Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Orphan Black: Teaser, Review and Analysis

Recently I have been really enjoying Continuum and The Following - however, another show has come along that has blown them out of the water; Orphan Black. If you are into science fiction, good story telling and amazing acting then this is for you.

Orphan Black tells the story of Sarah Manning a small time grifter with an abusive boyfriend and a complicated past. Sarah has come back to Canada after 10 months away from her child and her foster brother. While at a train station she encounters a young woman in distress. The woman looks identical to Sarah, but before Sarah can ask any questions she throws herself in front of a train. Sarah takes the woman's bag and assumes her identity, intending to take the woman's life savings and get her own life back on track.

Orphan Black is simply one of the best sci-fi series’ around, with strong story telling and character development and a kick-arse female lead, which is exactly what we need right now.

Follow me under the cut for a teaser, progressive review and analysis of Orphan Black’s first season.

[Note: I will warn for spoilers at each section]

Episode One - Mild Spoilers if you need more to get you hooked

The woman who committed suicide at the train station is called Elizabeth Childs and Sarah doesn't care about anything more than getting access to her bank account and the $75,000 in it. Sarah has plans to take her foster brother Felix and her daughter Kira and start a new life with them somewhere else. Her abusive ex-boyfriend Victor is hounding her and Sarah figures that getting away from both him and her foster mother Mrs. S is in everyone's best interests.

Assuming Beth's identity, Sarah manages to convince the bank to empty the account but is told the money will take 24 hours to arrive. This doesn't seem too bad; Beth has a great apartment and boyfriend.

Things go sideways when it turns out that Beth is a cop on suspension and Sarah has walked into her life on the day of her hearing for a civilian shooting and killing that she was involved in. Beth's police partner Art has a bee in his bonnet about the shooting and his role in it, as well as getting her back on active duty. Sarah manages to get the hearing postponed, though she is quickly starting to realise that Beth's life isn't quite as charmed as she originally thought.

Felix helps cover Sarah's identity theft by identifying Beth's body at the morgue as Sarah's but gets angry at Sarah for constantly leaving him behind and throws a wake for her. During the wake, which Sarah (pretending to be Beth) is watching, a woman enters her car. The woman is Russian, has bright dyed pink hair and looks exactly like Sarah. Confused and shocked Sarah tells her to get out of the car and the woman, who says her name is Katja asks the following riddle “Just one, I’m a few. No family too. Who am I?” She realises that Sarah is not Beth just as someone unseen shoots and kills her in the back of Sarah's car. Sarah speeds away, frightened for her life as more shots are fired. The Russian woman's pink phone rings then Beth's secondary pink phone rings. Reluctantly Sarah finally answers. The voice on the other end tells her to get rid of the Russian and to get her briefcase.

Episode Two - Mild Spoilers in case you need a little more to buy-in

Sarah does as instructed and gets rid of the Russian. In the meantime Art, who has followed her to Felix's house, takes the $75,000 that she has received from the bank and holds her to ransom until she is cleared for active duty. Sarah realises that in order to get the money back she has to continue to pretend to be Beth. Facing the hearing panel is the only way to convince Art to return the money and allow her to escape with Felix and Kira.

Sarah meets Art as Beth and realises that he too was involved in the civilian shooting; a woman named Maggie Chen. He believes that Beth was mixing her medications - prescribed by her psychiatrist - and shot the woman while high. To cover for her he placed a cell phone in Maggie Chen’s hand and pretended that Beth had seen her remove it from her pocket and thought it was a gun.

Sarah retrieves Katya's briefcase and finds inside blood samples and the drivers licences of many other women who look exactly like her. She tries to track one of them down; Alison Hendrix a suburban soccer mum with a serious attitude. A meeting is set up and Sarah meets Alison and Cosima - who tell her that they believe that they are all clones, that they knew Beth and they are investigating their origins because someone is trying to kill them.

General Review

Tatiana Maslany seemingly came out of nowhere but her performance in Orphan Black makes her seem a veteran actress. She slips between characters easily but includes such a nuanced performance for each variation that it blows the mind.

There are stories that suggest she stayed in character on-set to ensure that her performance was continuous, depending on which clone she was playing at the time and had different musical playlists for each of them to enable her to get into character.

