‘Orphan Black’: The Unconventional Show About Identity

Five seasons, 274 LEDA clones, and too few Alison-Donnie dance breaks, the beloved science fictions series, Orphan Black, united these intriguing elements with one over-arching theme–defining your identity. At the beginning of the series, this theme presents itself through Sarah Manning discovering she is a clone with many clone sisters, but as the mystery behind their genetic origin unveils, the “sestras” are faced with a deep, internal question–who am I?


Each of the five clones followed throughout the series–Sarah Manning, Cosima Niehaus, Alison Hendrix, Helena, and Rachel Duncan–were played by the ridiculously skillful Tatiana Maslany, and she portrayed each woman (with the help of a body double) with such precision it’s easy to forget that it’s one person acting as all of the clones. Maslany puts so much life into the women’s journey to find themselves, in the midst of constantly learning such outlandish information about their origins, it’s easy to empathize with each clone, including Helena during her ruthless assassin phase. The actress poured such heart and humanity into each clone as they fight to gain control of their own lives while trying to understand who they really are. All these layers to her performance made the clones’ search for their humanity that much more powerful. What begins as a story about women learning the truth about their genetic makeup, becomes a battle for their right to be human–however they choose to define that.

But the theme of identity didn’t just apply to the clones. Throughout the series, Sarah’s adoptive brother, Felix, fully enthralls himself into his sister’s quest for answers and eventually realizes that he needs answers of his own about his biological family. Felix becomes not just Sarah’s brother and the LEDA clones’ fierce comrade, but a man who wants to know where he comes from. And then there’s Art, the detective who gets thrown into the mess from the start with the death of his partner, Beth Childs, another clone. Justices and struggles often conflict as Art constantly must decide if it’s more important to act as an officer of the law or an ally to these women. The issue of identity becomes a seismic struggle in the clones’ lives that it can’t help but erode into their loved ones’ lives as well. While the premise centers around the fictional clones’ search for truth and humanity, it’s understood through the key supporting characters that identity is something we all crave.

The show uses its innovative idea to explore how we define who we are. Sarah Manning and her clone sisters search for answers to why they were created, but their quest is really for control of who they are and the lives they want to live. In its five-season run, the show becomes more than just an interesting sci-fi series. It’s a show about choosing who we want to be and how hard it is to do so when the choice is taken. Orphan Black roots its story around a subject that is so human, despite its genre, that it found its way into viewers’ hearts.

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