Orphan Black: Join the Clone Club

Orphan Black

I typically stay away from the award show hype. It doesn’t sway me one way or another on what I watch, and they tend to ignore my favorite genres: fantasy, horror, and science fiction. I am glad to see shows such as American Horror Story and Game of Thrones getting kudos, but many attention worthy shows are overlooked come award time. (Fringe, anyone?) But this year a nominee perked my ears, and I got just a little bit excited. Tatiana Maslany of Orphan Black was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actress. Orphan Black was my favorite new show in 2013, and Maslany’s performance is unlike anything I have every seen. Her competition was steep, but who could really compare to one actress playing seven different roles in one show and making it look effortless?

Well, not to much surprise, disappointment happened. Robin Wright won for House of Cards. I have yet to watch House of Cards, but I’m sure it’s just as good as people say; I’m sure her performance in it was great. But, really? Another drama winner? It’s time to make the case for the step-genres of television. It’s time to give them some love, so I’m going to start with making the case for Orphan Black and why you shouldn’t miss this incredible show. Here is what you need to know to dive into the world of Orphan Black. There are a few spoilers, but none that go past the first episode.

The Premise

Sarah Manning has made her way through life as a con artist and petty thief. She returns to her home town of Toronto with a bag of cocaine, stolen from her former boyfriend, Vic. At a train station, Sarah sees a woman acting strangely. The woman sets down her purse and takes off her shoes and jacket. Sarah slowly approaches her. She turns to look at Sarah as a train is speeding forward in the distance. The woman’s face is filled with sadness, but her face is the same as Sarah’s. Without warning, the woman leaps into the path of the oncoming train and is killed instantly. You can watch the opening scene below:

ORPHAN BLACK Opening Scene EXCLUSIVE: March 30 BBC AMERICA Original Series

Recovering from her shock, Sarah grabs the dead doppelganger’s purse. She meets up with her foster-brother, Felix, and discusses a plan to sell the cocaine and runaway with her daughter, Kira, who is currently with her guardian, Siobhan Sadler. Sarah uncovers the dead woman’s identity as Elizabeth “Beth” Childs. She goes to Beth’s apartment to try to learn more about her. There, Sarah discovers that Beth has a savings account with $75,000. Sarah prepares to take over Beth’s identity to get a hold of the money. Felix assists her by identifying Beth’s dead body as Sarah’s and persuades her ex-boyfriend, Vic, that she is truly dead when he comes to look for her.

As Sarah assumes Beth’s life, she makes startling discoveries. Beth has several birth certificates stored in a safe deposit box with different names and birth dates just days apart. Sarah is soon contacted by a woman named Katja, who thinks she is contacting Beth. Sarah meets with Katja and discovers she shares the same face as well. Before she can get much information, Katja is killed by a sniper. Sarah further investigates and discovers others besides Beth and Katja who share her face. They are clones, and they must work together to uncover the truth of who created them and for what purpose.

The Creative Talent

John Fawcett & Graeme Manson on 'Orphan Black'

Orphan Black is a BBC America production. If you have any fan base in science fiction, that fact itself gives the show a lot of credit. BBC has brought us Doctor Who, Torchwood, Being Human, Merlin, Primeval, and Hex, just to name a few. The Brits know their sci-fi. It is also a BBC America original air series, so you won’t be watching it a year after it’s already premiered across the ocean. The story also takes place in Toronto and stars mostly Canadian and American actors, so accents are directed at an American audience who sometimes find it different to understand various British accents.

While the producers, directors, and writers may not be household names, they have some impressive past work to show. Creator John Fawcett is best well known for creating, writing, and directing the film Ginger Snaps, a great coming-of-age horror film. He also produced the two sequels, Ginger Snaps II (which is arguably better than the first) and Ginger Snaps Back. He has also directed numerous television episodes for different shows including Xena: Warrior Princess, Spartacus, and Lost Girl. The collection of directing and writing talent on the show all have an extensive history of working with other supernatural shows such as Hercules, Bitten, Warehouse 13, Stargate, and Supernatural.

