The buzz about Orphan Black has been building in the last few weeks as the BBC America co-production wraps up its outstanding first season. Is all the hype worth it?
Let’s bitch it out…
Since we haven’t been covering the show, the first half of this piece focuses on our thoughts on the show (with some mild spoilers). A spoilery review of the finale is also included after the picture.
Let’s dig in.
Throughout the course of S1, Orphan Black has proven itself quite the unexpected pleasure. For a show with a potentially silly premise (a street smart woman discovers she’s one of many clones who are being systematically hunted down and killed), this show is far better than it should be. That’s not a concession, because the show is, quite simply, fantastic.
Most of the kudos has to go to Tatiana Maslany, the show’s lead actress and break-out star. Maslany has earned universal praise for her amazing performance as the clones (by the end of the season she has portrayed no less than seven). What’s unique about the performance is how naturally Maslany disappears into each one. It’s not uncommon on message boards to see postings from viewers extolling the performance because they’ve forgotten that it’s the same actress, despite the show’s tendency to use little more than superficial differences in hair and clothes to distinguish them. And yet it’s never hard to figure out which clone we’re watching: Sarah is our main character, full of gruff strength and no-shit attitude, while Alison is the OCD suburban neurotic, Cosima is the nerdy-chic lesbian and Helena is the religious zealot. Breaking down the unique identifiers fails to do justice to Maslany’s performance, though, especially when she’s using multiple accents and acting opposite (or fighting) herself. It’s rather shocking to learn that she’s not even a Brit – she’s Canadian, as it nearly everyone else in the cast (Hurray for Can Con!)
Maslany’s performance alone is worth the price of admission, but the show would be significantly less watchable if it wasn’t also compulsively addictive. I joined the proceedings late in the game (somewhere between episode eight and nine) and immediately marathoned the entire season in a few days. Considering most of the episodes end on a cliffhanger, traditionally putting one of the clones in danger or offering a revelation about the shady organizations tracking them (the loony Neolution cult, Tomas’ fanatical religious order or Pro-Clone Rachel’s high-rise corporation), Orphan Black is the kind of show that leaves you breathlessly demanding the next installment.
I’ll freely admit that it’s not a perfect show (the detective storyline is often groan-worthy, though it adds a sense of urgency in the final hours of S1). In general, however, Orphan Black is a successful slice of genre TV featuring a break-out performance that deserves all of the hype it’s earned and more. I can only imagine the show’s popularity growing before the start of its second season next year as more and more people discover this surprise gem.
If you haven’t already dug in, definitely seek out these first ten episodes. But be warned: your productivity in all other matters is apt to take a considerable dip. Orphan Black is definitely appointment TV.
SPOILERRIFIC THOUGHTS on 1×10 ‘Endless Forms Most Beautiful’ follow. Consider yourself warned…
- I’m unsure if it’s surprising that Mrs. S (Maria Doyle Kennedy) turns out to be Sarah’s monitor (or is she there for Skyler Wexler’s Kira?) In retrospect this seems a bit obvious, though I didn’t want to consider it because I liked how the relationship between foster mom and daughter was developing into something affectionate. This new wrinkle opens up a lot of questions: why didn’t Rachel and Leekie (Matt Frewer) grab Kira earlier? How long has Sarah been under surveillance? What exactly was in that picture that birth mom Amelia showed Sarah on her deathbed? And was that Mrs. S working in the lab with Leekie on Project Leda?
- Are we all in agreement that Kira is one of TV’s favourite tropes: the gifted child? Not only did she magically regenerate after her car accident a few weeks ago, she seems to be clairvoyant, once again predicting that something bad was going to happen. Yay magical special children! <sarcasm> The little girl is cute, though
- Although I never really took to Helena (she was the least fleshed out of the clones we regularly encountered), I can’t help but feel that her homicidal actions and her death in 1×10 were poorly done. Although her motivations were always murky and unclear, I never really bought the idea that Helena wanted to hurt Sarah (or Kira). This final conflict seems designed solely so that there is an action scene in an episode that is otherwise primarily dialogue-driven. Am I sad she’s gone? No. But ultimately this whole piece retroactively negates a lot of the predominant conflict in earlier episodes (We went through all that just to have everything end so abruptly/pointlessly?)
