Can ‘Orphan Black’ Survive Its New, Male Set of Clones?


From the beginning, Orphan Black has been about Sarah Manning and her sisters. Not her clones, as they technically are, but her sisters, such as fierce suburban housewife Alison and unhinged yet endlessly loyal Helena. For the first two seasons — and particularly the first — the thrill of Orphan Black was not just in its twists and turns or occasional graphic violence (which is heightened in Season 3) or even its multiple clone reveals. It was also in the show’s focus on women. Orphan Black is an unabashed, enthusiastic, and sometimes rightfully angry reflection of women’s societal battles — to not only have complete control of ourselves, but also to reject and actively fight men’s claims to our bodies. In the Season 2 finale, the show revealed its biggest twist yet: There is another set of clones, a male set of clones, who serve as the masculine counterpart to Project Leda. It’s a compelling twist, but can Orphan Black seamlessly incorporate these new clones into Sarah’s world without disrupting the series’ fundamentals?

To provide an accurate review of the first two episodes of Season 3 without revealing spoilers and exploring individual scenes would be nearly impossible. Suffice to say, Orphan Black is still very good, very addictive, and still has a hell of a lot to say. Does it feel a little off? At times, definitely, but so did much of Season 2 — which, for the most part, was still successful enough to uphold Orphan Black‘s status as one of the most inventive and impressive television shows currently airing. The way in which Orphan Black introduces the new set of male clones (all played by Ari Millen, who, I’m happy to say, holds his own against the immensely talented Tatiana Maslany) — Project Castor — provides an interesting contrast to the previous two seasons.

To tackle the idea of introducing rampant masculinity into a show that often actively rejects it, Orphan Black makes these clones hyper-masculine. They’re a militaristic (but glitchy) group of seemingly cold-hearted killers; one tortures one of the female clones (during a series of experimental tests) without any sign of emotion, and another invites his “brother” into a consensual twosome turned nonconsensual threesome.

Season 3 of Orphan Black evolves and expands and not only because of the addition of Project Castor and their “Mother,” Dr. Coady. There is a big, sort of convoluted plot in the premiere episode that finds Sarah dealing with murderous plans at Topside. Detective Art is still around, this time focusing his investigating on the other clones. Cal is struggling to protect his old/new family, Sarah and Kira, while Mrs. S. is — what else — apologizing for yet another betrayal. Alison and Donnie have founded a brand-new business that rivals the suburban drama of Weeds, but with a smarter woman in charge. Cosima seems to be on the mend, and she has her own secret mission to attend to.

The Orphan Black writers have already proved skillful enough that they will surely find a way to make the male clones complement and intensify the female agency that drives the show (and the Project Leda sisters), rather than distract from or overpower those themes. Two episodes in, and there’s already a stark contrast between the sets of clones. The women are most valued for reproductive purposes — there’s always been a not-so-subtle allegory to reproductive rights throughout the series — and used in experiments where someone claims their bodies; it appears that the men were created for their strength and perceived lack of emotion, to form a terrifying military, representing how damaging and toxic this emphasis on masculinity can be. Yet it’s hard not to worry about this expanding universe and the increasing reliance on twists and violence in a show that works best in the smaller, smarter character moments.