The Supporting Cast

Jordan Gavaris, Tatiana Maslany, Kevin Hanchard, and Dylan Bruce

Like the creators, most of the actors are not well known but are extremely talented.

Felix Dawkins (Jordan Gavaris) – Sarah’s gay foster-brother. He and Sarah were both raised by Mrs. S. Felix makes his living as a painter and prostitute. He is loyal to Sarah, her only confidant, and he assists her in investigating the other clones. He adds humor to the show, such as in the first episode referring to Beth Child’s photo as Sarah “with a nice haircut.”

Siobhan Sadler or Mrs. S (Maria Doyle Kennedy) – Felix and Sarah’s Irish foster-mother. She brought them to Toronto when they were children to raise them in a safer environment. She currently acts as Sarah’s daughter’s guardian since Sarah had been gone for a year.

Kira (Skyler Wexler) – Sarah’s biological, naturally conceived seven-year old daughter. She begins to show signs throughout the first season that there may be something unique about her as well. Her father is unknown.

Paul Dierden (Dylan Bruce) – Beth Child’s live-in boyfriend who has secrets of his own.

Art Bell (Kevin Hanchard) – Beth Child’s police partner

Vic (Michael Mando) – Sarah’s drug-dealing ex-boyfriend who believes she is dead. He even holds a memorial service for her.

Dr. Aldous Leekie (Matt Frewer) – He is the head of the Dyad Institute and one of the leaders in promoting the Neolution movement. Sarah and the other clones suspect him of having information about their origins.

Clone Club

The first rule of clone club is…

By the end of the first season, there are ten known clones. Tatiana Maslany portrays seven of them in the show. Yes, seven. All played by the same actress and some in scenes together. That means she was sometimes acting to an empty room and having a conversation with several other versions of herself. Maslany does not have many leading roles to her résumé, but she has a few standout performances in her past. In Ginger Snaps II, she plays Ghost, a mentally unstable and werewolf and comic book obsessed girl. Her performance as a seemingly innocent girl is chilling. She has also had parts in films such as The Messengers, Diary of the Dead, and The Vow and various television shows.

Here is the rundown of the clone collection:

Danielle Fournier, Aryanna Giordano, and Janika Zingler are three clones presumed dead by the beginning of the show. Little is known about the three except for countries of origin and birth and death dates. The last one revealed in the first season is a plot twist, so I will leave her out. Here are the other six:

Orphan Black SarahSarah Manning – She is the lead of the series and the least knowledgeable about her past. She presents a tough, English punk exterior, but she truly loves her foster-brother, Felix, and her daughter Kira. As of season one, Sarah has not revealed Kira’s father, only that she was naturally conceived and born. At the beginning of the show, she is on the run from her abusive, drug dealing ex-boyfriend Vic. As she takes over Beth Child’s life, she begins to fall for Beth’s boyfriend Paul. She has a hard exterior, but she does what is right when it comes to Beth’s money. She invests it in the cause for finding out the truth behind her the other clones.

Orphan Black BethElizabeth (Beth) Childs – Beth commits suicide within the first few minute of the first episode, but her role continues to be important. Beth was a police officer who had been placed on suspension after accidentally shooting a civilian. Her partner, Art, is still loyal to her. He believes Sarah is Beth, and Sarah realizes that Art knows something more about the shooting then is being said. Beth also had a live-in boyfriend, Paul, who Sarah suspects as being her monitor–someone sent to keep an eye on the clones. Beth was the first clones in North America to know about others. She was contacted by Katja and used facial-recognition software to locate Cosima and Alison. She was attempting to track down other clones before her suicide. Her reason for suicide is still unknown, but Sarah and the others believe it may have been due to the medication she taking or something she found out and could not handle.

Orphan Black KatjaKatja Obinger – Katja is from Germany. She makes contact with Beth after she uncovers that many of the European clones have been hunted down and killed. Beth asked Katja for data and samples of herself and the other European clones. She contacts Sarah, who at the time is impersonating Beth, to meet to give her a briefcase with the information. Sarah avoids the meeting but is finally confronted by Katja. She desperately wants to see Beth’s scientist friend, Cosima, because she has been coughing up blood. Katja is killed at the end of the first episode by a sniper.

