It’s summer, and my favourite shows are on break. While the actors recharge and the producers plan their new season, I have an activity I do to get through this bleak time. Desperately searching Netflix trying find a hidden gem to help pass these endless summer days. After I scrolled through screen after screen of possibilities, I remembered that for a while now Netflix has been trying to recommend I watch Orphan Black. So knowing nothing more than a cryptic title I pressed play on Season one, episode one. Here’s what I found…
Orphan Black, a modern noir, is a joint production by a Canadian production company and BBC America. The first episode introduces us to Sarah, a down on her luck, adult, orphan. Before really getting to know Sarah, we are thrust into a Prince and Pauper-type tale as Sarah witnesses the suicide of her previously unknown doppelgänger. With little thought Sarah quickly adopts the life of her suicidal twin in order to escape her own troubles. Unfortunately Sarah quickly realises the life of the woman she has inherited is far more complicated than she could have suspected. From there the science fiction conceit is quickly introduced and pulls no punches. The audience are asked to buy into the premise as quickly as Sarah herself, because there will be little to no further explanation given at the front end of the season. This really worked for me, as the premise is interesting enough I was happy to follow along and discover what was going on as Sarah did. At first the show reminded me of Sarah Michelle Gellar’s short-lived series The Ringer, only here the hints at a sinister back story helped to pull me in and the characters are instantly more grounded despite the premise.
Sarah and a number of other characters throughout Season One are played to perfection by Tatiana Maslany. An actress I was previously unfamiliar with but who during the first handful of episodes plays enough different characters that her audition reel is set for years to come. I believe she’s also been nominated for an Emmy. While Maslany plays a number of characters in the show they are all unique and have their own personal ticks that make them stand out from each other. They have different speech patterns, fighting styles and other nuances that it’s almost possible to forget they are played by the same actress. As the plot progresses and these characters begin to go undercover as each other, Maslany is able to suitably remind the audience which character she’s playing, and which persona they have adopted. It is a complex set up but the show is able to keep the ongoing mystery simple enough that I was able to keep track, while remaining intrigued. Through seamless special effects and clever editing, Maslany’s various characters are able to interact and play off each other to great effect.
While Maslany is probably in any actor’s dream role, some of her supporting cast do suffer in comparison. Though every actor is able to deliver on their performances many are forced into one-note characters, like the angry cop, the criminal ex-boyfriend and the over bearing foster-mother. For the most part these characters are there to drive plot, but others such as Felix, the stereotypical gay best friend, are vital characters and hopefully they will be given their own agency in future seasons.
What I liked most about the show is how it overtly raises the question of nature vs. nurture, while at the same time our protagonist has no interest in exploring her higher meaning. Sarah’s goals are clear from the beginning, and while she does become a reluctant player in the conspiracy, she knows exactly who she is and gives little thought to what might have been. Season One benefits from only being ten episodes so the plot remained mostly on point. As the season drew to a close the threads began to draw together as the cliffhangers became increasingly intense. I was grateful I could binge watch and keep going with the next episode. The down side of this is that there are a few plot holes that stand out under scrutiny, but most of these can be dismissed as poor judgement by the characters. These moments are irritating, but not too distracting. As the season ends we get some answers concerning the original mystery of the show, but are left with enough dangling plot threads to be kept on the hook for a second season, fortunately Netflix has it, and the new episode will start automatically in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…
…a word of warning. The show does contain some scenes of a sexual nature, it’s not a Games of Thrones level of nudity, but it’s certainly more than you’d expect from a series like this.