Having finally finished the ten-episode first season of Orphan Black, I now have a better appreciation for the drama and storytelling that this show’s creators took a risk with. I also see how this show became quite popular very quickly. It is truly a well-written, well-acted, dramatic, funny, and frightening story being presented to us. The characters also have depth and there is just enough sentimentality in the dialogue for us to care about each of the individuals presented to us, regardless of how much screentime they have or how good (or bad) they are. The mystery aspect of this show also keeps us guessing as to where the plot is going every week. While there are parts that are predictable, there are also many twists that throw us off the trail of what we would expect.
First of all, this is a modern-day show. Other than the story’s basic premise itself (an international human cloning experiment that has been kept secret for three decades), there is very little about the story that strains credibility. The show makes sense – there is nothing particularly “sci-fi” about it. Even the science is presented in a relatively ordinary and relatable fashion. There is a lack of pop-culture references that keeps the show from dating itself to 2013, just as it keeps itself from making it obvious what city the main story takes place in (Toronto, but one could be forgiven for not knowing that). This is a world that the viewers can empathize with. This is not a world of spaceships, nor is it a world of angels and demons battling it out.
Secondly, the acting gimmick of having one actress play multiple roles is enough to draw in many viewers who then stay for the other reasons mentioned above and below. Tatiana Maslany is brilliant in all of her various characters. She is all of the major female characters in the show, although she shares the spotlight in some episodes with secondary females, and yet this is a show dominated by female roles. Other than Maria Doyle Kennedy, whose role is still somewhat secondary, Maslany is the only lead female. Many shows in this situation, even with a female lead, would be dominated by males, but Maslany makes us forget that the cast doesn’t include a dozen actresses.
Thirdly, the topic of cloning itself fascinates us. It is the topic of hundreds of science fiction stories. It is in the media whenever scientists have a breakthrough cloning something else. It is something debated politically, touching a nerve that goes to the very foundation of North American and Western European society.
Namely, that nerve is whether or not a clone is a human, or an individual, or merely property. It also touches on humans supposedly playing God. Ultimately, what is a person? Is a clone a “real” person? Who decides that?
This especially a difficult question for a society that had trouble determining if women were persons, or if people of different ethnicities were persons, both in the social and legal sense.
Orphan Black tackles the religious issue head-on, with the eerie priest Tomas having brainwashed Helena into believing that she is the original human made in God’s image, while all of her fellow clones are not real humans and can be killed mercilessly. As a religious person, I rolled my eyes a little at this, but I also have no doubt that there are some people who would genuinely think this way. The far majority of Christians would take the view that all humans are made in God’s image, and even if a clone were not considered to be a legal person, it would still be a human in the image of God’s image. I would be surprised if people who object to seeing God’s image be defiled in the form of immodest photographs would condone killing creatures made in the exact likeness of humans to the point where they are indistinguishable from a non-clone. Still, this is a good question to ask. If a clone is not a person, what are they?
I was also not surprised to see that the scientists who created the clones had them patented and treated them legally like property. Recently, laws have been put into place to prevent just this type of scenario from happening, but if an organization was acting in secret and obfuscating facts, this could still happen in our world. Furthermore, different legal jurisdictions could cause organizations to take their clones to a place where they could have property rights over them, much like how one can be kidnapped and sold into slavery. At some point, whether or not a cloned human is a legal person would have to be a global matter.
For these reasons, the topic of cloning is a goldmine of stories. In Orphan Black, every one of Maslany’s clones has her own story. There is also the story of the police investigation attempting to determine how so many women have nearly identical DNA, as well as the story of the organizations for and against human cloning. Then, we have Kira – a girl who is not a clone, but who may or may not be seen as property of the scientists that made her mother.
This is where the season ends, with Sarah Manning realising that her beloved daughter, along with her foster mother whom she only recently suspects might not be innocent in this conspiracy, is missing. Meanwhile, Cosima has been reunited with her lover and they are apparently working together to determine how much control the cloning company has over the clones. Alison, on the other hand, has fallen completely into the company’s hands in the belief that it is in the best interest of her family. Helena is hopefully relieved of her earthly torment entirely – but is also out of the hands of either the religious extremists or the scientists. I hope that the police find her in the next season.
Thankfully, there will be a second season to continue telling these stories.