Warning: This post contains spoilers. .
Before we dive into a recap of the hit sci-fi series Orphan Black , let’s take a moment to ask why the subject of cloning holds our fascination both inside and outside entertainment. Is it the enterprise—or perhaps, the hubris—of self-directed evolution? That we can create through science what was once exclusively attributed to gods? Is it the mystery of the human condition? A condition that grows more complex when one stops to ask, “Who am I?”
The conflict of identity is one of the show’s strongest elements. I would even argue that it’s the magic ingredient that keeps viewers coming back for more every week. In a previous post, I talked about the merits of the show’s storytelling. Watching the story unfold for each of the characters as they ask, “Who am I?” encourages us to think about our own story—every week we wonder what this question means to us and thus our personal involvement deepens.
Given that the show thrives heavily on conspiracy, let’s revisit season one’s web of entanglements like the bulletin board in The Usual Suspects.
Below are some of the major “threads” woven through season one. For simplicity of discussion, I phrased each one as one of the show’s dramatic question:
1. Just how many clones are out there, really?
As of the last season, there are a total of 10 known clones—six of which we get to know personally. They are:
- Sarah Manning—a former (?) hustler and con artist who got more than she bargained for when she witnessed the suicide of look-a-like Elizabeth “Beth” Childs. Although intitally reluctant to join the Clone Club, she unwittingly becomes a full-fledged member as her impersonation of Beth digs her deeper into trouble. Not only does she have to throw off the scent of Beth’s dogged partner, Art, she also has to deal with Beth’s live-in boyfriend Paul who is not all he seems to be either.
- Alison Hendrix—soccer mom from Scarborough. Last season, we saw her pushed to an emotional breaking point as she stood by and watched her best friend Aynsley meet an untimely death. Eventually, she convinces herself that she made the right decision. Aynsley could have very well been her “monitor” (an unbiased observer/participant within an experiment), thus endangering the lives of her family. It is only until the end of the season when it is revealed that her husband, Donnie has been her monitor all along. Emotionally overbearing and prone to fits of extreme paranoia, Alison is unbendable when it comes to maintaining the status quo.
- Cosima Niehaus—graduate student study evolutionary developmental biology (“EvoDevo”) at the University of Minnesota. She becomes enamored with a fellow graduate student, Delphine who introduces her to the mysterious Dr. Leekie and the Neolutionists. Despite her confidence, she embroils herself in his dangerous agenda.
- Helena—Ukrainian assassin and religious fanatic. She is highly disturbed and convinced that the other clones are abominations. This is mostly due to her abusive indoctrination by an organization known as the Prolethians. She is also Sarah’s biological twin (they were grown together in the same womb), hence their mysterious “connection.” She dies at Sarah’s hands at the end of season one.
- Katja Obinger—traveled from Germany only to be killed swiftly by Helena. Before her death, she brings a suitcase filled with blood samples and files on at least four other clones from Europe. She suffered from a debilitating respiratory illness that Cosima later exhibits symptoms of. One has to wonder if all the clones (aside from the original) are defective, or if only a select few of them are in order to have a population to compare other subjects to.
- Rachel Duncan—referred to by the others as the “Proclone.” Raised by Neolutionists to carry out their mission, the name seems apt. Cold and calculated, Rachel will most likely prove herself to be a ruthless and formidable antagonist in season two. Or perhaps, a very surprising ally.
Logistically, I think it would be very difficult to add more clones to this roster without stretching the storyline thin—unless some of the major characters die and other clones come forward to take their place. Personally, I’m in favor of more depth than breadth. As much as I’d like to see Tatiana Maslany embody more roles, I’d like to see how much further she can take the ones she currently has.
2. Who is the “original”?
The penultimate confrontation between Sarah and Helena brings this question to mind. The only reason why Helena is able to live with herself is because she was brought up to believe that she is the “original”—the others are just genetic copies. That said, my money is on Sarah.
