A show with little fanfare: Orphan Black

SBS tends to sit back and let the quality of the shows they air speak for itself. In 2014, Australia saw Season 1 of Orphan Black screen without the fanfare that less suspenseful or absorbing shows such as Revenge and Offspring receive. Fanfare which Orphan Black would receive if it were shown on one of the more popular television stations as it is a show incorporating elements of sci-fi, action and drama.

Orphan Sarah Manning is attempting to sever ties with her drug-dealer boyfriend who is tracking her down. At a train station, she sees a woman who looks exactly like herself commit suicide. She adopts the woman’s identity and empties the deceased’s bank account.

Instead of running away with the cash to get a fresh start, Sarah continues to impersonate the woman, who she learns was a detective, and uncovers an investigation into an illegal cloning experiment which they were both a result of. Confusing? Not at all. Alongside two other clones (who also look the same as Sarah), university student Cosima and soccer mum Alison, the trio begin to suspect the people surrounding them may not be who they seem. Their attempt to resume life as normal while covering the tracks of their own investigation proves difficult when other clones they have made contact with are murdered.

The writers, costume department, makeup artists and lead actress, Tatiana Maslany, have done an incredible job creating easily distinguishable clones. Rebellious Sarah wears rock chic attire and is confrontational when she isn’t running away from her problems. Cosima has a hippy dress  sense and is soft spoken, articulate and logical. Alison is practical in her puffer vests, jeans and runners as she dedicates her life to caring for her family, aggressively questioning those closest to her.

Maslany is a talented actress who is able to portray each character consistently. While costumes and makeup make each clone easy to identify, Maslany’s acting makes the characters believable. Each clone’s speech, stance and behavior are extremely different. Sarah slouches and sits with her legs open. Cosima takes her time to complete actions while Alison’s fretful nature is reflected through her non-stop pacing and fast paced motions. To make Maslany’s job even more challenging are the scenes which depict clones pretending to be other clones. Now, that is confusing. The impersonations by the characters are not entirely successful and this careful balancing act is done well throughout the show, so the audience is always aware which clone is on screen.

The series undoubtedly benefits from the technological advancement of motion control cameras and the editing process. Through filming scenes in which clones interact on screen four times, Maslany is able to play each clone as well as have clones physically interacting with other clones. This is how it works. In the first shot, Maslany plays the first character with an acting double depicting the second character. The second shot films Maslany repeating the scene alone with the acting double’s speech from the first shot playing through an ear bud and the motion control camera films the scene the same way as the first shot. The third shot is of Maslany playing the second clone alone and the final shot is only of the set. The resulting scene is essential to make the show realistic.

A clever decision the team made was not to overwhelm the audience with debate or heavy discussion about Neolutionism even though it is the foundation of the show. Neolutionism is the idea of self-directed evolution, with followers believing humans should have the right to choose their genetics in the same way they choose their breakfast cereal. While sci-fi tends not to be the most popular of television genres, this is the genre Orphan Black is classified as, even though the show focuses more on the characters’ fight to regain control over their lives after discovering their origins. The choice to steer away from sci-fi and into action and drama makes Orphan Black more accessible to the mainstream audience.

Orphan Black deserves an exponentially greater amount of attention. It is engaging: each episode feels urgent as the clones try to protect themselves and their loved ones, hide their secret and uncover the truth. The crew’s dedication has been rewarded as they have created an absorbing show with a unique set of characters we can grow to love. SBS will screen Season 2 three days after the US on the 22 April, 2014.

By Kylie Tang


Catalyst has been the student publication of RMIT University since 1944. We may be older than your parents but we’re still going strong!

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