Diablog: Orphan Black, Seasons 1–3

Guys, seriously, Tatiana Maslany can do anything.
In which Tatiana Maslany passes the Bechdel test all by herself.


Gemma: SO AM I. First of all, there is no word short of “genius” that works for Tatiana Maslany.

R: Yes, that is among the things we need to say about Orphan Black. She is a one-woman acing of the Bechdel test, in a way that does not at all feel like cheating.

G: Hah! She is giving specific, moving, transcendent performances with a huge range of characters, never wavering, never failing to humanize. I am on every journey.

Every. Single. One.
Every. Single. One.


G: In the end, the show’s writing is not quite up to her level, esp. this past season, but I almost don’t care.

R: I KNOW. Season 3 felt the most loopy to me, like they needed to rein in the Rudy-clone subplots and structure the episodes more to be independent units. They did all sort of mush into one another, which is unlike S1-2, where it’s pretty much easier to pause in the middle of an episode than to quit watching at the end, when there’s a reveal that compels you to bingewatch the next several.

G: I mean, that’s frequently the failing of ensemble shows, not mitigated by the fact that half the ensemble is played by Maslany: as the stories build, there are just too many characters to follow, and the work gets shallower. To me, the male clones storyline kinda fell flat as a result, although I was interested in the different ways that the groups of clones were raised and studied.

These dudes are not quite up to OB par.
Ari Millen is game enough, but needs better material.

R: However, things I love about S3: Siobhan gets to be more of a badass. Most evil dude-villains are replaced by evil female villains who are more complicated. AND WE MEET THE ORIGINAL!!!

G: YES! I am going to have to see what they do with the original next season, but I was very pleased to have her linked to Siobhan.

Anything linked to Siobhan is inherently mindbogglingly badass.
Siobhan the Bomb(maker?)

R: Way to tie in the intergenerational female relationships, like WHEW!

G: Seriously. What is this concept of “mother” of which we speak?

R: We now have four generations of women in the Sarah storyline. We’ve met Alison’s mother; Helena unfortunately murdered her & Sarah’s birth mother Amelia (a huge missed opportunity for the show to keep that character in all of her complication!); Rachel and her mom are at it together plus the other baby girl clone sestra. When do we get to meet Cosima’s mom??! And of course there’s the “mothering”/general/chief scientist relationship with all the Rudy clones and their commander.

G: Ah, yes. Dr. Coady, “mom” extraordinaire: I will protect my boys as they spread STIs to women everywhere.

R: Going back to your question about what constitutes parentage/motherhood—one of the most interesting things about OB is that it neatly avoids the most well-tread themes/tropes of clone narratives, which so often focus on Identity. All the clones are so different, which is even further proven when different ones of them try to impersonate each other. Can both Tatiana Maslany and Taraji P. Henson win the award together?

G: YES PLEASE. And Viola Davis. Again, Maslany is a tour de force. When I try to describe this concept— “she plays all the clones, and sometimes one clone has to impersonate another clone and you as an audience can TELL” —my mind boggles.

This was one of the best examples of one clone playing another.
How do Sarah and Delphine have no chemistry when Cosima and Delphine have all of it?! Because #MaslanyMagic.

G: But beyond that, yes. We have the questions of identity buried in the narrative, the deep exploration of nature vs. nurture by bringing in the usual characteristics that often come up in such a debate, like outrageous trauma and malnutrition …

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… queerness …

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… childhood abandonment …

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… yet overall we’re watching a scifi thriller. Yet that thriller a) doesn’t neglect love, b) doesn’t limit love to romantic love, or to straight love, c) is entirely women-driven. This show is really sui generis.

R: OK, I think it’s time to talk about queerness in the show. It’s clear that Sarah, even though she’s the Main Clone (inasmuch as we have a lead character), is not the center of a powerful romance—the most important relationship in her life is with her daughter Kira, and dudes be damned. I think what makes the Cosima/Delphine relationship so powerful is that it is the central doomed/fated romance in the show, and it’s given time and space and obstacles and reunions and nuance to make good on it.

Very few shows have such complex, fateful queer relationships. Go OB!
Very few shows have such complex, fateful queer relationships. Go OB!

G: Yes. You mentioned that when I began watching, and having seen the whole thing I strongly agree. Cosima and Delphine are The Romance. One could even go as far as: Delphine and Paul have basically the same death, and Delphine’s is given far more weight and nuance.

