Dec 25, 2014

[TV] Orphan Black: Season 1

Of all the tropes in science fiction, the subject of clones has never been one of particular interest. I guess it has never truly felt like a compelling basis for a story to me since it's not very typical for such stories to be all that compelling. Most clone stories focus on the potential utility of exact body doubles and of course dabble in the ethical questions related to such individuals. These aren't necessarily bad approaches, but they do get a little tiring over time.

Orphan Black was something completely different and the first few episodes blew my mind. It was such a refreshing take on clones that didn't focus too much on the pseudo science but instead focused more on what things meant to the clones themselves. And for BBC America's very first original series, this was quite the opening act.

To be fair, you need to invest a bit in the story before it gets really good - which is often the case for British TV shows. And while this is technically the result of an American production group, one cannot deny the British sensibilities that drive the narrative of the show.

Synopsis: Orphan Black is a science fiction drama series created by Graeme Manson and John Fawcett for BBC America. The show's first season won Best Actress in a Drama Series in the Critics' Choice Television Awards among a number of others,

We first meet the con artist Sarah Manning (Tatiana Manson) as she tries to get by in life. It's another night on the town until she encounters Elizabeth Childs, a police detective who ends her life rather abruptly by jumping in front of a moving train. But what was more surprising than her death as the fact that she looked exactly like Sarah. One thing leads to another and Beth decides to take on her identity while she fakes her own death to escape other charges against her. Her immediate goal is to use Elizebeth's money to somehow get her daughter Kira (Skyler Wexler) back. The only one who knows of her scheme is her flamboyant foster brother Felix (Jordan Gavaris).

But she then discovers that Beth was investigating several women who also share the same face as hers - they all look the same but all have very different lives. And as the story unfolds, Sarah discovers even more copies of herself including the soccer mom Alison and the biology student Cosima. But it is also clear that they are being hunted down by forces unknown and they have to find away to work together to determine how exactly they came to be in order to ensure they stay alive.

Given the many different roles she has to play and with each of them being fully realized and complex characters, Tatiana Manson has certainly demonstrated what an amazing actress she is. And while the really big award-giving bodies of television have yet to properly recognize her accomplishments in this regard, I feel she is one of the biggest reasons to watch the series. She is quite phenomenal when she's on-screen, regardless of which iteration of Sarah that she's playing.
The success of this show is her success and credit needs to go where it is due.

Jordan Gavaris makes for a most unusual foil against Sarah's generally serious character. He's a highly flamboyant out gay man who acts as Sarah's main confidant that at first felt a little annoying but over time just makes sense. He's rather crazy at times and the way he deals with adversity is quite unusual. But in the end he's a brilliant character and he's portrayed in a refreshingly honest manner that works quite well for the show.

The larger meta-plot that drives this show always feels just out of your grasp from episode to episode. There are so many different clues floating around that the bigger challenge at times is trying to sort through them all in order to figure out which ones count. And this little mental exercise becomes quite invigorating as one can't help but try to figure out exactly what's going on.

But the writers have also made sure to throw us even more complications through additional side plots that also work to flesh out the different characters. Sarah's main challenge is trying to figure out how to pretend to be Beth when at first she knows pretty much nothing about her. We have Alison trying to hide this whole clone saga from her husband in order to maintain the image of her idyllic little life as a soccer mom. And it goes on and on and on.

And the bigger reveals towards the end of the season - and yes I'm still avoiding spoilers for those who came in late - all I can say is that "mind-blowing" feels like an understatement. And things are set to continue to escalate in the next season as the show has already been renewed for a third run.

Orphan Black is one of the more intriguing new shows to come along and one of the best examples of genre fiction on TV today. A lot of clone stories in the past have followed similar patterns, but this show feels genuinely fresh indeed. Thus the first season gets a good 4 surprise clones out of a possible 5. 

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