Crash Course: ‘Orphan Black’


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BBC’s science fiction thriller Orphan Black returns with its fourth season on April 14. Newbies might know it’s a show about clones (all played by one actress, Tatiana Maslany), but it’s really much more than that. Here’s everything you need to know about Orphan Black. And careful, there are major spoilers ahead.

The Clones

Tatiana Maslany dancing as 5 different people
Tatiana Maslany dancing as 5 different people

The show’s lead Tatiana Maslany plays Sarah Manning, a delinquent and con artist who sees a woman named Beth – who looks exactly like her – commit suicide. Being in trouble herself, Sarah decides to fake her own death and assume Beth’s identity in order to take the first steps at providing a better lifestyle for her daughter Kira. Her plans are quickly foiled when she learns that Beth is a cop who’s been investigating a conspiracy around other clones out there who look just like her.

The main clones we’ve met so far include Sarah, Alison, Cosima, Rachel, Helena, Tony, and Krystal.

  • Alison Hendrix is your quintessential soccer mom living in suburbia with her husband and two children, but she has a gun permit and isn’t afraid to kick butt to protect her family.
  • Cosima Niehaus is a Ph.D. student and the main researcher for the group, also known as Clone Club.
  • Helena is Sarah’s actual twin who was raised in a Ukrainian convent, and she is a dangerous assassin who killed the other clones. She later joins Clone Club after having a change of heart, thanks to Sarah and Kira.
  • Tony and Krystal appear briefly but the first is a transgender clone who ends up leaving the Clone Club while the second is a bubbly manicurist who didn’t know anything about Neolution or clones before getting involved in Rachel’s evil plans.
  • Unlike the other clones we’ve seen so far, Rachel grew up fully aware that she is a clone and she actually works closely with Neolution, taking on the role of one of the main antagonists in Season 2.

The Enemies

One of the Castor clones, Mark
One of the Castor clones, Mark

The clones were created by Project Leda, a military experiment lead by Rachel’s parents which was eventually  shut down but then picked up by the shady Dyad Institute. The Leda clones eventually learn there was another project, and they have “brothers” as a result of Project Castor. While Dyad had taken on Leda, the military had continued Castor.

The Leda clones find out that the secret organization called Neolution is actually pulling the strings behind both projects using Dyad, Topside (Dyad’s parent company), and the military. What are Neolution’s motives? Still unclear.

Meanwhile, Clone Club also have to deal with the Proletheans, a group of religious extremists who believe synthetic biology should be done in God’s name and will. The Proletheans are outside of Neolution’s control but bent on capturing the clones for their own use, and they even kidnapped Helena from a hospital to artificially inseminate her.

Honorable Clone Clubbers

Felix helping Alison out
Felix helping Alison out

Luckily, the clones have friends dedicated to helping out.

  • Sarah’s foster brother Felix is a struggling artist who comes to her aid when she fakes her own death and then gets embroiled in all the clone drama. He is her closest confidante and sometimes acts like a voice of reason for her.
  • Mrs. S, their foster mother, knew about Project Leda even before Sarah did and is connected to an underground organization of activists, the same ones that helped smuggle Sarah to America.
  • Art Bell, Beth’s former partner, has his reservations about Sarah but eventually becomes a Clone Club ally, helping the ladies out when he can.
  • Scott Smith is Cosima’s friend and peer who goes to work with her at Dyad but proves to be a loyal friend when he finds out more about the clone project.

The Love Interests

The Clone Club also have support from their significant others: Paul, Cal, Donnie, Delphine, and Jesse.

  • Paul originally monitored Beth, but then he slowly fell in love with Sarah. He does what he can to help her and her sisters sort through the conspiracy.
  • Cal is Sarah’s ex-lover and Kira’s father. While we don’t know too much about him other than the fact that he has great computer skills and carries a lot of cash at all times, Cal seems very protective of his daughter and willing to help Sarah as a result.
  • Donnie was Dyad’s hired monitor for his wife Alison, but he realizes what he was doing was wrong and puts himself on the Clone Club’s side of the war.
  • Delphine also has close ties with Dyad, even becoming Cosima’s boss at the institute at one point. But she loves Cosima and tries to do what she thinks will help her in the long run.
  • Jesse is the newest addition to Clone Club valentines and hilariously met Helena while she was drinking alone in a bar. Despite her eccentricities, he seems attracted to her but he is still a mystery to the girls.

Post Season 3 Recap

Celebratory Clone Club dinner
Celebratory Clone Club dinner

When Season 3 ended, the Clone Club had finally scored a win against all of their enemies.

  • Alison won the school trustee elections and started a pretty successful drug dealing business with Donnie.
  • Sarah and Mrs. S found the original DNA for the Leda and Castor projects, the owner of which was actually Mrs. S’s mother Kendall. They stopped the military from producing any more clones, although that and Sarah’s escape sadly cost Paul his life, and found a possible cure to the Leda clones’ respiratory disease.
  • Finally, Helena ended things with Castor in a one-on-one battle against Rudy in the Hendrix’s garage which she obviously won.
  • Sarah reunited with her daughter in Iceland and all seemed happy…but then we saw Delphine get shot in Dyad’s parking garage.
  • Fans will also remember that Krystal was kidnapped and woke up in a hospital bed so that Rachel could get smuggled out. Rachel then wakes up in a room to find out she has a new prosthetic eye, her mother is actually still alive, and she now has a daughter named Charlotte, the baby Leda who was kidnapped at the beginning of the season.

What’s next?

MK reveals herself
MK reveals herself

Clearly things are not going to continue down a happy path for the Clone Club. They never do. Fans will see a new clone named M.K. who has a lot of answers that the other clones need, but she won’t give away her secrets that easily. We will also see Krystal again, who was last seen screaming over the loss of her eye. Sarah can’t stay in Iceland with Kira forever, and it seems like Beth’s ghost won’t leave her alone, even at the cost of her relationships with her other sisters.

We’re also going into Season 4 with plenty of questions. Can Helena handle living in suburbia with Donnie and Alison, and will she have a successful pregnancy? What was that worm thing Dr. Nealon tried to throw at Delphine? What’s going to happen with Rachel and her mother, and, more importantly, is Delphine alive? While you ponder these questions, sing along with Helena:

Helena singing in the car with Sarah

BBC’s Orphan Black returns on April 14. For more information, head over to the Orphan Black Wiki, home to 130 pages about the show.

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