The first indication that Serial Box’s Orphan Black: The Next Chapter shares DNA with its television series predecessor is in the episode titles. Following series creators Graeme Manson and John Fawcett’s penchant for quoting everything from Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species to Ella Wheeler Wilcox’s poem “Protest,” Serial Box’s stellar writing team (including Malka Older, Madeline Ashby, E.C. Myers, and more) draws inspiration from Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower.
The first episode, written by Older, is called “Our Needs to Shape Us,” taken from Butler’s passage in which a young woman creating a new belief system in the climate-ravaged early 2020s ponders to what level domination or even murder can be justified in order to establish a safe new community. The ends justifying the means was a regular debate on Orphan Black, in which the clones-turned-sestras fought to escape the organization that created them. Now, in this serialized continuation narrated by star Tatiana Maslany, the Clone Club are given the opportunity to reexamine their own needs—and what they’ll sacrifice to attain them—as the stakes rise beyond just Project Leda to encompass genetics and privacy on a global scale.
This is a non-spoiler review of Orphan Black: The Next Chapter.
Last we saw the Clone Club—Sarah, Alison, Cosima, Helena, and the friends and family in their orbit—they had overcome their makers. The DYAD Institute and its various offshoots were dismantled, and the sestras had the incredible chance to locate 250 of their sisters around the world to vaccinate them against a shared genetic disease. But eight years later, the core clones are no closer to figuring out how to actually live in the world as more than just experiments. No surprise, then, that the inciting action for this new series involves meeting another new clone—a secret agent, no less.
Before the next conspiracy unfolds, however, there is plenty to catch up on in cloneworld, both for loyal fans eager to learn what their favorites (Cophine!) have been up to since the series finale, and for a new audience just joining in. Despite domestic bliss in Toronto, Cosima chafes against the necessary anonymity (and resultant ennui) that keeps her safe—in contrast to Alison and Sarah, who each fear standing out lest they attract the attention of some new unethical scientist and/or government types. Meanwhile, young clone Charlotte, now 18, feels like she doesn’t share her older sestras’ history. As Episode 1 is split into two parts (to be released September 12th and 19th), unfortunately the first half is mostly setup: filling in blanks about how half of Clone Club wound up in Toronto, and introducing Vivi Valdez, a CIA agent carrying a secret identity that even she knows nothing about.
Despite the frustration of a slow-moving start, it’s worth remembering how surprisingly unrushed the original Orphan Black pilot was as well: Sarah’s first forays into cloneworld were deliberate, cautious; the viewer discovered each new hint, each tiny clue, as she did. Vivi’s journey—which starts with a stakeout but soon leads to a chance encounter not unlike Sarah and Beth’s initial meeting—is similar: blessed with an ease for mimicry, this chameleon-like operative both fears and relishes the challenge of taking on new personas, even as each one makes her doubt what she knows of her own personal history. Though in this case, readers (and listeners) have the benefit of knowing all of the intel that she’s learning.
As the season progresses, however, even diehard fans will find new mysteries in the disparate strands of a different take on the clone program that brings to mind Project Castor; various entities guarding their respective genetic data; yet another way for Kira to put herself into danger; and the ethics of invading privacy for the supposed greater good. Like the TV series, not all of these strands weave together as securely as they could; but the strongest moments remain those in which the sestras debate how much to expand the borders of Clone Club. What does it mean to confront your doppelgänger, to learn that you are not as unique as you have always believed yourself to be? Does it threaten the validity of your own particular identity, or is it reassurance that you are not as alone in the world as you once thought? Orphan Black has played out dozens of permutations on this scenario, from the first moment that two identical sets of eyes met across a train platform. And even though these encounters are told, not shown, in this new medium, the dilemma takes on new and fascinating dimensions in Serial Box’s continuation.
With that in mind, the best way to experience Orphan Black: The Next Chapter is in audio form, hands down. While the writing team picks up the TV series’ DNA and engineers a new genetically-centered conflict, Tatiana Maslany’s voice is the catalyst that brings back the spirit of the show. Lack of practice has not dimmed her incredible ability to infuse distinct inflections, accents, tones into the clones’ voices, even and especially in conversation with one another. Nor does the fact that she narrates the entire thing—internal monologues, familiar and new characters, action sequences—diminish the effect; it’s easy to distinguish each clone, Vivi included, from the others.
Which makes it such a treat that there’s a clone swap right off the bat. That’s how you know we’re back in the thick of it.
Orphan Black: The Next Chapter is available now (in text and audio form) through Serial Box.