“Just How Many of Us are There?”
That was the driving question behind Orphan Black, which wrapped up it’s first season on BBC America in the U.S. and SPACE in Canada this past Saturday. A show about the discovery you’re a clone and that there are more of you out there, the series danced between genres, treating viewers to a sci-fi/thriller/mystery mash up. With smartly written scripts and some fantastic performances (especially from series star Tatiana Maslany), the show kept us guessing as to what was around the next turn. While there were a few plot points that were easy to guess the outcome of, there were so many well placed twists that one could not possibly guess them all. All the while, the characters were presented as more than just devices to move along the plot. Each had an interesting back story, unique attitude and exciting development throughout the season. This is considered all the more amazing when you realize that half the characters in the show were all portrayed by one person.
Orphan Black began with a simple set up of a girl, Sarah Manning, happening to be on a train platform at the exact same time as someone who’s identical to her steps in front of an oncoming commuter train. Sarah, who hasn’t had the best life and has made some terrible choices, decides to make one more bad choice and steal the deceased Beth Childs’ identity in hopes to make off with some money and her daughter, Kira, starting a new life somewhere else altogether. But things don’t go as planned as Sarah soon finds that Beth’s life is extremely complicated. Imagine that, eh? What with the committing suicide and all. Not only is Beth a cop that’s been suspended on charges involving a wrongful death during an investigation but she’s also aware of how Sarah and her are lookalikes. Soon others who also look like Sarah come are revealed and a new world of genetic cloning and conspiracies enters the picture. This is where the mystery element kicks into high gear. Not only is there a question of how many clones there are but also who created them. These questions lead to a killer who is hunting the clones and a rival organization that is tracking them to find out just how much they know. As the series continues, new clones and adversaries are revealed, alliances are made and broken and every answer leads to more questions. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday night.
What blew me away all season was that as good as the writing for this show was, it was the performances that really kept me coming back each week. With a surprising supporting cast of Jordan Gavaris as Felix, Sarah’s foster brother and best friend, Dylan Bruce as Paul, Beth’s boyfriend and Sarah’s ally, and Kevin Hanchard as Detective Art Bell, Beth’s Partner who’s working vigorously to try to make sense of the investigation that’s unraveling in front of him, there was never a dull moment. Gavaris especially was fantastic as he jumped back and forth between an aide in solving mysteries and the main comic relief in any situation. And one can’t forget Matt Frewer who brought his veteran acting chops to the dance as the mysterious Dr. Leekie, the main antagonist for the program. But all of these performances were just window dressing. Tatiana Maslany is Orphan Black. Without the amazing work she’s done on this series, there would be no series. The volume and range of roles she plays on the show is astounding. Each character feels unique, whether it’s Sarah, who’s streetwise but is in way over her head, Allison, the unhappy homemaker who’s breaking down with each new reveal in the clone conspiracy, or Cosima, the university student who’s mapping the genetic side of the clones make up to figure out their origin. And that’s just the 3 most used characters. There’s also the aggressive and unstable Helena who thinks she’s the true original and that all the other clones are an abomination. I had to remind myself multiple times that these characters were all played by the same person. She lost herself in each character and at no point did you sit there thinking this was all the same woman. I was overly impressed with the scenes that only involved the clones interacting. There were a great deal of emotional drama specifically between Sarah and Allison that would’ve been a very difficult thing to pull off between two actors. But here Tatiana is, making these heartfelt scenes come to life having to bring the emotional weight to both characters in the moment. My guess is that those days would’ve been the most emotionally draining for her. Thankfully, the hard work paid off in spades as they are my and probably many fans’ favourite scenes.
Now we get a bit spoiler-y as I want to say a few words about the season finale.
*If You haven’t watched the last episode yet, stop reading here – SPOILERS!*
We all knew that Sarah was getting arrested at the top of the episode and that Helena was breaking free. It was in all the previews. What was surprising is how fast both those points became a non issue. Once again, the first half of the episode was a whirlwind of changing scenes and motivations. Sarah’s bailed out by Dr. Leekie’s lawyer and offered a “peace treaty” contract. This contract gives her the freedom to live her life with her daughter and to not be monitored. In exchange, she gives them some blood and urine twice a year for them to study. Cosima and Allison are offered similar contracts and the 3 meet up to discuss their options. This leads to the second half of the episode where the orphans break off into their own storylines. The season finale really demonstrated how you can tell a lot of different stories within this show as each orphan’s story takes on it’s own genre. With Allison, we get a daytime drama. Cosima’s story feels like a cyber mystery thriller. And Sarah’s tale is more of an action adventure, especially with her showdown with Helena. With a few telling reveals in the last few minutes of the episode, it’s safe to say that there a lot of meaty plot points coming our way next season. I wonder if Cosima will be boning up on patent and copyright laws in the interim? Needless to say, I think the Pro-Clone will become a problem.
As wild as a ride we got with Orphan Black Season 1, I’m sure this was just the tip of the iceberg. But we’ll have to wait until next Spring to find out. Until that time, we’ll just have to trust our monitors.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!