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Orphan Black: "the TV embodiment of modern feminism"
July 16, 2014 10:36 AM   Subscribe

While the New Republic praises Orphan Black for its portrayal of the Female Gaze and avoidance of the usual male orientated titillation:
As a show chiefly concerned with the ways women’s bodies are commodified and controlled, “Orphan Black” is careful not to view its female characters with that same hungry eye. This is a triumph: On so many shows, the camera works at cross-purposes to the high-minded themes. “Game of Thrones” depicts women and girls straining against a world that abuses and sexualizes their bodies—then it glamorizes and fetishizes that abuse. “True Detective” criticizes men who violate girls, then lovingly reduces women to bouncing breasts or artfully posed corpses.
(Spoilers inside)

at AfterEllen they worry (spoilers) that Orphan Black will over Dude it:
And those problematic elements converged into a potentially enormous issue when Mark was revealed as a clone from Project Castor, the brother test group of Project Leda. Everyone I have spoken with gave that scene a pronounced side-eye, not because it’s nonsensical (Leda did birth boy/girl twins to both Zeus and her human husband, after all), but because it felt like a threat to the high-stakes conversation the show has been having about feminism, sexuality, gender, and the politics of female identity.
posted by MartinWisse (46 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite

 
I've never complained about spoilers before, either online, or in real life. But man, I was planning on spending tonight and my day off tomorrow getting caught up on Orphan Black. Your spoiler warning led me to believer the spoiler was behind the link, not directly under it.
posted by billyfleetwood at 10:40 AM on July 16 [14 favorites]


Coming in here, like billyfleetwood, to say that this is a pretty massive spoiler to put right on the front page. We don't all watch these series as they air anymore.
posted by yoink at 10:41 AM on July 16 [2 favorites]


It may be cold comfort (that graf should at least be below the fold), but that revelation is pretty disconnected from everything else that happens in the season so there's still quite a few surprises ahead of you.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:42 AM on July 16


Blerg. I'm one season behind, with hopes to binge-watch Season 2 soon, and I consider myself self-spoiled by even reading this. The warning was there. I knew this way was trouble, and I didn't stop.
posted by MoxieProxy at 10:44 AM on July 16 [1 favorite]


I've got to say though that revelation was disappointing to me. It was like, hey, you must be bored with this show about women, girls, mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, etc. so let's make it about dudes now!! And the MILITARY! Because nothing is more interesting than a big faceless military conspiracy run by faceless military dudes.
posted by bleep at 10:47 AM on July 16 [2 favorites]


[moved the spoiler below the fold.]
posted by restless_nomad at 10:51 AM on July 16 [3 favorites]


TBF, they spent two seasons on women's agency (and are clearly not done yet.) Bringing men into that fold may be even more subversive.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:59 AM on July 16


It seems like every time there's an interesting show with a bit of mystery and suspense they decide to stop parceling out the information bit by bit and unspool a giant complicated backstory that isn't interesting or coherent and totally kills any interesting story based interpersonal dynamics they had going on before. The small stories about people interacting with their new circumstances are replaced with exposition and stern guys in uniforms with completely different goals and interests than I have as a viewer. Why does this have to happen to every show I like.
posted by bleep at 11:00 AM on July 16 [6 favorites]


huh, i didn't know Orphan Black was so complex! I'll give it a watch.
posted by rebent at 11:02 AM on July 16


I guess I'm not too worried that the show will shift focus from the Project Leda clones (or from Tatiana Maslany; everyone involved with the show seems to recognize the magnitude of talent they're working with there), or that the addition of male clones necessarily means there'll be less treatment of women's issues. The military also treating human bodies as property, the construction and choice of masculinity, whatever the military dudes are going to do to Helena (and whatever she will be doing back to them!!!), there's lots of possibilities for feminist treatment of these issues. And I'm also pretty interested to see what direction the show will take in regard to Gracie's pregnancy, too, and if Mark was basically a plant to fetch some clone babies, or if he sincerely was AWOL from the military and Project Castor. (My guess is the former, but I'd love to be surprised.)

