Hi, everybody! Whew. Got past the cold cooties that had me in their grip last week, which means my brain has cleared a little. But only a little. LOLOL
Let’s talk a bit about the series Orphan Black. Before we proceed,
THERE ARE SPOILERS IN THIS BLOG! OMG! SRSLY! SOME SPOILERS! STOP READING IF YOU DON’T WANT TO SEE THEM!
Straight up, it’s really hard to not do spoilers when talking about Orphan Black because every single thing in this show is basically a spoiler. The damn first episode is a giant spoiler, but it’s also what most of the series hinges on. So even though I have done a few spoilers below, there are so many reasons to watch this series and I haven’t even delved into the vast pool of spoilers that I could have.
All right. Let’s go.
Orphan Black launched in March, 2013, but I didn’t start watching until 2015 or thereabouts.
I know, RIGHT??? WTF WAS I THINKING? I freaking binged the first 2 seasons on Netflix (no longer available there for streaming) and just recently binged Season 3 on BBC (I got sidetracked with other stuff in between), but the reality is I was hooked after half of the first episode. I’m now almost through Season 4. The series was renewed for a fifth and final season and that’s supposed to drop sometime this year.
A little background. Orphan Black is a Canadian sci fi thriller series that takes place in Canada and the UK (mostly Canada). The focus is British con artist Sarah Manning, who’s had a hard go of it and she keeps screwing up though she loves loves loves her young daughter, Kira. She’s also very tight with her foster brother, Felix, who is some of the show’s major queer rep. Go, Felix!
So the very first episode, Sarah is at a train station. She’s standing on the platform when she sees a woman who LOOKS EXACTLY LIKE HER kill herself by stepping in front of a train. Freaked out but seeing an opportunity, Sarah picks up the dead woman’s bag (she left it on the platform) and assumes her identity: Beth Childs. However, Beth was a police detective and she was in the middle of her own personal spiral but also on the edges of a conspiracy involving human cloning via the creepy Dyad Institute which is entwined with the even creeper Neolution movement. She was thus searching for other clones in her line.
And holy shit, the ride takes off from there. As if that wasn’t enough to get you going.
Sarah thus jumps into the middle of Beth’s life and starts putting pieces together, finding out that she is one of several female clones (the Leda Project) and that there is, indeed, icky conspiracy shit going down and it’s super-dangerous. Sarah was kept safe by a network of people who spirited her away and she was raised by a foster mom, not knowing the truth about her background. She’s also a special clone in that she got pregnant and had a child. The other female clones apparently cannot bear children. So Sarah is a clone that the genetic researchers want to get their hands on.
As the series progresses, Sarah meets and forms bonds with some of her “sisters” (technically, they are) and they forge an unlikely coalition with each other and Sarah’s foster family and the late Beth’s cop partner to keep each other safe as they try to figure out WTF with the conspiracy and what people want with them and, ultimately, who they are.
They also need to figure out why some of them died and are dying from some kind of illness. And one of the sisters who is helping seems to carry the problematic DNA and she, too, is suffering from this illness so trying to get answers is imperative to save her life.
That’s the premise. Season 2 introduces a male clone line (Castor), which appears to have been trained for specific military purposes. Season 3 focuses more on that line and how it intertwines with the Leda and Season 4 takes that farther.
So. Here’s my list of what I think is awesome about Orphan Black:
1. Canadian actress and producer TATIANA MASLANY. Holy shit, is there any role this woman CAN’T play? Maslany just won an Emmy for portraying, like, a dozen different characters in this one show and MAKING IT TOTALLY BELIEVABLE THAT THEY ARE ALL DIFFERENT PEOPLE EVEN THOUGH THEY LOOK ALIKE. Let’s do a little bio spread of the primary Leda clones Maslany plays:
British accent (she grew up in the UK and wandered to North America). Heterosexual, rough-edged, gritty, street punk-ish but with a major soft spot for her daughter and her foster brother.
Cop, heterosexual, Canadian, wound really tight with some personal demons, but was trying to uncover the conspiracy until things got so out of hand that she took herself out of the mix. Though she dies in the first episode, she will play a prominent role in Sarah’s quest to figure things out and also was someone the other clones knew.
American, lesbian, doctoral student in Experimental Evolutionary Developmental Biology at the U of Minnesota. She’s geeky, funny, and warm. Cosima plays a pivotal role in attempting to unravel the mystery of the illness that plagues some of the Leda clones, including herself.
Canadian, heterosexual, the uptight and strait-laced “soccer mom” who lives in the ‘burbs with her husband and two adopted children. Alison and Cosima are the two who inform Sarah of her origins.
Helena (pronounced huh-LAY-nuh) is actually Sarah’s twin. That is, she and Sarah were born from the same woman as twins, but Sarah was given to a foster family while Helena ended up in a convent in Ukraine. She thus has a Ukrainian accent. She ended up with some freaky people at age 12 and they told her she was the original clone and they trained her to hunt and kill other clones. So she is like, super badass. She develops a fascination with Sarah and ends up a rather unstable ally but you root for her anyway. Helena is like no other person you will meet. She’s heterosexual, but with her, you never quite know what she’s up to.
English, heterosexual, grew up self-aware that she is a clone and is involved with the scary Neolution movement. Her adoptive parents were science professors. As an adult, she works with her creators and is trying to get other clones to do so, as well, but that’s a source of tension. Rachel is aloof, icy, and coldly brutal and brittle.
Those are the primaries, and it’s not even all of them.
Each of these characters Maslany nails. The subtleties, quirks, accents, physical movements, clothing, demeanor. They are all different women and if you didn’t know it was one actress playing them, you’d think the show managed to find several different women who look alike to do it. Maslany’s depth is truly breathtaking.
