The BBC mini-series Thirteen (available online) follows 26-year-old Ivy Moxam, who was held captive in a cellar for thirteen years. After escaping from her attacker’s prison, she returns to her family home outside of London, but struggles to put her life back together. There is an uncanny resemblance to the story in the American television series, The Family. (See July 3, 2016 review)
Thirteen presents the police investigation as a secondary plot and focuses on the victim’s situation and psychology, touching upon the Stockholm syndrome and the fragility and unreliability of memory. Everyone closely associated with the crime is also, in some way, a victim. With a steady, stark stream of plot twists we see the kidnapped woman (Ivy), try to adjust from being the thirteen year old abductee to a 26-year old woman trying to catch up to a world that has changed radically. It is a sensitive interpretation of an outlier—not unlike an alien from another planet–with memorable impact on the viewer. In some ways, she is a thirteen-year old pubescent girl trapped in a young woman’s body.
What happens once survivors return to their previous homes? Like oreign residents reentering their homeland, Ivy suffers from culture shock. How does a victim begin to return to their previous life? In Thirteen Ivy’s family attempts to turn back the clock with serious consequences. Things remain unsaid, and secrets and lies unravel.
Thirteen is fiction depicting a grisly reality only truly conveyed by dramatic plot twists allowing the viewer into that world. While the ending for this viewer did not have the tension I expected, never the less Thirteen is gripping and unforgettable television at its best!
This new BBC America television series premiered on March 30, 2013.
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.