Just One, I’m a Few: Orphan Black

Orphan Black title card

What would you do if you unexpectedly stood and watched yourself – or someone who looked just like you – step in front of a train? Well, if you happened to be Sarah Manning, a down-and-out with a flair for crime, you might well be tempted to steal your reflection’s handbag and run. But Sarah’s attempts to con some cash out of her unfortunate doppelganger lead her into a lot more trouble than she’d bargained for…

Wanderers, you may well have heard of Orphan Black, as well as its lead actress Tatiana Maslany. The first series – 10 episodes – is so full of twists and turns that I’m beginning to wonder why the Editor always gets me writing reviews of things I’ll have to be very, very careful not to spoil. Still, I’ll have a go.

Sarah soon finds that stepping into the role of Elizabeth Childs, her apparent twin – not that she knew she had one, but then she never knew enough about her family to be sure she didn’t – for just long enough to clear out her bank accounts isn’t going to be as straightforward as she’d hoped. Instead, she ends up dragging her long-suffering but fabulous best friend and foster brother, Felix, into the con as she twists the circumstances to fake her own death. Sarah hopes that this could be her chance to escape an unhealthy relationship with boyfriend Vic and finally start a new life with her daughter, Kira. Unfortunately, though, becoming Beth means getting entangled in all her relationships too, and things rapidly spiral out of control as the crazy just keeps coming…

Alright, that’s as much plot as I’ll give you, though a cursory Google search is quite capable of ruining the whole thing should you wish to know more. I’m going to turn my attention instead to some of the other things that make this such an excellent show. Yes, the unpredictability and excellent quality of the narrative is key to its success, but the production values are strong, the technical achievements are breathtaking, and the cast is excellent.

Usually, I’d be reluctant to say that one actor or actress carries a show, but in this case it has to be pointed out that Tatiana Maslany takes on multiple roles (of varying size and significance) with great aplomb and really does have to take a lot of the credit for Orphan Black’s success. She’s supported by a universally flawless cast, including Jordan Gavaris, Dylan Bruce, Kevin Hanchard, Michael Mando, Évelyne Brochu and Maria Doyle Kennedy. It’s also worth pointing out that Skyler Wexler does a great job as Kira, who’s more than just a pawn in the adults’ games (as some child roles unfortunately are).

In fact, there aren’t many roles in Orphan Black that allow their actors to take an easy ride. The writing is tight, clever, and appears to have been carried out with no regard to practicality at all. That may sound like a criticism, but it’s really not. It’s hard to imagine how a show that pushes its limits so far came into being, let alone how it was made to work so well, but this one reaches for the sky and really pulls it off. I’m in danger of devolving into fannish squee here, so perhaps I should round off soon.

Alright, then, who’s this show for? Well, anyone who loves action, mystery, drama, and intrigue. If you want your mind blown, this’ll do it for you. If you want to blow someone else’s mind, show it to a friend. It really is a remarkable bit of television, and it’s hardly surprising that while the first series is still airing for the first time in the UK, a Tumblr blog has already been established to count the days until the second season begins in the US. I, for one, can’t wait.

Eleanor Musgrove (may well be played by Tatiana Maslany)

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This entry was posted in Issue Thirty-Three, Reviews, TV and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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