When we first heard the concept of Orphan Black on BBC America, we Tweeted that it reminded us of a science fiction version of Ringer. In the opening of the pilot, a young woman with a troubled past, Sarah (Tatiana Maslany), watches a woman with her face commit suicide in front of a train and then steal her belongings to ultimately steal her life. Suddenly former foster child Sarah becomes Beth Childs, a woman with a modern apartment, gorgeous boyfriend, comfortable savings account, and high profile police job. But comparing Orphan Black to Ringer was a short-sighted mistake. After that initial simple similarity of one woman slipping into another woman's life, Orphan Black diverges into a much more mature and complex tale of murder, suspicion, and genetic engineering. Orphan Black is a riveting piece of original storytelling that keeps viewers on the edge of their seats throughout each episode and salivating for the next piece of story as soon as the current one comes to a close.
The pilot of Orphan Black is focused entirely on Sarah's adaptation to life as Beth. After initially thinking she would steal what she could to create a better life for herself, her best friend and foster brother Felix (Jordan Gavaris), and her young daughter, she realizes the potential in absorbing the identity. Sarah is a woman on the run from an angry ex, having stolen from him, while Beth appears to have it all together. Maslany transforms effortlessly from the English Sarah to the American Beth and back again as she needs to in the story. Sarah doesn't take the time to wonder or worry over what in Beth's seemingly charmed life could have gone wrong enough to cause her to kill herself, but quickly those things start catching up with her on their own.
For one thing, Beth has $75,000 in her savings account-- but it is an account only opened a few weeks prior. Her partner has been spying on her (and continues to do so without even streetwise Sarah realizing it), and she has to undergo an IA hearing for a shooting of a woman who Beth mistakenly thought was pulling a gun on her. Clearly she has been distracted, and the birth certificates she keeps in her safe deposit box give a glimpse into why. So far, Beth has found two other women with birthdays within the same month as her own (there are three if you count Sarah, who doesn't put the pieces together right away). One of them confronts Sarah-as-Beth, only for Sarah to see yet another woman with her face. Where Felix once saw the Cinderella story of a foster kid learning about family she had in the world-- potentially even a twin-- twists into something much more convoluted and perhaps sinister. Sarah, Beth, this woman Katia, and the others Sarah will surely soon encounter were created artificially, as clones. Beth was onto the truth, and now Sarah is left to clean up whatever mess Beth left in the trail of research-- or risk really losing her own life, too.
Maslany is real and raw in the role of a young woman gradually getting further in over her head with lies she set in motion. She, and her character by extension, is strong and confident in commanding a scene, even when said scene is underlined by uncertainty. But one of the beautiful things about Orphan Black is that the writers don't feel compelled to keep Sarah or Beth's secrets so close to the chest. While Sarah lets Felix in on her plans, and even has him become something of an accessory, those who knew Beth best are already suspicious of her "different" behavior. Orphan Black has created smart characters all around, and we have no doubt that boyfriend Paul (the ridiculously charming Dylan Bruce) will figure things aren't right out sooner rather than later. Paul seems too good to be true when we first meet him in the pilot, but it is already apparent that everyone has two sides to them-- even Sarah's aggressive boyfriend breaks down at the thought of truly losing her, showing a more sensitive and sentimental side-- so the question is not the sophomoric "when will these characters wisen up and figure it out?" but instead what will they do with the information when they get it?
And that is something we can't wait to find out!
Orphan Black premieres on BBC America on March 30th 2013 at 9 p.m.
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