Orphan Black AlisonAlison Hendrix – Alison is a Canadian native, married with two adopted kids. She represents the typical A type personality soccer mom. She seems to be the most upset at the idea of the clones because it cuts into her “perfect” suburban lifestyle. She is not initially happy when Sarah comes into the group and is suspicious of her motives. Alison contributes to the clone cause by giving Beth $75,000 she has in savings. To protect her family, she learns to shoot a gun from Beth and keeps one hidden in her home. When the clones learn that they may have monitors watching them, she suspects her best friend and neighbor, Aynsley.

Orphan Black CosimaCosima Niehaus – Cosima is an American clone who is working on a PhD in Evolutionary Biology in Minnesota. She is intelligent and perky. Unlike Sarah and Alison, she appears fascinated at the idea of being a clone. Cosima is the one who starts calling their group “clone club”. She assists the group by analyzing blood samples of the clones and investigating Dr. Leekie, who may know something about the clones’ origins. She develops a relationship with fellow student, Delphine, but begins to suspect that she could be a monitor.

Orphan Black HelenaHelena – Helena was brought up in a convent in Ukraine. She was later raised by religious fanatics who raised her to believe that she is the original among the clones. She was trained to be a killer and begins hunting down the clones one by one. It is assumed that she has killed the three missing European clones. Helena behaves in a childlike and psychotic manner. She seems drawn to Sarah, so she initially lets her live. She frequently self-mutilates and has scarred her back to look like wings.

The Themes

Are you convinced yet? If not, considered the show’s themes. It is a science fiction drama, but it is so much more. There is a lot of heart and even humor in this show. It is about family and those we make our family. It doesn’t take blood relation to find that familial connection, such as with Sarah and Felix. Sarah has never known her biological family, so she struggles to be a good mother to Kira. But she does not give up easily. She finds a mission in life outside of crime and works with her clone sisters and begins to develop bonds with them. She also must come to term with her growing feelings towards Paul. Each of the clones go through her own struggles. Beth dealt with life changing events in unhealthy ways that most likely lead to her suicide. Alison deals with keeping her ideal life in order and trying to understand the fact that she is not as ordinary as she thought. Cosima starts a romantic relationship only to become suspicious of her partner. Outside the science fiction aspect of the show, each individual deals with real emotional issues. You easily get drawn into the characters and their lives.

Tatiana Maslany did go on to win a Critic’s Choice Television Award, and she and the show have been awarded an EWwy Award, so there is there is some recognition happening. The sci-fi genre is so compelling because it takes ordinary people and problems and place them in fantastical environments. There is usually well balance of drama, humor, romance, and angst among the characters. Sci-fi shows us that even our heroes have bad days, and no matter how extraordinary a life may seem, we all have to face death and taxes.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Edited by Spencer, Jordan, Misagh.

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  1. Mabel Pena

    I haven’t seen Tatiana in any other role that I know of. I originally thought she was British and was putting on a mainstream Canadian/US accent when playing Cosima, Allison, and Sarah-as-Beth (apologies to any British fans who instantly knew she wasn’t British; I’m not very well versed in good-vs-bad British accents). I had also noticed that Sarah-as-Beth’s accent was kind of weird and forced, and that sometimes there seemed to be tinges of British pronunciation slipping in. Then I found out she’s Canadian and has a mainstream US/Canadian accent, and all of a sudden it clicked that Sarah-as-Beth’s weird accent and slips were an intentional acting choice showing that Sarah’s just not perfect at affecting a different accent after a few days, which is actually rather realistic. Cue me being very impressed, because I have to think that accents by themselves are not as difficult as playing someone with a different accent sub-standardly playing at your own accent.

