One of the most exciting new shows in recent memory — Orphan Black, about a group of distinctly different women who happen to be clones, and the various conspiracies surrounding their existence — is back for its second season. And I’m thrilled about this for two reasons:
A) No other TV show, besides perhaps Netflix’s Orange Is The New Black, has this many interesting, nuanced, compelling female lead characters. And in the case of Orphan Black, they’re all played by the same person (!), the indomitable Tatiana Maslany.
B) The little-show-that-could seems to have expanded into a full-on phenomenon between Season 1 and 2, and more people are joining Clone Club (a meta reference to the show’s fandom.)
So far, Orphan Black has proven that it still has what it takes to shock, delight and terrify us. No spoilers here, because this is one of the few shows that I enjoy so immensely that it would crush me to know I had given away one of enjoyable twists and turns. Instead, I want to round up some of the early critical acclaim for this show, with a special focus on feminism and gender roles:
Orphan Black is all about a woman, Sarah, and her many, many clones (all played by Tatiana Maslany), so it’s no surprise that the male characters are secondary to the plot. But the men aren’t simply less important to the story than the women. They are less than, full stop. With one exception, the male characters of Orphan Black are purposefully insubstantial, bordering on feeble. This gender reversal is not an accident on the part of the show’s creators, Graeme Manson and John Fawcett; it’s clearly a conscious decision, and it effectively delivers the show’s most potent message about the nature, quality, and persistence of the enemy.
Not enough can be said in praise of Tatiana Maslany’s performance as all the clones, including a type-A soccer mom, a funky scientist, a barely reformed grifter, and a crazy-eyed assassin … Even if these characters weren’t involved in some kind intriguing international cloning experiment, they could support their own shows: Alison, the headband-wearing soccer mom, has a whole Weeds-esque story line about the oppressiveness of suburban bullshit; Cosima, the scientist, has an adorable lesbian romance; Helena, the Ukrainian contract killer, has an unusual religious background and an elaborate history of self-harm. It’s not clones-clones-clones all the time, thank God. These clones are people, see, and they all have lives going on outside of their clone mysteries.
When the show is on target, it speeds forward with confidence and grace, its characters intelligently working their way out of corners just as fast as the writers can paint them into new ones. But the series’ secret strength is in the way it can be surprisingly heartfelt, too. This is, after all, the story of a bunch of women realizing that the lives they thought were their own might be considered otherwise by the United States Supreme Court. Self-determination has always been at the center of great characters, but it’s always been at the center of feminism too. By burying these ideas beneath a steady diet of action-packed adventure and crazy twists, Orphan Black finds the spoonful of sugar to make the political metaphor go down.
Orphan Black airs Saturdays at 9/8C on BBC America.