The Newcloner’s Guide to ORPHAN BLACK
By Alicia Lutes on April 11, 2014
So you’re thinking of watching Orphan Black season two, are ya? Welcome to the trip, man. It’s complex. However, we here at Nerdist HQ are semi-cloneiacs (Clone mania… oh, you get it), and we’re more than a little excited to see the return of the epic BBC America series. Not only that, but we’re d-y-i-n-g to ensure the future of the many-headed hydra that is The Tatiana Maslany Show for many seasons.
Which is why we’ve created this all-knowing guide to Orphan Black for you. Maybe you didn’t watch the first season — or maybe you did and you need a refresher. No matter, because either way we’re here to help. Think of it as an initiation into the Clone Club. First thing to do? Meet the clones.
Street smart, almost perma-on-the-run grifter type, Sarah Manning is our entryway into the series. It is because of her chance encounter with Elizabeth Childs (seconds before the latter ends her life) that we’re introduced into the mystery of this sisterhood like no other.
A serious — and seriously addled — Canadian cop, Elizabeth Childs is still very much a mystery to us even after her death. Outside of the few hints we get from the people who surrounded her while she was alive — her detective partner Art to her boyfriend Paul — and her intense stash of pharmaceuticals, all we know is she has $70,000 in a bank account she opened only a few days prior to her train-jumping death.
Katja — or, The German as she is often referred to — enters into the fray very briefly. She is very, very sick. (Like, coughing up blood sick.) And she has a suitcase with passports, hair, and DNA samples that she must get to Beth’s “science friend,” and quickly.
Spunky smartypants Cosima is an evolutionary biology PhD student from Berkeley studying at the University of Minnesota. Equal parts caring, adaptable, and self-assured, Cosima falls quickly for a woman named Delphine that she feels she cannot trust.
Hyper Type-A and a stickler for rules, Alison is an adoptive mom to two kids with her husband, high school sweetheart Donnie. Desperate to fit in and represent the picture-perfect suburban Canadian lifestyle, the pill-popping, wine-swilling Alison is constantly on edge. She has a nosy neighbor best friend named Aynsley.
Ah, the angry angel. Raised by religious zealots in the Ukraine who have convinced her she must rid the world of her unnatural “seestras,” Helena has been traipsing around Europe on a crusade in order to receive religious salvation from God, because according to her caretakers, she’s an abomination. (Aww how sweet!)
So…What Happened in Season One?
Within the first few seconds of the pilot, we are immediately thrust into the madness. Sarah, waiting to change trains, runs into Beth, briefly locking eyes with the cop seconds before she walked in front of a train, killing herself. Clearly shaken by seeing a stranger who looks just like her, Sarah grabs Beth’s purse (left at the station) and runs off to find her foster brother and one true friend, Felix.
Back in town after almost a year away, Sarah sees opportunity knocking when she discovers Beth had just opened bank account with $70,000. With the money just sitting in there, ripe for the taking, Sarah’s plan — that brought her back in town in the first place — to run away with Felix and her biological daughter, Kira (taking her away from Mrs. S, the duo’s foster mother and current custodian for the wee one) and start life anew, can actually come into fruition. Considering how easy it would be for her to con the bank (since, uh, they’re clones) it’s no wonder she steals the funds. (Spoiler alert: it doesn’t go as planned.) Only assuming Beth’s identity in order to take the money and run doesn’t go so simply. Surprising, right?
Embedding herself into Beth’s life comes with complications. Like Beth’s job! As quick as she has the money, she also has to deal with Art, a detective and Beth’s partner on the force (surprise, Sarah! You’re playing The Man! How does it feel?). You see, Beth has some testimony to give on the civilian shooting of Maggie Chen. Chen’s death forced Beth to take a leave of absence from work, but of course it’s not as simple as all that. As Sarah’s con gets increasingly complicated, she realizes there’s something weird going on with the Chen murder and Beth. Being the resourceful gutterpunk that she is, Sarah heads to the bathroom and drinks a bunch of soap (eugh) to stall for more time before the hearing. Art does not like this as suspects something’s up, so he begins trailing “Beth,” and guess what? He does not like what he sees.
