Wed
May 8 2013 11:00am

Welcome to Clone Club: The Many Faces of Orphan Black

Welcome to Clone Club: Orphan Black

How does one BBC show get the most milage out of one amazing actress? Make her play half the cast, that’s how! The BBC has been pulling ahead as the place to find great science fiction television, and it’s latest contribution—put up for our viewing pleasure with none other than Doctor Who—does not disappoint. Orphan Black brings you the adventures of Sarah, a British punk grifter, who discovers she’s not not the orphan she thought she was. She’s got a host of doubles out there and they’re all looking for answers. And so are we!

Let’s take a look at the many faces of Orphan Black and how it stacks up against other clone-heavy shows. 

Send In The Clones—Meet the Ladies of Orphan Black

Orphan BlackFrom the beginning, Orphan Black throws us into a very modern-looking normal world in which Sarah is a poor grifter trying to make enough money to get back her daughter, Kira. She wants to run off someplace with her foster brother Felix and her kid to restart their lives. Too bad she’s witness to a woman jumping in front of a train—a woman who looks just like her! Coincidence? Probably not. And that’s the name of the game in Orphan Black. Just what is a mystery and what is a coincidence and what has been set up by whatever shadowy organization created the clones themselves. Sarah has to find out, all the while pretending to be the dead woman Beth so she can investigate as a police officer. 

Yeah, it’s that complicated. 

Good thing all of the clones are so different from each other. There’s Sarah herself. Then there’s Beth, the dead cop, who seems to have been a neurotic mess before she jumped. Through her investigation, Sarah also meets Alison, the uptight soccer mom and Cosina, a genius IQed grad student. Then there’s “the German,” a dyed-red fur wearing girl, and Helena, a dyed-blond religious zealot. The list could get longer but for now, that’s who we’ve met. And each has her own individual story, personality, and role to play in this complicated science conspiracy. Why these women were cloned and how they were placed where they were is at the heart of the story, and together the clones must discover their history before something bad happens to them all. 

Orphan Black

The heart of Orphan Black is the Clone Club aka the Clone Scooby Gang Sarah forms with Allison, Cosina and Felix. Together they form the bravery (Sarah), brains (Cosina), cash (Allison) and comic relief (sorry Felix!) that make up the heart of Team Clone. Actress Tatiana Maslany does triple- and sometimes quadruple-duty an episode playing every permutation of clone, sometimes playing one clone pretending to be another! Some of the most memorable scenes from the show involve Sarah pretending to be police officer Beth, or even soccer mom Allison having to pretend that she’s Sarah. (The term “reverse Eliza Doolittle” came up and was brilliant—once again, thanks Felix!) It’s this incredible performance that makes the whole show so engaging. Maslany makes each clone seem unique down to body language, accent and tone of voice and the technical team behind Orphan Black makes the scenes where there are two or even three clones in the room at the same time look seamless. 

Other Clone-Heavy Shows

Orphan Black Clone Club Battlestar GalacticaSo how does it rate against other shows with multiples of the same cast member in a clone-off? The biggest comparison one could make with the clone storyline is obviously Battlestar Galactica. In BSG, a single actor or actress played multiple versions of the same Cylon model, sometimes in the same scene. Many of those Cylons developed very different personalities based along the same archtypical models—a Six (played by Trisha Helfer) would always act similarly to other Sixes and so on. The characterizations of Cylons were never too far away from the original model’s style to really differentiate them too much from one another. This was a purposeful choice, as it was meant to indicate that these Cylons all came from the base type and were only permutations based on differences in programming and experience.

Orphan Black Clone Club Star Wars The Clone WarsA similar model was used for the clone troops in the Star Wars: Clone Wars animated series. Yet in many ways, the clone troopers from Star Wars are closer to the ladies of Orphan Black than to the Cylons of BSG. In the series, though the troopers all came from the DNA of a single original person, it is their experiences as grown soldiers that develop them as individuals. Some of the most interesting episodes in that series centered around the differences in the troopers, their interpersonal relationships with one another, and the different choices they made. In the end, the troopers were treated more like individuals than the Cylons of BSG ever were. 

