We may rejoice! The dearth of good sci-fi on television has been brought to a close. And I haven’t even had the time to get to Defiance yet, which is supposed to be quite good. For now, I’m still riding pretty high on what turned out to be an incredibly well-done first season of BBC America’s second original show. Orphan Black is science fiction gold, but sets itself apart from similar genre fare almost immediately by staunchly refusing to let itself be bound by the constraints of its genre.
It’s a rare beast in this way. Too often, genre fare winds up limited by the conventions that make it so. Or maybe by an insistence upon focusing on those elements. Orphan Black doesn’t ditch these elements altogether: We’ve got shifting alliances, sinister conspiracies, posthumanism, and all kinds of crazy shit. But what Orphan Black refuses to forget is that all these elements are part of a story that’s revolving around the lives of real human beings. The show’s strength comes from the fact that its characters act as such.
Sarah, the protagonist, is reactionary basically by necessity (to explain why would be to spoil the show for those who haven’t seen it, which I don’t want to do since I’ve not been giving episode-by-episode coverage). But based on the show’s conspiracy element, it’s a requirement that we know a lot more than she does.
What makes Orphan Black such a treat, though, is that Sarah is a lot smarter than the audience. All we’ve got is more information than she has. But right off the bat, Sarah shows how quick she is on her feet, and what results is a game of cat and mouse in which the prey has almost as much agency as the predator.
Basically, watching Orphan Black to see things you’ll expect to see is an exercise in futility. By the end of the season, my favorite character wound up being Alison’s prissy, white-wine-toting housewife. Who would have thought that such a typically one-dimensional character could be given so much depth in just ten episodes?
If you haven’t watched Orphan Black, do it. It’s first season was 10 episodes long, and it’s been renewed for a second. The commitment is minimal. This show is as exciting as it is dramatic, and never relies on plot points simply happening just because it’d be awesome if they happened. Every major event is precipitated by the actions of a character, which is the way drama is supposed to work. All this, of course, is to say nothing of lead actress Tatina Maslany’s performance, which is as high in quality as the show’s writing.
So, again. If you haven’t taken the time to check out Orphan Black, do it now. The Internet will still be here in ten hours.