Orphan Black Episode 1 Recap
Rachel recaps Orphan Black
BBC 3 introduces Orphan Black, its import from sister channel BBC America, as “the series that has been making waves in the States”. Clone shows are hard to pull off, almost always airing on the side of naff but Orphan Black has something other shows do not; the outrageously talented Tatiana Maslany. Maslany has already won a Critics Choice Award for her role in the show and the outcry over her Emmy snub is still echoing across the internet. After the first episode has finished blowing your mind, you’ll know exactly why.
Orphan Black centres around Sarah, a street smart hustler who did a number on her violent ex-boyfriend, stole his stash of cocaine and is now attempting to sell it in order to start a new life with her young daughter Kira, who has been in the care of Sarah’s foster mother Mrs S, the consistently likable Marie Doyle Kennedy.
We learn this within two minutes of the show’s pilot episode, but like everything in TV land it isn’t going to be that simple. Just off the train Sarah catches a brief glimpse of a woman who looks just like her before she leaps to her death in front of an outgoing train. Sarah spots the dead woman’s possessions on the platform, quickly picks them up and rushes off to the nearest bathroom to examine the contents.
This show builds suspense in a number of ways; the first is by using music, the majority of which is composed by Trevor Yuile. Each piece is composed specifically for a scene or a character and always works to elevate the emotional repercussions of the unfolding scene. The music syncs perfectly with the show’s neo noir visuals, the heightened colour and slow motion camera all working together to build up the sort of tension that you can feel in your chest.
The next scene sees Sarah wrapping her arms around her flamboyant foster brother Felix, lavishing kisses on him before slyly pointing to the cocaine in her bag and asking him to shift it for her so she can take Kira and get out. Felix reminds Sarah that she has been gone almost a year and it won’t be as easy to get Kira as she thinks. Sarah’s motto in life seems to be act first think later, probably the reason she is in so much trouble.
When Sarah informs Felix of the woman she saw jump and the stuff she stole from her Felix remarks “Oh, you robbed her body” with only a hint of sarcasm, as if this were the sort of thing he’d come to expect from Sarah. As she shows him the identity card of the dead woman; Elizabeth Childs, Felix remarks that Beth is “Sarah with a nice haircut.”
Sarah’s jolted ex shows up at Felix’s and tells him unless he gets his hands on Sarah and the coke Felix is in for a world of pain. As Felix calls Sarah to tell her that Vic is on the hunt for her a news report about the unidentified jumper appears on screen. It’s as if the viewer can see Sarah’s thoughts form. When she says “Fee, I have an idea” the bass-line for Mia’s ‘Bad Girls” kicks in and we see Sarah perched in front of Beth’s TV screen intently watching Beth’s home videos, rubbing her credit cards against the magnet on the fridge, riffling through Beth’s clothes and practicing Beth’s signature. The scene ends with Sarah repeating the words “you’re damn right” in Beth’s voice. It’s as if Sarah is answering the viewer’s question of “is she really going to do this?”
Cut to Sarah as Beth in a tight fitting grey dress and killer heels strutting through a bank lobby. The scene at the bank is the tensest scene in the entire episode with Sarah caught in a one on one with the bank manager, who is obviously an old acquaintance of Beth’s. While attempting to withdraw the $75,000 recently lodged into Beth’s account Sarah runs into some problems; Beth’s credit card isn’t working, she’s “not even sure if she activated that” and usually a cash withdrawal like that takes a couple of days to organise.
Sarah leans forward and slowly moves her hair from her face, while softly cooing in Beth’s American drawl “Stephen, is there anything I could do to get a rush on that.” Sarah’s got many weapons at her disposal and she is well aware that her sexuality is one. Stephen asks if Beth would like access to her safety deposit box.
In an attempt room Sarah opens the sparsely filled box which contains three birth certificates, one is Beth Childs and the other two belong to women all seemingly bearing no connection to each other, bar the fact that they were born in the same year. It is in this scene that Orphan Black ceases to be a show about a woman with a coincidental doppelganger and positions itself as a sci-fi thriller with an ever deepening mystery.
Sarah is returning to Beth’s apartment when police sirens can be heard and a cop car pulls up alongside her. A man gets out and confronts Sarah asking her “what the hell do you think you’re doing.” Having waited for Sarah to be exposed at any moment in the bank this scene seems inevitable. Sarah has been caught, game over. In a last ditch attempt to save herself Sarah asks “what’s the charge?” and when the mysterious man replies “Don’t Beth” I took a breath for the first time since the episode began.
