It's Clone Vs. Clone, as Sarah feuds with Rachel in an effort to rescue her kidnapped daughter. Meanwhile, Alison's theater career really takes off.

By Darren Franich
Updated April 20, 2014 at 02:01 AM EDT
Orphan Black
Credit: Steve Wilkie/BBC America

The first season of Orphan Black had episode titles that were quotes taken directly from Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species, which also occasionally sounded like the title tracks from prog-rock albums where every song is ten-minutes long. (“Endless Forms Most Beautiful” and “Conditions of Existence” would make great Coheed and Cambria songs, precise definition of the word “great” variable to your taste.) But this year, Orphan Black is going old-school. The second season premiere of the wildest, cloniest, Maslany-est show on television was titled “Nature Under Constraint and Vexed,” which comes from a key work by Francis Bacon.

Bacon was responsible for a whole host of super-important developments that we probably mostly ignored in science class, and in the weeks to come I’m intrigued to see to what extent the show integrates some of his ideas, especially given the promise that our beloved multi-accented clones are finding themselves at the center of a battle between ever-more-aggressive philosophies. (Neolutionist, Proletheans, Whatever Mrs. S is: Oh my!)

Still, two key things to keep in mind: Bacon was the key figure in the development of the Scientific Method, which shifted the whole course of science from experimentation into invention; and Bacon wrote a book called The New Atlantis, wherein Europeans discover an island called Bensalem that has become a beautiful utopia thanks to science. (Praise Science!) I’m not sure if Bacon ever wrote a book called Make Sure At Least One Clone Is An Unkillable Russian, but I’m sure that was implied.

Around these parts, we have our own Scientific Method: The Orphan Black Clone Status Variable Invasive Hyper-Sequence, which measures all known clones and graphs them in a science-approved fashion from 1 to However Many Clones There Are, based on the empirical and objectively measurable quantity of how cool they were that week. And without further ado, the Surviving Fittest Number One Clone in this week’s Orphan Black was:

1. Sarah Manning, aka “Taken 3 Starring She-Bourne”

Sarah’s in a tight spot. The episode begins two seconds after the finale, with Sarah running through the streets of New Yoronto, screaming for her daughter and her kinda-maybe-traitorous adoptive mother. She wandered into the diner from Nighthawks and ordered a tea. The cook gave her a generous smile, like he’d seen it all. (“I hear ya, honey. It’s tough when you find out your DNA has been patented.”) Then in strolled a couple of bros who looked like hipster oil billionaires who only eat at artisanal boar-roasting restaurants.

One of them was wearing a bolo tie. Bolo Tie chastised the cook for serving eggs that weren’t up to Whole Foods code: “Your chickens have been interfered with,” he said. The cook’s response should go on a T-shirt: “They’re not my chickens. They’re just my eggs.” In short order, the Dallas Hipster Fascists were grabbing Sarah’s gun and making generally rude statements to her. Then they shot the fry cook straight through the head — and the Noble Cook managed to take out Bolo Tie.

Now here’s where Sarah Manning starts to cowboy up. She ran into the bathroom, barricaded herself, and used a fire extinguisher to slam through the building. No offense to her fellow clones, but I bet Cosima and Alison wouldn’t even conceive that a fire extinguisher could be used as a wall-destroying weapon.

From there, Sarah spent the episode engaging in a very neat bit of subterfuge. Nemesis-clone Rachel clearly thought that Sarah was on the run, without realizing that Sarah was actually running towards her. (Rachel thought Sarah was Matt Damon The Bourne Identity, but actually Sarah was Liam Neeson in Taken.) Sarah needs to meet with Paul? Sure, but only after she sets up an elaborate ruse, sending a boy on a skateboard with a new untraceable cellphone. Sarah even paid off a local youth to hang around wearing a Sarah Manning all-black ensemble, and specifically instructed her to tell the Neolutionist stooges “Up Yours.”

Sarah needs a phone? She walks onto a bus and asks to borrow one from a kid. When the kid responds, “Can I touch your boob?” she slaps his head and says “Cheeky.” Sarah needs to distract the Neolutionist? She tells Paul that she’ll be driving a red minivan at 9 PM. (Sorry, Alison!)

Most impressive of all: Sarah needs to walk straight into the Neolutionist Lion’s Den? Why, she just puts on glasses and dreadlocks, and voila: Cosima With More Eyeshadow! She talks straight to Leekie’s face, in a decent approximation of Cosima’s accent. (New theory: The series finale of Orphan Black will reveal that Sarah Manning moves to Hollywood and becomes the next Meryl Streep.)

Then she waltzed downstairs into the Dyad Institute to face off against the Evil Blonde Clone, the fascist Betty to her proletariat Veronica…

2. Rachel, aka “Jodie Foster in Inside Man crossed with Jodie Foster in Elysium

High times for the proclone, yes indeed! Rachel was puppet-mastering the whole episode — and at a certain point, it must have seemed as if everything was working out for her perfectly. She didn’t even need to actually kidnap Kira and Mrs. S; somebody else did that dirty work. She just had to make Sarah think she did.

But Rachel isn’t just another clone. She’s a young professional. She’s the wheeler-dealer of a global megacompany. “I need your office this evening,” she told Leekie. “It’s the Koreas. Both of them.” (Not for nothing, she also currently has that lovably handsome doofus Paul wrapped around her little finger: “Have you ever been to Taiwan? I don’t suppose you speak Mandarin. Pack a bag, we leave Tuesday.”)

