Random Musings: Orphan Black is an engaging mystery

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    Orphan Black title card

     (Orphan Black titles. Courtesy BBC America.)

        In Orphan Black, the new series on BBC America (Saturdays at 9 p.m.), Sarah Manning (Tatiana Maslany), a young British woman with a criminal past, wants to start a new life. Her goal: get away from her abuse boyfriend, Vic, (Michael Mando) and reclaim custody of her young daughter, Kira (Skyler Wexler). Sarah’s foster mother, Mrs. S. (who brought Sarah and her foster brother, Felix, to North America as teenagers) has been caring for the girl since Sarah took off ten months earlier and isn’t about to just hand the child over. Not given Sarah’s background.

         When Sarah sees a woman who looks just like her step in front of a subway train, she thinks she might have the answer to one of her problems. The woman, Beth Childs, left her purse on the subway platform and Sarah helps herself to it. She also convinces Felix (Jordan Gavaris) to identify the dead woman as herself so Vic will believe she’s dead.

         Curious about Beth, Sarah goes to her home, where she discovers her look-alike had $75,000 in the bank. Time for a withdrawal.

         Sarah pulls off her impersonation with both Beth’s bank and boyfriend, Paul (Dylan Bruce). Might not be that easy with her coworkers.

         See, Beth was:

         1) a cop.

         and 2) facing a disciplinary board for the shooting of an unarmed civilian.

         That’s not all. Beth’s partner, Art (Kevin Hanchard) finds the money in Beth’s trunk and holds onto it for “safekeeping” until “Beth” can get through the hearing.

         So, in her impulsive decision to get out of her own life by impersonating a dead woman who looks like her, all Sarah has to do is pass herself off as a police officer while under scrutiny by both her partner and her superiors.

    Orphan Black Katja

    (Katja starts to get suspicious of “Beth.” Courtesy BBC America.)

         Actually, that’s not all she has to do. She also has to navigate an even bigger mystery. While maintaining her impersonation of Beth, Sarah meets another look-alike, a German woman named Katja who believes she’s speaking with Beth. While the two talk in a car and Katja starts to become suspicious, the German is killed by a sniper.

         A frantic Sarah speeds from the scene.

         In addition to her face-to-face with Katja, Sarah has also been receiving calls on Beth’s cell phone from a familiar-sounding voice. This woman advises her to bury Katja’s body somewhere and then retrieve a briefcase in the German’s possession.

         Now Sarah finds herself impersonating Katja and going to the German’s hotel.

         Where management want to speak to her about her trashed room.

         Soon after, Sarah meets two other look-alikes, soccer mom Alison and PhD candidate Cosima, who turns out to have been the voice on the phone. From them, she learns that all these look-alike women are clones, and that someone is trying to kill them.

    Orphan Black Alison confronts Sarah

    (Alison confront Sarah. Courtesy BBC America)

         In the third episode (the most recent as of this writing), Sarah meets Katja’s killer face-to-face. It’s another clone.

         Or maybe the original?

         Sarah, Cosima and Alison are all very different women, who, despite their genetic connection, aren’t necessarily going to get along. Sarah and Alison have already butted heads; and Alison is concerned that since Sarah has access to Beth’s life, she also has access to the $75,000 Alison contributed toward the clones figuring out what’s going on.

         Cosima, for her part, has encouraged Sarah to continue her impersonation of Beth (who has been reinstated following some fast talking on Sarah’s part), since Beth’s position as a cop is useful to them.

         Sarah’s already had to use her position as a faux cop to cover things up when Katja’s remains were discovered. Turns out Sarah’s out-of-the-way place to dispose of the body turned out to be at the edge of a construction site. The face can’t be recognized, but if these clones all have the same fingerprints and a check of the system turns up Sarah’s name (and photo), her impersonation would have been revealed.

         And still might be if forensics tries facial reconstruction.

         And there’s always the chance that Sarah will slip up somehow in her interactions with either Art or Paul and one or the other (or both) will realize “Beth” isn’t who she seems to be.

         Sarah also has to contend with the killer, who knows she’s not Beth and might decide, for her own reasons, to expose her.

         As for Alison and Cosima (who’s returned to her school in Minnesota), neither are necessarily safe. The killer may already know about them.

         Amidst all these clone concerns, Sarah still has to persuade Mrs. S. (Maria Doyle Kennedy) to allow her access to Kira again. And Mrs. S. has made it clear that Sarah only gets one visit; one Sarah’s determined is done right.

         In just three episodes (out of a total of 10 for the season, according to IMDb) Sarah and her fellow clones (and the viewers) have been drawn into a complicated series of mysteries. And several questions remain:

         How many clones are out there?

         Who created them and why?

         Why did Beth commit suicide?

         Part of the scene in episode one where Sarah retrieves Beth’s purse is shown from the POV of a security camera. It seems unlikely that shot was there just to create an interesting effect. What else will did the security camera show, and will the police ever have cause to look at it?

         Art eventually gave back the money. Will Sarah give in to her survival instincts, grab the cash (and Kira) and run? Or will she help these strangers who just happen to look like her?

         Felix now knows about the clones. Who else does? And how will those in these women’s lives who don’t react when and if they find out?

         If you like mystery stories, Orphan Black is a good one. And Tatiana Maslany carries off playing multiple characters (who have different looks, attitudes, body language and accents) really well.

    Copyright 2013 Patrick Keating

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