The mysterious man is Art, the person whose calls Sarah has been ignoring. Art demands Beth gets into the car. He drives Sarah as Beth to a police station. As Art grabs her by the arm and forcible drags her into the police station the camera slows down and focuses on Sarah’s face and you can see the horror edged across her features. Sarah hasn’t had time to think since Art accosted her in the street and when Beth’s lieutenant tries to usher her into a boardroom and she excuses herself to the restroom. As soon as she’s alone Sarah leaves Felix a voicemail desperately telling him that Beth is a cop and that they need to abort the plan, unfortunately Felix has already falsely identified ‘Sarah’s’ body and secured the cute morgue attendant’s number.
As Sarah frantically glances around the sparse bathroom her eyes land on a soap dispenser and she unscrews the top and downs the liquid inside. I am both terrified and impressed with Sarah Manning’s ability to get shit done. This girl is bad ass.
When Sarah as Beth returns to the boardroom and sits down we find out that the she is there to give a statement about Beth’s version of events concerning the line of duty shooting that resulted in the death of a civilian. At that moment Sarah/Beth vomits all over the boardroom table. Sarah might just live to see another day.
Felix brings Vic to see Sarah’s dead body which further cements the fact that Sarah can’t go back. She took over Beth’s life to escape her own problems but she found out that things always look better from the outside. Beth wasn’t just a girl with a “sweet pad” and “a pretty nice life. “
As Felix and Sarah lounge comfortably around Beth’s apartment you get the feeling that these two are used to being displaced and acquiesce themselves quickly to new surroundings. They’re street kids, chameleons. Felix postulates that maybe Sarah had a twin sister, maybe she’s not just a lost foster kid. It’s at that moment Felix finds the birth certs and notices that all the women were born within a month of Sarah’s birth. Dismissing it as coincidence Sarah tells Felix that it’s just a score and as soon as she gets Beth’s money she’s getting Kira and getting out. They’ll meet him at some point down the road when they’re settled. Felix let’s out a dejected ‘oh’ and it’s the first time we’ve seen his cheerful sarcastic demeanour falter.
Even when Sarah told him she saw a woman kill herself all he said was ‘ew, gross”. Though Sarah tries to convince him she’s trying to fix things faced with the loss of the only family he has ever known Felix snaps and he delivers the line of the episode with “Tell it to the angels Sarah, you’re already dead.”
Felix storms out and we see a post shower Sarah casually browsing through Beth’s wardrobe wearing a The Clash t-shirt when the camera focuses on the turning of the front door lock. Everything this show does is designed to induce heart-attacks. A male voice calls out for Beth and with nowhere to hide Sarah faces Beth’s beefcake boyfriend who is immediately suspicious of Beth’s outfit. He begins to question Sarah and only grows more suspicious. Paul steps inside Sarah’s space and says that something is different, when Sarah launches herself at him. Her lips are on his and she immediately begins to undress him. Sarah knows how much power the allure of sex has over people and in this episode she has used it consistently to her advantage.
The next morning Sarah heads to the bank to collect her money, only to have it stolen by Art who tails her to Felix’s apartment. Up in the Loft Sarah finds a leaflet for the memorial Felix has organised to appease a keening Vic. Sarah heads to the memorial spot and watches the ceremony through binoculars while joking with Felix over the phone about how pathetic the whole thing is. The light-hearted moment is broken by the arrival of the enigmatic Mrs S who has Sarah’s young child in the car with her.
This is the moment when Sarah realises the gravity of the situation she is in. She thought she could use death as an escape but her own death could be the reason she never sees her daughter again. It was going to be hard enough for her to get Kira when she was an irresponsible living mother. It’s going to be nearly impossible as a ghost.
Returning to Beth’s car in an attempt to think Sarah is immediately accosted by a German woman wearing a fur coat and oversized glasses. The woman who identifies herself as Katja Obinger is coughing up blood into a tissue and frantically asking Beth where she has been. The woman needs to get in touch with Beth’s ‘scientist friend.’ Sarah isn’t even thinking straight at this point. She’s so overwhelmed she can’t keep up Beth’s accent. She attempts to drive away from Katja who is so desperate she jumps back in the car. Katja begins to suspect that Beth isn’t really Beth and starts ranting mysteriously saying “just one, I’m a few, no family, who am I?” before Sarah can give her a satisfactory answer Katja gets shot in the head.
I’m fairly glad Katja’s screen-time is limited to a couple of minutes because between the dodgy wig and the questionable accent she was in danger of leading the show into Ringer territory. More shots are fired at the car and Sarah’s fight or flight nature comes into play. She pressed her foot on the brake and 360s the car out of there.
As if to echo the fact that Sarah cannot escape her problems the ringtone that has been haunting Sarah since she took over Beth’s identity starts playing. But it isn’t coming from Beth’s phone; it’s coming for Katja’s, who happens to have an identical pink blackberry.
That’s the end of Orphan Black’s pilot episode. Take a breath viewer; there are nine more episodes to go.