This weekend, in addition to running a marathon of all the previous episodes, BBC America aired the first season finale of their curiously addictive clone series “Orphan Black.” I’ll get into a more spoilery discussion of that finale below (along with, oh yes, some choice gifs), but before I do, I want to have a general discussion about a) how goddamn great this show is, b) how it is, alas, a rarity in the sci-fi genre, and c) how you should drop all your other summer TV watching plans until you catch up on this little gem.
The mark of a truly great sci-fi show, and truly great genre fiction in general, is that it appeals to those outside the targeted demographic. Forgive me for saying so, but there are those Trekkies and Comic-Con devotees (my people!) who are awfully forgiving of sci-fi in general; eagerly consuming the treasures (“The X-Files”) along with the trash (oh, say, the third iteration of “Stargate”). As a sci-fi fan myself, I understand the impulse. But as a hyper-picky TV watcher, there are some things I just can’t call great. And since the admittedly disappointing end of “Battlestar Galactica,” I’d say there’s been a hole in your TV schedule where absolutely fantastic sci-fi should be.
What do I consider fantastic, genre-busting greatness? The aforementioned “Battlestar,” “The X-Files,” Davies-era “Doctor Who,” “Firefly,” “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation” spring to mind. Here are larger stories: war stories, teenage angst and good old fashioned adventure, told against the backdrop of blasters and pod bay doors. They feature strong writing and often even stronger performances. But the beauty of the sci-fi genre, as any fan will tell you, is that the strangeness of the universe only highlights the normalcy of the reaction on the part of your heroes, be they human, droid or walking carpet.
But I understand, if you’re not a sci-fi nut, why you’d be hesitant to try out “Orphan Black.” There have been so many nearly-great sci-fi shows in the recent past. The much-anticipated “Dollhouse” was hamstrung by a weak performance and, conversely, “Fringe” pretty much floated by on one amazing performance. But “Fringe” like so many sci-fi series before and after it, became bogged down by its own baffling and inconsistent mythology. (“Lost,” my love, I’m looking at you too.) And that fate may yet be in-store for “Orphan Black.” It’s only had 10 episodes and the early warning signs for mythology malfunctions are certainly evident. But for now? Those 10 episodes are wickedly enjoyable.
To boil it down to its bare bones and nucleotides, “Orphan Black” is about small group of women of different backgrounds and nationalities who discover that they’re (near) identical genetic clones of each other. The star of the show and the main reason to watch is Tatiana Maslany who plays no fewer than four characters per episode and, if we’re lucky, sometimes even plays one clone posing as another. It’s an astonishingly great performance but, thankfully, the show doesn’t coast on Maslany alone. There’s a solid supporting cast (including an incredibly endearing moppet), decent twists and enough pseudo-science to fog up your lab goggles. So watch it, damnit. End of story.
Now onto some spoilery finale discussion which I’ll leave below everyone’s favorite clone pumping up the jams.
What a freaking fantastic finale. We got some satisfying deaths: Helena, RIP and the Isadora Duncan-ing of uptight blonde neighbor lady. We got some poignant deaths, Amelia ye hardly knew ya. Two of our favorites, Cosima and Kira, are in real peril. Felix got off some snappy one liners and Paul wasn’t entirely useless. We met the new pro-clone. I’m not over-enthusiastic about her, but I’m willing to wait and see. We got some new conspiracy wrinkles including encoded intellectual property rights, Donnie’s sh*tbag status confirmed and the role of the mysterious Mrs. S. still up in the air. I couldn’t be more pleased if I tried. I might want to see them cut the police angle of the show next season, but other than that, I’m happier than Alison with a glass of Chardonnay. Here are some visual highlights. Enjoy!
Best Reaction Face: Helena’s b*tchy, incredulous chuckle. I will miss that head case. Her wig was always my favorite.
Best Special Effects: Not too shabby, right?
Biggest Threat To My Happiness: They kill Cosima, I riot.
Best Insider Sci-Fi Casting: Hey, it’s a Cylon!
Best Bitchface: The reigning champ.
Best Curse Words: After we saw what she did to Blonde Neighbor, can you imagine the fate in store for Donnie. I hope it involves a whole VAT of hot glue. And an embosser.
Best Performance By Someone Who’s Not Named Tatiana Maslany: This might be my favorite performance from a kid on TV this year. (Exception being the adorable Maggie Elizabeth Jones from the now-cancelled “Ben And Kate.”)
More Conspiracy Fuel: What do these numbers mean? How do they tie into Cosima’s Tag Number: 324B21?
Who Took Kira? Was it pro-clone Rachel? Or Mrs. S.? And how very much are they going to die when Sarah gets ahold of them?