Last week I watched the first two episodes of Orphan Black, an urban science-fiction television series about four clones as they run into each other and discover a world they could never have imagined, a world where they have a big target painted on their back and where their lives are little more than a stage performance. Tatiana Maslany’s performance in all the different roles is what really got me to invest more in the show, and the story itself turned out to be pretty cool, though for the first two episodes the show played things a little close to the chest.
In episodes three-six, we see the world of the clones expanded further as the fourth, Helena, too makes her appearance and is revealed to be a religious zealot. Each episode contains some big twist and the interpersonal relationships between each character really take things to the next level in a way that I didn’t really expect. The show is fairly smartly written and while it often downplays the various scientific concepts, it does make an effort at acknowledging a fair wide variety of them and delves into all sorts of fringe things as well, such as Neolutionism. The sixth episode is, by far, the best of all the six episodes I’ve seen to date.
There are several stories going on in these four episodes. The main one is that Sarah has to continue to impersonate Beth in an attempt to find out why she killed herself and who is behind the killing of the clones that she, Alison and Cosima have discovered so far. For a “simple” con artist like Sarah this is a pretty major challenge and pretty much packed with tension since her con goes completely sideways as she gets drawn into the world of the clones like her. Often the show gets quite freaky with this and the relationships between Sarah, Alison and Cosima are among the best elements of the show. Seriously, Tatiana Maslany plays each to perfection and it is pretty jaw-dropping to see how she switches between all the characters, especially when they are all in the scene together, or even when there are just two of them. Very fascinating to watch really. I’ve never seen something like this outside of a Bollywood movie, and even then nothing to an extent like this. Orphan Black gets some serious cachet for handling all the clone personalities so well.
Another story here is that Sarah’s relationship with her (biological) daughter Kira is pretty screwy and she has to make amends with her and her former foster mother, Siobhan Sadler, the woman who raised Sarah and took her and Felix in when they were kids. This subplot doesn’t get much attention but it still forms a very important part of Sarah’s story arc since her life is tied to her daughter and everything that she does, she does for Kira and not for herself. She just wants to make a big score and then run off with Felix and Kira for parts unknown. But of course, things don’t quite work out like that, not at all.
What I liked about this story arc so far was how it brings Sarah and Alison together. They start off as being at odds with each other since Alison is pretty freaked out by Beth’s death and Sarah’s assumption of her identity. But as the series progresses through these four episodes, she starts to open up and we see how they both help each other with their various problems when they both have to be in different places at the same time in the fourth episode or something along that line in the sixth episode. It opens up a lot of narrative opportunities for the show and it is nice to see the writers take their cues accordingly to keep the dramatic tension intact all the way.
Then there is the whole thing going on with Sarah (as Beth) and Beth’s boyfriend Paul, since it starts to appear as if there’s far more to their relationship than seemed apparent at first. And as we discover, Paul isn’t exactly who he appears to be, which isn’t really surprising given that all the clones are obviously genetic experiments of some kind and thus they require watchers who record their activities in secret and monitor them day-in and day-out. And this dovetails really nicely into who the monitors might be for Alison and Cosima, something that comes up very strongly in the fifth and sixth episodes and provides a lot of humour and badassness alike.
In addition to Tatiana Maslany’s excellent performance, we also see series regulars Jordan Gavaris as Felix Dawkins, Dylan Bruce as Paul Dierden and Maria Doyle Kennedy as Siobhan Sadler turn in some great performances as well. Between the three of them, they provide for a lot of the core bedrock of the show, and without them the show just wouldn’t be the same at all. I have to admit that after the first two episodes, the next set of four really up the ante of the plot in a lot of different ways and this holds true for the actors as well, who get more and comfortable in the skins of their characters and thus provide for a much more enjoyable experience all around.
There are obviously quite a few mysteries in the show but we don’t really see much of them. Each episode is focused on something specific and the writers don’t stray outside those boundaries all that much, though they make constant back-and-forth references to keep all the different episodes connected to each other. The build-up in each episode is really intriguing and makes the episodes really worthwhile for when you watch an SF thriller like Orphan Black you expected to be treated to quite a cerebral experience and that is exactly what it is, but at times the writers do make an effort to draw the viewer directly into this world that they have created and things get really awesome with each episode, that is something that cannot be denied. Each episode is better than the one before, and I’m certainly having a blast watching this.
More Orphan Black Season 1: Eps 1-2.