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We All *Really* Are Tatiana Maslany: A Treatise on Orphan Black

MILD SPOILER WARNING (spoilers, mostly, for the uninitiated), ARTICLE CONTINUES AFTER THE GIF...

I've been obsessed with Orphan Black since the first season. Although I'm constantly bombarded with television recommendations from friends and family ("You've got to watch Orange is the New Black!" "Drop everything and watch Mad Men. Right. Now." "What do you *mean* you don't watch Breaking Bad?! What's wrong with you?!"), there was something about this show that just piqued my interest enough for me to check out the very first episode online. The "holy shit!" moment at the very beginning of that first episode (two words: doppleganger suicide) was enough to get me hooked, and I binged on the remaining nine episodes.


The second season is currently underway, and I've been immersing myself in articles, reviews, interviews, and features about the show. Anything to keep the conversation on Orphan Black going, and believe you me, this show has plenty to talk about. Recently, I was struck by some passages in reviews published by the AV Club and Entertainment Weekly, respectively.

Entertainment Weekly just published their overall review of the second season, which begins as follows:

For the women of Orphan Black, the world is an open prison, and self-determination is a tenuous contract with The Powers That Be, who view them only as property. Some take this raw deal to survive. Prim, panicky Alison sells out for security in the suburbs with a schlubby hubby who is secretly her jailer. Brainy Cosima ­bargains with a Faustian devil for a gilded cage — her own super lab — where she and her ladylove can pursue a cure for the disease that's killing her. But woe to the one who refuses to settle: Sarah and her daughter are on the run from men who wish to exploit their bodies and all of Clonekind. Did I not mention the clone thing? Sorry. All these women are clones! Does that make a difference?

Over on AV Club, the review of Season 2, Episode 2 contains the following passages:

No matter where the clones turn in this episode, they meet men who lay claim to their bodies. We see it with Cosima, when Leekie grabs her shoulders and the camera closes in on her face over him, making us feel as claustrophobic as she does in that moment. We see it with Alison, when her musical director uses the pretense of breathing exercises to grope her. We see it with Sarah, when the Birdwatcher's lackey grabs her from behind and forces her into a trunk. We see it with Helena, over and over and over again.

Helena has been physically objectified and repurposed more than any of the clones. The religious fanatics she grew up with saw her as an abomination rather than a person, and while the "family" on the farm sees potential for greatness in her, they still refer to her as "it," or in strict medical terms that deny her humanity.

[T]he clones' are battling for the right to control their own miraculous bodies—and the fight is far from over.


I'm no stranger to the concept of Science Fiction-as-allegory for various ideas, but this is, honestly, the first time I've ever thought of Orphan Black as an allegory for women's liberation. And it's fucking brilliant!

Indulge me, for a moment:

This is a story about a group of women struggling to assert their humanity. They face opposition from adversaries that view them as property (their creators, the Neolutionists), and as less-than-human-abominations (the Proletheans, a religious fringe group). Their individual lives, their life choices in particular, are heavily monitored and policed. Their bodily autonomy is constantly invaded and they struggle to take charge of their individual biology.


Further, they face exploitation on account of that biology. To the Neolutionists, these women are less than the sum of their respective parts: they're really more interested in what makes these women tick and how those parts can be used to herald the next step in humanity's evolution. The first season featured a woman exhibiting symptoms of some respiratory illness, this season, another is manifesting the same symptoms. She has no choice but to ally herself with the Neolutionists because it's in both of their best interests to figure out and resolve the problem; a matter of life and death for the woman, an inconvenient, perhaps embarrassing, manufacturing defect for the Neolutionists.

There's also a running subplot involving fertility; specifically, the apparent lack of fertility affecting most of these women, and how only one of them (that we know of) has been able to successfully conceive and carry a child to term. This season, the Neolutionists want to get to the bottom of exactly why that is, perhaps to modify and produce future subjects capable of producing "genetic goldmines," as they've dubbed the young daughter of the seemingly anomalous woman.


The other side, the Proletheans, have also taken an interest in the fertility question. They've gotten their hands on the woman's twin sister, and while they are openly distasteful of their association with such an "abomination," she's useful to them if she can reproduce like her sister. Pointedly, the Head Bad Guy in Charge muses on Twin Sister's possible fertility as he and a lacky enseminate dairy cows. A perfect visual cue, given society's, and religion's, history of reducing the usefulness of women to our ability to breed and conceive.

Is all of this intentional? Perhaps not. But it bears mentioning that the creators of this show are also behind the film Ginger Snaps, which turns lycanthropy into a metaphor for menarche and menses. That can't be a simple coincidence.

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