The filming is also ingenious, because there are many scenes in which two or more of the clones are in the same space. Imagine setting THAT up. Maslany has to get into character for each person in the room, do the lines, then do it all over again as somebody else, basically answering herself. Here’s how that’s done, but damn, I’m still not quite sure how it works.
2. Badass women. The primary characters in this series are women. The series revolves around the Leda clones and all the ways they survive, work together (sometimes not), and even have some lives on the side. Plus, the supporting characters include badass women, like Sarah’s young daughter, her foster mom (who is seriously badass), and Cosima’s girlfriends. Even some of the villains are badass women as much as you can’t stand them.
3. Queer rep. I’ve already mentioned Sarah’s foster brother Felix Dawkins. He serves as conscience and backup to Sarah, as well as mother hen and snarky sidekick. Felix doesn’t have a permanent partner, though he dates around. He’s an artist, which might be stereotypical except I’ve known a few gay guys like him and watching him doesn’t feel like I’m watching a cliché.
Cosima is even more queer rep and in seasons 1 and 2 and a little in 3 she is involved with Delphine, a striking French scientist who is actually part of the Dyad Institute and charged with getting close to Cosima. However, she seems to have fallen in love with her — seriously, it would be SO hard not to fall in love (at least a little bit) with Cosima. Watch this series and try not to. I dare you. Anyway, they have a somewhat tempestuous relationship and then it ends and Cosima hooks up with Shay, kind of a grounded, mellow earth-vibe chick. Fun fact. Shay was played by Ksenia Solo, who some of you might know as Kenzi Malikof in Lost Girl.
Brief trans rep! In season 2, Maslany plays Tony, a trans man clone from the Leda line who has a brief role. He knew Beth, who said they were related but didn’t explain how. Tony is kind of like Sarah in that he’s struggling to get by and has a criminal record. He and Felix have a nice moment and then Tony bails. I’m sad about that, because his character was interesting and I was hoping they’d explore that a bit more.
4. Subplots You guys, yes, there’s a big conspiracy at play here, but the subplots that each character has going on add so much depth to them and their relationships. Allison, especially, gets up in some crazy on the side that though related to the conspiracy then leads to even more crazy. And I loved that Cosima and her relationships with Delphine and Shay were part of her story, and portrayed (I think) honestly.
5. The writing. Tight, focused, well-managed, and nicely plotted. This is a sci fi (cloning) thriller, so you’ve got just the right amount of tension in the pacing and it flows from really tense to less tense, but you’re always kind of tense even in the subplot scenes because you know that there’s this conspiracy at play and anything could happen at any time. So there’s a sense of foreboding throughout that helps push the plotlines and characters. There are, of course, dark moments. The first episode was pretty damn dark, and it doesn’t let up, though there are light moments and some really beautiful moments. There’s a lot of emotion here, but the writing is so good that you just want to find out what happens next.
6. The supporting cast. SO GOOD. Everybody in this series brings their characters completely to life, with all the good and the bad, and the complications that make us human. For example, Cosima’s lab partner is this dorky geek guy Scott who you would never think would pair so well with her, but it’s such a great relationship. And Felix, of course, as well as Siobhan, his and Sarah’s foster mom. Plus Art, the surviving police partner of Beth. All of them bring their A games to this. And this doesn’t include the people who are technically villains and part of the conspiracy. All of them are so good.
There are also a couple of things that don’t sit well with me. Because of course there are! And they usually deal with rep! You probably know that about me by now.
That is, there might be a little bit of “kill the gays” going on. I say that because Cosima is dealing with this weird illness that strikes some of the Leda clones. I mean, why her? Why pick the lesbian one? What’s that about? I mean, I guess they wanted to have the scientist clone work on her own illness, and then they made her a lesbian, but…really? And her relationship with Delphine makes me a little squicked out because Delphine — especially in season 3 — gets a bit stalker-ish after she breaks up with Cosima.
You can kind of understand why; she’s sucked into the depths of Dyad and struggling with her role there and her love for Cosima and desire to protect her and make her well. Nevertheless, she gets really icky and I kept thinking, throughout Season 3, that she was giving lesbians a bad rep. Not to suggest there aren’t lesbians like that. It’s just that, in terms of media, you know the kind of weight that sort of portrayal holds. And Delphine also was technically “straight” when she “got close” to Cosima, so there’s another trope: straight woman “seduced” by a lesbian. Unless Delphine is bi, but I don’t recall that she identified that way.
Not much POC rep. Beth’s cop partner provides most of it — Detective Arthur “Art” Bell. He really cared about Beth, and even ended up covering for her when she screwed up BIG TIME. You’ll see that in Season 1. Which makes for a complicated issue. He’s a good cop, but he’s also a bad cop because it was unethical and illegal, covering for her. Still, you get why he did it. Not necessarily to game the system and be all corrupt, but to help her. He’s also brought in on the clone conspiracy.
Alison’s kids Gemma and Oscar provide the other POC rep, but we don’t get to see much of them and we don’t get much backstory on them. And there’s the brief appearances of Portuguese drug lord Pouzhino (“Pouchy”) and his daughter in season 3 (let’s not even start unpacking that trope).
Regardless, my criticisms aside, this series is well-done and well worth your time if only to marvel at Maslany’s portrayals of all the different characters. You can catch Season 1 on Netflix, DVD only, or hurry up and stream it at BBC America (if you have a cable provider). Amazon Prime has seasons 1-3.
So. All that aside, for those of you who have been following the series, what are YOUR thoughts? What are you getting out of it? What are your fave things about it? Least fave? Let’s talk!
Happy Friday and may The Force be with you.