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Women take central roles

By Jingyuan Fu
On April 20, 2014

Though it's certainly gotten better in recent years, most television programs still suffer from unequal gender representation. Women have a presence on most shows, but far too often they are relegated to supporting roles and are not around for long enough to have a substantial impact on. However, the Canadian series "Orphan Black" has subverted this paradigm by having a diverse ensemble of female characters who are central to the plot.
The show debuted last spring, offering a highly inventive take on the rather tired science fiction idea of cloning. British petty criminal Sarah Manning (Tatiana Maslany) encounters a woman who looks exactly like her in a train station shortly before the woman commits suicide. While trying to steal the dead woman's identity, Sarah discovers others who also look exactly like her and through the course of 10 episodes becomes embroiled in a mass conspiracy involving religious extremists, a scientific institution that is far too ambitious for its own good and the family and friends of the clones.
The last episode of season one consisted of a rapid fire series of cliffhangers: scientist clone Cosima revealed that she may be suffering from a fatal illness and discovered that the clones are considered the intellectual property of their creators. Then the viewers learned that Alison's monitor was her husband Donnie after all and finally Sarah returned home after an adventure to realize that someone had taken her daughter Kira.
The first episode of season two deals with the immediate fallout. It sends the audience in multiple directions as different characters try to figure out how to proceed.
If this episode does have a flaw, it's that the viewers gets the sense that the show may soon collapse under the weight of its own plot. Showrunners Graeme Manson and John Fawcett had kept Season One relatively straightforward despite all its twists and turns, but now that the core discoveries are over, the show is starting to delve into its own mythology. This is unfortunately the trap that a lot of high concept shows fall into-world building seems like a good idea on paper, but what viewers have seen of the nebulously evil organizations in "Orphan Black" has not been very interesting.
As always, "Orphan Black's" main strengths come from its characters. The incredible ability of lead actress Tatiana Maslany to play a variety of different people in a variety of situations has already become the stuff of legend, and she only gets better in the second season. More intricate scenarios take place-clones on the run, clones pretending to be each other, and even a musical comedy segment where Alison sings and dances with a mop. The supporting cast is still stellar, though in this first episode they are given less to work with than Maslany; Jordan Gavaris' turn as Sarah's foster brother Felix in particular continues to be the heart of the show. If "Orphan Black" can continue to create intimate, character-driven stories, then its second season will be every bit as enjoyable as the previous one, if not better.

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