Orphan Black: Season 1 Blu-ray Review: Black is the New Black

There’s a point in this sci fi series that one clone is asked to temporarily impersonate another clone and you wonder how she’ll pull it off, completely forgetting that star Tatiana Maslany is playing both roles. That’s the depth and strength of her performances in this mind-bending show that finds her portraying multiple wildly different characters sharing the same genetic makeup. While she’s the key reason to watch, the series as a whole is deliriously mesmerizing and highly addictive.

In the season opener, a streetwise outsider named Sarah witnesses a professional young lady calmly taking off and folding her jacket, placing it on the ground, and then nonchalantly hurling herself to her death in front of a subway train. To Sarah’s great surprise, the suicide victim looks exactly like her, and in the ensuing chaos Sarah instinctively makes off with the dead girl’s ID.

Sarah’s life isn’t all that rosy either, and while she’s not contemplating suicide, she has some serious trouble related to her sleazy drug-dealer boyfriend and his missing drugs, leading her to seize upon the idea of assuming the dead girl’s identity and killing off her own persona. All well and good, until she figures out that the deceased was actually a cop, and she’s now on the hook to impersonate said cop in order to maintain her cover.

That’s a fun setup, but it leads to a spiraling succession of even more entertaining reveals that find Sarah encountering more versions of herself, all with extremely unique personalities. There’s an uptight soccer mom, a punky Germain waif, a completely deranged and deadly Russian, a hippie scientist, and more. How are they all related, and how is it they seem to know about each other but Sarah is the odd girl out? Thankfully, the series doles out a more than satisfying amount of answers throughout the season, but also opens up the mythology enough that there’s plenty of gas in the tank for seasons to come.

Through it all, Maslany develops thoroughly convincing and wholly independent characters. The multiple personalities concept may sound dangerously close to the path recently trod by United States of Tara, but Maslany is actually much better than Toni Collette at delivering believable and distinct characters. Recent print ads floated her name as Emmy bait, and the marketing hype turns out to be completely justified.

Blu-ray image quality is crisp and precise, with a well-defined sound field to match. Bonus features include typical bland making of interviews where the creators and cast talk about how awesome their co-workers are, and as such are wholly disposable. The 10-episode season is split into two Blu-ray discs, making for perfect portions for two nights of binge viewing. The worst part: the knowledge that we have to wait until next spring to find out what happens next.

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Steve Geise

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