action sequences it actually manages to spend a lot of time on the people. It throws them into new configurations – like Alison and Vic, Art and Helena etc. – shining new light on all of them and allowing for many delightful comedic moments. It’s not just about Sarah this time: Helena, Cosima and Alison, even Mrs. S are all served right with their storylines.

Worst things about it:
It’s usually the case that when you build an intriguing mystery, whatever answer you provide has to be a bit disappointing. And it doesn’t help how convoluted and vague our answers are (and from what I remember season three doesn’t improve on that). A lot is happening and sometimes I wasn’t even sure who was on which side anymore but I didn’t much care because I really wanted to see more Alison drinking and Sarah bonding with her baby daddy. It’s too bad that my favorite part of the first season, namely the personal stories of the clones, slowly begins to compete with the bigger picture for the screen time.

Other pluses:
✤ I don’t think I mentioned it before but this show is so impressive in how it puts multiple Tatianas on-screen at the same time! In fact, the dancing scene was plain showing off, with all of them dancing together, each one differently. But usually it’s done so naturally you don’t even think about the technical difficulties.
✤ Cal is alright. I used to be very Team Paul during the first watch but now I can see Cal’s probably a better choice (so far).
✤ Winter looks both pretty and realistically depressing in this season.

Other minuses:
✤ Ugh, Rachel, and all of the institute, particularly Daniel reaaaally get on my nerves. I know it’s villains’ job but they are just – too good at it.
✤ This season introduces many new characters but most of them feel superfluous and way less interesting than our previous stars. Case in point: the new clone, I don’t see a reason for introducing Tony, except that everyone wanted to see what else Tatiana Maslany could do?
✤ I know it’s only starting this season but can we please not do the male clones? No? Okay, we’ll get back to this.

How it enriched my life:
I watched it so fast, stealing time from other duties. Such a good show.

Fun fact:
So, I caught a cold – again, this time from my son – and that’s why I managed to watch the show so quickly. (I know this barely classifies as a fun fact but I’m trying.)

Follow-up:
Season 3, again. Season 4. Season 5.

Recommended for:
People who loved the first season. People who loved it but thought that maybe there was too little of evil corporations, sinister military or too few characters altogether.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Dangerous Liaisons

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Rotten Tomatoes

Wildly Enthusiastic Review: Orphan Black

I have so far watched three seasons of Orphan Black, with varying levels of enthusiasm, and before watching the last two I’ve decided to re-watch the beginning. So today I’m sharing my thoughts on season one, but bear in mind that while they might be colored by my knowledge of seasons two and three I know nothing yet about the further developments in the show.

er-orphanblack1Orphan Black (season 1)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
A mildly science-fiction show about Sarah Manning, who accidentally discovers that women identical to her exist, precisely – that they are her clones. They become increasingly involved with one another as they try to discover the truth about their origins and about the many dangers they face. The show stars Tatiana Maslany, who does wonders playing all the clones in all their differences. As if that wasn’t marvellous enough, she also gets to play clones who pretend to be other clones and wow, is she amazing. Sometimes you forget it’s the same actress all along. The first season focuses on discovering variants of Sarah and on their private lives and as such is, so far, my favorite.

How I found it:
Back when tv.com was a good website I was mildly addicted to it and when they started promoting Orphan Black (which the fans of the show requested), I decided to check it out. And boy, was I hooked. I watched the first season within two or three days and loved every minute of it.

Summary judgment:
This is one of the all time great first seasons of TV shows, no matter how many times I watch it.

Best things about it:
Sarah: she’s a great protagonist, a determined survivor with a soft side and a strong loyalty, firmly keeping us on her side throughout the season.
Paul: very crushable, even when he’s shady. The episode in which he crashes a suburban party is my favorite.
Also, the show looks amazing, with the filtered subdued color palette and the various interiors, each evoking a different social and emotional situation (my absolute favorites are Beth’s and Felix’s apartments).

