Every so often we come across a book, film, or TV show that leaves us in awe. One such TV show for me is Orphan Black, the Canadian TV show based on human cloning. It kicks off with protagonist Sarah Manning witnessing the suicide of a girl who looks just like her (Beth Childs). Sarah steals Beth’s wallet with the hope of taking up Beth’s identity to fix her messy life. This is where the mystery unfolds and chaos ensues. Sarah learns she is a clone, she meets her clone sisters (Cosima Niehaus, Alison Hendrix, and Helena), and a series of adventures unfold—which I am not going to get into because I’d rather you watch the show yourself. I am, however, going to get into why this show is so special to me and why it is so important for today’s day and age.
First, the show’s representation of women is, above all, realistic. The show has many female characters—from the clone sisters to scientists to mothers. The women are not just stereotypical “strong independent women;” they are that and so much more. We get to see the lengths a mother is willing to go to protect her child. We discover irresponsible women who change entirely when it is their child in danger. We’re introduced to women who get anxious and turn to alcohol and pills, and eventually go through rehab. We meet smart women who are excited by the tiniest scientific discoveries. We see women who love food, women who smoke pot, women who have been broken, and women who have been abandoned and are dealing with the repercussions of that. We watch women fall in love, fall out of love, and even crave love. We see women with heels, with dresses, and with sneakers and leather jackets. We see women in control, we see them being controlled, we see them take control, and we see them lose control. We uncover the vulnerabilities, the sacrifice, and all the other facets of these female characters that are present in women of all ages, and that is just beautiful.
The visibility of LGBT characters on Orphan Black is brilliant. Cosima is a lesbian, but when asked about her sexuality, she responds with, “My sexuality is not the most interesting thing about me.” And the show has stayed true to its word in terms of her character. The show does not cast its entire focus on Cosima being a lesbian. Oftentimes in TV and in film, we see lesbians being overly and unnecessarily sexualized. On Orphan Black, we see Cosima conducting scientific research, falling in love, playing Runewars, and smoking pot. Cosima is depicted as a full human being and not just a stereotypical representation of her sexual orientation. The case is similar with Felix Dawkins, Sarah Manning’s foster brother, who is gay. We get to see more of Felix than just his sexuality. We’re introduced to his artwork, as well as his willingness to help and support his clone sisters. We also see him have sexual encounters, which are never treated as anything but normal parts of his character and the show.
Orphan Black also addresses bisexuality, which is often erased, with the presence of Delphine Cormier, a scientis and Cosima’s love interest. The show—instead of focusing on their sexuality alone—focuses on them as individuals who are in love with each other. While watching the show, I came across something interesting that made me smile with excitement—so many different facets of the LGBT community are represented.
The show’s plot and its reflection of reality are remarkable in their own way. It explores so many different areas that it is difficult to categorize it as just science fiction. The “nature vs. nurture” argument is at the center of the show. Orphan Black also deals with the repercussions of religious extremism. Helena was brainwashed by a religious group into thinking she was the original clone—leading her to kill some of her clone sisters. Helena was also tortured to the point that she did not know how to love, despite wanting to do so. This show exposes the violence that can be taken by religious extremists. The stitching of Gracie’s lips together reflects the kind of reality that is often shrugged off. We see how the clones are deemed to be “abominations,” which is the opinion many religious extremists in our world have toward anyone who is even remotely different. Orphan Blackeven explores the power that giant organizations and corporations have.
No discussion of the strengths of Orphan Black is complete without mentioning the extraordinary Tatiana Maslany. She plays all the clones, and she does it with so much grace and devotion. Maslany is truly one of the most talented actresses of our time. There are not enough words to express how amazing she is and what a great role model she is for many of us. Tatiana Maslany inspires me to go that extra mile, and I love her for that.