Orphan Black: Down the Rabbit Hole

HALLOWEEN 2013: BY LIANNE M. BERNARDO

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At the beginning of Orphan Black, Sarah Manning’s goal is simple: go back to the city, get her child back from her foster home, and start a new life together. Things get complicated when she sees a woman who looks exactly like her jump in front of a train. Though she’s initially shocked and confused, Sarah sees an opportunity and takes the woman’s identity, Elizabeth Childs, for a quick con that will financially help jumpstart her new life with her daughter.

Taking on Beth’s life is a lot more difficult than Sarah thinks. Beth was a cop, recently suspended pending an investigation over a civilian shooting while on duty. That and the hovering presence of Beth’s partner, Arthur “Art” Bell, further complicates her plan. Sarah learns there are more girls who look like her, not triplets or family members., but clones. Cosima, a PhD student, Alison, a soccer mom, along with Beth and a mysterious German named Katja worked together to find other clones and figure out what’s going on. Through an investigation led by Art, Sarah meets Helena, another clone but also a killer.

“Just one. I’m a few. No family, too. Who am I?” Who or what are they? Sarah begrudgingly continues her false identity to help the others find out more about their identity and purpose. Their efforts take a strange turn when they’re plunged into the intricate and dangerous world of human cloning, filled with conflicting ideologies of nature and “self-directed evolution.” Silent and powerful groups move and fight behind the scenes, affecting the lives of the clones in profound and dangerous ways.

Trust plays an important role in the first season. Sarah, who has grown up on the streets not trusting anyone but her foster brother Felix, must learn to rely on her sister clones to get to the bottom of things while keeping up appearances as Beth. While posing as a cop, she must continue to protect the group and make sure no one else finds out about her and the others, even as the criminal cases she and Art are solving threaten to reveal their existence. There’s also Paul, Beth’s boyfriend, who may be hiding a few secrets of his own. She even suspects her foster mother of knowing something of her origins. Sarah and the others quickly must learn whose side the people around them is on as the groups behind the experiment emerge.

Questions about cloning also raise the issue of identity. The clones have grown up with their own set of experiences and environments; aside from their DNA, they are wholly unique and different individuals. But the revelation of being clones threatens the lives they’ve built and their sense of who they are as individuals. Sarah initially can’t believe what is happening but the deeper they dig, the more she starts to accept the reality of their situation: “maybe it’s time to embrace my clonage, [and go] on Oprah.” Despite everything, she still holds on to who she is: “No! There’s only one of me.”

Cosima treats the situation as a science experiment and suffers from no problems about her sense of identity; she knows who she is and uses her intellect to help unravel the mystery of their genetic code. Meanwhile, underneath Alison’s facade of bravery is a fear of losing her own sense of self: “I’m not even a real person.”

Helena, on the other hand, believes the others are unnatural abominations that shouldn’t exist. Their individual identities are challenged in different ways, especially as their lives collide thanks to their present circumstances, but their respective motivations and their growing trust in each other keeps them going.

Orphan Black is a sleek, intense sci-fi series that not only tackles the ethical questions concerning the progress of science and intellectual property but also quintessential human questions about identity and trust. The further Sarah and the others dig into the mystery, the more complicated their origins seem. Who knows what will come up next? As Cosima would say, “Welcome to the trip, man.” ♥

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