Sestras Before Misters: Orphan Black’s Rah-Rah Sisterhood

Sarah. Helena. Cosima. Alison. Krystal. Rachel. MK. Beth Childs, whose death set a stunning chain of events in motion. Any devout member of Orphan Black’s “Clone Club” knows those names by heart. For those new to the show, which is airing its fifth and final reason right now, here’s a revelation: All of those characters are played by the same person, the jaw-droppingly talented Tatiana Maslany. While they are technically genetic clones, the brilliant and mind-bending BBC America series boils the relationship down to a level more spiritual than cellular. They’re sisters. No matter what.

It’s not easy to find a show where a romantic ‘ship isn’t somehow the driving force, but Orphan Black is sublime when it comes to prioritizing family over flings. There have been memorable relationships — the scorching chemistry between Paul (Dylan Bruce) and Sarah will never be forgotten — but even if we appreciate Alison and Donnie’s quirky and steadfast marriage or Cosima and Delphine’s beautiful love story, it’s the sisters who matter the most. It’s the sisters we want to see “end up together.”

 I blame, and thank, the wildcard character of Helena. An orphan raised in Ukraine, Helena never knew security or family. When we first meet her, she’s basically unhinged — played as a psychotic vigilante — and being used for someone else’s agenda. But then she meets Sarah Manning, whom the audience eventually learns is not her clone but her biological twin. Her “sestra,” she says in her thick Ukrainian accent. What’s initially an obsession born of curiosity turns into a yearning to spend time with Sarah and her daughter, Kira. And its masterful way, as it does with all its characters, Orphan Black takes Helena beyond the stereotypes she was introduced with. Her fierce desire for belonging, for family, ends up being what drives her darker impulses — and that quickly spreads to the other clones. Cosima, for instance, puts her own life on the line countless times just to crack the medical mysteries that hide in their genetic makeup.

These women will throw down for each other. That’s never more hilariously apparent then when we’re in Alison Hendrix’s sphere. The tightly wound suburban soccer mom is hardly someone you’d expect to be involved in a global scientific conspiracy. It’s practically a nuisance, in fact! All Alison wants to do is be Queen Bitch of the PTA and the local theater group! But when her sisters need her…? The petty foibles of Wisteria Lane take the back seat of her minivan.

There are dozens of examples of that devotion across the five seasons — it’s the heart that holds the show together amidst all the twists and turns and “WTF just happened?” revelations that come along with finding out cloning is a thing. Clones like Rachel and Krystal operate outside of the core group — with Rachel acting as an out-and-out villain for most of her run — but even they have helped the others in their own self-serving ways.

It’s the ultimate argument for nature vs. nurture. Every single one of these women — as well as trans clone Tony, who we’ve seen only briefly — was raised in a different environment by different people in different circumstances, but the bond between them transcends those differences. They have nothing in common but they have everything in common — especially the drive to stay alive.

I know not all of Sarah and Helena’s “sestras” will make it to the final episode. We’ve already lost a few along the way. But the inevitable grief doesn’t take away from the series’ uplifting message. Orphan Black has made it beautifully clear that no one has to be orphan — because you can make your own family from the most absurd circumstances. Foster moms, adoptive brothers, beleaguered cops, tech geeks, genetic clones…they’re all part of this show’s spectacular sisterhood. When you have a Clone Club, you’re never alone.

 

Originally published on HeroesandHeartbreakers.Com.

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