Orphan Black

Five Feminist Reasons to Binge Watch Orphan Black

The following two tabs change content below.

Sara Vlemmings

Feminist, queer, Dutchie. Too optimistic for a pessimist. Red lipstick lover.

An abundance of female characters, clones, science-fiction, action, mystery, fast-paced storytelling and plot twists that will make your head spin: what more could you ask of a television show? Four years ago, I fell head over heels in love with Orphan Black. Not in an obsessed-and-writing-tons-of-fanfic kind of way, but because I was shocked to see a completely female-led show that doesn’t specifically target women as their audience. And, now it’s coming to an end with its fifth and final season currently airing.

So, let’s delve into five reasons why you have to binge-watch the series to catch up with the current season.

Orphan Black
A wide selection of some of the clones Tatiana Maslany portrays

“Can you read me a story?”

First of all, there is the compelling storyline that drags you in right from the get-go. Sarah Manning, a small-time criminal, returns to the place where she left her family and sees a woman who looks exactly like her jump in front of a train. From there, the story goes from what could have been a story about twins, stolen identities, and just your basic cop-drama to an unpredictable tale of clones, fringe science, religion, and edge-of-your-seat cliffhangers. And it’s all done with female protagonists. The only two real male leads that have returned for all the seasons are Felix, Sarah’s gay stepbrother, and Art, a black cop who comes to help and protect the clones.

It’s a show that stays away from the woman being there to help the man. In fact it, it doesn’t come close to a lot of stereotypes that shows with multiple female leads tend to fall for. It fails the reverse Bechdel tests more times than I care to count.

“Just how many of us are there?”

Obviously, a show about female clones is going to have a lot of female characters. Some clones have a larger role than others, but those women are always at the heart of the story. A hustler, a soccer mom, a scientist, a serial killer. At face-value they’re all shockingly different, but the relationships they build over the course of each season are quite possibly even stronger than the sisterhood they have been forced into.

Other than the clones, Orphan Black features a lot of other female characters. Pretty much with each new storyline or uncovered adversary, be it an evil cooperation or a religious cult, they all have one or more women featured prominently. Even when a military plot comes along, the person at the center of it is a woman. Some people have complained that the male characters suffered because the female characters were so fully developed. Personally, I don’t see this. There are more important women in the show than men, but to me it seems like all the characters have had equal development and storyline relative to their importance to the overall plot.

“Pretty gay, by the looks of this place”

Orphan black

A decent portrayal of queer characters has become a little less rare over the years, especially with Netflix producing hit after hit which almost always features at least one queer person. Even before Netflix bought the broadcasting rights to Orphan Black, there was more than a fair share of decent representation.

There’s Felix, who doesn’t even try to hide his sexuality and no one ever faults or shames him about it. There’s a lesbian relationship which might not be too healthy given everything going on for these characters, but never for a moment can their love for each other be doubted. It even features a transman, who is played by a cis-woman, because he is part of the clones. So, while that is not ideal, they deal with his short but solid storyline in a respectful way. Queer characters are a massively important part of the show without the story being exclusively about them being gay or otherwise.   

“Are these my babies?”

Then there is another interesting aspect of the show which I didn’t fully realize until my first rewatch. Motherhood is a really important part of the show, but never in a predictable or even stereotypical way. Sarah makes for a less than perfect mother after abandoning her daughter with her own foster mother, but grows in her role as a mom as the show progresses and there is nothing that will stop her from protecting her daughter.

orphan black
Sarah Manning with her foster mother, Siobhan Sadler, and her mother, Kendall Malone.

The soccer mom turns out to have a less than perfect suburban life, but even when her life dissolves around her, she is fiercely protective of her kids, whom she adopted because she is unable to have children herself. The serial-killer-turned-clone-club-protector positively melts around children and is delighted when she can get children of her own. Sarah and Felix’s foster-mother is willing to burn down everything to save her family. And the show doesn’t value biological motherhood over adoptive or foster motherhood. It values the mutual emotional connection, the fierce protectiveness of mothers towards their children, no matter what their biological link might or might not be.

“There’s only one of me”

A show where one actress plays a dozen characters and where those women play each other in the show as well could get very monotonous. However, Tatiana Maslany’s performance and the show itself ensures that doesn’t happen for even a second. One of the driving forces of Orphan Black is that every clone has her own identity and is her own person. Despite all of them being genetic copies, they are all unique and they won’t let anyone tell them otherwise. They go to war with religious fanatics, corporations, even more evil corporations, and even science itself to prove they belong to themselves and they have a right to be free, to have autonomy over their own bodies and lives, instead of being treated like the science experiment that brought them to life.

Freedom to be yourself with other people influencing, without your consent, how to live your life. It almost sounds scarily familiar.

So what are you waiting for?

orphan black
Promotional art for season 3


Orphan Black airs on Saturdays 10/9 C on BBC America. For more information about how to watch, click here