All three shows, however, tackle a very basic concept—can a clone be an individual? Is it nature that makes them similar or nurture which sets them apart? Can a Cylon model “copy” be different than the others of their line? Is a clone trooper any different than the others that stand beside him? And are the women of Orphan Black, scattered across the world in some kind of bizarre experiment, really all that different from one another? This is a question that Orphan Black takes head on and succeeds where others may have only grazed the surface of the issue. 

Orphan Black—How Does It Rate

Orphan BlackIn comparison to other clone-heavy shows, Orphan Black goes right to the heart of the nature versus nurture debate. By making the clones all so very different, the show highlights the impact that their individual lives have had on their development. Through Sarah’s eyes, we see the women start to compare their similarities—such as a penchant in a few for mental instability and unusual intelligence—and then also clock their serious differences. It is by developing each of the clone women as individual characters with their own rich inner and outer lives that we get a more nuanced story about what makes us unique as people than many other clone shows have done before.

So why were the clones created? Will Sarah ever get away with her daughter to someplace warm and peaceful? And will Felix ever have to stop putting up with this craziness in his life—or at least get a front door lock for his apartment so people will stop barging in? The show is only five episodes in and already gathering steam to be a science thriller with plenty of mysteries to solve. One thing is for sure—as long as Tatiana Maslany can figure out how to do new accents and keep straight just who she’s playing when, Orphan Black might be the show to give us a great discourse about cloning while still being loads of fun.


Shoshana Kessock is a comics fan, photographer, game developer, LARPer and all around geek girl. She’s the creator of Phoenix Outlaw Productions and ReImaginedReality.com.

21 comments
Robert H. Bedford
1. RobB
I am enjoying this show quite a bit, it is smart and takes itself seriously. Tatiana Maslany is doing a fine job with the multiple roles. One thing I think *might* be a key is that the city has (to my recollection) not yet been named. It looks like a modern American (or likely Canadian) city, but the camera rarely lingers on the police vehicles or anything that would reveal where this story takes place.
Gwen Potter
2. tariqata
RobB: I also am really enjoying the show for its smart dialogue and interesting story, but as a resident of the city where it's being shot, spotting the attempts to disguise certain prominent local landmarks (not to mention shoutouts to various neighbourhoods) is definitely a whole other source of entertainment!
terryshortstack
3. terryshortstack
it's Toronto. there's lots of references to it in the show, even ones that are local just to Toronto, even though it isn't explicitly stated.
Chris Nelly
4. Aeryl
I haven't seen the show, but I cannot speak to it, but the whole not mentioning the location thing is kinda common in shows made somewhere other than the US, as it's believed that American audiences won't like if it's not US-centric.

Lost Girl is one I can think of that does this, it's set in Canada, and there are enough references to this that you can see it(i.e. a woman on death row is said to be "south of the border"), but it's never flat out stated.

I loved Dollhouse, and I love Eliza Dushku, but her inability to differentiate between her imprints was a problem with that show. Seems like Orphan Black has gotten around that problem by getting an actress with the heft necessary for the part.
Constance Sublette
5. Zorra
There was Sarah Michelle Geller's ill-fortuned Ringer.

Orphan Black has looked intriguing but I keep thinking how exhausting for the actress it must be, and how long can she hold the energy for giving each clone that edge of difference?

That's what I love about the Canadian Lost Girl, and wonder if it can be chalked up to it being a Canadian production: is its refusal to take itself too seriously that which keeps it energetic and surprising, despite all the very familiar elements?