With Beth’s two perma-ringing phones at her hip (one pink, the other plain), Sarah is approached by Katja Obinger, another lookalike begging Beth to take her to her science friend. She has everything Beth asked for, she says. Why has she been ignoring her calls? Katja doesn’t have much time and she believes that the person in Europe killing their “genetic identicals” is on her trail. Genetic i-what? But Katja quickly realizes that Sarah is not Beth — her riddly “I’m one of a few, no family, too, who am I?” elicits no response from Sarah, confirming Katja’s suspicions — but before Sarah has a chance to ask Katja what in the fuck is going on, The German is shot between the eyes by an unseen sniper. OH SHIT! This, naturally, sends Sarah into a tailspin, and she just barely escapes with her life.
After burying the body (I’m sure buying someone who looks just like you is totally not-at-all creepy, eh?!) and growing increasingly wary about the nonstop calls Beth’s pink phone has been receiving, she picks up. There’s a mysterious voice on the other end, and she wants to know what’s wrong. Still playing the Beth con despite her reservations, Sarah continues the con in order to gain more information on the one that’s killing them off. Oh my god, it’s true, the voice declares. And now Sarah’s really worried. The voice says they need Katja’s briefcase. It’s important — and likely back at her hotel room. Sarah and the voice barter: the briefcase for details.
Following that clusterfuck, Sarah heads back to Felix’s, where her wake is taking place. Oh yeah, that’s right: Sarah and Felix constructed a plan to fake her death in place of Beth’s (I mean, the DNA and everything would match, so it is pretty brilliant) in order to keep her scuzzy ex-boyfriend Vic out of her life forever. After narrowly avoiding a run-in with the distraught drug dealer who’s still sorta pissed at Sarah for stealing a bunch of his cocaine (10 grand worth), she heads back to Beth’s place… only to be confronted by Paul, Beth’s boyfriend. Felix, meanwhile, is off to convince Mrs. S that Sarah’s not dead (despite the wake that she appeared at after seeing a flyer), and ensure that Kira doesn’t, y’know, think her mother is dead.
But it’s not long before Art comes calling again. Of course, Sarah knew this would happen, as she realized at Felix’s that the $70,000 she’d stolen from Beth’s account had been nicked by Art. Suspicious that Beth was going to skip town with the money and leave him out to dry on the Maggie Chen murder, Art says he’s holding onto the money until she gets reinstated on the force. (It seems as though Art is lying for Beth, though who knows why…) So Sarah is now forced to read up on the murder in order to give her deposition. Thankfully this leads to a bit more information on Maggie Chen and her weirdly solitary existence.
After another phone call from the mysterious voice, Sarah is off to retrieve the briefcase, this time pretending to be Katja. (“Rock und roll!”) Only: homegirl’s hotel room has been ransacked by someone else! Uh oh. A rogue, headless doll with cigarette burns left on a Bible to amp up the creep factor, but thankfully Sarah and Katja were both whip smart as shit, as Sarah realized Katja checked the briefcase at the front desk coat check, keeping it safe from this predatory killer.
From there, the confrontation with the mysterious voice begins, but the person on the other end of the phone won’t give up so easily. After they realize that Beth is not Beth, Sarah then uses the briefcase and the details held inside it — passports, addresses, photos, and DNA samples from several European and American clones — as leverage. But not before using details in the briefcase to track down one of the few North American clones, Alison Hendrix, in a nearby suburb.
And Alison — oh, poor, sweet, insanely uptight Alison — doesn’t handle the encounter all that well. (Would you, if a clone of yourself showed up to your kids’ soccer practice?) After a heated, knife-y encounter, Alison agrees to let Sarah in on what’s going on. Which later leads to the realization: they’re clones! They’re someone’s experiment and they’re being killed off, one-by-one. It’s here that Sarah finally meets the voice on the other end — it’s Cosima! — and the trio must figure out a way to stay alive. And guess what that means? Oh that’s right, Sarah, you’ve got to continue using Beth’s cover as a way to investigate. (We hope the irony is never lost on her.) Oh, and Felix is now also fully entrenched into the clone club, having tagged along to the suburbs to make sure Sarah doesn’t die.