- The Alison/Aynesley (Natalie Lisinka) storyline feels more appropriate, given that Alison’s season-long obsession that Aynesley is her monitor. Like AV TV, I think that Alison’s deliberate decision to let Aynesley die (in such a pathetic way!) will cost her fan sympathy but I disagree that it’s “fitting.” Not only is the scene itself an unusual mix of comedy and moral dilemma, Alison’s jump from casual lunacy to cold-blooded murderer (manslaughterer?) is unbelievable. When she came unraveled a few weeks ago (assaulting her husband, sleeping with Aynsley’s husband) it felt like a logical progress for a tightly-wound woman losing control. Allowing your former best friend to die by strangulation feels like a leap, and Alison’s casual dismissal that it’s “not their problem” to Donnie (Kristian Brunn) feels out of character
- Donnie turning out to be the monitor isn’t exactly revelatory, but much like Mrs. S, it makes me wonder when his surveillance began. Remember we learned that he and Alison have been together since high school, so he was either co-opted sometime into their relationship or he’s been a plant for a really long time
- Cosima – my favourite clone – is sick with whatever the German, Katya, had. At least she’s got Delphine (Evelyne Brochu) to make her soup and help her identify binary codes. I’m interested to hear what other people’s thoughts are on Delphine; is she trustworthy?
- It’s only natural that there’s less time for jokey moments because it’s the finale, but I miss the bitchy banter between Sarah and Felix (Jordan Gavaris, arguably the show’s other break-out). Side Note: Felix may be my favourite TV gay
- If we never see Vic (Michael Mando) again, I would be so happy. This whole storyline never interested me, except when Vic was getting injured in increasingly horrible ways (does that make me a sadist?)
- Similarly, we learn Paul’s (Dylan Bruce) history…and it’s as boring as you would expect (Afghanistan friendly fire blackmail, blah blah blah). I’ve enjoyed his interactions with Sarah throughout the season and they have nice chemistry, but overall the character hasn’t really fit into the show the way other characters have. Consider this: would Orphan Black suffer if he fell down a manhole between seasons? Not likely…though it would be missing its man-candy element. Alright, Paul can stay, but only on the condition that he’s topless in all of his scenes moving forward
- Now that detectives Art (Kevin Hanchard) and bitchy Angela (Inga Cadranel) more or less know there’s a horde of Beth copies running around, can we expect them to be more involved in the plot moving forward? I certainly hope so because wasting time trying to keep people in the dark and preventing secrets from coming out is one of my TV pet peeves – it so often makes characters look like idiots and feels like a waste of time to viewers
- Finally, this season finale suffers from the burden of setting up S2. I had hoped for something a little more revelatory than the whole “clones are patented” angle (especially since it’s clear from the offset that signing the contract is a bad idea). I’m by no means less enthusiastic about the series and will definitely be watching when it returns next year, but as its own piece, ‘Endless Forms Most Beautiful’ isn’t my favourite hour of the show
- Felix (to Angela): “You really need to get laid.”
- Sarah (inquiring about Rachel): “Is this the part where twenty top model versions of you walk in for effect?”
- Felix (upon meeting Delphine): “Oh…now I get it” and (calling to Cosima) “It’s Delphine. She’s got baggage” Oh snap!
Your turn: what are your thoughts on S1 now that everything is wrapped up? Were you a bit disappointed in the finale? Who’s your favourite clone and why? Are you less fond of Alison now? And where does the show go from here? Speculate away below
Orphan Black has finished airing its first season on BBC America and will return in 2014