When Orphan Black premiered in 2013, I knew right away it was a show I would root for – a Canadian sci-fi thriller airing on BBC America featuring a lead performance (performances?) with a stunningly high level of difficulty – all resting on the shoulders of an unknown actress whose name we would soon learn.
Yes, that’s Tatiana Maslany playing street-smart and suspicious Sarah Manning: a single mother whose life gets turned upside down when she witnesses a woman jump in front of a moving train, a woman who happens to look just like her. And yes, that’s Tatiana Maslany playing Alison Hendrix, a suburban soccer mom you do NOT want to meet in a dark alley, or even near a sink with a working disposal. And that’s Tatiana Maslany, as Helena, truly insane and yet somehow so delightful, who was raised in a Ukrainian convent and tortured by religious fanatics. And on and on. The running count on Wikipedia lists almost fifteen separate roles, though the number of regularly occurring ones is more like half a dozen.
Of course we wouldn’t care if it were a hundred different characters if it was just a matter of playing dress-up or trying on new accents. We’ve all seen Cloud Atlas (or maybe you haven’t #blessed). What Maslany brings to the show is more than a trick of appearances (though she does get some great costume changes). Her transformation for each part is so distinctive and authentic, that when she finally won an Emmy in 2016 (after years of what must be one of the most grueling work schedule in the business), millions of fans cried out, “Yeah…duh. Finally!”
As a fan myself, it felt incredible to see her talent finally recognized and equally great to see a show that’s critically acclaimed, smartly written science fiction and lead by a woman get renewed for the past four seasons. Orphan Black is the kind of television gem that you worry might get canned before its time. I really believe it’s Maslany’s buzz-worthy performance that allowed it to get where it is today – going into its fifth and final season, and (hopefully) ready to answer a heckuva a lot of questions.
At the start of season five, we’re picking up where four left off – on the island of Dr. (well I don’t know if he’s actually a doctor, it’s probably more like one of those “Dr.” Phil things) P.T. Westmoreland – the 170 year old guru whose cult is all “yay genetic experiments and immortality”. Luckily all our favorites are there too – Sarah, Alison, Helen, Cosima. Oh yeah and Rachel, who is the worst and needs to add some layers to that bob, is also present. Everyone’s fighting their battles – Cosima against her cancer, Helena to have her babies, all of them just to stay alive and have autonomy over their own damn bodies. And when Sarah uses a tampon to suture a wound, it’s just another fist-pumping moment of “females ARE strong as hell” in a show that delivers them regularly.
As I mentioned, there are plenty of questions to answer about how we got here and where we’re going – this episode has lots of talk about the future’s inevitability, which seems to be a nod to Westmoreland and his ilk wanting to bring their brand of genetic engineering to the masses. And my fingers are crossed that we’ll get a satisfying resolution for at least some of our girls (I’m picturing them all dancing together again, this time at Cosima and Delphine’s wedding). But I’m not worried. With Maslany at its helm, this show has proved it can do almost anything. So go ahead, one more time, send in the clones.