Orphan Black is one of the most critically-acclaimed and fannishly-popular SF TV series to debut in the last few years, and is notable both for being a strongly feminist narrative and for sticking (more or less, so far) to a plausible depiction of biological sciences. In the season one finale, the two themes are linked: “We have to control our biology”, one of the clone-sisters asserts. Bearing this imperative in mind, how do the show’s feminism and science interact and inform one another? How successful is the show at balancing commercial and political narrative goals?
Tatiana Maslany should receive an award for her performances!
Orphan Black is unusually unique in so many ways. It’s an unpredictable fast paced show that links science with feminism. Through conspiracy, multiple plot threads and individual character arcs issues of identity, ethics, capitalism and diversity are explored.
Berg, the biologist on the panel, says the show uses real world science, software and biotechnology though it’s still accessible to non-sci-fi fans.
The ethical nature of Dyad’s ownership of the clones via the patented processes required to create them is a contentious issue, especially this commodification of women’s bodies and the loss of individual control over them. It brings up a lot of questions. Can a corporation own a human being? Are clones considered human? Do they qualify for basic human rights? Capitalist ownership of human beings was outlawed with slavery almost 200 years ago, therefore human rights should supersede intellectual property rights.
The effects of environment in the nature vs. nurture debate are very visible here. Each clone has grown up in radically different circumstances which has produced diverse results, each clone possessing individual personalities though share an intelligence and strength to survive their circumstances. In contrast, the male military controlled cloning programme has spat out carbon copies who submit to authority and adhere to hierarchy, all except one.
Identical twin studies are used to test out the nature vs. nurture debate and in this instance, environment rules.
We haven’t met Cosima’s parents nor do we know how she grew up, however this may indicate that she was brought up in a traditional heteronormative family setting and is therefore too boring for the show to address.
As a scientist, Cosima isn’t reliant on others to understand the intricacies of her biology.
Deliberate infertility of the clones is reminiscent of the Nazi’s sterilization programme, but it’s used here to explore how each clone relates to motherhood via their (in)fertility. Sarah’s had a child but has been an absent mother until recently, Rachel tries to steal both Sarah’s functional ovaries so she could procreate and her child, Allison has adopted, Helena wants a child like Kira – Sarah’s daughter – to fulfil her desire to be loved, and Cosima isn’t interested in her infertility, only in its implications regarding her respiratory disease.
- There are more male actors but more female characters.
- All of the clones had sexual relationships with their monitors except Helena and Tony, the transgender clone.
- The only religion in the show is a cult.
- Scott is the stereotypical scientist as a straight white male geek. He respectfully doesn’t push Cosima when he asks her out. They remain friends.
- Felix is a gay prostitute and artist. As a main character that is unusual.
- Cosima – homosexuals in science to hold up as role models are rare.
- Paul is the token straight white testosterone driven male.
- Only one fat person in the show – Sarah Stubbs, Allison’s friend.
- Racial diversity – Art, Allison’s mixed race children, Cosima’s dreadlocks and ethnic patterned clothes, Amelia – Sarah and Helena’s birth mother, the death of Maggie Chen, and Raj and Janis who are Beth’s co-workers in season one.
- There are many different types of family in the show. The cult. Mrs S, Sarah and Felix. Amelia, Helena and Sarah. Sarah, Kira and Cal (Kira’s father). The closing scenes of the season two finale brought home the sense of family and sisterhood, the product of positve female relationships, in the dance scene in which the core character clones were present with Felix and Kira, where each clone dances in a style that matches their personality. Biologically speaking, Kira is the daughter of many mothers.
My Question: What did you think of the portrayal of rape with Helena’s forced IVF and Rachel’s coercion of Paul?
Cue realization by panellists that these were in fact rapes. It’s unusual to see a woman as the aggressor. Rachel opening Paul’s mouth like she was examining a horse was a show of domination. Forced IVF is not something we’ve seen before, but yes, it is rape. To see one clone raping and another being raped, happening consecutively in a very short period of time is an interesting dichotomy, one event balancing out the other.
- Blog post: Gender, Orphan Black & The Meta Of Meta by Foz Meadows