The more I watch the series Orphan Black, the more I find myself convinced that this may be the most perfect science fiction television series ever.
Why? Actually, the photo at left is so much of why I believe that. Actress Tatiana Maslany has, since the show debuted in 2013, played a series of clones that are the central object of the show—to date, about twelve clone-sisters. But as amazing as even that sounds, it isn’t the most impressive part of Orphan Black.
The most impressive single thing about the show is Tatiana’s acting chops. She doesn’t just play different characters (in any episode, at least three of them, often as many as five), but she manages to imbue each character with incredibly distinct looks, personality traits and behaviors. The girls that are prominent to the story—headstrong rebel Sarah, scientists Cosima and Rachel, suburban housewife Alison and trained assassin Helena—can be compared, scene to scene, against each other, and seem so different that it can become impossible to believe that one actress is so effectively creating each of those characters. Add to that a horde of strong characters, possibly the best acting troupe ever assembled in a single SF series, and it’s easy to see why so many awards have been thrown their way.
What helps to make Tatiana’s acting tour-de-force so seamless is the A-list special effects used to combine multiple iterations of her on-set. This show could not have been done twenty years ago, but modern special effects have caught up with the show’s needs today. The special effects teams are masters of an impressive and accomplished trade, and completely sell the idea of multiple identical sestras—ahem, sisters—and the science and technology that supports the premise. And the rest of the cast deals with the multiple-character effects, as well as Tatiana’s various characters, seamlessly as well.
But even that isn’t all. The series encompasses a vast storyline involving 20-year-old cloning experiments, secretive organizations with eugenics agendas, government and private labs, surveillance programs and high-tech hacking, artificial lifeforms, genetic manipulation, social manipulation, personal rights, self-identity, international influences and secret communications. There’s no telling how many clones there are, but the show has hinted at 20 or more. While many clones were aware of their sisterhood, many were not; and most of them have been watched and studied. Some sisters have demonstrated differences in their final genetic makeup, resulting in much investigation and drama between them and the scientists aware of their nature.
They seek to understand their past and work out their future, while hiding their nature from most of the world. And now, with genetic manipulation becoming the new thing, they are considered obsolete and, therefore, disposable. This is a well-developed scientific conspiracy with global reach, touching on the latest in medical science as well as the ramifications of being different, being hunted, and being a member of a unique family.
All of that combines into a TV series with incredibly few peers, fewer flaws, virtually no detractors, and perpetual nominee for a permanent place in any Television Hall of Fame worth its salt (not just a science-fiction-dedicated hall… any hall). At times, all of this literally overwhelms my mind, making it hard to actually sit back and enjoy what I’m watching; every aspect of the show is too fascinating to dismiss. But even when I do manage to put my mind fully into the story, somewhere in a little corner of my head, I think of how much emptier this world will be when this incredible series finally ends.