Endless Forms Most Beautiful

Everyone has a doppelganger somewhere in the world, so they say. Sarah Manning, a small-time drifter, sees hers seconds before her double jumps in front of a train. Not one to miss an opportunity, Sarah snatches the bag the tragic woman left behind, and proceeds to borrow her life.

It looks like a good score; the dead woman, Beth Childs, lived in an upscale condo with an attentive boyfriend and, most intriguingly, she left enough money in the bank to finance Sarah’s dream of escaping a bad relationship and taking her young daughter with her — a daughter she hasn’t seen for a year.

But Beth was a police officer with some complications of her own. Someone keeps calling her on her cell phone and she’s got a civilian shooting to explain. Then another lookalike shows up looking for Beth — and another, and another. They have a strange story to tell — Sarah is an unwitting member of the “Clone Club”, as her new acquaintances call themselves.

There’s Cosima, a scientist, Allison the soccer mom, and Katje, a German woman who’s killed soon after she appears. Lurking in the shadows is Helena, who was raised in a convent in Ukraine but trained as an assassin. She has a chaotic way of looking at the situation that’s both dangerous and pitiable.

At the same time that Sarah discovers her origins, she finds out that the clones are under threat from all directions — even each other. A radical religious cult wants to kill them, the scientific movement that produced the clones wants to retrieve them, and a biotech corporation considers them copyrighted private property.

Orphan Black is a Canadian television series produced in partnership with BBC America and created by Graeme Manson and John Fawcett. Its first season, now available on DVD at Whitehorse Public Library, gained a cult following and critical praise for its originality when it aired in 2013. The performance of the lead actress, Tatiana Maslany, who plays six distinct characters in the first season, received special notice, including Critics’ Choice awards for the first and second seasons.

Maslany really shines when the plot requires one character to pose as another—Sarah as Beth, Allison as Sarah, Sarah as Allison — and when several of the clones are in the same scene together.

You don’t have to be a fan of science fiction to appreciate Orphan Black. The convoluted plot allows the creators to slip from drama to suspense to comedy, while the relationships of the characters with each other and with other people in their lives keeps the story relatable.

Sarah’s hedonist foster brother, Felix (Jordan Geveris) and their somewhat mysterious foster mother, Siohbhan (Maria Doyle Kennedy), who brought them to Canada from England, provide acerbic support and occasional enlightenment.

A host of other friends, lovers, work mates, and dubious characters, all with suspect motives and shifting loyalties, attempt to accompany the women on their quest to manage their precarious existence.

The look of the series is impressive, showing off versatile Toronto locations, from sleek condos to the shabby gentility of the traditional downtown neighbourhoods, glimmering corporate and medical settings, gritty urban alleys and clubs, and interior design for the characters’ homes that reflects their personalities.

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