Orphan Black: the clone wars end

Although it doesn’t seem possible, many of us have a life outside the lunacy of Trump’s new world order. For people like me, some of that life involves books, movies, and a good deal of television, including the recently concluded five seasons of BBC-America’s Orphan Black.

If you never saw the show, it’s easy to explain: it’s about clones—actually (spoiler alert) more clones than we had imagined. Hundreds more. Orphan Black is science fiction by genre, but probably more science than fiction these days when cloning is no longer some arcane science project and we hear of parents considering genetic alteration to choose a baby’s gender.

But even pigeonholing it as science fiction misses the point. The show raised ethical questions about experimentation, including the rights of the people on whom experiments are performed. It’s an easy cliché to criticize the huge pharmaceutical companies these days, but still, big pharma will be the controlling force behind such changes, and people with means will be the investors and the beneficiaries. Orphan Black addressed those issues intelligently and often poignantly.

Yet even pigeonholing the show as social commentary misses the point: Orphan Black was basically a vehicle for Tatiana Maslany, the Canadian actress who played all the clones and did it so convincingly that when they all appeared in the same scene on the same screen at the same time(!) as in the now almost-legendary dance number, you had to remind yourself that the shot was technically remarkable because she was, in fact, the same person.

And she was funny (a decade of improv will do that for you) a fact that allowed her to play the over-the-top segments as if they made perfect sense because, in the world of comedy, they did. Maslany finally won an Emmy for her efforts in 2016. Only one—hardly a reflection of the different roles she played. But her formal recognition always meant more, I think, to us than it did to her.

orphan black
Tatiana Maslany as Sarah Manning, Helena, Alison Hendrix, and Cosima Niehaus

Orphan Black will probably be remembered as one of those “cult” shows. Its viewership was never very high, and for BBC-America to continue airing it was mostly a tribute to the ardor of those fans and, in turn, the respect with which they were treated by the show’s producers. There’s talk of a movie, but in a way I hope it doesn’t materialize: the series was in the end a very personal struggle for identity and meaning: making it “big” and potentially cataclysmic would actually minimize our involvement.

If you missed Orphan Black, you can stream it all; and though I often say when a series ends “I think I’ll go back and watch it from the beginning” and never do, this time it’s different. If nothing else Orphan Black was an escape when we badly needed one.

 

 

 

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Chuck Radda

I'm a former high school English teacher, currently a literacy volunteer and novelist. I invite your responses right here or to chuckradda@gmail.com. You can also follow me on Facebook and on Twitter—where I tweet annually at @chuckrad45.

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