Of all the clones thus far, she is the only one with a biological daughter. This implies that the other clones are infertile. Alison, for example, adopted both her children. Unlike most of the other clones, very little is known about Sarah’s background. Her foster mother, “Mrs. S” later confesses that she was one of the children that came to her “in the black”—meaning that she had to be smuggled out of the country for reasons unknown. The closer Sarah gets to the truth, the more people die in her wake (her birth mother included).
Her mysterious origins make me wonder whether her encounter with Beth Childs was truly chance. It seems highly coincidental that Sarah—returning from a months long absence—happens to meet one of her clones the very night she chooses to come back into town. It’s very possible that Beth knew who (and perhaps what) Sarah was given her connections as a detective officer. It could be that the burden of this knowledge was also what drove her to her death.
3. What is Kira and where did she go?
Kira is Sarah’s biological daughter who, like her mother, seems to demonstrate some unusual proclivities. She is highly precocious and emotionally intelligent. When Alison poses as Sarah in “Effects of External Conditions,” Kira immediately knew that Alison was not her mother. At the end of “Entangled Bank”, Kira is able to look past Helena’s psychological wounds, embracing her in a way that forces the assassin consider just how damaged she is. Helena goes so far as to call Kira “pure” even though she knows she is the daughter of one of the “abominations.”
When Kira gets into a car accident in “Unconscious Selection” the doctors discover that (aside from a few scrapes and bruises), Kira is completely fine—both physically and mentally. Sarah is completely shocked, having personally seen Kira run over. Perhaps this is what the Neolutionists were after all along. Perhaps Kira is the end result of their mission: self-directed evolution. I find it interesting that we do not yet know who Kira’s father is, leading me to wonder about the events that led to her conception.
In “Endless Forms Most Beautiful”, Sarah returns to ransacked apartment with Mrs. S and Kira nowhere to be found. This leads me to wonder who Mrs. S actually is: Sarah’s own birth mother tells her not to trust her, and even shows her a picture of younger Mrs. S as a scientist. My theory is that Mrs. S is actually an acolyte-gone-rogue from the Dyad Institute. Originally slated to be Sarah’s monitor, she then had a change of heart that led her to leave her former life for good. But your guess is as good as mine!
4. Who are the Neolutionists?
At first glance, it appears that the Neolutionists are led by Dr. Leekie—the supposed founder of an aberrational evolutionary theory called Neolution. His followers call themselves “Freaky Leekies”. You can usual spot them at his lectures wearing platinum white wigs and silver eye contact lenses. Later on in the season, we realize that these getups might not be costumes but the results of illegal augmentations (“body hacks”). One of Leekie’s underlings even grew a tail.
While all signs point to him as the ringleader in the cloning experiment, though there may be those higher up the food chain. He mentions his headquarters, the Dyad Institute (dyad being a synonym for “pair”), and seems very intent on getting all the clones to cooperate—going to so far as to present each of them with a contract that promises total protection as long as they consent to further observation. For now, the motives of the Neolutionists look more black than gray. It isn’t long after Leekie presents them with their contracts that Cosima discovers that their genes are patented. In short, he owns them. What the fallout of this will be remains to be seen.
5. Who are the Prolethians?
On the surface level, they seem to stand for everything that the Neolutionists do not. It’s my suspicion that they were once part of the same group, but a schism occurred when the Neolutionists pushed their agenda too far.
Given their savage treatment of their agent, Helena, I can only assume that they are as ruthless as the Neolutionists when it comes to justifying the means. Both group have a cult-like character, which would explain the extreme zealousness of their followers. Unlike the Neolutionists, however, little is known about the Prolethians and the extent of their network and resources. At present, the Prolethians resemble more of a resistance movement than an actual organization. Perhaps they are the only thing standing in the way between the Neoloutionists and their nefarious-seeming goals.
Whew! Did you catch all of that? If not, I suggest buckling down to re-watch all the highlights of Season 1 before the premier of Season 2 on April 19th. I know I’ll be taking notes beforehand.
So what about you? What “threads” are you hoping might be resolved in Season 2?