Which is how we are introduced to the killer, Helena — yup, another clone — tasked by her religious extremist providers (Tomas and — dun dun dun — Maggie Chen! The plot thickens, y’all) to kill the clone abominations so that she, “the original” (so says Tomas), can be saved in heaven. This feral creature-turned-killing machine almost manages to off Sarah, but realizes that she’s not Beth. This throws both of them — as does the curious connection Helena feels with Sarah — forcing Helena to run off and reconfigure her plan, leaving a bloody mess in her wake. That mess being a wounded Art, who is shot by Helena when they enter her, uh, apartment (really it’s more of a squatter’s delight) after clues from Katja’s burial site led them there.
Oh yeah, did we mention that? Sarah has a bloody mess on her hands, too: turns out she buried Katja’s body in an active construction site (woops!) and the police have found her — or at least what remains of her. The countdown is on for the DNA evidence to turn up and turn everything upside down, but first Sarah needs to figure out what happened to Maggie Chen, and why Beth shot her.
Not before she’s given the option to flee though — thanks to Art’s returning of the $70,000, ending the tenuous back-and-forth that’s plagued them. The relief is but momentary, though, as Sarah’s meeting with her daughter, her first since returning to down, must be handled by Alison pretending to be Sarah (good thing Ms. Hendrix is a bit of a stage performer!), because Art needs her at the crime scene. But guess what? Kira knows right away that Alison is not her mother (it’s sorta eerie, really), but she agrees to keep quiet after Alison explains that her mother is keeping them all safe. Did we mention Kira is very smart and crazy-intuitive? Yeah — there’s something different about wee Kira.
And that’s exactly what brings Sarah to Maggie Chen’s old apartment (unbeknownst to her but totally known to Art, who realizes that’s where she’s going and angrily follows suit) to confront Helena, who is near death following the metal barb Sarah stuck her with to thwart Helena’s attempt on her life. Confronted by Helena’s insistence of some special connection — an inexplicable fondness — she lets Helena go before Art barges into the room, freaking out. (Oh, and did we mention that there’s a video on Beth’s computer of Helena — pretending to be Sarah pretending to be Beth — confessing to the murder of Maggie Chen? So, you know, fun little bit of blackmail there.) Why would she come to Maggie Chen’s? What’s going on, Beth? Art is more than a little suspicious of Beth and starts a wee investigation of his own.
But this is all too much for Sarah, who goes back and quits the force immediately, confusing the lieutenant and Art, given Beth’s previously unwavering desire to be a cop.
This news excites Paul, though, who has now slept with Sarah twice. Uh, oh! (Emotions are tricky and Paul is very not-ugly). Paul wants to run away with Beth now that she’s off the force and so much about her has changed (in a good way, he promises!). They’ll discuss it in the morning, Sarah asserts.
But during the night Sarah is visited by several doctors who conduct a bunch of tests on her in what she thought was a dream. Turns out: VERY REAL, and very scary! Which, of course, turns Sarah’s attentions to Paul — what role does he have in this? And how much does he know? Turns out Beth was curious, too, as she was spying on Paul with borrowed police equipment. After employing Felix to help burgle, they uncover the truth: Beth was driven crazy by Paul, who she knew didn’t love her but refused to leave her. Sarah heads to Paul’s office — a mysteriously empty and so-obviously-a-front office called Trexcom Consulting. Sarah plants a listening device in Paul’s office, but not before Paul notices a scar on Beth’s body has gone missing.
This is when we’re introduced to Olivier Duval, a mysterious bossman in charge of Paul who has — get this — an actual tail that, through his funky brand of self-directed evolution called Neolution, he has managed to grow on his body. It is very weird (and we are very glad when Helena later cuts it off). He’s a supporter of Neolution, which is not just the name of his weird self-directed evolution club in some seedy part of town (it’s basically a home for extreme body modification enthusiasts), it’s a movement largely inspired by the teachings of a one Dr. Aldous Leekie, who just-so-happens to be giving a guest lecture at U of M, an event that dreamy new French girl, Delphine, invites Cosima to attend with her.
It’s about this time that all of the girls realize they have monitors. A monitor being the person tasked with watching the clone’s every move and reporting back on their behaviors, moods, and machinations to Olivier. Paul was Beth’s, Donnie’s is likely Alison’s (though she’s convinced it’s her friend Aynsley), and Cosima’s is Delphine. (Does Sarah have one? Was it Vic? Felix? Mrs. S? No one because she’s a rebel? WHO?!) Still, the women refuse to listen to their guts and instead follow their hearts, leading Cosima to fall for Delphine and Sarah to fall for Paul despite them both knowing better.
