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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

ORPHAN BLACK is Truly "Beautiful"

Article first published as ORPHAN BLACK is Truly "Beautiful" on TheTVKing.

Continuing the unblemished run of successful, original BBC America series, Orphan Black, my favorite the network has aired, draws its first season to a close this week in "Endless Forms Most Beautiful." It's an installment of both revelation and cliffhanger, ending some plots, while simultaneously beginning new ones, making the complex, twisty story even more complex and twisty.

By the end of the ten episode run, the clones (well, the ones we've seen) all know about one another and that they have been created and monitored by a mysterious company. However, having just scratched the surface of this organization, they are reluctant to sign a contract with them, unsure if this is what is best for their lives, even as the company promises to protect them and not interfere in their lives.

As a viewer, it just feels too good to be true, going in. It's factual that they have been allowed to make their own choices, seemingly, so far, and have led full, normal lives, so perhaps whoever created them is benevolent. Yet, because it seems so easy, and also taking into account the covert monitors, who are often the clones' lovers, there is an underbelly where things just don't add up quite right.

Which is why it isn't much of a surprise when Cosima (Tatiana Maslany) discovers that the company isn't to be trusted. I can't say I expected to find that patent built into their DNA sequence, but I guess that makes sense. After all, this organization has invested a LOT of time and money into the cloning program, so they would want to be able to reap the benefits of their work.

This opens up a whole mess of legal issues. Can human beings be patented and considered property? Maybe in certain parts of the world? The patent is granted, which means that some governmental agency must have approved this concept. However, it doesn't seem like it would hold up in court, in front of any judge. On the other hand again, the company clearly controls American federal law enforcement, so has so pull.

I guess season two, which Orphan Black has already been guaranteed, will delve into this. It's such a startling, big discovery that time must be taken to grasp it and think about the implications. With so many unknown factors, it isn't immediately apparent where the patent arc is going. But it does mean Dr. Leekie (Matt Frewer) and Rachel Duncan (also Maslany) can't be trusted.

Who can be trusted, though? That is a question that has always been at the heart of Orphan Black, and it is one not easily answered. We assume Cosima, Sarah, and Allison (all Maslany) can be trusted because they are all in the same boat, but Rachel's presence, a new clone recently revealed, calls that into question. And the murderous Helena (Maslany again), presumably put down by Sarah this week, though likely, going by storytelling conventions, is still alive, means not all clones are good. They all have their own minds, different enough, at least by the circumstances of their lives up to this point, to have separate motivations and values.

There is definitely a nature vs. nurture debate to be had here. Nurture is winning, going by how different various clones are. Yet, Cosima's homosexuality isn't from nurture, so there's obviously some genetic variances as well, no matter how similar the DNA looks. Are the things that set each individual apart on purpose, or is this the experiment?

In "Endless Forms Most Beautiful," someone that seems trustworthy is said to not be what she seems. Amelia (Melanie Nicholls-King) claims, right before she dies, that Mrs. S. (Maria Doyle Kennedy) is hiding something from Sarah. And Mrs. S. and Sarah's daughter Kira (Skyler Wexler) disappear, though with no blood left behind, and Mrs. S. with her shotgun didn't seem to be going down without a fight, so maybe there's some truth to Amelia's words.

However, there are also any number of other explanations that might suffice. Mrs. S. could be working for the company, but Dr. Leekie seems genuinely confused when he first hears Sarah's name, so even if Mrs. S. was once a scientist employed by them, it doesn't appear that she let them know about Sarah while raising her. Has she flipped again, or did she manage to get nabbed against her will?

Luckily, Mrs. S. has some good precedent on her side, because both Paul (Dylan Bruce) and Delphine (Evelyne Brochu) have switched their own allegiances, siding with the clones over their bosses. The show might pull another fast one on us and show that they are triple agents, but for now, at least, they seem to be on the right side. So we can trust some of the people on the show who aren't played by Maslany.

Allison also faces betrayal as we see that her husband, Donnie (Kristian Bruun), is connected with Dr. Leekie. This one is less of a surprise, given the way that Donnie forgives Allison, without explanation, for torturing him. Allison can be excused for missing this, because of how upset she is, and convinced that her monitor is someone else, whom she is now free from. But while Orphan Black  does a fine job of setting up Aynesley as a red herring, it doesn't do as well masking Donnie's dark side.

There's also Art (Kevin Hanchard), who is investigating Sarah and her fellow clones. He doesn't know a lot yet, but he's the best hope the girls have of getting their tale out to the public, thus saving them from shady agencies. He's a hero to be counted on.

The series expertly lays out all of these players and settings one by one, never overwhelming, but building an extremely complicated, detailed web of story. The way Orphan Black keeps expanding throughout the season, with things only getting more messy with each passing hour, is impressive and well-thought out.

I love all this great plot, but serious credit for how good Orphan Black is, and it is very, very good, has to fall in Maslany's lap. I don't know many actresses that could play so many parts so well. There is never any doubt about which clone Maslany is, even with working out how to have one impersonate another, keeping some subtle clues that let audiences realize what's going on. There is amazing levels of talent in this chameleon, who balances her roles in a way that makes it look easy. This show lives and dies by Maslany's performance, and it's soaring largely because of her.

Orphan Black will return next spring to BBC America.

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