Orphan Black begins at a train station, where a down-on-her-luck British punk named Sarah Manning (Tatiana Maslany) sees an exact physical copy of herself commit suicide by jumping on the tracks. Turns out she’s a clone—in fact she’s one of many, many identical clones (all played by Maslany) with very different nationalities, personalities, and lives, but the same face.
If you’re guessing that sounds like the beginning of a pretty addictive show, you’d be right. Much like Sarah, you’ll likely start off BBC America’s critically beloved series with a lot of questions: Where did these clones come from? Why were they created? And who is killing them off? Throughout the past two seasons, Orphan Black has gone about answering those questions—and asking all new ones—at a breakneck pace. And if you’re ready to start binge-watching now, you can get caught up on what has and hasn’t been revealed just in time to start watching Season 3 when it premieres on Sunday.
But getting into Orphan Black means something else, too. It means finally being able to understand why all those fans were up in arms when Maslany wasn’t nominated for an Emmy. What she offers is not a mere performance but an emotional and physical Venn diagram of performances, and the creation of an entire cast of characters who seem distinct down to their tiniest mannerisms. Not only does she pull off mind-boggling scenes where they interact physically, she often ends up playing them when they’re pretending to be each other. It’s not easy to convey the idea that you’re a British punk who’s pretending to be a Canadian cop who’s pretending to be a soccer mom, but she does. Without skipping a beat.
So, whaddya say? Ready to join the Clone Club? Think you might be a Clonesbian? Here’s how to binge-watch Orphan Black to find out.
Number of Seasons: 2 (20 episodes)
Time Requirements: The first two seasons will set you back 20 hours, which could take you anywhere from a weekend to a week or two, depending your level of determination/commitment.
Where to Get Your Fix: Amazon Prime
Best Character to Follow:
Of all the versions of Tatiana Maslany we’ve met, Helena is the most difficult to ignore—or forget. While we don’t want to spoil too much about her backstory, she’s a blonde, Ukrainian, Jell-O-loving terror who has a lot of baggage, and you won’t be able to take your eyes off her. If we have to pick a non-Maslany character, Sarah’s occasionally scandalous adopted brother Felix (Jordan Gavaris) is a total delight.
Seasons/Episodes You Can Skip:
There’s only 10 episodes per season, and pretty much every one involves some sort of revelation or major plot development, so it might not be a good idea to skip many of them. But if you do, make sure you read a summary or recap somewhere online. That said, there are a couple less-than-stellar episodes in the bunch.
Season 2: Episode 7, “Knowledge of Causes, and Secret Motion of Things” There’s a plot point involving Dr. Aldous Leekie (Matt Frewer!) that you should probably find out about, but everything involving Sarah’s perpetually annoying ex-boyfriend Vic (Michael Mando) and his stint at a substance abuse center is deeply missable.
Seasons/Episodes You Can’t Skip:
Season 1: Episode 1, “Natural Selection” It’s the pilot, so … yeah, you have to watch it.
Season 1: Episode 2, “Instinct” The family of known clones doubles in this episode, and Sarah continues to live out that nightmare where you show up for a test but you haven’t studied, except that she shows up for an inquest into a police shooting where everyone thinks she’s the cop who fired the bullet and she has no idea what happened. Whoops.
Season 1: Episode 3, “Variation Under Nature” This is the episode where Sarah finally learns about the clones, and the broader arc of their secret history begins. If the police drama isn’t quite doing it for you, hold on—things are going to get a lot more interesting.
Season 1: Episode 6, “Variations Under Domestication” If you enjoy the suburban drama of soccer mom clone Alison, then this is the episode where it goes full Desperate Housewives at a neighborhood party that collides directly with clone drama. We also meet the Neolutionists, who believe in human evolution through technology. This will be important.
Season 1: Episode 9, “Unconscious Selection” A lot of secrets get revealed in ways that unravel the lives of the various clones—and in same cases, help them knit their lives back together.
Season 1: Episode 10, “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” The first season finale kicks things up a notch in ways that involve interventions, murders, and major familial revelations.
Season 2: Episode 1, “Nature Under Constraint and Vexed” The Season 2 premiere hits the ground running, with a thrilling episode where Sarah infiltrates the dangerous inner sanctum of her enemy.
Season 2: Episode 6, “To Hound Nature in Her Wanderings” This episode is worth watching for the bar scene alone, where Helena finally meets a nice boy—and ends up kicking the crap out of Those Guys (you know the ones) at the bar.
Season 2: Episode 8, “Variable and Full of Perturbation” Meet Tony. He’s kind of a big deal.
Season 2: Episode 9, “Things Which Have Never Yet Been Done” The bizarre relationship between Alison and her husband Donnie goes to unexpected new places, Sarah’s daughter Kira ends up in danger again, and Helena unleashes the whirlwind.
Season 2: Episode 10, “By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried” The Season 2 finale isn’t quite as strong as the episode that precedes it, but there’s a big twist to set up the third season, not to mention the famous clone dance party.
Why You Should Binge:
Orphan Black is a compelling sci-fi drama all on its own, but watching the virtuosic versatility of Maslany as she carries entire scenes—and most of the show—while acting opposite herself is akin to watching a feat, and one that wows again and again. It’s the sort of thing that Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse wanted to pull off, but never quite did.
Best Scene—Clone Dance Party:
The four-clone dance party from the season two finale is just fabulous. Spoilers, kind of, but all they do is groove.
Orphan Black is a thunderous counter to the skepticism of anyone who thinks a female character can’t (or shouldn’t) anchor a show. But OB also goes much further: It proves that a single woman can be almost the entire cast, and still knock it out of the park.
If You Liked Orphan Black, You’ll Love:
Other sci-fi/speculative shows like Fringe, Continuum, Black Mirror, and The X-Files. Do not watch Dollhouse. We can’t stress this enough.