You’re watching Orphan Black, right? If the answer is yes, thumbs up for you and if the answer is no, that’s okay too, but after reading this piece, you’ve got no excuse to miss out on the clone craze. The show from Flashpoint’s Graeme Manson and Spartacus’ John Fawcett began its run on BBC America on March 30, 2013.
The ten-episode inaugural season has already run its course, concluding with “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” this past Saturday, but it’ll return for a second ten-episode season in 2014, so why not torture yourself for the next ten months and become firmly obsessed now?
Orphan Black stars Tatiana Maslany as Sarah Manning, a troubled young mother trying to return home after a lengthy absence to do right by her seven-year-old daughter, Kira (Skyler Wexler). On her way, Sarah runs into trouble that actually isn’t of her own doing. She watches another woman commit suicide by jumping in front of a train. And if that isn’t traumatizing enough, that woman looks exactly like Sarah.
Talk about a winning opening sequence. The beginning of the pilot, “Natural Selection,” doesn’t just show off the high concept, it earns it. Three minutes is all the episode needs to lock you in, as it rocks the appeal of a curious scenario, a good deal of suspense, and a remarkably engaging lead. Thanks to Sarah’s style and mannerisms, you know exactly who you’re dealing with right from the start and thanks to Maslany, she also has an enigmatically enchanting quality that creates a connection from the material to the viewer before even hitting the show’s hook. Then, sure enough, when the lookalike is revealed, it offers more than a hollow shock value. It makes you think and, in turn, gets you involved. And being involved is half the fun because as the season progresses, you meet an abundance of characters to care about, making the need to solve the mystery all the more enthralling.
One of the key people in Sarah’s life is her foster brother, Felix (Jordan Gavaris). Beyond being family, Felix functions as Sarah’s prime confidant, one of few who gets the juicy details earlier on in the season. Felix is your typical sidekick serving as Sarah’s rock and infusing the show with a sense of humor, and Gavaris pulls it off flawlessly. Felix isn’t a character striving for jokes. The humor is inherent in his personality simply making him a joy to be around. However, his inclusion in the show isn’t just for fun and games. The performances in Orphan Black are stellar across the board, but one of the most enjoyable takeaways is Gavaris’ chemistry with Maslany, something that conjures loads of charming banter, but can switch to offering a sense of calm in seconds.
Episode one also introduces us to Vic (Michael Mando), Sarah’s drug dealing ex. While he appears to be your quintessential low life, this guy’s got some serious emotions and layers, and both build in ways you’d never expect as the season continues. He isn’t necessarily key to the core of the narrative, but Vic often serves as a well-executed wrench in Sarah’s plans and is an entertaining person to track.
And then there’s Beth’s side of the situation. That lookalike that offed herself at the train station? That’s Beth Childs. The initial curiosity of catching sight of someone who looks just like her compels Sarah to snag Beth’s abandoned purse before leaving the station after which Sarah’s degenerate side kicks in, enticing her to assume Beth’s identity in order to make off with her money. In the process, in comes Paul (Dylan Bruce), Beth’s golden boy boyfriend. Paul doesn’t really have much to offer in the pilot besides a pretty face and a little insight into the differences between Beth and Sarah. His character does get some added layers throughout the season, but overall, he’s one of the less interesting characters of the bunch.
Also in Beth’s court is Art (Kevin Hanchard). To Sarah’s surprise, Beth was a detective so in order to pull off the ruse, she’s got to play cop and make Art think she’s the real deal. However, thanks to a little bit of trouble Beth found herself in prior to her demise, this doesn’t just entail wielding a gun and donning a badge. Sarah has to be Beth in every way, shape, and form including nailing her accent, her behavior, and also knowing every little detail of a very specific case, which results in some fun montages and a particularly smart payoff in episode two.
Orphan Black is packed to the brim with strong supporting characters, but even though folks like Felix do manage to snag the spotlight every now and then, this is Maslany’s show. It’s a wonder how she’s managed to fly under the radar for so many years when she’s this good. Considering Orphan Black is a show about clones, it’s no spoiler that there’s more than one Sarah lookalike out there and Maslany plays them all. Admittedly, there is one giggle worthy moment in episode one, but beyond that, Maslany pulls it off perfectly. She doesn’t just play a bunch of characters that look alike for the sake of the narrative. She creates a variety of different characters that truly feel like different people, ones with their own lives and personalities that you deeply come to care about. When you’re not in awe of what Maslany manages to accomplish, it’s very easy to forget that one actress is playing all of these different women.
Doing all these stellar performances justice is an exceptional team of writers. The Orphan Black scribes never introduce anything and forget about it nor do they include elements for the sake of giving themselves story leeway down the road; every single thing from episode one to episode ten has value. Security camera footage, money, lies, the smallest props and more. It’s all been thought out extensively, leaving Orphan Black with far fewer holes than most shows.
And better yet, all of those details also feel real. While the show does have a sci-fi quality, there are no indestructible superhuman characters here. These are very real people navigating an extreme situation and that ultimately grounds the show’s more surreal components.
If you’re looking for a new show to jump into, Orphan Black is it. It’s exceptional on every front from script to visuals, music, performances, and more, all of which coalesce to offer an undeniably thoughtful and riveting experience. If you’re down to give it a go, the full first season of Orphan Black will run you $16.99 in standard definition on iTunes and I can assure you, it’s worth every penny. But be warned, this one’s got a binge watch quality so don’t push play on “Natural Selection” unless you've got time to commit.
While BBC America does have San Diego Comic Con plans, there’s still no word on whether or not they’ll include Orphan Black, but considering the nature of the material and the fact that it’s got a cult quality, a Comic Con presence does seem like a necessity.
Orphan Black season 2 premieres on BBC America in 2014
If you’d like to keep the Orphan Black conversation flowing, you can catch me on “Clone Club: An Orphan Black Podcast.” Discussions of episodes one and two are already live and we’ll be posting new entries every Monday for the next eight weeks.
Follow Perri on Twitter @PNemiroff