Worst things about it:
Rachel, but luckily she only appears at the end. The more of the Institute there will be, the more messy the show will become.

Other pluses:
Felix: flamboyant and lovable, the best sidekick one could hope for.
Alison: putting heart into a suburban mom cliché and possibly Maslany’s quiet tour de force.
Cosima: even though she makes irritatingly stupid decisions, in a way she’s the most relatable clone.

Other minuses:
Helena: I know that within the next two seasons she will become quite great but I never liked her in the first season.

How it enriched my life:
It’s one of my favorite seasons of TV, as said, and even during the third watch it still kept me excited about what was going to happen.

Fun fact:
It was one of quite few shows which kept me up at night binge-watching and not feeling guilty about it afterwards. The other one was the first season of True Blood – you know that the first season was good, whatever happened later.

Follow-up:
Season 2, again. Season 3, again. Season 4. Season 5.

Recommended for:
Anyone who enjoys a well-done, exciting story with just the right balance between action/mystery and emotional moments. Actors serious about their craft, so that they can study Maslany and get depressed.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Next time: Younger, again

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Bookworming

Teenagers, Murders and Secret Societies: Special Topics in Calamity Physics

er-specialtopicsEven though I don’t specifically search for stories about high school girls, I find them in the strangest places, my latest one the once-controversial Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl.

This début novel tells a story of 17-year-old Blue van Meer in an unapologetically postmodernist fashion, rife with literary allusions and metaphors. Blue travels the country with her father, a professor of political science, to finally settle for her senior year in a mountain town. She gets involved with a mysterious group of pretentious teenagers led by an even more mysterious, and probably insane, teacher. It’s then that life-changing events unravel (they include hanging; and it’s not a spoiler because the book tells you on the first page).

Like a precocious teen, the book can’t decide between its two preoccupations: does it want to be extravagantly fun (as a whodunnit) or seriously ponder life questions. Sometimes it manages to merge these two, but generally it’s better at the page-turning aspect because once the revelations start coming, you can’t put the book down – even though you rightly suspect in the end you’ll be treated to an open ending.

The open ending is interestingly solved, though. The whole novel is structured like a syllabus, each chapter titled with a famous book’s title. Sometimes this casts an important light on the events, sometimes it seems more like playing with the phrase from the title itself (“Things Fall Apart,” “The Trial”). At first I welcomed the game of allusions but after a while you realize that the very amount of books referenced requires a determination of a Bible scholar and you focus less, especially as the events speed up. At any rate, the syllabus ends with a “Final Exam” where all the possible answers to the story are gathered as multiple answers to test questions. This is an interesting and quite effective way to sum up the unanswered mysteries and at least give the reader a selection from which to pick out their favorite ending.

Just like literary allusions multiply beyond reason, metaphors crowd one another. Most of them are surprising and fresh, sometimes also awkward and confusing. I didn’t mind but I only occasionally interpreted them, again overwhelmed by their amount. But not a single one stood out to me as much as this one used by this reviewer: “she seems to think that if you fling enough metaphors at your readers’ heads, their ducking can be interpreted as bows of reverence.” Pessl doesn’t usually reach this level of accuracy in her metaphoric choices.

While the elaborate story leaves us wanting for final answers, another motif gets precedence: how growing up means emancipating from your parents. Blue’s father, professor van Meer, is definitely the most interesting character in the novel that you can’t decide whether to love or to hate. He’s charming, self-assured and intelligent, treats his women like doormats, thinks himself a wonder and refuses to apologize for anything. Obviously for Blue he’s the center of the world. The mysterious teacher, Hannah Schneider, serves as a mother figure and will also turn out a disappointment. In two poignant scenes, Pessl presents them in a similar way, their faces lit orange and monster-like. This emancipation from parents is a fairy-tale motif, very Bruno-Bettelheimian. In the end, in the world devoid of competent adults, Blue will learn to stand on her own and even, despite endless bad examples, form a romantic relationship. This is the true closed ending of the novel and I actually liked it.

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