R: Well, whether Delphine is dead-dead, or Orphan Black-dead is yet to be seen…

Technically I guess we've seen their lives and love threatened before, but damn, was that an S3 ending.
Technically I guess we’ve seen their lives and love threatened before, but damn, was that an ending in S3.

G: We have been there with Helena. I don’t think they could pull off TWO end-season shooting deaths that turned out not to be deaths.

R: Many folks have said so, and yet, I kinda hope Delphine makes it. With a bionic colon or something.

She could totes pull off a bionic organ transplant. It would even look good on her.
She could totes pull off a bionic organ transplant. It would even look good on her.

G: Oh, how could you not hope that? Poor Cosima!

R: NEOLUTION FOR THE WIN. Complicates things.

G: True. I am wondering if they brought Neolution back simply for the bionic worm opportunities.

R: Well, the show was straying more into military-conspiracy and farther from sci-fi insanity. I support the course correction. God, I love Cosima.

G: I adore Cosima. And I love the dance of their love: passion, confusion, mistrust, need, outrageous nerdiness.

Cosima is the best in all ways.
Cosima is the best in all ways.

R: We should also talk Felix, because this show has more than one gay character!!

G: Hooray for multiple gay characters! I need to add one more thing about Cosima in that vein: when in S2 she tells Rachel “my sexuality is not the most interesting thing about me,” there are many shows on which I would not stomach that. It would be heavy-handed messaging that obscured a more complex point. But in this case, it works, in large part because there is Felix. I was able to take it as the point of view of one character who sees the world one way.

R: Also, COSIMA IS A CLONE AND THAT IS FASCINATING!! Her queerness is literally not the most interesting thing about her, she’s not being flip.

G: Yes, also that. Felix does occasionally steer very close to GBF problems, but I believe his and Sarah’s relationship so deeply that I go with him. I loved Felix’s romance with the trans clone! I hope he comes back. Okay, “romance” is too strong a word. “Dance of attraction.”

Felix adds refreshing perspective on both queerness and the universe.
Felix adds refreshing perspective on both queerness and the universe of the story.

R: I agree on Felix’s occasional trope-iness. But yes, in moments like that, he gets to play with so much! Felix playing straight to get information from Crystal, the blonde clone who is subbed for Rachel to escape; Felix mentoring Alison’s children…And yes, his complex relationship with not just Sarah, but Siobhan, with Kira, has weight and history and hurt and consequence. He’s not always on board for Sarah’s plans because she’s hurt him, and that helps him transcend the Gay Best Friend trope.

Gotta love Felix's relationship to the Clone Club.
Clone Club, this is how you run away in style.

G: Yes, agreed with all. And he’s now so deep in Clone Club that he’s able to have valid disagreements with Sarah or Alison or Siobhan about the directions that plans should take.

R: One more thing on Sarah and Felix: I appreciate that, from the beginning, situating the narrative center of the show with them moves us away from folks who have privilege and safety and into a world where chosen family look out for each other. The show gets to sit next to this uncomfortable edge because of that—unlike so many shows, our first main characters are not people with access to economic or social safety. And all this happens even before the clone story hits.

And Felix and Sarah really read as chosen family. Sticking feet in each other's faces and all.
Their sibling chemistry smells like the real thing.

G: Very true.

R: Can we also talk about how outrageously funny this show is?

G: Indeed! That was in some ways why the male clone storyline didn’t gel for me. They were never able to find deep enough humor in it.

R: I did enjoy the scene with Helena and Rudy in part for that reason.

G: Fair. I gotta admit I found the scorpion pretty cheap, though.

R: I was too distracted by the fact that Maslany actually performed those scenes with a live scorpion to have artistic opinions, but I hear you.

G: I mean, I am willing to let parts of it slide, in that on top of playing eight characters it’s hard to expect Maslany’s facial expressions to show an entire unconscious thought process. But it was just kind of obnoxious, and not at all within tone for the show, not within tone for its usually acute and awesome humor!

R: I think it was one of a few missteps this season, most of which happened when they went for cheaper laughs too often. Though I do actually love Donnie and Alison burying Leakie’s body, and Helena and Donnie joking about baby ox. I do want to go back to Rudy and Helena for one thing: I think the writers were right to draw the two of them in contrast as the wild clones, the dangerous ones. And when Rudy tries to draw out that connection as he’s dying, Helena simply and awesomely corrects him with: No, we’re different. You are a rapist. But she’s still gentle with him as he dies. For me, that scene was a return to some of the things that are most compelling to me about Helena.

Helena remains compelling, no matter where she goes.
Helena remains compelling, no matter where she goes.

