Orphan Black Season 1 Review “Natural Selection”

In modern society, looking like someone else offers the comfort of conformity while simultaneously offending one’s sense of individuality. In BBC America’s Orphan Black, the struggle between separate and same is taken to new heights when a young woman eventually learns that she is one of many clones who have been raised in different environments. While they share a face, it’s what’s inside that will distinguish how they respond to such a startling discovery.

The protagonist, Sarah, is an orphan who has had a tough life and continues to make bad decisions. In the opening minutes, Sarah watches as another woman prepares to leap in front of an oncoming train. As Sarah approaches, the stranger turns to face her and Sarah is confronted not with a person who looks similar to her – but with a person who looks identical to her. Sarah’s doppelganger registers no emotion when she sees her own face staring back at her and with a look of utter desolation steps off the platform.

Taking only a moment to process the events that just took place, Sarah grabs the woman’s purse and flees. Sarah’s action is unsurprising as she quickly morphs into a stereotypical gamine, complete with an abusive ex-boyfriend, abandoned child, and coke dealing pastime. When she puts the key in the door of the dead woman’s modern and upscale home, she starts to imagine a way out of her dismal life. Sarah envisions borrowing the woman’s identity in order to steal her savings. She has no idea, though, that the woman is only one of many others who look like her.

Sarah’s impetuousness in jumping into this other life is put to the test when she learns that her new self, Beth, is a police officer and the subject of a shooting inquiry. This was a strange turn as Beth’s high-end lifestyle is incongruous with a middleclass job. The likely purpose is to highlight the contrast between Sarah’s and Beth’s lives. This contrast is further emphasized, to an extreme and borderline ridiculous degree, when Sarah meets Beth’s handsome and successful boyfriend, who is nothing like Sarah’s brawling, drug addict ex-boyfriend.

At this stage, there are several cracks in the narrative that make it difficult to buy into Sarah’s new reality. First, Sarah demonstrates a complete lack of interest in discovering why she and Beth look identical. Sarah briefly discusses it with her flamboyant foster brother, Felix, who suggests Beth was her twin. This simplistic explanation is apparently good enough for Sarah. Second, Sarah’s lack of curiosity is more strange and unsettling when she meets a Run Lola Run German version of herself named Katya. When the pink haired woman jumps into Sarah’s car, Sarah doesn’t ask who she is – she simply yells for her to get out of the car. This reaction did not feel appropriate under the circumstances.

The appearance of Katya raises serious concerns about whether Tatiana Maslany will be able to pull off playing multiple versions of the same woman; her German accent was atrocious. It is only the first episode, so there are a lot of unknowns. The biggest one is whether Sarah will become a strong and sympathetic character, rather than just filling the role of the archetypal survivor.

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