Orphan Black Season 1 Review “Variation Under Nature”

Orphan Black’s consummate loner Sarah is starting to understand that she is part of something bigger. She learns at the beginning of this week’s episode that she is a clone; a fact that should have been obvious from the first episode. Having a biological connection, though, isn’t enough to tether her to the other versions of herself. She rejects the idea that they are her sisters and vehemently insists that they are not her. What then is her connection to them other than the same face? Cosima suggests the connection is that the clones are Sarah’s biological imperative.

Two important aspects of a biological imperative are survival and group forming, both of which are becoming prevalent themes in the story. Before her murder, Katja told Alison and Cosima that someone was killing the European clones. After Katja’s demise, it is obvious that the killer is now in North America and may have Sarah, Alison, and Cosima in his cross-hairs. Sarah has the least amount of knowledge about the clones and the danger that faces her and knows that she needs to seek help from Cosima. In a brilliantly shot scene at a bar, the two “genetic identicals” meet so that Sarah can exchange Katja’s briefcase for more information. Cosima presents three key questions: who is the original, who created them, and who is killing them.

Sarah isn’t ready to tackle the existential notion of a maker. She is more focused on the practical and immediate concern of who is killing them. To help figure this out, she will need to continue living Beth’s life. To do so, she needs to step up her game. At every turn, she demonstrates that she is not a cop. She can’t remember the crime codes, how to shoot and carry a gun, and her computer password. She turns to an office tech, Raj, to help her with some of the office logistics, but needs someone else to help her learn how to handle a weapon. She has no choice but to seek assistance from Alison. The group is starting to form based on the women’s various roles. Each has skills that can be affective in ensuring their survival.

Alison has a tough shell, but her harsh reactions suggest that she is creating a barrier to hide her vulnerability. This is the same type of thing Sarah has done for a long time. While Sarah is primarily motivated by self-preservation, her emotional barriers may be coming down. Alison informs her that the $75,000 in Beth’s bank account is actually her money and that she gave it to Beth to use for buying information when necessary. This presents the dilemma for Sarah on whether she can steal the money and abscond with her daughter now that she knows the money does not belong to a dead woman.

Sarah is dealt a setback when Katja’s body is discovered. She scrambles to hide any fingerprint connection between Katja and herself. Luckily, her partner receives a phone call from the killer and is drawn away from the body-identification work. The killer calls the police and is placed on speaker phone for the room to hear. The problem with the scene was that the combination of the voice changer and the killer’s accent made it nearly impossible to make out what he was saying. Despite the efforts to conceal his identity, the killer is located through a match of his motorcycle with tire marks at the scene where Katja was killed. Art and Sarah corner the killer at an apartment, but he flees after wounding Art. Sarah freaks out and is paralyzed with fear, but Art tells her to run after the killer. It is a fantastic scene when Sarah chases him down the alleyways. She looks like a person who has seen how cops operate on television, but is still terrified and completely ill-equipped to chase after a real-life armed criminal. This was some fantastic acting because it felt like Sarah was scared and was pursuing the killer from a rush of adrenalin rather than a hope of catching him.

When Sarah is attacked from behind and pinned down, we see the face of the killer in a shocking twist. It’s another clone – a cracked out Euro clone who should lay off the hair bleach. Sarah blurts out that she is not Beth and stays the killer’s hand. Interestingly, the crack clone doesn’t try to kill her. Instead, she says, “Not yet, not Beth.” If the goal of the killer was solely to kill the clones, there would have been no reason not to kill Sarah in that moment.

Tatiana Maslany is doing a fantastic job portraying the different versions of herself, and importantly not overplaying each character’s idiosyncrasies. Aside from Maslany’s characters, there are only a couple others who provide a degree of stability for the story. The most important is Art because he works closely with Sarah and plays an active role in the investigation of Katja’s murder. Unfortunately, Art is one of the weaker links. He is perpetually angry and aggressive and lacks any kind of nuance. He would be far more effective if he wasn’t so bombastic. It feels like the kind of stereotypical portrayal of a cop that you would see on a bad TV movie. If this continues, I’m going to keep my fingers crossed that Art doesn’t make it to Season Two.

An intriguing aspect of the show is how it will tackle other issues of the biological imperative. For example, can the clones have offspring? We saw Alison’s children this week when Felix played babysitter. Both appear to be of a different ethnicity than Alison and her husband. There may be several explanations for this, but it does raise the issue of whether clone procreation is possible. We know, though, that Sarah has a daughter, Kira. That could mean that Sarah is the original and the only clone capable of reproduction.

On a lighter note, we got several funny moments this week courtesy of Felix. His character seemed superfluous in the first episode, but now seems to be integrating better into the fabric of the narrative. Against his will, he babysits Alison’s children. He makes the best of the situation by playing a game that involves the children cross-dressing. This situation definitely played up to stereotypes, but was still funny because of the children’s reactions. When Alison returns home, they announce that they are now cross-dressers. They beg Felix to stay, but he throws them a wave and an, “Adios dragsters!” on his way out the door.

I’m not convinced some of the creepy elements are going to work out. This week we saw the mutilated Barbie head found in the bushes and that crack clone may be flagellating because the skin on her back is in tatters. I’m not sure where this is going. Given the overall positive direction of things, I’m willing to see how this plays out.

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