The support cast are superb. Jordan Gavaris as Felix and Maria Doyle Kennedy as Mrs. S provide strong reference points for Sarah and her history. Their connection to her and their connection to the overall story allow viewers to remain grounded in who Sarah is as a person while Sarah's performance as Beth begins to bleed into her own personality. As Sarah's connection to the other clones and in particular Helena continues to deepen it is both Felix and Mrs S that keep the lines separate and help the viewers to identify Sarah as the central focus and perhaps the most special of a group of people who are seemingly genetically identical.

The show’s deft exploration of issues surrounding evolution, identity and scientific responsibility makes Orphan Black truly special for those looking for more out of their television. Questions about who 'the original' is imply that somehow one of them could be more important or more real than the others. It is revealed that the person killing the clones is a fellow clone called Helena. Helena was taken by a group of people who hate what the clones stand for and manipulated into committing horrendous criminal acts using the idea that she was somehow saved by being the original and therefore not an abomination in the eyes of God, The other clones see themselves as identical and equally valued. While this approach has some obvious benefits, the drawbacks centre around a loss of identity and confusion over ones place in life. Many of the clones begin to question their reality and their relationships as well as their ability to interpret and trust whatever they are feeling.

All of the episode titles are taken from Charles Darwin’s On The Origin of Species and tie together perfectly with the themes of the show and the struggles that various groups have with the existence of clones as well as why they might have been created.

Series Theme Spoilers

The Prolutionist’s and Neolutionist’s are a particularly interesting binary comparison as their roles are exposed and explored throughout the season. Prolutionist’s are represented by religious extremism and this manifests in a clone convinced that she is the 'original' sent to kill her clone sisters because they are believed to be the children of Satan. The hunting of these so-called artificial and somehow lesser human beings reflects important questions in society surrounding the thinking about artificial insemination, science assisted conception or assisted birth and what makes someone human. It seems strange to us that anyone could see a child born through scientific assistance as an abomination - but make them all identical in appearance and it suddenly awakens a different instinct. Seemingly though, the thing these women have in common is simply genetic - and there are some differences in their genes as well. They are revealed to have been birthed by different biological mothers, and they certainly all have different personalities, so are they in fact the same?

The Neolutionist’s are a different side of the extreme, though equally terrifying. They believe that self-directed evolution is a human right and encourage the development of science and technology to this end. Thus, we see characters that choose to have tails or different sets of eyes and appendages. In order to explore this possibility they have experimented unethically on unwitting human beings (surrogates and families) and human clones (Sarah and her clone sisters). I only differentiate between them here in this way to explore the point, as the question becomes whether the human clones are any less human than traditionally developed human beings. The Neolutionist’s seem to both revere the clones and see them as simultaneously less human and more human. They are less human in some respects so that the scientists can justify experimenting on them, taking away basic human rights and threatening them over time. They are more human because their existence creates so much of what the Neolutionist’s believe sets them on the path to true enlightenment and fulfilment.

Season Finale Spoilers and Discussion

As the season finale arrives the viewer has a lot of information about the known clones and the people trying to either capture them or kill them. Sarah confronts Helena after Kira is kidnapped and hit by a car. Helena insists that she would never harm Kira and still feels a connection to Sarah. Helena turns on her Prolutionist handler and Sarah locks him in a cage while tying Helena up and taking her home.

Mrs. S. has tracked down Sarah’s birth mother who explains that she was a surrogate for a couple that she believed could not have children. Over time she discovered that the people she was surrogating for weren't actually a couple and that they intended to conduct experiments on the children she bore. She went into hiding and birthed twin daughters - Sarah and Helena. She gave one to the church and one to the State, thus setting Sarah and Helena on completely different paths. This has implications as to why Helena and Sarah disappearing is of such interest to the Neolutionist’s and perhaps contributes to why Sarah can have children while the other clones are unable to. It is also possible that the other clones were tampered with when they were born and are thus unable to have kids while Sarah was removed from that environment.

