April 10, 2014

Rowland: Actress gives it her all – seven times – in BBC’s ‘Orphan Black’

Strap in for a wild ride as “Orphan Black” returns for its second season with the limitless talent of its star, Tatiana Maslany.

If one is the loneliest number and two heads are better than one, but three is a crowd, what happens when you put seven Tatiana Maslany characters in one show?

The answer is the brilliant, twisty-turny, clonespiracy “Orphan Black.” The BBC America series debuted last year and out of nowhere turned 28-year-old Canadian actress Maslany into a critical darling.

Never heard of “Orphan Black” or Tatiana Maslany or a clonespiracy? Heavens, are you in for a treat. In fact, I almost envy you the experience of discovering the show for the first time. And lucky for you, you have just enough time to catch up on the 10-episode first season, which debuted in March 2013, before it returns for its second season April 19. (The series is available On Demand on Comcast and on DVD.)

The science-fiction series follows drifter Sarah Manning (played by Maslany), who discovers she is not as alone as she thought when she stumbles upon another woman, Beth Childs (also played by Maslany – this is going to become a theme), who looks just like her. And, as they say in those late-night infomercials, but wait – there’s more. In the first season, Maslany played not one, not two, but seven characters.

Sarah is one of (at least) seven clones who all share the same body, but lead vastly different lives. But all of their lives are in peril because, well, I don’t want to give away everything.

What makes “Orphan Black” work is its edge-of-realism science fiction, which plays on our fears of meddling with nature and our existential desire to be unique in a crowded world. Nature vs. nurture. Science vs. soul. It’s all in there. But what holds it all together and makes it truly compelling, not to mention convincing, is Maslany herself.

An enormous talent in a small package, Maslany fully transforms into each character. Grifter Sarah, bohemian Cosima, uptight Alison. They may share the same face, but everything else about them is distinctive thanks to the actress’ deft skill as quick-change and understanding of each character.

Maslany rightfully earned a Golden Globe nomination for her work (and was wrongfully snubbed by the Emmy Awards – you’re on our list, Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Seven times!) Still, before the series runs its course, I have no doubt Maslany will have shelves full of awards for her portrayal of the multiple clones who make up this delicious conspiracy.

In fact, it already has been teased there will be at least one more clone added for the second season. But this is Tatiana Maslany, and you just know eight won’t be enough. With a talent this limitless, you simply can’t put a number on it.

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