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TV Review: Orphan Black – “Pilot”

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Orphan Black’s concept is so complex that we probably won’t know what it is until the third episode. Normally, this would make me hang my head and weep, but writer Graeme Manson (the man behind the film Cube which should tell you a lot) pulls it off by simply earning every beat. Instead of rushing through each moment so he can fit his massive and unwieldy concept into a single episode, he lets the plot progress, making sure to earn every choice and every character’s motivation.

The plot, as far as I understand it, is that an orphan and thief, Sarah (played by the confusingly attractive Tatiana Maslany) witnesses the suicide of a woman who looks exactly like her. This gives Sarah the not entirely unreasonable idea of faking her own death, using the dead woman’s body, as a way of stealing all of the woman’s money. Once Sarah, in her new identity, convinces the authorities that the dead woman is actually herself, it gets Sarah out of all the debt she’s accumulated. This would be all fine and dandy, but the life she’s jumped into is a very complicated and dangerous one. And then it just gets weirder.

The thing that makes this story so much fun to watch is that we, the audience, are like Sarah, imposters jumping into the lives of a dangerous and mysterious clone (maybe?). And as she discovers further challenges and conspiracies, we discover them with her. To Manson’s credit, every solution she comes up with is just the right amount of clever to make us sympathize with her, without being absurd and unrealistic. In a lot of ways this pilot reminds me of Cinemax’s Banshee, another show about an imposter, but where Banshee just burned through the plot in order to get to the Amish blowjob tooth-pulling stuff, Orphan Black takes its sweet time, going through every little harrowing detail (there is a particularly crushing scene involving Sarah’s daughter and Sarah’s own fake funeral).

But, the thing that makes me most excited to come back to this show next week is that it has proven itself to be truly unpredictable. Because every scene is dominated by the human will, and not a grand theme or week by week plot arc, it is a truly volatile show, as volatile as the human condition and just as captivating.

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About Timothy Earle

Tim is an LA based fiction and script writer. He has decided to watch and review every TV pilot that airs in the US because he has little regard for his own happiness and well-being.
  • Timothy Earle

    It’s not that I require everything to be explained right away. In fact, there are a great many things left unexplained in Orphan Black, and it did not bother me at all. What irked my about Banshee was that it did not give me any insight into why the main character was doing the things he was doing. I don’t mind some mystery, but I also need to relate to the characters. If a character’s back story gives me more insight into why he is the way he is, that’s fine, but I shouldn’t have to wait 4 episodes before I can relate to a show’s protagonist.

  • Leigh

    Sure, but it’s a matter of preference whether one wants or needs everything explained right away, or whether one is willing to wait for characters’ back stories to unfold as the show continues. The fact that Banshee chose the latter option, doesn’t make the pilot bad. It just means they went another way.

  • Timothy Earle

    I rate a Pilot based on it’s own merits. If a show eventually fixed some initial problems, that’s awesome. Doesn’t make the pilot any better.

  • Leigh

    Just because Banshee didn’t deal with every little detail in the pilot, doesn’t mean it never dealt with it at all. Maybe you missed some of the later episodes such as “Wicks”.