Sunday, June 29, 2014

Orphan Black: The Clone-spiracy Thus Far

If you follow the blog at all you know we are huge fans of sci-fi and genre TV. Encapsulated in that label is the wildly popular and critically acclaimed “Orphan Black”. There are many fantastic aspects to this show and you may be wondering why we aren’t covering it on the blog. The short answer is these types of shows with lots of twists and turns and heavy mythology don’t always do well in a recap format because there’s the worry that you might miss something important. But I wanted to take a little time as we wait for an announcement on whether we’ll be getting season 3 (BBC America would be daft not to renew it since the ratings have increased season over season) to talk about the show, both its strengths and some of its weaknesses. Warning, spoilers ahead for seasons 1 and 2.

The Concept

First, a little background on the concept. We begin with Sarah Manning, She’s been living rough and things take a weird turn when she watches a woman who looks exactly like her commit suicide by jumping in front of a train. This leads Sarah to meet Cosima and Alison, two other clones. Along the way we pick up Helena who turns out to be Sarah’s twin sister. Not all of the clones are on Sarah’s side. We have the nefarious Rachel Duncan who is running the Dyad Institute which monitors the clones. Rounding out the world we have Sarah’s adorable foster brother Felix, Sarah’s young daughter Kira, foster mom Mrs. S (Siobhan) and Art (a cop who was partnered with the suicidal clone from the first episode).

The Acting Anchor

In case you didn’t know this show is about clones. And they have one actress playing them all, the lovely and fairly new Tatiana Maslaney. On top of being just a really sweet person, Tat is amazing acting chops. While you might think it is easy to play multiple characters who are genetically identical, you’d be wrong. Tatiana actually looks different enough as each clone that you forget she’s playing all of them. She gives them their own voice, mannerisms and personality. What’s more amazing is when the clones interact with each other in scenes. Having seen the behind-the-scenes snippets that explain the way they film it, it’s a wonder Tatiana doesn’t go to sleep for months when filming is done. She’s in almost every scene every show and sometimes as multiple characters. One of the show’s biggest feats in terms of clone interaction happens in the season 2 finale where the girls (Sarah, Alison, Cosima and Helena) are having a dance party. I’ve seen a behind-the-scenes video of how they filmed it and I have to say it is flawless and it just felt so good to watch. Clearly Tatiana isn’t the first person to play multiple character in a show (Sarah Michelle Gellar had the honor of doing it on two shows) but no one does it with as much grace and finesse as Tatiana. That she can make you forget you’re watching her play multiple roles is an amazing credit to her skillset and she deserves all of the accolades she gets (and probably some she should get but won’t).

The Other Talent

This show isn’t all about Tatiana and her clones. Part of the greatness of “Orphan Black” is the supporting cast they’ve put together. Chief among those secondary payers are Mrs. S played by the formidable Maria Doyle Kennedy (she played Catherine of Aragon on The Tudors) and newcomer Jordan Gavaris as Felix. Mrs. S and Felix are really Sarah’s support structure and as we learn more in season 2, Mrs. S is far more involved the clone-spiracy than we originally thought. But a little more on that later. I have to spend a little time talking about Jordan because he is also a sweetheart and he and Tatiana have amazing chemistry together whether they’re Felix and Sarah, Felix and Cosima or even Felix and Alison. Admittedly, Felix and Helena are pretty freaking hilarious. After the initial shock of Helena surviving being shot at close range in the chest by Sarah (they are mirror twins and all of Helena’s organs are reversed) I was glad they brought her back. She is kind of lovable in her own whacky way. But the thing about Jordan is he just commits to his character and I have to say I had no idea he wasn’t British at first. It evoked memories of James Marsters on Buffy and then I saw an interview where Jordan says Buffy and Joss were prominent influences in his life. Rock on Whedon!

The Wider Clone-spiracy

It’s hard to find fault in anything about “Orphan Black” but I did have a bit of a quibble with season 2. In season 1, we were introduced to the core group of clones (Sarah, Alison, Cosima, Helena) and we learned about each of them and they dug into the conspiracy of their existence and why someone was trying to kill them. We spent ten glorious episodes with them and we latched on to them all but in season 2, the clone roster expanded to really include Rachel and Tony (a transgender clone that a lot of people didn’t like). I didn’t dislike Tony, I thought it was brave of the writers to tackle that type of subject matter but I do have to agree that his introduction kind of halted the flow of the few final episodes. I think they could have held off until season 3 to introduce him and it would have a stronger and more positive impact on the audience. I felt like by focusing on the Dyad and the Proletheans (the crazy religious freaks who kidnapped Helena and had been using her to kill her sisters) we lost some focus on our core group. And they also expanded the conspiracy in that the clone were getting sick (Cosima mainly) due to genetic modification that made them sterile (Sarah and presumably Helena) were mistakes. Oh and they aren’t the only clone project out there. There is a male counterpart to it and I’m not sure how that’s going to work out. I appreciate that the writers wanted to explore the mythology of our girls and expand on the show’s universe but I just feel like it went too fast and we did have a few filler episodes whereas in season 1 it was high octane all the way through. Still if that’s all I have to quibble about, I think we’re in pretty good shape.

For those of you who don’t have BBC America, Netflix has both seasons on disc and Amazon Instant Video has them as well. However you choose to watch, I highly recommend you do. There is so much that is good about this show that you shouldn’t miss out. And let’s keep our fingers crossed that BBC America comes to their senses and brings the Clone Club back for another season. It’s too good not to keep the crazy train moving!

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