Love, C.
Ursula L
6. Ursula
I've only seen the first episode. But it seems to be clearly set in Canada. It comes down on the Canadian side of the washroom/restroom issue, and I've seen a few clear shots of Ontario license plates on cars.
Ursula L
7. Ursula
I've only seen the first episode. But it seems to be clearly set in Canada. It comes down on the Canadian side of the washroom/restroom issue, and I've seen a few clear shots of Ontario license plates on cars.
Chris Nelly
8. Aeryl
@5, I think that's part of it. The only time the show ever fails, IMO, is when it starts to take itself too seriously(the Garuda, anyone?) I haven't seen S3 yet, so I don't know if it's back on course yet or not.
terryshortstack
9. joelfinkle
I'm behind on the episodes, but I hope the show moves in a steady direction -- if it's just "find another clone who dies" ever week, it'll get tired very, very fast.

I was rather disappointed with Cosina's introduction. Of course she's the smart one, she wears glasses that none of the other clones need.
terryshortstack
10. Heathery
Bad eyesight isn't something you are always born with. Cosima is a gamer and always in the lab. Constantly straining ones eyes into a microscope or playing games online can cause a person to need glasses. So far not many of the clones have died either. Helena lived.
Sky Thibedeau
11. SkylarkThibedeau
The other clones are obcessed with how they look as they were bullied in high school and they wear contacts.
Sean Dowell
12. qbe_64
When I first watched this show I actually had to go online to check that Tatiana did not have a twin sister(s). The mutiple clone scenes are flawless and Tatiana is great as every character she plays. Felix is absolutely fantastic as well. This is my favourite new show of the year.
Douglas Freer
13. Futurewriter1120
I love this show and all the girls.
I look at the issue of clones a little differently than most people. I look at it like twins. They look alike, have the same DNA, almost exact same voice, so it's like natures cloning system. People accept twins as two separate individuals so why can't the same be done with clones? It's not like a Hitler clone will be just like the original when raised in a different environment.
terryshortstack
14. LAJG
Alison lives in "Scarberia." Definitely set in Toronto.
terryshortstack
15. jencat
I just blitzed the first five episodes last weekend (shades of when I first discovered Lost Girl) and it's just a blast - deliciously cynical, pitch black humour, insane plot twists, enough inventive swearing and gore to keep things interesting and Tatiana Maslany is incredible at differentiating between the characters...

It's almost perfect, except for the one accent she can't do, and it drives me a little crazy that Sarah sounds Australian rather than British (trust me, awesome as she is at everything else, she sounds nothing like she comes from Brixton). I honestly spent the first few eps thinking she was supposed to have some bizarre Aussie backstory to go with her traumatic past, but guess that's looking a bit unlikely now lol! I still spend every episode cackling at the craziness... Here's hoping it doesn't go down the same route as Lost Girl, which hasn't regained its season one mojo to the point where season three feels like a pale imitation :-(
terryshortstack
16. Jakal
Trust me, as an Australian she certainly doesn't sound like she comes from here. I think at one point they say they moved when she was in her early teens, which would give some cover for why her accent is a bit of a mess.
Chuk Goodin
17. Chuk
I am enjoying this show too -- I don't know enough about accents to tell when she's getting one wrong but I like the Canadian vs. American ones.
(And until I read this post I thought the US clone's name was Kseema or something like that.)
terryshortstack
18. Kalena
Thanks for the tip; I'm going to check this out. (And the first thing I thought of was also Gellar/Ringers when reading the description and some of the plot points.)
terryshortstack
19. kkmom
Loving this show!!! No one seems to be talking about the fact that one of the clones is different from the rest (Sarah), Helena mentioned she was different. My theory is that she is the original!! Helena and Alison both mention something about Sarah having a biological child, I'm sure its going to come out later that clones can't have children. Would love to know if anyone else is thinking what I'm thinking
terryshortstack
21. Carol LK.
I truly "Love" this show, It is my favorite show on TV. I just hope that Tatiana doesn't end up with a multiple personality disorder from trying to keep up with all of the different roles she is playing. Wow...She is truly amazing.
terryshortstack
22. clone-raven
for those saying the city has not been named, very early on like eps one or two the front tag of the car says ontario which is in canada. there is also another reference though small, and then you seen the money. So its canada. Also why there are so many mixed accents

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