BBC America’s Orphan Black delivers some shockingly good moments in its first ten-episode season. Starring Tatiana Maslany as streetwise hustler Sarah, and a number of other clones, the show begins with the startling suicide-by-train of one of the clones, Detective Beth Childs, right in front of Sarah. Sarah slides into her persona, seeking out enough money to flee her current life, and finds herself engrossed in a mystery of conspiracy and identity.
I’ll admit it: I didn’t make it through the first episode on my first run through on live television. But the second time around, I charged through and found myself intrigued by the family dynamics of Sarah, her gay brother (Jordan Gavaris), her foster mother (Maria Doyle Kennedy), and Sarah’s estranged child (Skyler Wexler). Sure, there’s a global conspiracy about cloning people going on here, and it’s all the more mystifying in its timelessness (when is this??) “The family who fights together stays together” could be the mantra, but the way that they rally together to unravel the puzzle or drag Sarah deeper provides for some interesting drama.
Don’t think it’s all talky drama though. You’ve got the conspiracy about the clones that has us guessing about why they’re living among us, what their purpose is, why it’s a secret, and who’s killing off the clones. You’ve got the investigation of Beth’s shooting by Internal Affairs, and the subsequent struggle for money (by Sarah) with her partner on the police force (Kevin Hanchard). And you’ve got the balancing act Sarah has to pull as she plays Beth and tries to determine who she was/is in the first place.
Orphan Black plays out like a Philip K. Dick story that’s been transported to the small screen by Paul Greengrass. In high definition, it’s darkly beautiful. But it’s all about the struggle, isn’t it? Who is Beth, or who are any of them? Who created them and why? Aren’t those the questions that we all ask ourselves? Who am I, why am I here, what is my purpose? Thankfully, I can cross of one of them from my Judeo-Christian background: God created me. And from that point forward, I can answer: I am a child of God who was created to love God and love others. I can answer the rest of the questions because I know the answer to “who made me?” Even the answer I could say from an earthly standpoint, that I was created by my parents because they loved each other and wanted to show love to another, isn’t something Beth can answer. She’s rudderless.
When it’s finally announced that an unearthed, dead clone was “just one of a few, unfit for family,” we can see that the family dynamics of Sarah’s adoptive family and that of her creator(s) will be important to the soul searching that will follow. This is science fiction at its finest, uncovering experiences of human existence and playing them through a fantastic lens, then rolling them back for us to recognize that this is just as much about us as it is about entertainment.
Orphan Black gives us the opportunity to examine those questions for ourselves, before Beth gets to them. But even after the show credits roll on the first season, we’re left asking, “where do we stand, and why are we here?” We could spend the rest of our lives searching to complete those answers.