Paul asserts his ignorance to the clone situation when Sarah finally confronts him — following the scar sitch, the differences were becoming too much for Paul to bare — stating he’s only told what he needs to know and nothing more. His affections for Sarah allow him to play both sides as the folks at the DYAD Institute (run by Dr. Leekie and the seeming home of this clone experiment) become aware not only of Sarah’s existence, but the other clones’ self-awareness, too. Alison, however, really doesn’t want to believe that her husband is her monitor (except, spoiler alert: he oh so totally is). This sends her into a total tailspin of crafty torture and a drunken stupor during the middle of a neighborhood party. (Who has a cracker cupboard?!) But Sarah comes to the rescue (as does Felix, doing his best to fit in with the uptight suburbanites) but not before Vic — Oh, yeah, he’s back! — and Paul all end up at the shindig. Meanwhile, Aynsley’s very confused and trying to buttinski.
All the while, Art is still on the case of the mysterious Jane Doe from the construction site, and — uh oh — the DNA results Sarah tried to hide have reasserted themselves and the truth is revealed: that body looks just like Beth! And oh shit, look, her DNA is identical to the train victim, Sarah Manning. Except — oh wait, no, that’s Beth. What the shit is going on here, Art wonders. Naturally, this puts him on the hunt for the mysterious Sarah Manning.
Right around this time is when Helena shows up at Mrs. S’s house and ends up enticing Kira outside to play with her. Their relationship is fascinating, because Kira understands the love and care that Helena needs (and knows that Helena won’t hurt her). But when Sarah runs out to find Kira, the poor little girl ends up getting hit by a car. Things look really not good for Kira but — oh wait! — she’s totally fine with nary an internal injury. The doctors see something fascinating on the x-rays but unfortunately we’re not privy to that information (ugh!).
And right about here is where all of the shit hits the fan. Sarah, hoping to gain more information on where she came from, needles an uneasy Mrs. S who reluctantly introduces her to her birth mother, Amelia. It is then revealed that Sarah was a twin, and her sister was — wait for it — Helena! Amelia warns Sarah not to trust Mrs. S — giving her a picture of the alleged foster mom labeled as a doctor of Project LEDA. Unfortunately their reunion doesn’t last long, as Helena kills Amelia, forcing Sarah to shoot her long-lost seestra and leave her for dead.
The DYAD Institute is not giving up so easily, though, and uses their newly gained knowledge of Kira — ugh, thanks a lot, Paul! — to try and twist Sarah’s arm. But following the aforementioned car accident, Sarah is on the warpath, determined to seek revenge and keep her daughter safe. But not before she’s faced with a shocking discovery.
* NEW CLONE ALERT! * NEW CLONE ALERT! * NEW CLONE ALERT! *
That’s right — there’s a new clone and she’s far from ordinary. A pro-clone who’s been self-aware since she was a little girl, this corporate HBIC wants to “come to terms” with the rest of the clones by giving them their freedom — in exchange for regular testing and light monitoring. Sarah’s not having any of Rachel’s game, but the other clones aren’t so sure: Alison just wants her life back and signs on the dotted line almost immediately.
For Cosima, she’s on the fence. While Delphine has been exploiting Cosima’s feelings for her to gain insight into what knowledge the clones have of their own existence, Cosima has been using her to gain more information as well. (It’s a real toxic-but-genuine love affair between these two.) After Dr. Leekie offers Cosima a position at the DYAD Institute where she can conduct her own research on herself and the other clones in her own lab, she uses his good-faith gesture — the gift of her own genetic sequence — and makes a startling discovery. They are patented property, owned by the DYAD. Any ruse of freedom is a lie. This sends Sarah on an “up yours, pro-clone” tear, furthering her determination to up and run again. But when Sarah goes to fetch Kira and Mrs. S she makes the startling discovery: they’re gone and the house looks ransacked. KIIIIIIIRRRAAAAAAAA!!!!!
So that’s Orphan Black‘s first season, in a nutshell. Now you’re ready for it’s April 19th return click here and here to watch the trailers. Are you excited, exhausted, and ready to join the Clone Club? Let us know in the comments.