Orphan Black: The Feminist Show You Need To Watch

While we are arguably currently experiencing the golden age of TV, thanks to shows like Orange is the New Black, Mad Men, The Game of Thrones, and House of Cards, we are also inundated by shameful, “reality” crap. With so many options, either for exciting, interesting television or mind-numbing selections best used as background noise (for me, it’s "Say Yes to the Dress". Not even a little bit guilty), it’s hard to know what’s worth spending time on. I’m here to break it down for you.

Orphan Black is the show everyone should be watching. Not only does this show blow the Bechdel test out of the water, but it’s thought-provoking, darkly funny, science-fiction-y in a way that non-geeks can enjoy, and it handles topics that our society cannot agree on with sensitivity, humor, and most of all, respect. If every bit of celluloid on this planet is destroyed and aliens only have one way to evaluate how far our society came, I would love for that piece of evidence to be Orphan Black.

Never heard of it? Here’s what you need to know: Sarah Manning (Tatiana Maslany) is a punky street urchin who stumbles upon a woman who looks exactly like her. Seconds later, this woman jumps in front of a train. Sarah assumes the stranger’s identity to escape her druggie ex-boyfriend and the general crap that is her life, only to be thrust into a world of secrets, scary corporations, and clones. Yep. Sarah is a clone, one of many in fact and Tatiana Maslany plays them all, which brings me to my first point…

1) Tatiana Maslany

This woman is fierce. She plays every clone, sometimes with multiple clones in one scene, sometimes in a dance party, and sometimes she plays a clone playing another clone. She does this all spectacularly. As The Daily Dot states, “All of these clones have different personalities, accents, and demeanors; one is an evolutionary biologist, one is a cop, one is an ex-religious cult member; one is a mother and would-be actress; one is the head of a shadowy corporation.” There are moments when I am watching this show that I literally forget that it is all one person, because she brings such humanity, depth, and individuality to each character. She’s so mesmerizing that fans of the show crowdfunded to give her an award when she was (rudely) snubbed by the Emmys. I worship at the altar of Maslany and soon, so will you.

 2) Female Characters

As I stated above, Tatiana plays every clone on the show (nine clones, thus far). Very few shows have this many female characters and even less have a number of strong, interesting, nuanced, and kick ass characters. Every female character on this show is believable and real, with more nuance than is typically given to women on television. We’ve grown to accept our male anti-heroes (Tony Soprano, Walter White, Don Draper), but it’s rare to have a show where women are facing off as fully formed individuals with agency, nuance, and many surprises. In an interview with Will Wheaton, Maslany explains why this show has resonated with women, stating, “So often the male perspective is our default perspective in television in film and in all kinds of different media and I think what this show does is it just goes, ‘Nope.’ Women can be all these different things.”

 3) Clones

Now, I’ll be the first person to tell you that a show about clones didn’t really pique my interest. So many Hollywood attempts have tried and failed to interest people in this fascinating topic, such as Stepford Wives, The Island, and Gattaca. However, Orphan Black approaches cloning in the smartest way I’ve seen, as it tackles the issues of property over one’s body, family, gender, and identity. According to io9, “These women may be genetically identical, but each one is unique, the product of different wombs, different environments, different biological and social events.” We are exposed to these issues through the lenses of these drastically different women, but it all comes to one conclusion: these women are struggling with ownership over themselves and their identity, which isn’t something totally alien to our society today.

 4) Gender and Sexuality

Orphan Black not only deals with female issues with sensitivity, but it realistically treats sexuality and transgender issues. The character of Felix (played by Jordan Gavaris, and yes, he will be your favorite character) completely veers from television’s usual formula of defining characters by their sexuality. Although Felix is gay, he is not overly sexualized, nor is his sexuality completely skated over. In creating his character, Gavaris claims that he is a person, not a sexual stereotype: “He's a character who happens to be gay. He's also an artist, he's a brother, he's multi-faceted. It needs to get to a point where these kinds of questions don't even exist. We need to get to a point where it's normalized on TV.” Rather than depicting characters by their descriptions or interests, this show has created well-rounded, complex individuals, as one of the clones is also a lesbian, but that's hardly her defining characteristic. Gavaris is right: We need to get to the point where characters' sexuality being just another personality trait is a normal thing in our entertainment.

5) It’s plain, freaking awesome

I’m not kidding. This show is riveting, exciting, and incredibly kick-ass. The first three minutes of the pilot will have you completely hooked and the roller coaster ride doesn’t stop there. However, the thing that will get you is how this show doesn’t take itself seriously. This is the show that will roll its eyes along with you and laugh at some of the seriously ridiculous things that happen. According to The A.V. Club, “What really stands out about the show is how funny it is, given it’s about subject matter that should be rather tragic.” While we do see the horror that occurs in this world, we see the lightheartedness and desire for a full life that lives within each of these women, making it inevitable to root for them. The heart of the show will get you and you’ll love even the prickliest-seeming characters.

So if I haven’t convinced you yet, you should give the first episode a try. It will have your feminist senses tingling and have you completely riveted. This is my guarantee. The first season can be found on Amazon Prime or on iTunes. Enjoy and welcome to the Clone Club.

More articles by Category: Feminism, LGBTQIA, Media
More articles by Tag: Activism and advocacy, News, Sexuality, Gender bias, Social media, Television



Carolina G
Sign up for our Newsletter

Learn more about topics like these by signing up for Women’s Media Center’s newsletter.