On the Bubble: Orphan Black

Posted on April 17, 2013

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As you are probably aware, I am a sucker for…

  • “Genre” TV
  • Detectives – both mystery stories and police procedurals
  • Shows that value rational thought
  • Shows with good writing – strong characters, interesting settings, and plots that flow logically from characters and events

A strong premise can hook me, but it won’t keep me.

We Watched It

Sarah (Tatians Maslany) is waiting for a subway car when she sees a woman who looks just like her. The woman throws herself off the platform in front of an oncoming train.

Shocked and horrified, Sarah takes the woman’s purse to try to find out who she was and why they look like each other. She goes to the dead woman’s apartment, and discovers that the woman has a large sum of money in a savings account. Sarah needs money to start a new life with her daughter, so she decides to impersonate the dead woman.

Sarah finds herself trapped in the role of a police detective initially because her partner steals it, and later because her clone sisters need police information to figure out where they come from and who is trying to kill them.

On the Bubble

This show falls squarely into genre TV (cloning human beings), detective stories (both because there is a mystery at the heart of the clone story and because she is an actor playing a character pretending to be a detective), and good writing.

So why don’t I like it more?

Frankly, it’s because Sarah isn’t a very nice person. She is a thief and a hustler who abandoned her daughter. She is selfish, self-centered, and unsympathetic. The writers clearly mean for us to like her because she wants to get back together with her daughter, but so far it seems like she wants to reunite with Kira because Kira belongs to her, because she defines herself as a mother, and not because of what’s best for Kira.

Even the casting of Maria Doyle Kennedy (who I’ve had a crush on since 1992, when I saw her in The Commitments) can’t save my interest in this show.

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After three episodes, Sarah’s pal Felix (Jordan Gavaris) has become more likeable. We hoped that Sarah getting together with her clones would start to bring out some better qualities. No luck so far.

Now, I grant you, her whiny, needy, behavior is entirely reasonable for someone in such an overwhelmingly weird situation. It doesn’t make her an attractive hero, though, no matter how many ways the writers find to show her in her underwear.

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WTF

There are two things that really annoy me about Orphan Black (and neither one is the title).

First, there is the plot crutch of the separated daughter. You can write strong, motivated, female characters without making them mothers separated from their children. Continuum and Orphan Black are two obvious examples of this. Terra Nova used kids as a crutch as well, although they handled it a bit differently. The recent horror movie, Mama, is another example.

It’s not a big stretch to see this crutch as sexist. It assumes that women are only motivated by their children. As a writer, I am tired of it already. It’s a short-cut that causes more problems than it resolves. Just stop it, okay, writers?

Second, there is the idea that anyone can just wander in and impersonate a police officer. Because, you know, being a police officer is not a complex, highly skilled, profession. Being a police detective is even more so. It’s not just about shooting a gun (although they did complicate an episode by making Sarah need shooting lessons from one of the other clones), it’s about procedures, legalities, communication tools, and trained responses.

She can’t do the job because she doesn’t have the training. It makes the police characters look stupid because they can’t figure out that she’s faking. Her partner has noticed a couple of minor discrepancies (e.g., how she takes her coffee), but the plot device just doesn’t work for me.

Questions

What shows lured you in with premise, and then turned you off?

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Posted in: television