Conceived over a decade ago by creators Graeme Manson and John Fawcett, the two-season old sci-fi drama, Orphan Black, is one of the most exciting and original narratives on TV right now. A glaring testament of how our present modern, technology-driven generation of scientific pioneers is probably going to colossally screw up humanity in the near future and take to Mars, the show deals with the issue of human cloning. It centers primarily around Sarah Manning (played by the super-talented Tatiana Maslany), an unaware clone and product of Project Leda who through a series of events triggered by a clone suicide encounters six other clones of herself. *epic WTF moment*. Talk about an identity crisis!
Tatiana Maslany is definitely the headliner here. Six different and carefully constructed characters, Maslany’s dexterous portrayal so seamlessly shifting between roles―each so distinct in habit and mannerism―evokes remarkable clarity and recognition all the more so because the characters are visually identical. (How she was snubbed by the Emmys is absolutely mad to me!). It is not simply imitation but the formulation of a very important theme of heredity. Sarah, herself being an orphan, allies with the other clones newly aware of their own lack of a biological parentage, not simply for survival but in part of their shared in vitro origin, because what are we or where do we belong if devoid of our own biological history? Together they must face insurmountable odds for and strive for freedom, survival and answers to their own genetically-engineered creation.
Here is a quick look at the main members of the ‘Clone Club’.
Sarah Manning: A street-wise rebellious punk and the main protagonist of the series who takes on the identity of one of her clones, Beth Childs, a cop, after Childs commits suicide. She and her daughter, Kira, are pursued by the Dyad Institute as she is one of the only two (the other being Helena) known fertile clones. Known for her ‘fierce loyalty’ and unrelenting bravery, Cosima says of Sarah – “You’re the wild type, Sarah. You propagate against all odds. You know, you’re restless. You survive.”
Cosima Niehaus: The science of the ‘Clone Club’, she is fundamentally integral to the team in their quest of uncovering the truth about their origins. Bold, brilliant and vivacious, she is a decryption expert and Runewars champion studying evolution developmental biology.Showcasing boastful impudence, when patronized by Rachel (the evil clone) taunting, ‘I hear you’re very clever’, Cosima responds – ‘Yeah? I was clever when I was like, six.’
Alison Hendrix: An uptight housewife who is grounded in her family life in suburbia, the reality of being a clone falls hard on her. For their survival and protection, while Sarah who was impersonating Childs contributed by having access to police records and Cosima with intelligence, Alison provided financial help. On several occasions serving as comic relief as a result of her neurotic and paranoid disposition, she says under stress of being arrested for murder – “I can’t go to jail, Felix. I don’t have the temperament. In the shower, if they touch me, I will cut them
Helena: Separated at birth from her twin, Sarah,Helena was raised by Proletheans who psychologically manipulated her into being a sociopathic killer. She is capable of shooting a sniper rifle and wielding daggers as a close range weapon. Though psychotic, she often displays childish behaviour and has a liking for sugary products. Also known as Killer Clone, Angry Angel and White Whale, she is a biological anomaly, situsinversus, where her organs are located opposite their normal positions, a condition which helped her survive an otherwise fatal gunshot wound.
Orphan Black is a conspiracy story so tremendous in scale and magnitude that despite being two seasons in we only have a glimpse of what the characters are truly up against. Embroiled in suspense and slaughter, with each step our heroines are faced with new challenges ranging from their ethically compromised engineers who won’t quit treating them like lab rats to murdering religious fundamentalists who deem their existence an ‘abomination’. This is a show where everyone is a liar and is essentially pivoted on doubt, deception and revelation, propelling the story forward with a similar pace and intensity of the hit American television series (and, let’s be honest, Kiefer Sutherland’s saving grace), 24.
In addition to being a thrill for the cinematic adrenaline junkies, it is the thematic content of the narrative that is absolutely riveting.Exploring the ramifications of human cloning on individual identity, the unceasing debate of nature vs. nurture and science vs. religion, the show raises vital questions as to what it means to be human and how limited that definition could (or could not) be. Remember the never-ending feud between the science nerds and the social science humanists, each party vehemently opposing the other, in one of the many fields of the war-zone that was high school? Yeah, well Orphan Black should have been a part of the curriculum so everyone would just shut up and go play dodge ball. Not because it answers all the questions but offers perspective and understanding. So whether you’re a believer of science or a patron of the arts, Orphan Black is your intellectual and philosophical fix.
By Mahima Verma