First impressions: “Orphan Black”

(image via moviegoods.com)

 

Orphan Black is one of those buzz-worthy series that I had heard a great deal of positive talk about but hadn’t had the time to check out properly.

You know the drill – so many TV shows, so little time.

Having finally, and yes I appreciate I am way behind the bleeding edge of the zeitgeist on this one, seen the first two mind blowingly good episodes I can appreciate why so many people have been rhapsodising about the BBC America show, which premiered in the US on March 30.

It is, quite simply, one of the most tautly-constructed, narratively-rich character-driven dramas with a sci-fi edge that I have seen in quite some time.

And the lead actor, Tatiana Maslany, who is in pretty much every scene, delivers a superlative performance as Sarah Manning, a woman who discovers she may not be as unique as she supposed.

 

Tatiana Maslany gives one of the performances of the year so far as Sarah … and Beth … and Alison … (image via justjared.com (c) BBC America)

 

Arriving by train late one night in an unidentified city – the likely candidate is Toronto by all accounts – Sarah immediately jumps on the phone on the nearly deserted platform, begging and pleading with the person on the other end (who later turns out to be Mrs S, played by Maria Doyle Kennedy) to let her see her daughter Kira (Skyler Wexler), who’s been placed in this person’s care while Sarah was out of town.

Distraught at her request being rebuffed, she turns around just in time to see a woman, who freakily looks just like her, calmly and without any evidence of trauma, take off her shoes and jackets, and walk in front of an oncoming train.

Temporarily shocked by the unexpected event, and the eerily peaceful way the woman went about ending her life, Sarah, an orphan who grew up in foster care with best friend and confident Felix (Jordan Gavaris) and has the street smarts that come with a life of deprivation, grabs the now dead woman’s bag and escapes into the night.

 

Sarah and Felix are joined at the hip, bonded by a lifetime of looking out for each other but the conspiracy that engulfs them both will push those bonds to breaking (image via fanpop.com (c) BBC America)

 

It doesn’t take long for her to discover that the woman, Beth Childs, lives in a lovely apartment in a nice part of town, has a hunky caring boyfriend, a troubled job as a policewoman, and most importantly for Sarah, who is desperate to get far away from her drug dealer boyfriend, Victor (Michael Mando) and take Kira and Felix with her, $75,000 in a recently opened bank account.

It looks like everything is falling into place and Sarah can’t believe her good luck.

 

 

But along with all this seeming good fortune comes a boatload of trouble as Sarah, who initially passes off Beth’s striking resemblance to her as simply her discovery of a long-lost twin – she is an orphan after all with no real knowledge or connections to her real family so anything is possible – discovers that Beth, whose partner Art (Kevin Hanchard) seems to know more than he is letting on, is under suspension by the police department over a pursuit gone wrong which resulted in the death of an innocent woman, is on all manner of meds, in a failing relationship with her gorgeous caring boyfriend Paul (Dylan Bruce) and …

… has a safety deposit box full of birth certificates of women, all born within months of each other and living in a cities all across Europe.

Who are these women and what could they have in common with a “Soccer Mum” called Alison, a Berliner called Katja, and the mysterious Cosima have with Beth, and by extension, Sarah?

 

Sarah barely escapes being seen by her drunk, grieving boyfriend Victor, with whom she had a fractious and at times abusive relationship, but evading him, it turns out, is the least of her worries (image via hollywoodreporter.com (c) BBC America)

 

What appeared to be a simple in-and-out job of assuming Beth’s identity and taking all her money becomes inordinately more complex as Felix is forced to pass off the dead woman at the train station as Sarah, causing complications with Victor and for Sarah’s chances of regaining custody of Kira from Mrs S., and as Sarah discovers, to her building horror, that she isn’t just a twin but one of many identical siblings.

Yes, they’re clones one and all.

And someone, some mysterious someone, is trying to wipe them off the face of the earth.

The question that powers Orphan Black, one of those clever labyrinthine conspiracy thrillers that the British excel at making, is who exactly and is there any way to stop them?

 

Oh look another woman who looks eerily like me! Sarah posing as Beth is surprised when the German version of her, Katja, pops into her car pleading for help (image via criticsatlarge.ca)

 

So far it is doing an excellent of pulling back the layers of the conspiracy enveloping one by one, as Sarah is drawn ever deeper by degrees into a conspiracy that spreads far more widely, and with far great ramifications than Sarah could have imagined.

Yes she has the street smarts to more than hold her own for the moment but is she way in over her head?

I would say yes, but Sarah is a survivor and has proven more than able so far to be able to hold her own.

While I have every confidence that Sarah will emerge on the other side alive and kicking, it looks like getting there is going to quite the journey and one that will likely change her forever.

* Orphan Black, which has just renewed for a second series of ten episodes, concludes its first season with “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” on 1 June in USA.

 

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