A review by Nalini Haynes
Creators: John Fawcett, Graeme Manson
Stars: Tatiana Maslany, Dylan Bruce, Jordan Gavaris
Watch this if you like: thrillers, SF and mystery arcs in a TV series
Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5
I originally reviewed Orphan Black ‘Natural Selection’ on April 25. As I launched into this series I thought I’d do individual reviews but then, as the series was so tightly wound, I wondered if I could without spoiling the story? I decided to write a second review of the entire season. By the time I finished watching the entire first season, there was so much buzzing around in my head I couldn’t write that review, I just wanted the next season.
Now I’m back at the beginning, seeing how it holds up to a second viewing.
Sarah (Tatiana Maslany) is on a train platform when she sees a woman preparing to jump in front of a train. Concerned, Sarah walks up to the woman, who turns, facing Sarah — only to reveal she looks identical to Sarah. The woman doesn’t look surprised. She walks past Sarah and jumps in front of the train.
Sarah, stunned, pulls herself together enough to steal the woman’s handbag and flee the scene.
Sarah is a drifter who abandoned her child ten months earlier. Now she’s returned, hoping to reunite with her foster brother (Jordan Gavaris as the adorable Felix Dawkins) and her child (Skyler Wexler as Kira). Needing money, Sarah steals whatever she can lay her hands on, including her boyfriend Vic’s stash of cocaine and the dead woman’s life.
The dead woman, Beth Childs, is a police officer on suspension after killing a civilian. Beth had also started investigating something involving women born within a month of Sarah’s birthday.
‘Natural Selection’ starts out as a kick-ass thriller; with the advent of dopplegangers investigating their own origins, Orphan Black reveals strong science fiction themes.
A strong female lead, Sarah, talking to her doppleganger, brings Orphan Black a genuine passing grade for the Bechdel Test. Sarah has a pseudo-conversation with Beth Childs, the dead woman, as she sits in Beth’s townhouse, viewing video footage of Beth’s life, learning her mannerisms and accent, practicing being Beth to withdraw $75,000 from Beth’s bank account. Later, a strange woman jumps into the rear seat of Sarah — Beth’s — car. Sarah was shocked at the likeness. Katja, the German version of Sarah, begs for help before being shot. It’s all about the mystery. AWESOME.
Felix Dawkins is the quintessential queen although not bitchy with (not much, anyway). He is every girl’s dream gay BFF. Even though he’s pissed off with Sarah for disappearing for 10 months, abandoning both him and Sarah’s daughter Kira, Felix has Sarah’s back. A practicing artist, he works through some of his feelings in his paintings in between rolling in the hay. (I have the impression that Felix has a very healthy libido but may also be a sex worker.)
Felix’s sex scenes are implied, in contrast to Sarah’s sex scene that is far more explicit.
When Vic, Sarah’s violent ex, shows up at Felix’s place, Felix has to deal with it. This is scary. Later, Vic is heartbroken… and we’re watching Vic sobbing on the couch, with Felix’s back to the viewer. His very short dressing gown and very long legs frame the left side of the screen. Very. Short. Dressing gown. Vic gets up to hug Felix (in a totally platonic way), dragging Felix’s gown up and UP. We see cheeks. OMG he’s naky — no, wait, a thong frames his cheeks. I guess a thong is the male equivalent of a cross-your-heart bra.
At various points Sarah’s lace-clad butt features large — er, prominently — um, I mean, you can’t miss it perking under the black. Sarah’s sex scene features Sarah fully nude at one point but the profile shot gives barely a glimpse of nipple. The absolute genuine leveler of this episode was Paul, Beth’s boyfriend, walking around stark naked flashing manly chest and abs and a rear view to die for. And they show that rear view a few times, too.
Seriously, Orphan Black caters to a wide range of tastes. And it’s not over-done. No Game of Thrones women flashing boobs or having lesbian sex while Baelish monologues here; in Orphan Black the sex is relevant, the relationships are plot-driven or funny to relieve the tension or… I am getting ahead of myself.
In summary, Orphan Black is the best science fiction I’ve watched on TV in years. Go. Watch it. I’ll be back with a review of episode 2 soon. Even though I’ve watched it once already, I’m energized to watch it a second time.
And, Folks? Comments are open. Please, no spoilers, but I’d love to talk about the series with other fans. What do you think?
Orphan Black has been nominated for and won a swag of awards for writing, acting and directing.
My review copy of Orphan Black season 1 was courtesy of Roadshow.