About a month ago, I binge-watched BBC America’s Orphan Black and… it was the best thing ever.
The show is about a woman named Sarah Manning (Tatiana Maslany) who discovers she has multiple clones of herself, each with a very distinct personality and mannerism. Not only that, but their lives are in danger from more than one source. Sarah becomes inexplicably tied to these clones after one of them commits suicide.
1. The Suicide
If you were hesitant about watching this show at all, the first 10 minutes of Orphan Black immediately puts that bed.
After getting off the train, Sarah sees a woman sobbing to herself on the platform. When she approaches, the woman turns around. She looks exactly like Sarah! The mysterious woman doesn’t look phased at all and proceeds to commit suicide by throwing herself onto the nearby train tracks just as a train comes speeding by.
For Sarah, instinct takes over and she quickly runs off with the woman’s purse.
We meet Sarah’s foster brother, Felix (Jordan Gavaris). Both are Britishers and both are involved in their fair share of illegal activity. For Sarah, one of those things is drugs. She wants Felix to sell the cocaine she got from her ex-boyfriend, Vic, and together they’ll split the cash. Sarah tells him about her plans to take her daughter Kira back from Mrs. S, their foster mom, and try to make a better life for themselves. Felix isn’t so sure about Sarah’s plans.
Sarah also tells him about the woman – whose name is Beth – she saw commit suicide on the train tracks and her plans to switch their identities so Sarah can get a fresh start.
Later, Felix covers for her when Sarah’s violent and criminal ex-boyfriend Vic (Michael Mando) comes looking for her and the cocaine.
3. Sarah assumes Beth’s identity
With Felix as her sole confidante, Sarah assumes Beth’s identity. Sarah’s street smartness and skills as an impersonator come into play here. We see her looking through Beth’s belongings and studying her mannerisms in home videos. Even though I had trouble with how quickly the plot was moving and how Sarah doesn’t think twice about impersonating this poor dead woman, the scene is a testament to Tatiana Maslany’s skills as an actress. (She’s playing multiple characters on this show, and as the series progresses, you see how good she is at juggling all these characters.)
4. Detective Art Bell
Sarah’s plan is to withdraw $75,000 from Beth’s bank account and make a break for it. Unfortunately for Sarah, she winds up running into Beth’s partner, Art Bell (Kevin Hanchard). That’s right, Beth was a cop. Didn’t see that one coming, did you Sarah? Sarah learns that Beth was in the middle of a hearing about shooting an unarmed civilian before she committed suicide. Sarah has to improvise her way through this mess, and luckily for her, she just manages to fool Art into thinking that she’s really Beth.
5. Felix and the morgue doctor
Felix goes down to the morgue to identify Beth’s body as Sarah’s, so Sarah can successfully fake her death. There’s some chemistry and flirtatiousness between Felix and the cute morgue doctor. That’s certainly a morbid way to start off a relationship, but it’s an amusing scene nonetheless.
6. Sarah makes herself sick
Of course, Sarah has no idea what to say at Beth’s hearing and there’s simply no way for her improvise her way through it. Luckily, Sarah is a quick-thinker. She goes to the bathroom and downs a bunch of alcohol. When she returns to the hearing room, she promptly throws up. This delays the hearing, much to Art’s chagrin.
When Sarah returns to Beth’s pad, she finally meets Beth’s boyfriend, Paul (Dylan Bruce). He’s immediately suspicious of her because she’s dressed in a Clash t-shirt, something Beth would have never worn. She wasn’t into the punk rock music scene, apparently. In order to distract him, Sarah throws herself at Paul. It works because he immediately shuts up and the two proceed to have sex.
Oh Sarah, you are so going to hell. From the look on her face, Sarah isn’t exactly feeling good about this particular decision.
8. Fake Funeral
To prove Sarah is really dead, Felix takes Vic down to the morgue and shows him Beth’s body. Vic becomes distraught and cries over “Sarah”‘s body. He immediately plans for a funeral, which upsets Sarah when she learns about it from Felix. Her being dead is only supposed to be temporary.
During the funeral, she watches from a distance through a pair of binoculars. Unfortunately, Mrs. S (Maria Doyle Kennedy) and Kira (Skyler Wexler) also show up. “She can’t think I’m dead,” an emotional and panicked Sarah tells Felix on the phone.
As Sarah heads back to her (Beth’s) car, she runs into yet another woman who looks exactly like her. Except, this woman has short, bright red hair and speaks in a German accent. She appears to be sick, as well, because she’s coughing up blood. She gets into the backseat, wanting to know why “Beth” didn’t contact her when she was supposed to. Sarah has no idea what to say to that because she’s not Beth. The German figures it out, but shots are fired. The German is shot in the head and Sarah barely manages to get out of there with her life still intact.
10. Mysterious Phone Call
Sarah receives a phone call on Beth’s phone. She answers it, not knowing who’s on the other end, and it’s a woman who sounds just like her…
This was a great first episode. Not knowing what would happen to Sarah and where her decisions would lead her, it constantly kept you on the edge of your toes. That first scene accurately set up the tone for the rest of the episode (and the series). There’s a darkness about Sarah, who for all intents and purposes is the “hero” of the show. It makes for a really interesting and complex protagonist.
You sympathize with her because all of her (deplorable and not-so deplorable) actions are motivated by her desire to reunite with her daughter, Kira. At the same time, she’s doing this with no regard to the woman who committed suicide on the train track, but you don’t get the sense that Sarah is an entirely callous human being. She’s a person with complicated thoughts and emotions, and that’s where the strength of this episode lies.