- Tatiana Maslany is fucking amazing and she deserves every accolade she gets and many she doesn't.
- It is a show with a Big Mystery that manages to be both plot-driven and character-driven.
- It has plot twists that will have you shouting at your screen.
- You will fall in love with characters without even realizing it and then the show will rip your heart out and ravage your emotions.
- Did I mention Tatiana Maslany? Because holy fucking shit you guys.
All right, let's do this. I promise there are no more spoilers than would typically be in my reviews (that is, almost none).
[Orphan Black is people! IT'S PEOPLE!]Orphan Black is a show where most of the main cast is male but most of the main characters are female.
That is because most of the main characters are played by Tatiana Maslany.
Because this show is about clones, baby.
The show opens as Sarah Manning watches a woman who looks exactly like her commit suicide. Sarah immediately steals her purse and assumes her identity. This tells you everything you need to know about Sarah Manning. Well, almost everything. She has a gay foster brother, Felix, who is fiercely loyal and delightfully sassy, and an estranged daughter, Kira. Also some other people, but I'm not telling you everything. The point is that Sarah steps into the life of her doppelganger, Beth Childs, who happens to be a cop, and it's not long before she encounters more people who look like her...which is when she discovers she's a clone.
She takes the news remarkably well. Everyone does, really. One of the interesting and refreshing things about the show is that characters tend to be pretty accepting of all the sci-fi stuff, so we don't spend precious minutes/episodes on "What, I don't believe you, you're going to have to make this confession again at another dramatically important time" and whatnot. It's pretty amusing, but it means that they can spend more time on the twisty plot. Which I will not speak about it great detail! Yes, there's a clone-spiracy, and the clones are in danger, and they want to find out who made them and why, but...that's not really the show. I mean, obvs, we also want to know what the fuck is going on, and, hm, are there different factions, are there multiple villains, who's on whose side, and so on, but all of that is pretty standard sci-fi thriller stuff that is bound to be entertaining and exciting. If that's all there was to the show, it would be fun, but it might not be amazing.
What elevates the show to a higher level is the strong focus on character and Tatiana Maslany's unbelievable talent, not to mention the technological innovations. Sarah Manning is our entryway into the series, and, on her own, she's a great character: a whip-smart, incredibly intuitive, protective mother with a checkered past. Sarah has a character arc throughout the season as she fights for her daughter's safety and learns to trust her fellow clones, despite being a loner herself. Thing is, the clones are also great characters, and each one of them also has a character arc. So Tatiana Maslany plays multiple, completely distinct characters with very different character arcs. Fuck playing a clone, sometimes she plays a clone playing another clone. And a lot of the time, she is acting against herself and you have to remind yourself it's not two different people. That is how she good she is. Every episode, I thought I would be over it, and every episode, I was floored by her.
Each clone fits into a character type, and a lesser writing/acting team could have simply made them stereotypes, but I grew to care for each one individually because, despite being "genetic identicals," each one has a clear sense of personhood. Each one has a different kind of life. Each one has different wants and needs. Each one looks different, dresses differently, speaks differently, moves differently, eats differently...it is absolutely mindblowing.
This is groundbreaking, game-changing television, people. I can't think of anything like it in the history of television. The best recent example is Fringe, which did allow actors to play different versions of themselves, sometimes against each other, but it was never with this much regularity and this much distinction.
The show is not perfect. Beth's boyfriend, Paul, is a black hole of boring, an obligatory white dude because the main cast didn't have one. The romance on the show is a weak point in general. Some of the villains can feel a little cookie-cutter in contrast to the depth and characterization given to the clones; thankfully, others make up for them.
Orphan Black comes out of the gate swinging, and after some setting up of the characters and plotlines, it goes full throttle to a finale that's just an unrelenting onslaught on your emotions. Early on, I didn't see how the show could be anything more than a miniseries, but John Fawcett (who has a story credit on and directed Ginger Snaps) and Graeme Manson (who has a writing credit on Cube) conceived this series back in 2003, and they have an endgame in mind. They have several interesting characters to follow—I haven't even talked about how wonderful Felix is—and plenty of questions to answer about the people who made the clones and their motives. It's going to be a wild fucking ride, folks. Strap yourself in now.