Contrary to what the trailers may first lead you to believe, “Orphan Black” is not your typical, action-packed, sci-fi series. After Sarah Manning (Tatiana Maslany) witnesses the suicide of a woman who looks exactly like her, she takes advantage of this unlikely turn of events and inserts herself into the life of her double, police officer Elizabeth Childs. While attempting to clear the dead woman’s bank account for herself, Sarah becomes more entangled in her double’s life and, eventually, becomes privy to the fact that she and Elizabeth are clones of the same person. Also, that they’re not the only ones. As it’s soon discovered that there is an assassin out to kill each of the newly discovered clones, Sarah must decide whether it’s worth continuing on as Elizabeth in order to uncover the mystery that surrounds her.
“I saw a girl kill herself.”
The series immediately stands out for its ability to take such an unlikely stream of events and present them in a way that makes it all sound completely acceptable. Sarah is a streetwise woman who barely blinks an eye at the revelation that there is a dead woman completely identical to her. As soon as the opportunity presents itself, she pushes past any of the expected confusion or shock and moves on to see how she can benefit from the situation. The early introduction of her back-story as a struggling mother who’s turned to drug dealing in order to fund the new life that she plans for her foster brother, Felix (Jordan Gavaris), and her young daughter, forces the audience to not become too caught up in the identical twin storyline prematurely. It’s there. It’s strange. But, in the beginning, the primary concern is Sarah and whether she’ll be able to pull off her scheme. It’s only over time that the plot’s sci-fi elements begin to leak through.
Maslany deserves a lot of the credit for making the show’s multiple storylines works so seamlessly. Her constant shifts from one persona to the other is completely imperceptible, except when she doesn’t want it to be. Sarah visibly struggles to maintain her outward appearance as Elizabeth and, on multiple occasions, causes the people from Elizabeth’s life to become suspicious of her actions. However, as the mystery of the clones becomes more apparent and they begin to interact with one another, Maslany manages to embody each of the clones and their individual ticks with a great amount of skill. It really adds to the slow unveil of the series’ overarching plot and creates the sense that the events are occurring around Sarah and not separately from her. While watching, it never feels as though the show is trying to stand out on the merit of its clone storyline alone. Rather, Maslany’s acting, along with the careful pacing, creates an experience that feels natural and very character driven than initially expected.
“You’re the cop. Buy a shovel.”
Despite its preoccupation with double lives and promises of a future body count, the series has quite a few surprisingly funny moments. The act of taking over someone else’s life is obviously an unconventional decision. The series makes a point to set aside time to explore the more awkward situations that would be expected to result. In particular, any scenes in which Sarah is left to interact with Felix or her police partner, Art (Kevin Hanchard), tend to lead to some good moments. As her sole confidante, Felix’s attempts at damage control keep the series grounded and provide some really humorous, sarcastic commentary for how strange the events truly are. Meanwhile, Art plays the aggressive straight man in Sarah’s sometimes bumbling attempts to act like a professional police officer. Such scenes are just long enough to provide a chuckle but not so long as to destroy the tone that the series works so hard to maintain.
“Orphan Black” is an intriguing series that breaks the mould and offers a new perspective on the double life trope. With its calculated pace and successful balance of action, mystery, and humour, this BBC America original is sure to have some exciting, truly unexpected, twists in its future.