“Orphan Black”–Adopting a New Model
In the opening scene the camera zooms in on Sarah (played by Tatiana Maslany, a Canadian newcomer to television), a grifter desperate to escape her drug dealer boyfriend. Seizing an opportunity to escape her past, Sarah watches as her doppelganger jumps in front of a subway to her death. Stealing the identity of the suicide victim (“Beth”) who looks exactly like her, Sarah assumes that the dead woman’s identity will be an improvement over her own, but she is proved wrong.
Proud of her independence, even with its painful repercussions, Sarah is a former foster child and single mother. Her one friend–a homosexual “brother” from foster care, is her only companion and confidante. Together these two outsiders try to survive on the streets of Toronto.
While categorized as science fiction, “Orphan Black” is not your typical sci-fi model. No flying space ships. No extraterrestrial costuming. The focus is on the characters and their relationships to each other as they assume each other’s identity and problems. (Yes, there are more look-alikes besides Sarah and the dead Beth–this makes following the story confusing sometimes.) The futuristic science and technology are not really the core of the story but an ingenious overlay to hold the viewer’s attention. The series delves into what happens when you steal the identity of someone else and all that encumbers. Both empathy and judgmentalism struggle within each character as each Sarah clone confronts more mysteries and puzzle pieces. Living dangerously in a world where no one can trust each other and everyone is a potential spy (“monitor”), the price of living in such a world is haunting and heavily tinted with paranoia.
The private hemispheres of each character make “Orphan Black” so much more than science fiction (although it will appeal to sci-fi fans too). On May 2, 2013 BBC America announced plans to renew the series for a second season. I’m happy that viewers will get another chance to continue enjoying “Orphan Black” and see how compelling adopting a new model for exploring futuristic worlds can be.