Orphan Black season 1 episodes 1 & 2 review: Natural Selection & Instinct

The first season of Orphan Black finally makes it to UK TV. Here's Rob's cautiously optimistic look at the opening double-bill...

This review contains spoilers.

1.1 Natural Selection & 1.2 Instinct

After achieving its first run in the States in the spring, and having already been commissioned for a second series by BBC America, Orphan Black finally gets aired for British audiences courtesy of BBC Three. Deciding to open with the first two episodes is a wise move as its first episode, albeit interesting in concept, at times lacks pace and needs longer to develop its themes so that viewers will want to come back for a second week. However, it’s worth noting that this is not an edge-of-your-seat, action-orientated science fiction show, but for me, that’s just fine and I’ll explain why.  

The show’s concept is simple, Sarah Manning, played by a very capable Tatiana Maslany, witnesses the suicide of a woman to whom she bears a startling resemblance. In what is actually a series of well thought-out and reasoned moments, Sarah steals the women’s identity and starts to live her life. What she didn’t foresee was that the woman is a suspended detective, has various relationship issues and, importantly, that the detective was investigating a strange connection with several other women that also bear an astonishing resemblance to Sarah.  

Ad – content continues below

As I intimated at the start, the show is not fast-paced, but there’s nothing wrong with that as long as the characterisation, plotting and acting is up to scratch so that we can enjoy the space the show gives them to develop. In this respect Orphan Black generally succeeds.

There is no doubt that this is Tatiana Maslany’s show, and she does a very good job of being Sarah Manning and her many doubles. She convinces as a hard-up single mother who has a morally ambiguous stance on life and the show sensibly keeps her at the centre of the story. However, by so doing we don’t quite get the same level of depth from some of the other characters. Certainly her gay foster brother and thug of an ex-boyfriend stray into stereotypes that although might add moments of levity, distracts somewhat from the show’s serious tone.   

It is that tone that immediately sets the show apart from the current crop of TV science fiction. This is a serious and mature approach that doesn’t shy away from some dark themes and moments, but interestingly doesn’t take the HBO approach of ‘showing all’. The fact that the show feels different and the material is taken so seriously is one of the principal reasons why I’ve bought into the concept that Instinct develops quite well, and it’s not the greatest of spoilers to reveal that this show is all about cloning.

Cloning opens several debates on a multitude of topics, so there is a rich vein of material that Orphan Black can exploit. The most interesting will be the “who” and the “why”, and the first two episodes have done well to develop a sense of greater reveals to come. I believe that the show’s ultimate success will depend on how well these are tackled, so that the pay-off is equal to the effort that has gone into grounding the show into reality. At times I’m reminded of the 1988 BBC series First Born, for no other reason than the seriousness and atmosphere that Orphan Black exudes.  

Both Natural Selection and Instinct ask many questions to which w’re given no answers. That’s okay, we wouldn’t necessarily expect them this early on in this type of episodic show. However, there is a note of caution in that considering the slower pace, some resolution will be needed in order to move the show on and certainly at times, more in the first than in the second episode, it feels slow in that it lacks a sense of direction or purpose. The ending of Instinct certainly gives hope that this won’t be the case for future episodes, however it remains a tricky balance for them to maintain over an entire season.

Admittedly, this is still early days and the show could be lulling us in one direction before going somewhere completely different in both tone and concept – but I hope it doesn’t. It’s done enough in the first two episodes to be of sufficient interest that viewers should come back for more, although how much more will depend on how well the show balances its tonal grounding with the ability to tell a coherent and interesting narrative.

Ad – content continues below

Orphan Black is available on iTunes, here.

Orphan Black continues on BBC next Friday evening on BBC Three.

Follow our Twitter feed for faster news and bad jokes right here. And be our Facebook chum here.