    • Alexander

      ne thing that is really awesome about Tatiana Maslany’s performance is that, aside from the 10 known clones (Sarah, Beth, Cosima, Alison, Katja, Janika, Aryanna, Danielle, Helena and Rachel), she also has to play some of the clones imitating the other clones, which she does so really well. They don’t just imitate each other perfectly, they have to practice for a while (Sarah has to watch footage of Beth for a few weeks, and Alison’s English accent is… sad… at first, at least).

  2. Jody Hubbard

    I thought it was better than this season of doctor who. I thought Clara’s mysterious past was gonna be the focus but it was overlooked til the end. Orphan just kept building. It was great! Can’t wait for season 2. Best BBC America original. Coppers and ripper street are pretty much the same show! Cop, doctor friend, mystery surrounding daughter. Those shows are more clones than a show about clones!

    • Liz Kellam

      I agree about this season of Doctor Who vs. Orphan Black. I am still not a Clara fan, and Orphan Black kept me more intrigued this past year. I’m excited to see what happens in season 2.

  3. Fletcher

    Great show, and I have to agree that a lot of the awesomeness comes from Tatyana Maaslany’s work as the clones. I can’t wait for season 2 🙂

  4. Aliya Gulamani
    Aliya Gulamani

    Really enjoyed this article, you convey really well why Orphan Black is so good and how effective and astonishing Tatiana’s acting is. I really enjoyed the first series and look forwards to finding out what happens in the second.

  5. Martha Moody

    First episode actually didn’t interest me that much, but I kept watching purely because it was on after Doctor Who and I didn’t feel like turning off the TV. But, by the time the third episode was done, it was genuinely entertaining, and it developed into something I’ll go out of my way to watch. Maslany is pretty damn awesome with her acting, and a lot of the characters (as well as the plot, of course) are fascinating.

  6. I adored this show. Will be buying the bluray and force feeding it to everyone I know… Tatiana Maslany deserves at the very least to be nominated for her roles on this show… the best special effect this sci fi thriller has going for it is Maslany’s skillful performances and portrayals of so many unique women…

  7. Ebony Washington

    Love Orphan Black but what I always wanted was an article of the new show “Rectify” on the Sundance Channel. It is actually the first original show they have ever made, and to tell you the truth, it is the best written/acted show I have ever seen in my entire life. I really saddens me because I have never heard ANYONE talk about it. Real shame.

  8. Juanita

    I absolutely loved this show, watched it from the start. One of the best new shows in years. Fantastic performances from the lead actress as all the clones, great characters, plot that kept you hooked, and actually a few good laughs along with the serious.

  9. Christian Freeman

    Maslany does a better job in this than the dollhouse series tried to do, with the whole one actor playing different identities thing going on. i enjoy this show a lot. can’t wait for more.

    • Liz Kellam

      I like your parallel to Dollhouse. I haven’t seen all of the series, but I’d like to watch it to see all the different character personas.

  10. Kahlia Sankey

    I just have to say, I really enjoyed reading this article because of the clear way you set up and separated content and used clips as well. Also, huge fan of Orphan Black, the talent to take upon so many different characters is most definitely award worthy.

  11. Show’s great and Tatiana Maslany does an awesome job with each clone she portrays

  12. Glad to see this show getting some well deserved love from Artifice.

  13. OraAguilar

    I’m watching the first eps now. Interesting start, it’s establishing the characters and motivation but I’m waiting for them to get past all that to deal with the clone plotline.

    • Liz Kellam

      Yes, stick with it. It dives deeper and deeper into the clone mystery as the show progresses. But it still leave a lot to find out in season 2.

  14. Casey Grant

    Never knew much about this one. Is she a super-powered clone, over and above being a clone?

    • Liz Kellam

      She is not a super-powered clone, as far as we as viewers know so far. She is just discovering that there are several cloned versions of herself, and she is also a clone. The origin of the clones is still a mystery at this point.

  15. Orphan Black is an exceptional show and this was great article to highlight the talent and depth of such an underappreciated show.

  16. LadyRose

    Orphan Black is definitely an amazing, yet unappreciated TV show. It is just extremely well-made with talented writers and actors, and they deal with issues and topics very nicely. I’m glad that it is getting more attention and more people are checking it out.

  17. my favourite show!

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