Orphan Black A to Z: Dive Into the Show's DNA Before Its Final Season
Orphan Black's Big Farewell
In 2013, Sarah Manning saw a woman on a train platform — a woman with her face — and nothing has been the same for her, or fans of Orphan Black, ever since. BBC America’s twisty sci-fi thriller about a group of clones has garnered a passionate Clone Club fan base and praise for its female-centric premise, not to mention the impressive multiple performances from Emmy winner Tatiana Maslany. Ahead of the show’s final season (premiering June 10 at 10 p.m. ET), we dive back into Orphan’s DNA to get you ready for the sestras’ send-off.
A: Alison Hendrix
She’s just your everyday suburbanite mom — aside from the drug dealing and gun toting she does when she’s not crafting, acting in musicals, or running for school trustee. She’s also fiercely protective of her husband (and former monitor), Donnie, and their two children.
B: Body Double
How does Maslany manage to play so many integral roles on the series? Kathryn Alexandre has been the star’s stand-in for Orphan Black’s entire run. Once the show’s invisible secret weapon, she was eventually rewarded with a minor onscreen role, playing Alexis.
Cosima Niehaus, one of the original Clone Club members, is a pot-smoking, board-game-playing former Ph.D. student specializing in evolutionary developmental biology. She puts her science smarts to use, researching her sisters’ origins and trying to find a cure for the respiratory illness that threatens the lives of almost all Leda clones — including her own.
D: Dance Party
The season 2 finale brought Sarah, Helena, Alison, and Cosima together for the first time, and after all they’d endured, the sestras (“sisters” in show parlance) took a moment to cut loose. But it wasn’t all fun and games; shooting the complex clone dance party took two days. The result: Orphan Black’s most memorable scene.
E: Episode Titles
The ethics of cloning isn’t the only topic on Orphan Black that requires analysis. Each season has taken its episode names from specific texts (season 1 used Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species; season 2 borrowed from the works of Sir Francis Bacon; then Dwight D. Eisenhower and Donna Haraway followed, with season 5 set to use the poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox). The titles are sometimes ominous, often telling, and always open to interpretation.
Honorary Clone Club member Felix Dawkins (Jordan Gavaris) is Sarah Manning’s foster brother and a loyal ally to her sestras. When he’s not risking his neck to save their lives, he can be found turning tricks or painting graphic murals in the buff. Despite his frequent forays into territory that’s not strictly legal, Felix serves as a voice of reason.
Questions about DNA and identity are the very center of Orphan Black. The clones are exact genetic copies — so why are they so different from one another? Their DNA is patented — so what rights do they have to their own lives? Their creators meddle with genes in an effort to direct evolution — but at what point are they crossing an ethical line?
Introduced in the third episode as “the killer clone,” Helena was raised by the Proletheans to be an assassin on the hunt for her fellow clones. Fast-forward to now, and she’s become an integral (and deadly) part of the Clone Club, helping her earn the distinction as the most vicious, hilarious, and pregnant clone.
Let’s be honest: There are some real negatives to being a clone (see: the whole conspiracy thing). But the best aspect — besides having ride-or-die sestras — has to be duping bad guys or undecided school-trustee voters by pretending to be another clone.
J: John Fawcett and Graeme Manson
Susan and Ethan Duncan may have spearheaded Project Leda, but these two television masterminds are the true creators of our favorite band of clones. Manson serves as the primary writer, and Fawcett has directed 17 episodes, including every season finale.
Kira Manning (Skyler Wexler) is the young daughter of clone Sarah, which is pretty miraculous considering the clones were genetically programmed to be sterile — the unexpected side effect of which is a deadly respiratory illness. Kira’s stem cells may offer the key to a cure. She also seems to have an unexplained knack for predicting the future.
Named after the Greek myth of Leda and the Swan, Project Leda is the code name for the Dyad Institute program that created Beth, Sarah, Cosima, Alison, Helena, and the other female clones. With the exception of the villainous Rachel, the Leda clones were raised without any awareness of the nature of their birth and DNA.
Spying on the clones for Dyad should be an unforgivable sin. Yet Delphine Cormier (Evelyne Brochu), Paul Dierden (Dylan Bruce), and Donnie Hendrix (Kristian Bruun) have all managed to redeem themselves over the course of the series, whether it be through love, sacrifice, or humor. Plus, how can we hold a grudge against half of the duo behind TV’s all-time greatest twerking scene?
Darwin this isn’t — Neolution is a movement that believes mankind can use scientific knowledge to advance its evolution as a species. It has a corporate face in the Dyad Institute but will be best remembered for its body-modified believers.
All the clones — female and male — originate from one woman: Kendall Malone (Alison Steadman). She absorbed her twin brother in the womb and possessed both male and female DNA, which scientists harvested while she was in prison. Kendall is also the mother of Siobhan (Maria Doyle Kennedy), who raised Sarah and Felix.
A secretive group that believes synthetic biology should only be carried out in God’s name, their views on clones are divided — traditionalists see them as abominations, but another sect, which saw them as miracles, kidnapped and forcibly impregnated Helena.
Orphan Black has been embraced by the LGBTQ community because of its treatment of queer characters, including Felix, bisexual Cosima, and transgender clone Tony Sawicki (Maslany).
Unlike her fellow Leda clones, Rachel was brought up knowing that she’s part of an experiment, and she works for her creators. Ruthless, manipulative, and cold, underestimate her at your own peril.
Brash, British, and totally badass, Sarah Manning began her journey to discovering her clone identity on that fated train platform where she crossed paths with Beth Childs. What’s come next has included deep levels of conspiracy and intrigue, not to mention high doses of danger, but it also gave her (plus Felix, Kira, and all the Orphan Black fans) the best sisterhood — or should we say sestrahood? — around.
T: Tatiana Maslany
Arguably the hardest-working actor on TV, Maslany’s played nearly a dozen characters so far on Orphan Black, including the five distinctive women at the heart of the story. Her performance earned her one Emmy, but she deserves a trophy for each one of the clones.
Orphan Black has revealed a lot about Neolution and the clones’ origins, but there are plenty of unanswered questions: How many more clones are out there? What’s up with Kira’s prescient abilities? Is there a cure for the illness that threatens Cosima and her sisters? Here’s hoping season 5 offers some answers.
Yet another quandary for the clones to unravel is this mysterious colony on the show’s very own Island of Dr. Moreau, whose inhabitants include a man seen in Rachel’s visions. Who they are, why they’re there, and why Delphine is with them will be among the questions fans will be looking to have answered before the series’ end.
The clones’ long and often perilous journey has led them to 170-year-old Neolution founder P.T. Westmorland (Stephen McHattie). Described by co-creator Manson as the “most evil man in the world,” the mysterious figure is finally stepping into the spotlight in Orphan Black’s final season.
Cloning may be Orphan Black’s signature scientific foray, but it’s not the only one. Neolutionists push the boundaries of human evolution — and our stomachs — with wild body modifications and implanted “maggot-bots,” while Cosima logs ample time in the lab searching to cure her own health issues before it’s too late.
Y: Y Chromosome
Clone Club was an all-girls’ club no longer when Ari Millen arrived in season 2 to play Project Castor’s Mark, Rudy, Seth, Miller, and last (known) man standing Ira, Rachel’s brother and adoptive mother’s boyfriend (you read that right).
Sarah and Helena, who shared a surrogate birth mother, also share a genetic mutation that allows them to have children, unlike their sestras. Helena is currently carrying twins — and still kicking ass. (Don’t mess with her babies.)