This perhaps links to Kira's accident and why she recovered quickly with little to no injuries. The doctors look at an ultrasound and I believe that the audience was supposed to see no internal bleeding and therefore believe the doctors when they tell Sarah that somehow Kira is miraculously unharmed. I read this scene a little differently, because I thought I saw something in Kira's stomach/uterus that should not have been there. If Kira has also been tampered with, this would support suggestions that Mrs. S. or someone close to Kira (doctors) know that she is the child of a clone. If this is the case perhaps they were shocked by her recovery ability but not by the other object that seemed to be on the scan. Or I saw wrong and there is no object at all.

With reference to Kira and Mrs. S., we see Mrs. S. reveal over time that she knows more and more, limited as it might seem, about Sarah's past. Initially she claims to know nothing but then ventures that she did indeed know that Sarah was what was known as a Black orphan - an orphan in hiding. After learning of the clones she explains that often children in the black were in hiding due to experimentation, which seems like pretty specific information to Sarah's current situation. She contacts her people back in England and says they sound afraid, like something is coming for them there as well. She manages to organise a meeting with Sarah's birth mother but argues that Sarah should not believe everything that the woman says. We see her remove a photograph of a male and female scientist from the birth mothers bag and later see that she has blacked out the names on the back of the picture. By the end of the season finale Sarah's birth mother, dying at Helena's hand, tells Sarah not to believe everything that Mrs. S. says and hands her the photograph. When Sarah returns to Mrs. S.' house the place has been ransacked and is empty. Mrs. S. and Kira are gone.

The final major reveal of the season finale is that Cosima cracks the code of the genetic make up of the clones - the full sequence given to her by Dr. Leekie, who works for the Neolutionist’s. He has done this as an incentive for her, along with her clone sisters, to sign a wavier for testing in order to receive protection and no further monitoring as long as they have full disclosure. With her girlfriend’s help, Cosima cracks the coding in the sequence and realises that their creators put a patent on all of their genetic material when they were created. She doesn't contact Alison in time and Alison signs the waiver while Donnie is confirmed as her monitor. Alison believed that her friend Aynsley was her monitor and let her die in an accident so despite signing the waver we know that the Neolutionist’s have not kept their word on her being without a monitor. Cosima does manage to contact Sarah in time to stop her signing a contract and potentially putting Kira in danger of becoming property of the Neolutionist’s in full. The lady heading up the organisation as far as we can see is another clone - Rachel.

Questions and Theories

1. What is the count? How many clones are there and how are they related?

By the end of season one we know of approximately ten clones. Sarah has been off the grid and is presumably unmonitored. Her twin sister Helena has also been off the grid and unmonitored and their existence might lead to them developing physiological differences to their clone sisters. As Helena is presumably dead at the end of the season this either makes Sarah and Kira more important or Helena’s body will be recovered for experimentation and advancement.

Cosima has developed the same respiratory disease (it would seem) that Katja had at the beginning of the season. This disease might be fatal and might be a glitch from previous failed experiments, making it something that the clones potentially share. If so then perhaps Sarah’s physiological differences will provide her immunity. Katja died at Helena’s hand but perhaps this illness would have killed her anyway. She had mentioned that there were other clones being killed across Europe, which is an area that might be investigated in the future.

Alison for the most part seems to be alright aside from being prone to extreme paranoia and anxiety. As Helena also exhibited signs of mental illness this could be something all clones are susceptible to, although both Alison and Helena’s nurture circumstances may have contributed.

Beth committed suicide at the beginning of the series; the reasons for which are unknown. We presume that in part discovering the clone world and that Paul, whom she loved, was her monitor, caused this. Although this could be true (a nurture argument) it is also possible that she suffered mental illness in depression, abused prescription medication and felt guilt over killing a woman, even though that woman was trying to kill the clones or some other reason exists.

Rachel is revealed at the end of the season as a clone working with the Neolutionist’s for reasons unknown. She could be part of a previous group of clones or perhaps an ‘original’.

Danielle Fournier, Aryanna Giordano and Janika Zingler are all presumed dead before the events of the series – possibly how Katja knows that the European clones are being hunted.


