This weekend the fifth and final season of “Orphan Black” premieres on BBC America. But don’t read this as a eulogy to the end of a remarkable show, but rather an invitation to binge. Why?
Because of Tatiana Maslany. Note, for the purpose of the column there will be some slight spoilers of the pilot and a few episodes of the first season. Yet I’ll keep it brief since I’m trying to entice you and not analyze the entire show. Maslany plays Sarah Manning, a young mother trying to fix things with her daughter. One night she witnesses the suicide of someone who looks exactly like her.
She decides to replace the late Beth Childs, a detective, in order to learn why they look alike. Soon after she finds herself falling deep into a dangerous clone conspiracy. At the end of the first season there are seven known clones of various nationalities and personalities that are all expertly played by Maslany.
Maslany was snubbed from the Emmys the first two seasons but she was nominated for the third and finally won last year for the fourth. It’s not often one person is simultaneously the lead and supporting roles. Many times I watched her talk to herself and forgot that they’re the same actress.
The show also doesn’t take the easy way out and have them mainly communicate off-screen from one another. Clones physically occupy the same rooms and seamlessly interact with each other like there’s nothing unusual about it. The technology has been around since “The Parent Trap” but never before like this. In one episode the uptight Alison, unhinged Helena and clever Cosima dance with Sarah in her apartment like sisters at a sleepover.
Because it’s exciting. The writing and directing of “Orphan Black” also makes me forget I’m watching scripted television and not a big-budgeted spy novel adaptation. There are twists, betrayal and secrecy in almost every episode. The fantastic pacing and tight 10-episode seasons will keep anyone on the edge of their seats.
At the slower moments the show posits moral, ethical and philosophical questions about the nature of cloning. Yet, doses of humor keep “Orphan” Black” light. Felix, Sarah’s snarky foster brother, Donnie, Alison’s lovable husband and Scott, Cosima’s nerdy assistant, are great foils and comic reliefs. They make it so difficult to choose a favorite character for the large ensemble cast.
Because it’s simple. Aside from the premise of cloning, the science fiction is mainly fiction. There are no mysterious islands, spaceships, robots or aliens. A dump of exposition to confuse viewers is nowhere to be found. Instead, “Orphan Black” is thoughtful and engaging, but not so pretentious or heavy-handed with science to turn anyone off.
If I can get my police-procedural-watching parents hooked, you shouldn’t be worried about not “getting” it.
Are you still hesitant because it’s about to go off the air? Don’t be. “Orphan Black” isn’t ending because it has been cancelled. The end has been planned from the start. Every question is eventually answered and fans can expect a satisfying conclusion. Like I said, this is not your average scifi show.
Give one of the most thrilling and comprehendible scifi series a chance this summer. Say hi to Sarah and her sisters for me. Welcome to the club.