Just one, I’m a few. No family too. Who am I?
Before I dive into my favorite characters, I need to introduce you to Tatiana Maslany. She is an acting goddess. On Orphan Black, she has so far portrayed 9 of 13 known clones (and counting, I’m sure) onscreen (and posed for photos as 3 others). The five characters pictured above are the primary focus of the show, and the subtle changes she makes in her speech, facial expressions, and movements to convey these women and their differences are positively incredible. She has been snubbed for an Emmy nomination 2 years running, thus invalidating the award’s credibility. This show and her performance(s) cannot be praised enough. There’s plenty of discussion online already about how amazing and revolutionary this show is, but this article really hits the nail on the head with regard to portrayals of women in media:
The idea that ladies all think and act the same (many vaginas, one mind?) is an old one: past generations and years engrained societal thought have allowed and perpetuated this for years. By making the main protagonists of the show female clones, Orphan Black forces the viewer — even though they all have the same face; even though they’re all played by the same actress — to see them all as unique, individual humans in spite of that.
All of these women are multi-dimensional characters, despite seeming to fit in perfect little boxes (a Tumblr user actually did a Clone Club/Breakfast Club crossover cartoon which illustrates the point quite nicely). Sarah is the central character of the show, but the grifter (or the “punk rock ho” as one character dubs her look) we initially meet shows deeper layers of intelligence, cunning, loyalty, and a fierce sense of protection for those she loves.
Cosima is the most affable (and consequently a fan favorite), and as an evolutionary developmental biologist, she has the most understanding of the science behind their biology, but isn’t without her own emotional stresses–the cloning project begins to interfere with her physical and emotional well-being as she is welcomed into the inner sanctum of DYAD, the company responsible for her and her sisters’ existence. I haven’t really seen a lot of anti-Cosima sentiment, aside from some valid criticisms re: her wardrobe/hair and cultural appropriation, but as to her overall character, I haven’t really encountered any unwarranted fandom hate.
Alison may be an easier target for that sort of reaction (luckily I have the good fortune to interact with intelligent viewers so I haven’t seen any misogynist names thrown at her directly), given that she epitomizes an uptight soccer mom–Alison is one of those moms who does everything she sees on Pinterest and does it better than the original. But really what Alison is is terrified of what being a part of Project LEDA means, how it affects her biology and her family. Like Sarah, everything she does she does in an effort to protect those she loves, but her life experiences differ from those of her sisters to the point where she often expresses feeling useless compared to Cosima’s scientific knowledge and Sarah’s force of will, and powerless overall as to her very existence. She copes with guns, pills, and alcohol, and eventually forms a close relationship with Sarah’s brother (and honorary Clone Club member) Felix, depending heavily on him for emotional support and validation.
These three are the clones we get to know first, before being introduced to Helena, initially an antagonist. Helena’s mental and emotional stability are nonexistent due to the traumatic abuse of her upbringing, but she eventually recognizes a kinship with Sarah and manages to break free of those who have kept her caged and controlled. (Incidentally, Helena’s theme music is fabulous.)
Finally we meet Rachel–I’ll be honest, my least favorite of our primaries–a woman who has been brought up within DYAD, with full knowledge of what she is. Rachel is ruthless when it comes to dealing with her fellow clones, and emotionally she comes across as incredibly cold and unfeeling–there’s a brilliant scene where Cosima talks to Sarah on the phone as Sarah explores Rachel’s apartment, Cosima’s theories immediately shown to be wrong as Sarah discovers Rachel’s past. Rachel is emotionally wounded due to a variety of factors, and she doesn’t have the human connection that her fellow clones have with one another or a family of her own. Rachel’s entire life is DYAD. Rachel is an antagonist, but she’s still given enough depth and characterization to be HUMAN.
I also need to acknowledge the other principal female characters on the show, not portrayed by Tatiana Maslany: Siobhan Sadler, Sarah and Felix’s mother; Kira Manning, Sarah’s daughter, and Dr. Delphine Cormier, Cosima’s monitor and girlfriend. Siobhan’s strained relationship with Sarah is a point of contention early on, Sarah having left Kira in her care then disappearing for a year. Siobhan (“Mrs. S” as Sarah and Felix call her) has secrets, knowing more about Sarah’s past than she lets on, but her ultimate loyalties lie with the protection of her children (even though that doesn’t always seem to be the case).
Kira, meanwhile, is not only an astoundingly astute child, but there are indications that she has some type of super-human abilities due to being a derivative product of the Project LEDA, and she shows on occasion that she’s willing to go even further than her mother would ask to aid her newfound aunts. Still, she is a child, and even though some of her behaviors might cause viewers to raise an eyebrow, she exhibits innocence and, despite being sharp as a tack, isn’t shown to simply know what things are if she’s entirely unfamiliar with them. She has an uncanny ability to judge a person’s character and enough knowledge to play along with those who she views as a threat. I’m interested to see where they take her, especially considering how season 2 ended. (I won’t spoil you.)
Finally we come to Delphine, whom Cosima pegs as her monitor immediately and then actively pursues a close relationship to find out information. Delphine is more aware of the true purpose of her role than the other monitors (which also serves to bring Cosima into the DYAD fold), but ultimately as her feelings for Cosima grow, her loyalty shifts away from the project and toward Cosima. Still, because of her love for Cosima, she sometimes takes action that may be in Cosima’s personal interest but not in the best interest of her sisters–Cosima makes it clear to Delphine that to love her is to love all of them.
All of these women are complex, and are intentionally presented as such. We see moments of strength and weakness from all of them. And what’s so amazing about Maslany’s performance is how easy it is to forget that she’s only ONE person (credit also to Kathryn Alexandre, Maslany’s stand-in/double for every episode), often acting opposite a tennis ball, bringing such unique life to each of these characters. She is so amazing at her craft that, if a character’s life seems to be in peril, it’s easy to forget that even if that one character dies, she isn’t leaving the show.
So this post is as much a celebration of Tatiana Maslany as it is of ALL the clones (not just the primaries mentioned here).