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attack of the clones

Orphan Black Is Back and You Should Watch It

Orphan Black's second season debuts on Saturday — which means there's still time to catch up! And you should; the show is terrific. It's original and confident, beautifully acted and perfectly paced. There's the sinister international-conspiracy stuff, decent action sequences, and the fun kind of violence, but maybe more important, the show also has a sense of humor. It's not all sad ladies and anonymous, cloudy Canadian backdrops! The show contains multitudes.

Without going into too much of the show's minutia, Orphan is about a woman who discovers she's a clone; the action follows Sarah and some of her clone mates as they try to figure out how this could have happened and who’s responsible. Not enough can be said in praise of Tatiana Maslany's performance as all the clones, including a type-A soccer mom, a funky scientist, a barely reformed grifter, and a crazy-eyed assassin. As we learn more about each of these characters, Orphan sometimes drifts away from its central mystery, but it adds depth and brightness to the show. Even if these characters weren't involved in some kind intriguing international cloning experiment, they could support their own shows: Alison, the headband-wearing soccer mom, has a whole Weeds-esque story line about the oppressiveness of suburban bullshit; Cosima, the scientist, has an adorable lesbian romance; Helena, the Ukrainian contract killer, has an unusual religious background and an elaborate history of self-harm. It's not clones-clones-clones all the time, thank God. These clones are people, see, and they all have lives going on outside of their clone mysteries.

I've been pushing Orphan Black on my friends and loved ones. A lot. I haven't evangelized this hard for a sci-fi series since I launched my quest to make every human on Earth watch Battlestar Galactica. But Orphan Black doesn't really remind me of BSG except for how much I like it. Orphan Black instead reminds of a really good non-mythology episode of The X-Files.

I was and am a huge fan of The X-Files and could happily spend hours discussing particulars of various episodes or organizing an X-Files–themed karaoke night. (Dibs on "Walking in Memphis.") But "mythology" episodes or monster-of-the-week or the real origin of Gibson or Scully's stolen ova — eh, I don't care one way or the other. I just like spending time in that world, with those characters. I feel the same way about Orphan Black: Yes, the conspiracy is well-crafted, and yes, it's an engaging critique of society in the way that lots of cool speculative fiction tends to be. But I'm not watching so I can dissect the veracity of this imaginary cloning program or even to get to the bottom of who's doing what. I'm watching because the characters fascinate me, and I want to see what they're going to do.

Photo: BBC