The show's earned my trust that they'll frame their material in terms of women's agency (or explicitly the lackthereof) and how women owning their own bodies is a goal everyone needs to be working toward.
posted by mixedmetaphors at 11:02 AM on July 16 [4 favorites]


I understand folks' upset over the spoiler (I'd be upset too), but like Holy Zarquon's Fish sangeth, it really doesn't affect the plot of Season 2 at all. It was more of an announcement of things to come in Season 3.

I don't really see the addition of another set of clones being necessarily problematic in terms of how the show's feminist cred. I'm willing to withhold my hand-wringing until we find out what they actually do with that story line, and whether it really does make the show less feminist somehow. And besides, it's not like the show will focus less on Tatiana Maslany. She's the bread and butter.

Also, is this the thread where we talk about how wonderful Tatiana Maslany is?
posted by mudpuppie at 11:03 AM on July 16 [4 favorites]


On hitting post, mixedmetaphors said what I was trying to say better than I did.
posted by mudpuppie at 11:05 AM on July 16


From what I've read, and I'll never be able to find it but it was in one of their post-finale interviews, the show's creators have said that the focus next season will stay on Maslany's characters with the Project Castor clones playing a lesser part in the story.
posted by plastic_animals at 11:12 AM on July 16


Man, it must be stressful to worry about shows going to crap before they have a chance to do so. I'll be the first in line to freak out if they screw this up, but they have a damn good track record and I'm interested to see where they're going. (Same as with Parks & Rec -- "Oh no, now Leslie has triplets and the show will be a televised mommy blog." What?)

And as others have said, the Castor clones have, like, basically nothing to do with the rest of the end of the second season. They are completely out of left field at the very end of the last episode.

(I personally find Orphan Black (and a few other shows like Continuum) impossible to watch *without* spoilers, because I have issues with high-jeopardy narratives, but then I know I'm weird.)
posted by pie ninja at 11:14 AM on July 16


After watching the finale, I saw a lot of discussion bemoaning Mark being the clone, and how if anyone was a clone it should be some other male character.

I think it is an interesting start that Mark is not a particularly charismatic character and a lot of people really dislike him. And the second male clone we see is...unstable at best. My hunch is that they are not setting it up to be "And now look at these awesome dudes", but that they're still going to be the relatively unsympathetic counterparts to the awesome female characters. Yes the conflict might not be Female(s) vs Stuff + FemaleWithMaleSidekick (Rachel and Leekie) to Female(s) vs Stuff + MalesWithFemaleSidekicks (Marian, anyone else associated with Castor).

I agree with the folks who are putting trust in the writers after the first few seasons. They've handled a variety of issues MUCH better than I'd anticipated.
posted by HermitDog at 11:18 AM on July 16 [5 favorites]


After watching the finale, I saw a lot of discussion bemoaning Mark being the clone, and how if anyone was a clone it should be some other male character.

Yeah, I saw that too, but if you take male clones as a given who would be better?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:33 AM on July 16


It seems like every time there's an interesting show with a bit of mystery and suspense they decide to stop parceling out the information bit by bit and unspool a giant complicated backstory that isn't interesting or coherent and totally kills any interesting story based interpersonal dynamics they had going on before. The small stories about people interacting with their new circumstances are replaced with exposition and stern guys in uniforms with completely different goals and interests than I have as a viewer. Why does this have to happen to every show I like.

Yeah the thing I really really enjoyed about Season One was how it was basically a Hitchcock Wrong-Man plot made more complicated by making its protagonist a clone with the people she was getting confused with. Once Mrs. S was turned into Having Been In On It From The Start my enthusiasm started to fade.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:42 AM on July 16 [3 favorites]


Regarding "if not Mark, who?"

A lot of people thought it should be Paul or Felix, perhaps science dude (I can't remember his name). Basically they wanted someone more sympathetic or that had been more involved in the existing plots. I think that it makes sense that it'd be an outlier. Also if the religious group was on the radar of the female clones, it follows that the male clones might know about it and want to mitigate or infiltrate it as well.
posted by HermitDog at 11:51 AM on July 16


A lot of people thought it should be Paul or Felix, perhaps science dude (I can't remember his name).

