Review

  • Warning: Spoilers
    "Orphan Black" strikes me as being similar—superficially—to "Ringer", Sarah Michelle Gellar's unfortunate reentry into series TV a few years ago. In both series, a woman takes over the identity of her look-alike to escape a less than ideal existence, only to discover that her new life is just as dangerous if not more so. The similarity ends fairly quickly. "Ringer" seemed stillborn from the outset while "Orphan Black" is infused with fresh energy. The heroine here is not world-weary but confident that she can make it all work to her advantage, even when the evidence runs against that conclusion.

    Just take the ally figure in each series. In "Ringer" there is an ally who is in touch with the heroine only by cell phone and he is entirely in the dark about what is going on. That was a mistake. An ally who is completely clueless and impotent is no ally at all, and not very interesting.

    In "Orphan Black", the ally, Felix, is only a step behind the protagonist, Sarah, and often looking at the bigger picture where she can't. Sarah is only going one step at a time whereas Felix is always wondering, what does all of this mean? Consequently, they have a real relationship. They can discuss what is going on. Felix can even get involved in advancing the plot.

    And it is quite a plot. Sarah sees her exact double commit suicide and decides to take over her identity just for a little while, until she can get an advantage out of it, an advantage ($75,000) that she can use to rescue her daughter and escape to "somewhere warm".

    What Sarah doesn't bargain for is that her new identity comes with a lot of trouble. "Beth" was involved with at least two conspiracies, and Sarah isn't even thinking far enough ahead to wonder whether the two are related. She doesn't care as long as she plans to make a score and get out quickly. The trouble comes when all of Beth's problems ensnare Sarah so that she cannot escape her new identity as soon as she had hoped.

    But Sarah is not a passive victim in all of this. As soon as she finds out what she has to do to get through with being Beth, she is motivated to keep things moving along. Sarah is an expert at bluffing her way through tough situations. She keeps getting challenged and she keeps brazening her way through. The only problem is that each new solution gets her deeper in instead of getting her out.

    Female heroes are the exception rather than the rule in the world. Grant Voth cites the Greek figure Demeter and American literature's Hester Prynn as being among the few examples from the past. Add to the short list, Sarah Manning, who is like her fellow female heroes in at least a couple of ways. All three do their heroic bits for their daughters. And, so far, Sarah also fits the profile by not directly confronting her adversaries so much as figuring out how to make them think they are getting what they want while she is really fulfilling her needs.

    I have to point out, however, that this series is not for the prissy. The third word in the first episode—the first real word out of Sarah's mouth, is s**t. By the end of episode one, Sarah has not only said that word more than twenty times, but she has demonstrated that the best way to short-circuit a boyfriend's inconvenient observations ("Your hair is different." "I got it cut." "But it's longer.") is to have a wild, explicit sex scene with him on the kitchen table. Just saying.