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'Orphan Black' season 2 preview: The best show you're not watching

By Ashley Strickland, CNN
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1249 GMT (2049 HKT)
Welcome to the ever-changing world of "Orphan Black." Whether you're new to the show or just need a quick catch-up to prepare for Season 2, here's a handy guide to knowing your clones -- all played by actress Tatiana Maslany. Welcome to the ever-changing world of "Orphan Black." Whether you're new to the show or just need a quick catch-up to prepare for Season 2, here's a handy guide to knowing your clones -- all played by actress Tatiana Maslany.
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"Orphan Black": Know your clones
Sarah Manning
Alison Hendrix
Cosima Niehaus
Rachel Duncan
Season one: Helena
Season one: Katja Obinger
Season one: Beth
Seeing double
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Season 2 of "Orphan Black" returns April 19
  • Taking on the topic of clones, and using one actress to play them, makes the show stand out
  • Season 2 promises new, threatening characters and more mysteries

(CNN) -- If fans thought season one of "Orphan Black" was mysterious, get ready to spiral deeper down the rabbit hole for a second season. The show returns this Saturday April 19 on BBC America.

Never heard of "Orphan Black"? For the uninitiated, "Welcome to the trip, man," as character Cosima Niehaus would say.

It all unfolds in the first three minutes of the series premiere: A woman on a train platform witnesses another woman jump to her death -- and they're identical. The witness, morally ambiguous Sarah Manning (played by Tatiana Maslany), assumes the dead woman's identity.

It's no spoiler to say that things don't work out the way she planned.

By taking on the identity of the deceased Beth Childs, Sarah discovers that Beth was in contact with other identical women who are actually clones. Together, the clone sisters realize that some of their loved ones are really monitors for the mysterious Dyad Institute, overseeing the clone experiment. The clones can only trust one another as they try to unravel the mystery of their origins and the people who seek to control them.

"It's a crazy, fast-paced clone conspiracy thriller and a long-arc mystery," co-creator and writer Graeme Manson told CNN. The idea was heavily inspired by the mind-bending film "Memento," and evolved into a multifaceted story dealing with themes of nature vs. nurture and identity theft. "We thought clones hadn't really got their due."

For many, those first few glimpses hooked viewers and turned them into instant fans -- celebrities like Kevin Bacon, Damon Lindelof, Patton Oswalt and Emma Roberts included -- and the #cloneclub community was born.

Why 'Orphan Black' works

Tatiana Maslany

Tatiana Maslany\'s portrayals of multiple clones make \
Tatiana Maslany's portrayals of multiple clones make "Orphan Black" stand out.

Maslany's unique embodiment of each clone, from tough girl Sarah to geeky scientist Cosima to high-strung soccer mom Alison, is fascinating to watch. She created a playlist of songs to help her develop personalities for each character. As for playing multiple clones in a single scene, Maslany has acted against a double most recently. But she's been known to rely on tennis balls with faces drawn on them and Xs taped on the wall and floor.

"Watching her do these characters in a very substantial, complex, layered way really is what made this absolutely absurd idiotic premise work," co-creator and director John Fawcett told CNN.

While the campaign to get Maslany nominated for an Emmy didn't succeed (and, as a result, incited the Twittersphere), Maslany was nominated for Golden Globe and People's Choice awards, and won the Critics' Choice, Young Hollywood and Canadian Screen awards.

It can't be easy to portray so many different characters, but Maslany makes it look effortless.

"I kind of have to think about all of them [...] Just breathing and being there as that character, and letting that come out, with an awareness that I do have to move on from that person at the end of it," Maslany told Entertainment Weekly.

See Tatiana Maslany and more of CNN's 10 fresh faces for 2014

Cliffhangers galore

If you watch "Orphan Black" regularly, you might have trust issues.

Every episode is a roller coaster of twists and turns that creates doubt before the audience can believe a character's motives completely. Paul Dierden (Dylan Bruce), Beth's boyfriend, proves to be a chameleon. One minute, he seems loyal to Sarah-as-Beth. The next minute, he's reporting on her activities to the Dyad Institute.

There is no lag time as the action stacks up back to back, usually pairing car chases and shootout scenes in between kidnappings and one clone masquerading as another.

"We wanted cliffhangers every act break and left turns when you weren't expecting them and to generally keep the audience unbalanced," Fawcett said.

Unconventional characters

Felix, played by Jordan Gavaris, is a fan favorite.
Felix, played by Jordan Gavaris, is a fan favorite.

Each clone is surrounded by a memorable cast of characters. From Sarah's sassy foster brother Felix (Jordan Gavaris) to Cosima's beautiful lover Delphine (Evelyne Brochu,) "Orphan Black" tends to celebrate the underdog.

These gritty, flawed portrayals aren't the characters you normally see on TV and they aren't written as classic archetypes. Sarah is a con artist with a checkered past, but she's also a fiercely protective mother to her young daughter, Kira. Cosima isn't played as your average geek -- she's quirky, making a brilliant discovery about clone DNA one second and smoking pot the next. Dr. Aldous Leekie (Matt Frewer) of the Dyad Institute is as charmingly likeable as he is terrifyingly controlling.

Not only have fans identified with each clone, but the representations of LGBT characters like Felix and Cosima as well.

"I take joy in playing someone who is so liberated, not just in his sexuality, but his work as an artist, and his life," Gavaris said. "He's not perfect, he's an antihero with a lot of flaws (most of them powder-related), but he is a fully realized human being."

Clone science

Fawcett has become accustomed to hearing people say, "I don't normally like sci-fi, but I love your show."

That's probably because cloning and body augmentation is played as modern science, rather than futuristic science fiction.

The fictional Dyad Institute explores the ethical complications of when science plays God. It poses a question largely explored in Season 2: When you're a clone, who really "owns" you and your DNA?

What to expect in Season 2

Now that you're caught up, the new season will catapult from last year's finale.

"Season 2 does two things," Manson told CNN. "It continues our fast pace and momentum and opens up our mysteries while giving some answers."

These religious extremists are opposed to clones.
These religious extremists are opposed to clones.

Specifically, this means the addition of threatening characters (think religious extremists) and delving into Cosima's mysterious illness that could endanger all of the clones, while further exploring a clone we met at the end of Season 1: Rachel Duncan.

The ruthless corporate pro-clone and Sarah's nemesis is actually Maslany's favorite to play, and a large focus of the second season.

The relationships between characters will shift as well.

"Sarah and Felix will be tested, there's some contention there," Gavaris said. "I wanted to establish Felix outside of the clones, and the only way to do that is to put a wedge between him and Sarah. But I think the audience will understand it when we get there."

The biggest question shaping Season 2: who took Sarah's daughter, Kira, at the end of Season 1? As the only child born to a clone, plenty of people have good reason for viewing her as a scientific goldmine. And it appears we may not be finished with meeting all of the clones.

Fawcett added that learning what the fans liked from season one and the strong response from the "clone club" inspired the entire "Oprhan Black" team to pull out all of the stops for Season 2.

"The clone club community has been so inclusive and such a source of respectful conversation online," Gavaris said. "It's the society we want. There's no need for boxes or labels. We would all rejoice in a world where everyone is accepted."

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