Paul or Felix would be too obvious (and I would love to see Felix get more room on the show.) Scott (science dude) is a good candidate, I'll allow.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:05 PM on July 16


I can see where people were coming from, I guess, but I really would not want Felix to get his own clone-baggage. More screen time yes, but that degree of pathos, heck no. And Paul is just boring.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:06 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


I want to preface this by saying that OB is in my Top 3 TV shows ever, so I am so very much a fan. Season 1 may be on of the most consistently brilliant full-season arcs ever made. All my love stated up front, I would add the following:

S1 was compelling because it was so firmly focused on the clones. I don't know if anyone has totted up the screen time, but I can think of very, very few scenes in S1 where Tatiana Maslany was not there, often twice, and regularly even more times. It was remarkable. It must also have been killing and utterly unsustainable, so I can absolutely understand why the writers and producers would have made the decision to broaden the plot line. I really wish they had chosen a plot device other than The Farm, though. It was simultaneously complicated, predictable and boring. It was also disheartening, because as far as I can tell, it's always the women who are victimised in dystopia (frequently in the exact way we saw) and I would have hoped OB might have done something different with that trope.

I am glad to have moved past that and hope S3 brings back the S1 mojo.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:07 PM on July 16 [2 favorites]


I started watching Orphan Black because I read this:
Everyone Should Be Losing Their Minds Over Orphan Black

I binge-watched both seasons. I love reading pieces about it - it really is a standout show, and Maslany's performance(s) are amazing, especially when she plays more than one clone in a scene. Season 1 is just about perfect. Season 2 had its issues (sloppy plotlines/plotholes for sure) but was still quite well done on the whole, and it's certainly worth continuing to watch Season 3.

I can't stress how well the show handles the usual sticking points in portraying women. It not only has feminist themes, it doesn't resort to the usual "Strong Woman Character" or "Strong Woman Until... (she needs rescuing, or her hubris lands her in hot water, etc.)" clichés, but it doesn't subvert them hamhandedly either. And it's woman-friendly in all the quiet, subtle, necessary and valuable ways too: the women's bodies aren't used for casual titillation, the lesbian relationship is not cast in a male-gaze light, it's intersectional in that the LGBT characters are integrated smoothly on their own terms (and as complex people).

(The Male/Female Gaze on BBC America’s First Season of ‘Orphan Black’)

I understand the concern in the AfterEllen piece, but I'm not worried; much like HermitDog said, I think the writers are unusually sensitive in a way we don't see on almost any other show and I don't think they're suddenly going to lose their way or shift their focus. They know their audience and what people value in the show very, very well, I think (they've proven that simply in fanservice!).

I think this Vanity Fair piece points out how valuable (b/c rare!) a show it is despite any flaws:
Why Is Orphan Black Still Fighting a War Buffy Should Have Won Over 10 Years Ago?
posted by flex at 12:15 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


if you take male clones as a given who would be better?

Donnie. Because wouldn't it be awesome if Project Castor produced an army of vaguely competent middle-manager suburban-dad types instead of elite supersoldiers?
posted by Etrigan at 12:36 PM on July 16 [13 favorites]


Donnie. Because wouldn't it be awesome if Project Castor produced an army of vaguely competent middle-manager suburban-dad types instead of elite supersoldiers?

I dunno. Donnie has become something of a badass.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:41 PM on July 16


Vic would be the best male clone.
posted by squinty at 1:08 PM on July 16 [2 favorites]


I have an essay I'm working on that I'm hoping somebody will buy about how Orphan Black manages to do its own thing really well while also fulfilling all of the promises Dollhouse failed to keep. It's just a singularly great show, and I'm glad people are taking note of it.
posted by NoraReed at 1:44 PM on July 16


Woah, add me to the people surprised by the spoiler being in the quoted text, not behind the link. I guess the season has finished airing (I am running way behind) but this was not the best way to have done that.

the women's bodies aren't used for casual titillation

At least in season one there was some definite titillation, though I'd very much agree that it isn't casual and was done carefully and intentionally.

