TV Discovery: Orphan Black

Tatiana Maslany as Sara just at the moment that everything changes for her in the pilot.

Tatiana Maslany as Sara just at the moment that everything changes for her in the pilot.

There are far too many channels on TV for me to keep up with all of the new shows as well as the ones that I have been watching for years, so sometimes I get a bit behind (I still haven’t watched the new season of Arrested Development!).  Luckily, we live in an age where re-runs aren’t always a bad thing.  That is how I came to know, and passionately love, Orphan Black. The BBC America show is very clearly filmed in Toronto (standing in for New York) which always sort of irks me, but it is good you guys.  Like sit-on-the-couch-for-10-hours-straight good.  The season 1 finale aired on Saturday and BBCA did a re-run of the entire season beforehand.  I am blown away.  

Three clones in a room - Sara learns the truth from Allison and Cosima

Three clones in a room – Sara learns the truth from Allison and Cosima

The basic plot is that a rebellious orphan in her 20′s (our main protagonist – Sara) returns to New York after being gone for almost a year and crosses paths with a woman who looks like her twin as she commits suicide by subway train.   Originally thinking that the woman, Beth (who turns out to be a cop), could perhaps be her sister (she is an orphan after all), Sara takes over Beth’s life in order to escape a possessive, drug-dealing ex-boyfriend – riding alongside her partner Art, moving into the posh apartment she shares with her boyfriend Paul, cashing out her $75,000 savings account.  Her first instinct is to try to run away with her foster brother/awesome partner-in-crime, Felix, and her daughter Kira (who lives with Mrs. S who took Sara and Felix in as children).

Everything goes downhill the moment that Sara meets clone #2, Katja in the back of her car.

Everything goes downhill the moment that Sara meets clone #2, Katja in the back of her car.

But things go pear-shaped pretty quickly and Sara discovers that she is one of at least 9 clones and it totally freaks her out!  On top of that, one of the clones, Helena, has been raised to believe that she is the chosen clone and all the others are abominations and must be killed off.  It also makes her realize that in order to be truly free she needs to know the truth of who she and her clones are, where they came from and why they were created.

Allison, the uptight suburban mother of the clones, confronts her husband.

Allison, the uptight suburban mother of the clones, confronts her husband.

Honestly, the story almost (almost) doesn’t matter.  The performance that Tatiana Maslany turns in as Sara/Cosima/Beth/Katja /Allison/Helena/Rachel  (I think that’s all of the clones at the moment) is breathtaking.  Each clone is played by the same actress, but none of them are the same.  It’s not just the clothing they wear or their hairstyles.  It’s the way they blink and stand and breathe.  There are scenes where Maslany is the only actor in the room and has to perform with herself as not just one other person but at least 2 and it is all seamless.  I seriously caught myself forgetting that she was the only actress in the room several times.

Sara with her daughter, Kira.  She is the only offspring of the clones and therefore supremely special.

Sara with her daughter, Kira. She is the only offspring of the clones and therefore supremely special.

Maslany has equally insane chemistry with Dylan Bruce, who plays Beth/Sara’s boyfriend/monitor Paul as well as with Evelyne Brochu who plays Cosima’s love interest, Delphine.  She is able to work well with the girl who plays Sara’s daughter, Kira (Skyler Wexler) and no matter which clone she is, her interactions with Felix (Jordan Garavis) ring true.  And don’t even get me started on her ability to do different accents convincingly and her phenomenal portrayal of Helena, the most screwed up koo koo bird in the bunch.

Maslany's portrayal of Helena is pretty much the best thing ever.  She is creepy and menacing and utterly pathetic, but by the end of the 1st season I found myself kind of rooting for her.

Maslany’s portrayal of Helena is pretty much the best thing ever. She is creepy and menacing and utterly pathetic, but by the end of the 1st season I found myself kind of rooting for her.

 

But really, it’s her incredible transformation between clones from one second to the next that just blows me away.  The technicality involved in her performance must be overwhelming – remembering where the eye-line is for each clone, keeping the conversational rhythm natural, even just standing in the right spot so that one clone can physically interact with another – but there is just no sign of the work involved.  Even if she were only portraying one of these clones, Maslany would deserve an Emmy.  But, to date, she has physically embodied at least 9.  Seriously.  GET THIS WOMAN AN EMMY!

This is the last image from season 1 - Sara staring out the window in panic.  Doesn't that make you want to check it out?

This is the last image from season 1 – Sara staring out the window in panic. Doesn’t that make you want to check it out?

Look, check it out.  The action is exciting, the plot speeds along, there is a bit of romance for Sara and Cosima, there is the exploration of family and self and it is all just so great. I’m really glad to be caught up.  I’m also really pissed that I have to wait until spring 2014 for season 2.

Leave a Reply