Season 3 of the critically-acclaimed, certifiably bad ass BBC television show Orphan Black premiers on BBC America today. If you’ve watched the show already, prepare to have all your feelings validated by this post. If you haven’t seen it yet, prepare to block off an afternoon to get up to speed.

I ended up watching season 1 of Orphan Black last summer on Amazon Prime while procrastinating doing my homework. Based on the cover image, I initially thought it might be a crime thriller in the vein of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and in some ways that instinct was right. However, Orphan Black is a science fiction crime thriller. So yeah, it’s awesome. Let’s break down all that awesomeness using the Her Story Arc’s Scale of Inclusivity:


Not offensive to women = 1 pt*

At no point in the television series did I find myself physically or emotionally uncomfortable by how the women characters were speaking, acting, or portrayed. My enjoyment of the show was not marred by any moments of dismay or thoughts of “how did this make it into the film?”. I was engaged by, and impressed by, the women characters.

Features a woman as the main protagonist and/or supporting character = 2 pts

This section is difficult to fully answer because being 100% honest would reveal a key plot point, and I don’t want to spoil it for you. Basically, the actress herself, Tatiana Maslany, is the star(s) of the show. When we first see Tatiana, she is acting as Sarah Manning…and as Elizabeth Childs. Story-wise, the main protagonist is Sarah Manning, but believe me when I say the lines get blurred.

Elizabeth Childs
Sarah Manning

The Orphan Black graphic makes a little more sense now, doesn’t it?


In addition to the main protagonist(s), there are numerous women supporting characters. Here are a few that play a prominent role in season 1:

Mrs. S, the foster mom of Sarah Manning
Kira, Sarah Manning’s Daughter
Detective Angela Deangelis, Elizabeth Child’s co-worker
Delphine, a super smart scientist

Passes the Bechdel test = 3 pts

Oh yeah, all the time. ALL THE TIME. The show is about a group of women with a common problem, and their problem is not solely the result of the actions of male characters.

Artistic and/or Entertaining = 4 pts

Here is a quote from my first post on the show, while I was still in the middle of watching it:

This afternoon I was on the edge of my seat with a chip hanging out of my mouth for over twenty minutes (actually happened). And I was only on episode 4. I still have 6 to go! I will probably have to be peeled off the ceiling with a crowbar when I finish the season finale.

Where to begin? Without giving too much away, our main protagonist Sarah Manning is down on her luck and on the run from her poor life choices as well as an abusive relationship. She is a punk with a foul mouth and an attitude, and the willingness to act to back it up. Her already crazy life soon pales in comparison to the world she is introduced to in the first episode. Her entire perception of who she is, her origins (she is a foster child), and the world around her are up-heaved when she witnesses a woman commit suicide. After that moment she is constantly on the run, covering her tracks, and in over her head. I assume her life up to this point wasn’t sunshine and roses, but I doubt she was intimately familiar with fraud, impersonation, theft, gun fire, and cleaning up the mess afterwards.

Above and Beyond General Media = 5 pts

Orphan Black is progressive in both its ideas on scientific copyright and the personal narratives of its characters. Given the bevy characters that we cross paths with, the fact that each one is unique and interesting is a feat. We see through the eyes of a teen-delinquent turned adult-delinquent, her gay foster brother, an uptight suburban house wife, a dreadlocked, lesbian scientist studying in Minnesota, an enslaved woman in a religious cult, and many, many more. In addition, three important and prominent characters in the show are homosexual, and we get to see the joy (and freedom) they have in expressing their sexuality.

The creators of the show have taken our world and erased the homophobia, sexism, and racism. The characters act and talk as if those issues never existed. As I write more reviews and think more critically about the media I consume, I think this is one of the best strategies for pushing our culture forward. We need to see more versions of our world where those issues aren’t a problem anymore. As the saying goes, “you can’t be what you can’t see”.

In the absence of those social problems, we are still left with politics, scientific ethics, and religion to keep the story intricate and relatable to today’s ills. I mentioned the shows dealings with scientific copyright, and I hope you didn’t roll your eyes. Copyright may sound like a boring issue (bleh – legalese!) but it affects us each and everyday. If you don’t believe me check out this article on Disney and Mickey Mouse’s roles in today’s copyright laws. In Orphan Black, the issue of copyright is extended to the human body. Think about the implications of the patenting and copyrighting of individual organs or genes. While this show pushes the concept to the extreme, it is an easily imaginable future when you realize that pieces of the human body are already patented now.

For all these reasons and more Orphan Black requires your attention. To quote Bitch Media:

A show as experimental and gleefully fun as Orphan Black deserves a wider audience, and feminist sci-fi fans are poised to be the first wave of new supporters.


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*This is a category that could get very complicated, very quickly, if we tried to list everything that could be offensive to women. Instead, we use this category as a way of showing our own personal reaction to whatever we are reviewing. All contributors to this site are women and can speak from a woman’s perspective. However, no woman can speak for all women so we do our best to explain our choice one way or the other. We encourage all readers to share their opinions in the comments of every post if they want to express agreement or disagreement with our rankings.

6 thoughts on “So what is this “Orphan Black” show everyone is talking about?

  1. It’s offensive to me that the message is that only children make you whole, and that the word “barren” is used in season 2 to describe the women. All of them are psycho except for the one with the child. Sarah is cold and emotionally unavailable because she grieves her inability to breed, Allison adopted kids and she is way off, an alcoholic, the blonde one is psycho and the show is only going to be saved by giving birth.

    See the theme? That’s offensive.


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