It's a good show with amazing acting married to ok writing, and to me the final product falls just short of amazing, but I am (slowly) watching it for all of the reasons listed above.
posted by Dip Flash at 2:20 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


I love OB and the only thing that makes me doubt the writers is how they totally wasted the opportunity of having an interesting trans clone with Tony.
posted by cashlock at 2:47 PM on July 16


The Tony thing totally felt half-baked and half-thought-out, and then he disappeared. I read somewhere that Tatiana Maslany and Jordan Gervais had been pushing for a storyline that would include them making out. It almost feels like that was the whole reason for that little blip.
posted by mudpuppie at 3:03 PM on July 16 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I saw that too, but if you take male clones as a given who would be better?

Art. I totally want more Art on screen!

(but Cal and the honeybee cloning means something, right???)
posted by armacy at 3:52 PM on July 16


Art as the clone would have been awesome in terms of narrative symmetry and bringing everything back around to Beth. And then they could have dove head first into some more political aspects with thinking about race...
posted by bleep at 4:00 PM on July 16 [2 favorites]


Mark as the clone is a decision I can live with. (I'm much more interested in the outcome of the business that exposed it, which I feel is much more of a spoiler and will be happy to discuss by MeMail, but he's not bad.) I thought the Tony arc was weak and the failure to do anything with him other than have him make out with Felix before he vanished was more questionable. Hearing that there was pressure from Maslany and Gavaris makes more sense of that not-so-great decision.

Tony is the piece of the show I want to see the writers turn around and do something interesting with next season.
posted by immlass at 6:01 PM on July 16


Art. I totally want more Art on screen!


Too old, and if we were going with that then Preacher-Daddy would be a better choice.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:25 PM on July 16


This show is so great. I figure everybody reading this knows that or shouldn't be here, because you're going to get spoilered for things and it might not seem as great as it is. I too enjoyed the first season more, but I also watched it over a few days, rather than a week at a time (as I did the second), which may have something to do with it. I don't know. I admit that my heart sank at the end of the last episode, but then I remembered how genre-conscious Orphan Black is, how aware the writers must be of how badly this could go, and I just made peace with the idea that everyone involved is too smart to ever have three scenes in a row without Tatiana Maslany and ran with it. (I am very intrigued by the story of the other new clone, though, and in particular that her guardian is Michelle Forbes [!].*)

(*I know she seems beatific and cool and generally like a nurturing presence right now, but I would like to remind you that this is in fact Michelle Forbes.)
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:35 PM on July 16


So, for those of you who aren't to the end of Season 2 yet, or who haven't watched the show at all, I'm about to link to the Clone Club Dance Party that appeared in the season finale. I don't believe that there's anything majorly spoilery in the video. Yes, you will a) learn which of the clones (and other characters) have survived until the finale (although there may be other clones in the finale who don't appear in this scene), and b) there are some very subtle, non-verbal things that might refer to stuff you learn during the course of Season 2. But dammit, it's just fun to watch, and it's the perfect argument, I think, for bingeing on the show if you haven't already started.

The only full video I can find online is a combination of scenes that aired in the finale and some behind-the-scenes green screen stuff. (Except the green screen is actually blue. I guess CGI has evolved since I was a film student lo many years ago.) The very very end of it gets the crew members involved.

I say all of this to let you know what you'd be watching if you click on the link. I don't believe there are any spoilers. I think it's just plain awesomeness.

Here is the Clone Club Dance Party.
posted by mudpuppie at 7:18 PM on July 16


which of the clones (and other characters) have survived until the finale

I'm going to add an addendum to my comment above. I was trying to be extra careful to avoid spoilers. What I *didn't* necessarily mean is that any clones died during the season. I don't want anyone to draw that inference from my comment.

I'm twisting myself in knots here because I was one of the people who got aggro at probably unintentional Game of Thrones spoilers posted on Metafilter/Metatalk/Fanfare. So basically, please don't read in to my comment, or make inferences, because I might have sounded mysterious or like I was making allusions when I was actually just trying to sound really generic.

posted by mudpuppie at 7:22 PM on July 16


Except the green screen is actually blue.

Something I learned earlier in the season: they use a blue screen because blonde hair does not film well in front of a green screen.
posted by plastic_animals at 7:57 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


I watch the Clone Club Dance Party now whenever I need cheering up. I can never stay sad when I see Helena chewing her skirt. If I'm extra depressed, I watch the Child Clones version.

