Thursday, June 06, 2013

Attack of the Clones

Okay. So. You all watched Orphan Black, right? RIGHT? Seriously. If there was a more surprising show on television during this past spring, I’ll eat my hat.  I wrote about the show at the beginning of its 10-episode long first season, and now that we’ve come to the end of the season, let’s take a quick look back at one of the most innovative new shows this season. Slight spoilers in the paragraph below, however only in broad strokes. If you want to avoid all of them, just skip down to below the picture of the man with the ridiculously well-toned pectorals.

In terms of the plot, we learned that Sarah, the ne’er-do-well from England who has arrived in Canada some time previously, is drawn into a web of intrigue when a police officer who looks exactly like her commits suicide in front of her and Sarah decides to assume her identity. From there, Sarah learns that she is actually a clone, created for some unknown purpose, and that there are several more of her spread around the globe. To complicate things, the clones are being hunted down by a religious order (possibly) while being simultaneously pursued for some unknown reason by a group of technological futurists calling themselves the Neolutionists. Sarah, meanwhile, must keep her “partner” at the Toronto police force off the trail of the strange murders of women who look just like her and her possible involvement with them while at the same time she’s starting to suspect that Paul, the boyfriend of the woman who’s identity she’s assumed, may in fact be working for one of these clandestine groups.

Along the way, Sarah must interact with the other clones, who are almost alternate reality versions of herself. The tension gets higher when Sarah learns that each of the clones have “monitors”, or people installed in their lives to watch them and report back, however it’s not clear who those monitors are or which group they work for. This means that we get to know Sarah, but also her doppelgangers, learning more about each of their lives and seeing how they each fit into the broader puzzle. And we quickly realize that not all of the clones are working with each other and not all of them have the best intentions toward the others.

Fear not, ladies. There's a little somethin' somethin' in here for you too.

Okay, Spoiler-phobes. You can come back now.

First off, the good news (for my taste at least) is that this show didn’t succumb to the Lost-ization factor that I worried in my original post that it might. By that I mean that while the mysteries built on each other throughout the season and the mythology behind them was definitely dense and complex, none of the questions we found ourselves asking as viewers were put there simply for the sake of complexity. In other words, the show was taut, lean and we got a very clear idea that the writers know where this story is headed.

The second good thing it has going for it is the unique look and feel of the entire show. Not quite realism, not quite expressionism, the show didn’t look like anything we’ve seen before. The palate, generally muted through most shots, occasionally found ways to clash bright color against itself. As I said before, the only thing I’ve seen previously that reminded me of the same way the show used colors and visuals was Blade Runner, another story about people who are clones without necessarily realizing it. Regardless, it was the kind of visuals that we just don’t often see on television, so kudos to BBC America for putting together something really original.

Good evening, Mr. Decker. 

But of course, the 900-lb gorilla in the room is Tatiana Maslany, the actress tasked with playing the clones. If the original story set-up and visual look and feel were the show’s opening hands, Maslany was its ace up the sleeve. Maslany single-handedly took a concept that was probably going to be just gimmicky in any regular actress’s hands and turned it into something amazing to watch. She played each part with a separate style, including unique mannerisms, physicality, movement and voice. Maslany, unfortunately, is almost certainly not going to win an Emmy for her role here, but that’s to the fault of the Emmys, not her.

Among the roles that Maslany has had to play this year: Sarah, the English drifter; Beth, the Toronto cop; Cosima, the American grad student; Allison, the type-A suburban housewife; Helena, a Russian sociopathic religious fanatic; and Katja, a German socialite. Not enough variation for you? Maslany has, at times, had to play versions of each character pretending to be another character, such as when Sarah pretends to be Beth or when Allison presents to be Sarah. Maslany has so mastered each of these characters that not only do they each feel separate and instantly identifiable on their own, but they have their own nuances when they pretend to be each other. Maslany’s version of Sarah is slightly different than her version of Allison pretending to be Sarah. For an actress so relatively young and never before having anchored a television series, Maslany is providing something of a master class in voice and movement and how to create completely fleshed out, living characters.

Is it wrong that I hope future seasons have them forming a band together?

The variance that Maslany brought to each of her characters alone would be reason to be excited about what’s coming in season two. That not all of the clones make it through season one alive also illustrates that the show isn’t afraid to take some chances, as well as that the deaths that do occur feel like an organic part of the story. I’m really quite excited to see where the show goes given its cliffhanger ending this year, proving that the show has absolutely done its job for me. Tune in folks, you’re going to want to watch this one.

Seriously. Do it. Otherwise the unstable one will cut you.

Orphan Black is available through BBC America and season one will be released on DVD and BluRay on July 16. 


Maggie Cats said...

Do we know for sure there will be a season 2? Because I also dig this show hard core.

Clovis said...

Season 2 is scheduled for Spring 2014. :)

Arsenic Pie said...


Scienter said...

This show is an example of what can be done when you have an actress who can pull off multiple roles. She succeeds where Eliza Dushku fell flat in Dollhouse.

(Also, next season can we have more shirtless Paul, pls?)