Maslany’s performances drive ‘Orphan Black’

Rachel, Alison, Sara, Casima and Helena, some of the clones of Orphan Black.

Rachel, Alison, Sara, Casima and Helena, some of the clones of Orphan Black.

At first, I wasn’t sure I liked Orphan Black.

It was a compelling enough idea, an orphan runs into a woman who looks exactly like her. Said woman jumps in front of a train, and the orphan takes over her life, thrusting herself into the midst of a conspiracy to monitor and study what may be an endless number of clones, just like her.

My problem was … I’m still not sure. It just wasn’t doing it for me.

But the clones kept coming. And everything changed.

We’ve all seen the double thing in TV and movies. And there’s always that moment where it becomes obvious – a technological glitch, the actor isn’t quite looking in the right spot, etc. – and you’re taken out of the story.

Orphan Black is the exception to the rule. Kudos to the technical team behind the scenes, for making it seemless. But it’s really Tatiana Maslany who makes it happen. She so deeply inhabits each character that you never question that each clone is a different person. Alison is the Type A soccer mom with homicidal tendencies. Rachel is the ruthless corporate chief willing to push any button to further her agenda. Casima is the sweet, soft-hearted scientist who jumps into an iffy relationship eyes wide open. Helena is balls-out nuts, a feral animal caged by a religious zealot for years.

And then there’s our heroine, Sara. She’s a product of a foster family that includes the shady Mrs. S and joyously gay “brother” Felix. She can barely take care of herself, let alone her child, the intuitive Kira. Her violent ex is a constant menace, her doppelgänger’s ex is a constant menace, and everybody with an examination table and a scalpel wants a closer look at her lady parts, because she has done the one thing no other clone has managed to pull off: Procreate.

Beyond Maslany’s brilliant acting performances, creators John Fawcett and Graeme Manson deserve a ton of credit. The first season is mostly Sara not trying to be her own worst enemy, both while re-connecting with her daughter and while trying to make sense of the madness she’s dived head-first into. The second season the conspiracy expands, as do the originally simplistic roles of secondary characters such Alison’s cuckholded husband Donnie, Sara’s dimwitted and violent ex Vic and Detective Bell. The story never falters, and where many sci-fi TV offerings lost their way in their second season – Lost, Heroes, Revolution, etc. – Fawcett and Manson carefully guide their fragile craft past dire straits.

But nothing on Orphan Black works if Maslany sucks. And she most definitely doesn’t.

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