I just binged-watched both seasons in three days, so I was too late to participate in the Fanfare discussions. But Rory Marinich's observation about the show's habit of answering plot questions almost immediately after raising them has identified why I like the show's pacing so far. The writers have, so far, been able to avoid the Lost/Battlestar "They have a Plan" (no they don't) mythology circle-jerk, although I fully expect to regret putting that opinion in print by the end of next season. So although I'm not thrilled about Clone Mark, I also wouldn't be surprised if that plot gets downgraded a few episodes into season 3.

I also like that they had to go with Project Castor because "Project Pollux" would sound too much like "Project Bollocks," especially with the "English" accents of Felix and Sarah*.

*Which is not to denigrate either actor; both are amazing. I can see the connection between Sarah, Helena, Cosima, and Rachel, but Alison seems to come from a completely different performer altogether.
posted by bibliowench at 8:06 PM on July 16


Also, Art might just be the worst actor ever.

Mark is interesting enough, though obviously the clear answer to who would be the best male clone is Felix. The sister is actually a brother? Come on.
posted by eamondaly at 12:40 AM on July 17


Orphan Black is what Dollhouse should have been.
posted by scuza at 6:13 AM on July 17 [1 favorite]


Art and the wonderfully named Angela Deangelis were icing on the clone cake in the first season. On top of the clone reveals, the Dyad shenanigans, the proletheans and the neolutionists the writers had the audacity to throw in two detectives who were like the love children of Jack Webb, Dick Wolf and Ed Wood characters, always a couple of steps behind the curve and seemingly destined to never catch up.

Also, I have a bad feeling about Donnie's future. He may have become a badass but he is still dumb as a rock and that can't be a good combination.
posted by plastic_animals at 6:16 AM on July 17


Also, I have a bad feeling about Donnie's future. He may have become a badass but he is still dumb as a rock and that can't be a good combination.

Amen. That was my highschool boyfriend in a nutshell. He did not come to a good end.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:57 AM on July 17


I want some convoluted scenario where Donnie and Felix have to pose as a couple and travel across the country.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:03 AM on July 17 [1 favorite]


first time i have ever hated a spoiler, ever. Please don't do that in the future, even if the official policy is that spoilers on the blue are OK. I ended up hard spoiled even though the copyblock was moved behind the fold because the spolier warning was moved as well, so I clicked the more inside link and got punched in the face. I don't care for the experience.

We're a few in on s02 and enjoying it.

My wife noticed that the show is structured around the idea of riffing on well-worn show concepts:
NCIS (the Dyad Institute plot - gothy chick in the lab and wisecracking boss), Law and Order (Detective Bell), Desperate Housewives (Allison), The X-Files (Elena), and (departing the TV show models), Terminator 2 (Sarah and kid).

That said, as others have observed, the reason to watch the show are Maslany's performances. I regularly drift away as plot thingy occurs, because there's no strong sense of suspense and mystery - you know all along that some fucked up thing is going to happen and the way the show is constructed, as a series of riffs on other work, constrains the plot mechanics. It's clever, and it can be fun, but as far as plot twist of the week goes, it's no Lost.

Still, there's hope!
posted by mwhybark at 9:21 AM on July 17 [1 favorite]


Something I learned earlier in the season: they use a blue screen because blonde hair does not film well in front of a green screen.

They used blue screens first, so why did green become the new blue?

OK, they used black screens first, but you get my point.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:19 AM on July 17


They used blue screens first, so why did green become the new blue?
The green channel is the cleanest channel in most digital cameras today. The green channel has the highest luminance of all three (red, green and blue) digital channels, and thus the sensors deliver the least noise in that channel....

Unfortunately, there are a few disadvantages to greenscreen. Due to green's high luminance, the green spill (i.e. the bounced/reflected light from the greenscreen) is quite a bit higher than with bluescreen. Color correction tends to be easier on bluescreen than on greenscreen. If your subjects have blond hair, for instance, it easily turns reddish after removing green spill in post.
posted by Etrigan at 10:29 AM on July 17 [1 favorite]


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