On Orphan Black, and Why It’s So Compelling

Hello, loyal readers and new viewers!  It’s been a while since we’ve posted anything here, but I wanted to break the silence to talk about Orphan Black, a show that has certainly grabbed our attention and interest here at The Viewing Party.  (Be warned: the following contains mild spoilers up to episode 1×09.)

By now many people know either vaguely or directly about Orphan Black.  (If you live in Toronto, I’m sure you’ve seen posters with Tatiana Maslany’s face all over the subway.)  I was one of those people who heard about the show and decided I wasn’t interested.  It took some encouragement from my fellow TVP-ers, but once I started watching I could not stop.  Because it’s so much more than it seems!

The premise is somehow both simple and quite complex.  Sarah Manning, a Londoner with a rough past, returns to Unnamed-City-also-known-as-Toronto to reclaim her life and reconnect with her daughter, Kira, and foster brother, Felix.  On the platform of the train station, she witnesses the suicide of a woman who looks exactly like her.  Sarah being Sarah, the only logical thing to do is to take the dead woman’s purse and assume her identity, hoping to steal enough money to get out of town and start life anew.  But taking on deceased Beth Childs’ life leads to more questions, and the introduction of many more women who look identical to her – it is revealed that they are in fact clones and someone is trying to kill them off.  Cue the emotional roller coaster that subtly builds over the course of the season, so that you’re devoted to the show before you even realize it.

There’s no two ways about it: Orphan Black is mysterious, gritty sci-fi.  People get stabbed and shot and hit by oncoming vehicles; people get imprisoned and abused; at least two people get their appendages cut off; there’s self-mutilation and torture; there’s barf and blood.  But for every act of violence there is an act of emotional resonance and truth.  People help and tease each other; people fall in love in unexpected places and are betrayed; old relationships are severed beyond repair while others are mended for the first time; there’s singing and dancing; there’s sorrow and laughter.  It becomes clear that the darkness of the show is motivated by real and believable factors.  These characters genuinely seem like real people, trying to navigate the uncertain waters of identity without completely losing themselves.

I have grown to care about almost all the characters on Orphan Black, and that is a testament to its fantastic cast led by Tatiana Maslany.  Portraying at least six characters so far, Maslany finds the individuality in each of the clones to the point where I frequently forget (and can’t actually believe) that they’re all played by the same actor.  From an uptight suburban soccer mom to a dreadlocked pot-smoking scientist, and many shades of personality in between, Maslany seamlessly inhabits each of these characters with an ease and poise that is incredible to watch.  This makes for really great television, especially when the clones interact and we see the subtlety of Maslany’s performances in relief.  The supporting cast brings nuance and feeling to each of their performances, notably Jordan Gavaris as the flamboyant Felix and Maria Doyle Kennedy as tough-as-nails Mrs. S.

As a Canadian, it’s always a treat to see my city on TV, and Orphan Black uses some of the diverse locations in Toronto to give the show its own ambiance.  There’s crazy science and creepy scientists, as well as philosophical and moral questions about cloning, but it’s really the characters and relationships that make Orphan Black so compelling.  Whether you’re into the budding romance between Cosima and Delphine, the sassy gay friendship that Felix provides for Alison, the crazy psychosis but also kind of adorableness of Helena, or the general awesomeness and badassery of Sarah, the show won’t let you leave without becoming emotionally invested.  And THAT’S why everyone should watch it!

The season finale is tomorrow and I think it’s going to be a doozy.  Who else is tuning in?

Please share your OB thoughts and feelings below!  As you can see, we love talking about Orphan Black and would be so happy to start a discussion about it.  Even if it’s just to squee over Felix’s fab wardrobe or Delphine’s magical hair.


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