2. Who is Mrs. S. and where is Kira?

This is the million-dollar question and there are lots of theories. I personally think that although Mrs. S. knows much more than she ever let on, she is ultimately on both Sarah and Kira’s side. We know that she had a discussion with Sarah in which she stated that the second anything got near Kira they all had to burn their connections and leave. Sarah completely agreed with this. If Mrs. S. could see that the Neolutionist’s were getting closer and closer to Kira, and Helena had already managed to get way too close, perhaps she made the call and took Kira for her protection. This would certainly make sense. The house looked ransacked which suggests that others came looking for both Kira and Mrs. S in the time between them leaving and Sarah making her way back to the house. If this is the case then Kira is safe and Mrs. S is protecting her.

If the signs at the house are instead signs of a struggle it is more likely that the Neolutionist’s have kidnapped both Mrs. S. and Kira – one for torture and the other for experimentation. It seems to me that Mrs. S. was likely previously involved, rebelled and took Sarah off the grid. This would make her a thorn in the side of the organisation. What was her role? Well the image that Sarah’s birth mother had was of a man and woman, although the woman did not look like Mrs. S. It’s possible that it actually is a younger version of herself or it could be someone she is protecting, perhaps a sister on the inside who realised what the scientists were doing was unethical and used her sisters contacts to save the child.

It is doubtful that Mrs. S. was one of the scientists that convinced Sarah’s birth mother to have her, but possible Mrs. S. was actually a scientist working on the project who could no longer abide what was happening to the subjects. I favour the notion that she is protecting a family member and knew enough to hide this from Sarah to protect her relative, Kira and Sarah’s trust. Any connection at all might have meant Sarah taking Kira from Mrs. S. and stopping her from protecting Kira – something that Mrs. S. seems uniquely qualified to do.

3. What was in Kira’s scan?

Maybe I am seeing things but the scan that Kira had when she was in hospital didn’t sit right with me. I thought there was something implanted in her stomach or uterus which would mean that someone has had the same access to Kira in the past as to her mother’s clone sisters and she was being monitored. This is of course possible if Mrs. S. is actually a monitor.

Alternatively, this could simply be showing Kira’s lack of injuries. If this is the case then the question still remains; how did Kira survive something as high impact as that car accident and how did she heal so fast? Is this a part of her genetic difference being the child of a clone? Regardless, it’s clear that Kira’s role moving forward will get more and more interesting and fraught.

4. How old is Rachel?

Rachel seems older than all of the other clones that were surrogated and born in 1984. She shows signs of aging in the lines on her face, her posture and the manner in which she carries herself. If she is indeed older then perhaps it is her genetic material that was used to conduct the clone experiments. Does this make her ‘the original’ or some kind of mother figure to the others?

Alternatively, this could signify that the clones were not all born at the same time and that there might have been multiple clone trials over the years. Those born at the same time, Sarah and her kin, might not be the first experiments of this kind. Indeed, it could have taken many trials to create subjects as viable and long-lived as Sarah, Cosima, Alison and the others.

5. What sickness does Cosima have?

In the first episode of the show we see that Katja has some kind of illness that makes her cough up blood. The clones are trying to discover which of their illnesses are shared – including Katja’s condition. They are taking blood and hair samples and Cosima is investigating further from her science laboratory. When Cosima starts coughing up blood at the end of the season, it’s implied that this is the same illness that Katja had and therefore, that it could be something all of the clones are prone to. What Cosima has could be integral to discovering how genetically similar all of the clones really are and why any previous experiments, if they existed, weren’t as successful as this one.

6. Is Helena dead and what will Tomas do?

It seems like Helena is dead and certainly keeping her around longer will get problematic quickly. Her role to introduce the Prolutionist’s and the idea that mental illness might run in the clones has been served. She has also served a purpose in solidifying Sarah’s role as the special clone – born a twin and able to conceive a child. Without Helena, the Neolutionist’s need Sarah and Kira specifically to learn any more. Tomas was left alive in a cage when we last saw him and perhaps he and the Prolutionist’s still have a role to play in providing opposition to the Neolutionist’s and in hunting the clones. It is likely that he will be back in some capacity next season.

I seriously cannot wait for season two and to see where the characters and the plot goes next. Peter Outerbridge has also been cast which makes me incredibly excited. What a show! Let me know your theories, what you loved, tell me everything!!!

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