So she met with the Koreas, and she was all ready to toast her general awesomeness. Proclone Victorious! That’s when Sarah dressed as Cosima strolled in and pointed a gun in her face. “You’re not going to shoot me, Sarah,” said Rachel. BABOOM! Sarah shot towards her, albeit not at her. She clearly meant business. Rachel got a bit anxious. She told the truth: Kira and Mrs. S were gone; the Neolutionists don’ have them; there are “other forces vying for our fate.”

That’s when Sarah punched the proclone in the face. “Nobody lays hands on me,” said Rachel, words which sounded in context like a blood oath of vengeance. That’s when Sarah knocked her unconscious. Current standings: Sarah 1, Rachel 0. Expect that to change.

3. Alison, who is not starring in Cats

Alison Hendrix has a message to send and a song in her heart. Has it been a rough time lately? Of course. Everyone has rough patches. Marital difficulties. Family problems. Neighbors dying in strange circumstances. But she’s cleaning up her act. She’s not drinking anymore. She’s focusing on the musical. She’s running lines at 4 AM. Her husband comes downstairs: “Everything all right, hon?” “Yes yes, silly!” she insists, hoping her loving hubby doesn’t see the high-flying assless-chapped young man lurking in the corner.

Felix had a message from Sarah: She needed a gun. Alison wanted no part of this. But of course, one must occasionally go out of one’s way for family. And so she met with Ramon in the parking lot of the Econo Mart. “Customer service never takes a break at Econo Mart!” said Ramon. “Would you like some drugs?” No no no, silly, no drugs for old Auntie Alison. She’s reformed! She’s clean! But perhaps just one little thing: See, her friend needs a piece…maker. Oh, is that a lady grip? How fancy! And say, Ramon, how is your mother?

But that’s all in the shadows. Step out into the light with Alison, as she attends rehearsal at the Glendale Community Theatre. What’s this? They want Kelsey to play Laura? But Alison thought she was going to play…[gasp] No! You mean…you want Alison to play Sheila? Taking the place of the dearly-departed Aynsley, who everyone knows was Alison’s very good best friend, and who died tragically in that strange accident while Alison was definitely off doing some other alibi? Why, of course Alison accepts! And so, to sing:

We will wipe, wipe, wipe away the plasma

Scrub off every stain

Since I cannot control my asthma

I’ll stand by to entertain

I realize placing Alison third in the Clone sweepstakes is controversial. She designed a lovely card for Sarah’s Gun Delivery. (She even sent along Ramon, who seems hankering to be Felix’s newest love interest.) And when the Neolutionists attempted to kidnap Alison, she revealed some Jason Bourne moves of her own, pepper spraying them into oblivion and blowing her whistle so loud that the dead German Clone probably heard it. But this final act of desperate-housewife badassery only served to show what Alison was missing this week. She is pruning her rough edges. She is become Diet Cherry Alison. She wants her life to be simpler, happier, better. Nothing will ever go wrong, until everything goes wrong.

4. Cosima, subject 324B21

This was one of those weeks where Cosima was mostly reduced to the role of “Lab Tech from a CSI spinoff,” staring at various screens and saying lots of expository things. She also had a chat with Delphine — and where are we at on that, exactly? Delphine told Cosima that she would do anything for her…which apparently involves telling Dr. Leekie point-blank that ol’ 324B21 is having some respiratory problems. (Delphine is apparently doing this out of love.)

I like Cosima. Who doesn’t like Cosima? She’s the kind of gal who throws around phrases like “Big Pharma” and “Big Agro.” But this was not a shining week for the dreadlocked one. It’s telling that Cosima’s biggest moment actually belonged to Sarah: The Number One Clone demanded that Leekie give her a lab all to herself. Don’t you wish you had an identical duplicate who could conduct all of your business negotiations?

5. Helena, Back From Beyond

WHAT WHAT WHAT WHAT? Helena, who by all appearances was the Level Boss of Season One who had to be killed so that Sarah could move onto the next castle and eventually kill Bowser, is alive. Admittedly, “alive” is a relative term when you’re covered in blood walking through a dingy hospital and that darned industrial music that always plays in your head is playing again. But she made it to the counter and deadpanned: “‘Scuse me. My sister shot me.” (Or rather: “Scyuuuze me. Meyi seeeestair shote myi.”)

Things don’t look good for Helena. The surviving Dallas Hipster Fascist showed up at the hospital, grinning.

6. Beth Childs

Still dead! But her memory continues to inspire Art, who spent the episode conducting his own off-the-books investigation with Angela. Nothing but dead ends, of course. Women who look just like Beth; diner homicides that are classified as domestic terrorism, performed by the same religious extremist group that Maggie Chen was a part of: The Proletheans. And good news: Sarah is working with Art again, just like the old days except now with a new accent!

In the interest of scientific clarity, I consulted my fellow Orphan Black scholars about their own pick for America’s Next Top Clone this week:

Jefferson “Doc” Jensen, Renegade Geneticist: “I go with Sarah for week 1. For the sequence where she poses as Cosima and confronts Rachel.”

Doctor Andrea Towers, PhD, MD: “Alison. She sings! She dances! She’s a mega multitasker who can sew costumes while having super secret clone club conversations on Skype! But really, song and dance aside, “What the Dickens?” is the perfect reaction to being woken up at 4am. And that’s why Alison Hendrix wins the Game of Clones in my book.”

Amy Wilkinson, Prof. of Theoretical Physics at New Yoronto University: “Felix.”

Fellow Orphanites, who’s tops in your book? What did you think of the return of Helena? “Prolethean” is definitely a cooler name than “Neolutionist,” right?

Follow Darren on Twitter: @DarrenFranich

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Orphan Black

Tatiana Maslany plays half the cast of BBC America’s paranoid clone thriller.

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