Tonight (June 10), Orphan Black returns to BBC America for its fifth season. To whet your appetite, here’s an introduction (or maybe a reminder) of the ways in which it breaks the TV drama mold.
1. It features what could be TV’s most testing role
Lead actress Tatiana Maslany plays Sarah Manning, a con artist who assumes the identity of a woman she thinks is her doppelgänger, but is actually one of her many clones. As the story progresses, Maslany doesn’t just portray every one of these clones, but also has to navigate scenes where one of her characters is posing as another. It’s an astonishingly complex and layered performance that won Maslany an Emmy in 2016, following a fan campaign to get her nominated.
2. The hair, makeup and prosthetics are kind of extraordinary
Maslany’s arsenal of characters requires a portfolio of different looks, and there’s often a tight turnaround between the actress’s transformations. “Sometimes scrubbing off [clone character] Helena leaves her a little bit raw,” makeup artist Stephen Lynch told Vanity Fair.”There is nothing you can do about that, though, you have to make it work. If it is really late, like 3 a.m., and her skin and eyes have just had it, I will try to figure out a way to cheat so that I can sometimes paint on top of the old makeup.” It sounds as though Maslany’s paycheck should include a weekly moisturizer allowance.
3. It has some of the best female characters on TV
Because it’s a show about a woman and her clones, Orphan Black was always going to strike a blow for female representation on screen. But it pushes beyond gender stereotypes in other ways, too. Many of the show’s main antagonists, an anti-clone religious faction called the Proletheans, happen to be women as well. So are key members of the Neolutions, a sinister group of scientists who surveil the clones so they can profit from the technology that created them.
4. It features a veritable rainbow of LGBTQ characters
Orphan Black‘s LGBTQ characters have rightly been praised because they’re fully-realized and unselfconscious. Sarah’s foster brother, Felix, is a flamboyant gay man who never attempts to behave in a more heteronormative fashion. Two of her clones, Cosima and Tony, are queer and trans respectively, and they’re equally confident and unapologetic about who they are and the way they approach the world.
5. It’s inherently philosophical
The age-old nature vs. nurture debate is almost like this show’s bone marrow. On the one hand, Sarah and her clones often act very differently from one another because of the environments they’ve been raised in and the lifestyle choices they’ve made. But at the same time, there are moments when the characters behave in ways that are eerily similar. There’s no black and white in this scientific debate, and Orphan Black embraces its gray areas brilliantly.
6. It gets super-dark
This is a show driven by both a fight for survival and a struggle for autonomy: the Proletheans want to kill the clones, while the Neolutions are intent on controlling them for their own gain. And in the world of Orphan Black, those who hold the most power often have the most questionable morals.
7. But it also offers moments of comedy
Here’s how one of Sarah’s clones, the superficial and super-groomed Krystal, reacts to the suggestion that the two women share the same DNA: “Are you, like, blind? This girl looks nothing like me. Like, first of all, my t**s are way bigger, and secondly, even if you could drag a comb through that hair, she’s like a 7 on a good day and I’ve been told I’m a 10.” A somewhat offended Sarah then asks, “7?,” to which Felix replies: “Well, she has a point about your hair.” Brilliant.
Even in the streaming era, too many TV dramas run past their sell by date. But Orphan Black‘s producers have confirmed that season five will be the last, ensuring this one will definitely end on a high. Of course, what happens in the final episode is being locked up tighter than your grandma’s heirloom jewelry. And we couldn’t possibly tell you a thing.
But we will leave this tantalizing trailer right here:
You can catch the premiere of Orphan Black‘s final season tonight on BBC America at 10/9c.
What do you think is the most groundbreaking aspect of Orphan Black?