July 18, 2013
Since any conversation about Orphan Black entails spoilers, don't read any further if you hate them. Simply set aside 10 hours and watch the DVDs. Tatiana Maslany plays a role only the likes of Cate Blanchett or Meryl Streep could fulfill. All aboard for this rarified Blu-ray ride.
Now for the Spoiler Alert...!
Maslany, one actress, plays a brood of clones, one of whom is the original. So far (Season One) there are ten: Sarah Manning (drifter/grifter and mom), Beth Childs (cop), Katja Obinger (consumptive German tourist), Helena (psycho), Alison Hendrix (suburban housewife and mom), Cosima Niehaus (evolutionary biology PhD student), Rachel Duncan (corporate minion), and three European replicates, (allegedly dead).
As an orphan - as are all the decaplets - Sarah is the Maypole around whose life the others dance. She has a biological daughter, Kira, who is the anchor and motivator of every effort she makes and every chance she takes. Without her, Sarah, too, might lie lifeless under the train.
Sarah initially is to blame for her complicated convoluted circumstances, including the opportune theft and assumed identity of Beth (an inexplicable doppelgänger) who jumped under a subway to escape her own set of complications and convolutions. Now Sarah possesses two chaotic lives.
On her own, she descended into a drug alliance to accumulate money to liberate her kid from foster care. With a new id, Sarah fakes her own death and flees her life. She adopts Beth's career as a cop as well as her live-in boyfriend - both in deep doo-doo. As her "dead" self collides and combines with her "new" self, Sarah discovers that she stalks killers, she is stalked by killers, and she has killed stalkers.
Or not. Nothing is quite as it seems.
Soon the sisters' problematic lives are intertwined as each fills in for the other; clone impersonating clone, sister helping sister.
Are you still with me? Ten replicates (some dead), each with their own messy life, are trading these messy lives with each other, all the time trying to find out how the hell they became clones, who the hell is stalking and killing them, and why the hell won't anyone cough up a clue about what's happening. Add to that chilly scenario, their "maker" has each clone monitored to perform who-knows-what experiments on them. Of particular further interest is Kira, the biological child that supposedly no clone could biblically conceive.
Underlying all this is the fact that any single character, presumably excluding the clones or Kira, could be a sneaky-creepy-freaky spy from the medical complex that fabricated, patented and placed them, and who now pursue disturbing unnerving ways to exploit their lives as lab rats.
Maslany's masquerade would be impossible to pull off were she not able to completely and seamlessly morph from one clone to another, each with a distinct identity intact. Through some hocus-pocus camera and CG work, she even appears regularly in the same shot with one or two of her "twins."
Several characters are worth mentioning because they help sort the plot and because they are outstanding.
Fellow foster child, orphan and Sarah confidant, the fay Fee, played by Jordan Gavaris, enters the series awkwardly but develops into a scene-stealer. Mrs. S (Maria Doyle Kennedy), foster guardian to Sarah, Fee and now to Kira, is a magnetic Irish earth-mother. And Matt Frewer whose wack-o extravagant persona can contort any script to accommodate his presence, portrays a medical complex heavy, Dr. Aldous Leekie. Demoniac demagogue Tomas (Daniel Kash ) embellishes as Leekie's ecclesiastic counterpoint.
You undoubtedly know that Orphan Black has been labeled sci fi. Back when, I personally met the world's first test tube baby (or so she said), and she was weird, but not science fiction. I don't think cloning people is science fiction either.
The character Tomas grounds this series in the here and now. Despite his maniacal evangelism, the ethical issues of cloning are right on target for a topical debate between religion and science. (True there are a duo of surprising genetic anomalies that we haven't seen on replicated sheep, but edible cloned beef paddies are set to arrive at a supermarket near you.)
And until last month, we hoped that the intense monitoring of privacy departed with McCarthyism and the Cold War, but just peruse Edward Snowden's revelations to see how electronically thorough it is in 2013. Fifty years ago cell phones, drones and clones were science fiction. Not so today.
Orphan Black, pure and simple, is an adventure series. An angst ridden joyride.
Not at all comprehensive, the brief Extras quench an inquisitive thirst with a sip.
The series co-creators John Fawcett and Graeme Manson (Manson also writes while Fawcett directs) reminisce and dish about the evolution of the show and the talents of Maslany. The backstory is a welcomed segment.
Maslany talks about facing the challenges and devising the crutches to differentiate the subtleties of seven identical-yet-unique characters. A segment from The Nerdest elaborates. And crew members address their contributions to fulfill her difficult task.
Jordan Gavaris (a distant relative of legendary Greek director, Costa-Gavras) appears in a semi-satisfying segment - viewers will wish for more from other actors.
There is minimal focus on the technical trials of compositing three Maslany performances in a single shot.
Again, enquiring minds want to know.
As you might have noticed, Maslany was snubbed by the 2013 Emmys. The jaded will say "so what." It may be asking too much for enlightened nominations, but one can always hope for the recognition that awards stand for: Tatiana, we appreciate your hard work, agile accents and winning talent.
Maybe after Season Two she will be competing against herself for the kudos: multiple nominations for multiple depictions.
Studio: BBC America
Director: John Fawcett, T.J. Scott, David Frazee, Grant Harvey, Brett Sullivan, Ken Girotti
Cast: Tatiana Maslany, Dylan Bruce, Jordan Gavaris, Kevin Hanchard, Michael Mando, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Skyler Wexler, Matt Frewer
Length: 10 Episodes, 450 minutes total
Rated: Not Rated
Aspect ratio: 1:78:1
DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1