G: Yeah, I did like that moment. It did give Helena a sense of serious journey, at a level that hadn’t quite clicked before. This is not the woman we were dealing with in S1.

R: Not at all, and yet, she is also not entirely a different person. I’m curious how her journey gets complicated in S4. I get the sense there will be trouble in the ranks, and really, the tension between Helena and Sarah is an integral part of the show’s engine.

TWINSIES! No but ferrealz tho.
How does Maslany manage to have more chemistry with herself than Alicia did with her farewell to Kalinda?

G: Yes. I’d like to see Alison actually be IN the ranks again. Her story in S3 was so cut off from the rest, and it was a relief when they brought Helena into her home. I ended up loving the Helena-Donnie relationship. That was genuinely funny.

R: Yeah, I’m hoping Alison’s mom and the election come back around to the wider machinations of the plot. Also, I really love Helena.

G: Talk about your love for Helena.

R: Well, Helena’s also an outsider. She’s a badass assassin, but she’s not the kind of badass that anyone aspires to be. She’s hilarious because (like Alison but in a totally different way) she takes herself so seriously. She’s got this radical integrity that’s based on a really stripped-down understanding of the world, and I love her journey with Sarah and Kira, and how her open-ness to her connection with them is the beginning of her transformation. The scene in S1 with Helena and Kira is full of suspense and heartache and sweetness, and just when you think danger is past…

They really get their moment, and then …
They really get their moment, and then …

Kira’s in the ICU. Which undoes Helena. Her love for her sister and niece is so much greater than any ideology she ever had. What she wants is belonging.

G: YES. Her relationship-building with kids is very interesting. It’s gotten a little overwritten now, but I could see them redeeming it when she does or doesn’t have a baby.


G: OMG YES. (I’m also happy to see a Gemma on my TV.)

Go Gemma!
Go Gemma!

R: I think we’ve got to get Helena having kids at some point. Seems like the Gun in Act One to me.

G: You know what I’d like? To see Alison interact with her kids at a level that goes beyond “go over here now.” Those kid actors are up for it, you can tell by their interactions with Felix and Helena. I could see Helena’s child spurring that somehow. And/or having Kira hang out with her cousins.

R: Well, Oscar and Gemma are going to be adolescents soon, which would open up storyline opportunities for Alison to struggle with. Again, another generational layer on mothering. Especially given that Alison is the only clone who is a mother of children she didn’t give birth to, which actually mimics the way the clones were raised themselves. Yeah, actually, a whole storyline with just the kids at the heart would be kinda awesome.

G: SERIOUSLY. And if you’re right about the Baby Gun in Act One, then kind of the perfect way to usher Helena’s child into the world.

Alison's guns tend to go off somewhere in the middle of the act.
Alison’s guns tend to go off somewhere in the middle of the act.

R: Hmm. You’re giving me so many more things to think about. Ok, what else do we have to say before we close?

G: I read an interview with the creators/exec producers, and learned a) that this is a show they’ve been dreaming of for some time and they have it planned out for seasons and seasons to come, and b) that they ACTUALLY DID AUDITION TATIANA MASLANY. They actually found her at open auditions. I was deeply intrigued by both of those things.

R: That blows my mind. And is great to hear!

G: The showrunners read as friends making something up and going deep into it, kind of like us trying to invent pilots for Archie Panjabi and Orlando Jones. Also, there is no clone who doesn’t have a real story so far. Whenever you think they’re going to shut someone’s story off, they go deeper in. With Rachel, even with Crystal. The one possible exception so far would be Tony, the trans clone, but I could easily imagine him making a triumphant comeback in S4. If they dismiss a story, it’s always a man’s story.

R: You know, this show go just as hard with the complicated female villains as they do with the female heroines. Unlike some ostensibly “feminist” action thrillers– *cough*Mad Max*cough*– we don’t get some asinine grrrl power narrative that oversimplifies what it means for women to have relationships with each other, support each other, struggle against each other, and go on life journeys. Dr. Coady is actually fascinating to me; I’m so curious about Siobhan’s mother and Rachel’s adopted mother, and I hope they bring Michelle Forbes back because she’s always a treat.

Definitely ready for some more Marian.
Definitely ready for some more Marian.

G: Awesome! And although I’ll admit I never quite understood what Topside was, they’re apparently well-positioned to enter into conflict with Neolution. And Cosima will be leading the charge to avenge Delphine’s death.

R: YAS. Brings it. Mrawr! Want MOAR!

Not ready to wait an entire year!
Not ready to wait an entire year!