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From the Beginning – An Orphan Black Primer

on BBC America

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Last year no one knew what to expect. The burning question was: “Who is Orphan Black?”

This recap is for anyone who saw Orphan Black’s virgin season and want a fast refresher and for anyone who’s curious about the buzz surrounding the techno-thriller. So if a catch-up marathon event isn’t in your future either, read on for a summarizing of selected season one highlights.

There was this girl. Pretty much all we knew and isn’t there always a girl? This one was youngish, sporting a rock and roll street-smart vibe, exhibiting empathetic traits and a quick mind; but not a lot of impulse control.

All this is unveiled right at the top of episode one: Natural Instincts. Sarah Manning fresh off of a Metro train spies a smartly dressed young woman some ways down the platform of the nearly deserted station. Clearly distressed, the woman paces to and fro, only stopping to slip out of her high heels. As Sarah heads her way, the lady removes her tailored jacket, then folds it with care before placing it atop her lined up shoes.

Sarah, an expression of caring on her face, is close now. She can almost reach out and touch the stranger, but before she gets the chance the suffering woman turns to her. It is then that the city-tough, seen-it all, probably done-it-all, Sarah is struck dumb. Before her is an exact look-alike who doesn’t seem, at all, surprised that her mirror image has approached her from behind. It certainly doesn’t stop her from completing her next order of business. Without a pause, she moves past Sarah, who’s been shocked into stillness, and takes two steps into the direct path of an inbound train.

Confusion and anguish ricochet across Sarah’s face, with the full impact of what she’s witnessed, and she tries to get closer to perhaps verify that which she thought she saw. The area, though, is already being cordoned off and she stumbles back down the platform where she comes upon the dead girl’s handbag. It sits alone. Unnoticed. Next to the shoes and the jacket. She snatches up the handbag—and walks away.

Sarah, an orphan raised in foster care, could actually have—as foster brother Felix, aka Fee, later points out—a twin sister she never knew existed.

Sarah doesn’t really care. She needs a quick score so that she can retrieve Kira, her daughter, out of the clutches of her once foster mom, Mrs. S. This doppelganger’s suicide, though traumatic, seems to be a gift she shouldn’t refuse. She has no attachment to the deceased—one Elizabeth Childs (Beth)—who may or may or not have been related to her. But, she will make use of their uncanny resemblance.

She plans to mimic Beth in the world long enough to bleed her bank accounts, and anything else of value, dry. Then she, Kira and Fee can skip town together and be a family of three. Of course if it were easy, it wouldn’t be a television show.

Sarah Manning-and-Fe-Orphan Black.jpg

Sarah discusses options with right-hand man, Fee. (Courtesy of BBC America)

The challenges are plentiful. But to name a few; there’s Vic, Sarah’s not so calm boyfriend, spitting mad at being ripped off by her and unwilling, at first, to believe she’s dead.

There’s the fact that Beth Childs is a cop and under investigation for shooting an unarmed civilian; something Sarah learns only after she’s taken over the police detective’s identity.

There’s Art, Beth’s partner on-the-job, who doesn’t understand why she hasn’t been answering his calls to go over their officer involved shooting story.

And then there’s the other boyfriend. Paul, Beth’s boyfriend who returns home from a business trip and is puzzled by his girlfriend’s spontaneous changes in behavior. And she’s so passionate… Hmn…

And of course, there’s the bit about Sarah and Beth being clones and the fact that someone is trying to pick them off—kill them—one by one.

Besides Beth and Sarah, we have Cosima, the brilliant mind and PhD student in the area of evolutionary developmental biology.

Enter Alison, a suburban housewife and soccer mom performs in Community Theater and is parent to two adopted children.

Helena was born and raised by nuns in the Ukraine and has been brainwashed to believe the other clones are aberrations and need to be eliminated. She has become an assassin of clones.

By taking on Beth’s identity, Sarah’s jumped into a whole pile of nothing good, but by the end of the first episode, the switch is near complete. She’s been ID’d in the morgue by Fee as Sarah Manning and taken over Beth’s job, her digs and the boyfriend.

But nothing is ever, quite, just another day at the office.

As they dig deeper and deeper into what this cloning business is all about, they come to know that, with a few exceptions, they can fully trust no one but each other. Crazy Helena, who is after all, crazy, doesn’t count in this equation.

Even Sarah’s birth mother, whom she meets for the first time, delivers a cryptic message when she says: “Don’t trust Mrs. S.” This being pretty hard to do since Mrs. S is caring for Kira and seems determined to hold on to her until Sarah proves herself stable enough to care for her child. When she disappears with Kira at the end of the show, Sarah’s willing to put herself into the very hands of the people who created her and the others if it means getting her little girl back. She’s willing to walk into the den of the Dyad Institute and Dr. Aldous Leekie.

You don’t know who is in on the grand experiment and who isn’t, who has been hired as a “watcher” and who hasn’t.

Tatiana Maslany is the lifeblood of Orphan Black and I daresay, even with an excellent cast working alongside her, she is what makes the show work so well. By the end of Season One she had donned the personas of seven clones with seven distinctly different personalities so seamlessly, it was easy to forget one was watching one woman and not five or six separate beings.

Orphan Black, Season Two, premieres Saturday, April 19 at 9:00pm ET/PT on BBC AMERICA. Who’s not excited?

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Written by

TVolution Founder and Managing Editor DARWYN CARSON completed a six-year stint as Managing Editor of Leonard Maltin’s Annual Movie Guide in 2015. She has been covering film since her early association with entertainment journalist Michael Symanski at Zap2It.com. She also covered film and restaurant news in her column Carson’s Corner for a variety of social publications. Her articles have appeared on Zap2It, Indiewire, leonardmaltin.com and, of course, The TVolution. Follow Darwyn @bnoirlikeme. Follow The TVolution @thetvolution. Please Like The TVolution on Facebook.

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