(Wo)man Up: Galaxy of Women in ‘Orphan Black’

Orphan Black ended its final and fifth season in 2017, but there is reason for it to be praised again – and rightly so. Serial Box just recently released an audio-book narrated by Tatiana Maslany (the main actress), where the story from the series continues eight years later.  That’s not really the point, but it’s a nice way to start discussing our main topic, which is the galaxy of women in this sci-fi series, created by Graeme Manson and John Fawcett.

There is no doubt that Orphan Black is one of the best television series that tells the story of women and their autonomy. Tatiana Maslany, the main actress, won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series in 2016. The show was nominated for many, many awards, but lost repeatedly.

Sarah Manning (Tatiana Maslany) is a troubled woman with an abusive boyfriend and a daughter (Skyler Wexler) whom she often leaves with her foster mom, Siobhan (Maria Doyle Kennedy). Her life shifts when she witnesses the suicide of a woman who looks exactly like her. After stealing the woman’s identity, Sarah discovers that she’s a clone, a genetically engineered experiment – a property of the Dyad Institute, led by Dr. Aldous Leekie (Matt Frewer).  

At first, Sarah wants to run away from trouble, but then she meets other women, her clone sisters. Each one is different, has a different way of thinking and diverse experiences – Sarah Manning is a lost woman with a daughter, who wants to find her way in life, Cosima Niehaus is a smart scientist, trying to find the love she deserves. Alison Hendrix is a not-so-typical soccer mom of two, and suspects her husband is her monitor (a person hired by Dyad to monitor clones). Helena is a Ukrainian orphan, Sarah’s real twin, trained to kill others. Analyzing Helena’s upbringing, you can see how difficult it is to free yourself from the mental abuse. Helena was raised by Proletheans, a group of dangerous, God-fearing, close-minded people. Trained, tortured, raised without love, she is a perfect example of a woman who survived and wants a change in her life. 

Tatiana Maslany portrays all characters and more (sic!). The actress, who uses different dialects, accents, and speech patterns, gives an astounding performance. She truly captures the depth and diversity of her characters. Alongside her,  Jordan Gavaris plays her foster brother. Felix is an incredibly talented man who fully supports the women in his life. Another important character is Delphine Cormier (Evelyne Brochu). She works for Leekie and is assigned as Cosima’s monitor. However, everything gets complicated when she falls in love with Cosima. She excellently depicts the topic of morality and its path. Delphine has to choose between her loyalty to Leekie or the love and support of Cosima. 

As the seasons progress, the women discover that Dyad’s experiments are more profound than they previously thought. The sisters try to fight for the autonomy of their bodies and, at the same time, take care of their personal issues. The topic of women’s autonomy mentioned above is the lead matter and major plotline in Orphan Black. Although the series touches a literal definition of property (all main characters are genetically engineered, as mentioned earlier), the metaphor here is clear as day.

The actions that the main heroines take can portray many aspects of a woman’s life. Still, to this day, the female gender is treated as weak, gentle, or – in worst cases – owned. The times of Mad Men are long past, yet Orphan Black proves that society has a long way ahead to reach the point of complete female freedom. All we’ve discussed, in turn, reflects on the matter of abortion and the #MeToo movement. The most brutal, most disturbing scene describing said subject is Helena’s forced insemination scene. The Ukrainian is kidnapped by the Proletheans. After everything the character went through, another cruel situation seems like too much for one person to carry. The leader of the group impregnates her to create a new, stronger life. He forces motherhood on Helena without her consent. Thankfully, she manages to escape; however, it doesn’t change the fact that motherhood was forced upon her. This circumstance is one of the most suited examples of the abuse of women’s rights portrayed on television. 

Tatiana Maslany plays all the main characters (she’s one of the most talented actresses of recent years). Evelyne Brochu, however, who portrays Delphine, depicts another social aspect – morality and its hard choices. The woman, who works for Leekie at first, becomes very attached to Cosima – a clone that she was supposed to monitor. From the person blinded by science, she transforms and opens up. Delphine comes to understand the struggle all sisters had to go through, especially as a woman herself. Throughout the course of the show, viewers can see the scientist’s effort to comprehend her employee’s choices, and finally, after three seasons, she breaks out of it. Although her character is not to be fully trusted, Delphine, from the middle of the first season (thankfully very fast), devotes her life to protect and help Cosima and her sisters. Her character perfectly exemplifies transformation – as a woman, scientist, and a life partner. 

Orphan Black is a story about women who stand up and take back what’s theirs: the decision on what to do with their bodies. In contemporary times, the series is one of the most crucial productions, that helps to understand and educate about what it means to be a woman, and to be free.

Orphan Black is available to stream YouTube TV, Amazon Prime, Philo, iTunes and Google Play.

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