Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

The rest of Orphan Black / (Follow-up: A few more thoughts on TV series)

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I have now gone through the rest of “Orphan Black” (cf. a recent post)—the overall quality* was high enough to offset the unfortunate story developments. However, while I would recommend the series, it also manages to make every error in the book when it comes to the story lines. For parts of the latter seasons, I had the feeling that the makers watched to much “Lost”** in their spare time. This includes an island (usually referred to as “the island”) with evil researchers, a surprise village, and a monster running around in the woods… The introduction of a 170 years old character, as the evil master-mind, almost had me stop watching—this would have moved the introduction of (still) sci-fi level break-throughs to a ridiculously early time, and in a manner not compatible with previous impressions of the world of the series. To boot, having the evil master-mind be so old, brings nothing to the series***. Fortunately, it turned out that this supposed Methuselah had simply stolen the identity of the (long dead) original founder of his movement and had thereby exaggerated his age by a-hundred-or-so years. Another great annoyance was the entirely unnecessary introduction of some form of low-grade ESP ability in the daughter of “Sarah”.**** It added nothing to the development of events, brought no benefit, and forced the introduction of a fantasy element in a sci-fi series*****.

*Especially Maslany’s acting, but there are also quite a few other competent actors involved, the interpersonal relationships are often developed and investigated in a manner that captures the viewer, and there are a number of funny scenes (notably around “Alison” and “Helena”) that complement the darker sides of the series and increase the entertainment value considerably.

**Another series that would have been better off with less intrigue, fewer competing parties, and whatnot. The supernatural aspects were mostly a hindrance. There is so much that could have been done with just having a plane crash on a deserted island, had the makers had more courage.

***But note that this might have been different in another series or type of series, e.g. a vampire show.

****Really, what is with this obsession with giving children super powers?

*****The fewer “leaps of faith”, assumed deviations from actual reality, whatnot, that is needed in order to make a TV series (film, book, …) plausible (while achieving the intended effect) the better. Having both unrealistic technology and magic in the same work is just unnecessary: We can have flying cars through technology (“Back to the Future”) or through magic (“Harry Potter”), but having both is just silly. A good illustration is the question of languages on different planets or in different time periods: There are sci-fi series who silently assume that everyone everywhere speaks modern U.S. English (e.g. “Stargate”)—except foreigners on Earth it self… There are others who resolve the issue through some type of unrealistically strong translator (e.g. “Doctor Who”) that through some mechanism can translate virtually any language in a transparent manner, leaving the impression that everyone speaks modern U.S. English. The latter require one single unrealistic assumption; the former unrealistic assumption after unrealistic assumption after unrealistic assumption.

The series would have been far better off cutting out three-quarters of the intrigues and secret organizations, having the main target of the clones being simply finding the needed cure, and otherwise focusing mostly on characters, situations, and relationships.*

*Not because these are necessarily the most interesting or entertaining things a TV series can do—one of my current favorite series is “Ash vs Evil Dead”: No, because these are where this particular series had its strengths, and because playing to those strengths would have made it that much better. (I stress, however, that there is nothing wrong with a bit of variety: The strengths should form the bulk, but “seasoning” with someone else is perfectly fine. With “Orphan Black” too much time was wasted on a weakness.)

A particular positive thing was the extensive flashbacks in season 4 (?) that gave more background information, especially regarding “Beth” (the police-woman clone, who committed suicide at the beginning of the series first episode). More: This provided new perspectives, notably with “Beth” moving from a weak-seeming character, who caved in the face of adversity, to a heroic character, laying down her life in the protection of others.

The last episode of a series is often the hardest to make, and suboptimal results are common. With “Orphan Black” (whose last episode I watched less than an hour ago) this was so: The antagonists are defeated in an almost anticlimactic manner half-way through the episode to leave room for an extended epilogue.* This epilogue was satisfying in that closure was reached and there were happy endings (almost) all around; however, it was also too cheesy and gave me the impression of something just thrown together, rather than something carefully crafted. It also manages to throw in another unnecessary error—too many clones. With several hundred clones world-wide, the likelihood that they would have gone undiscovered is small, due to factors like the birthday problem or the Bacon number: People meet by chance, people know people who know people, people land in papers, …, and the more clones are involved, the less likely it becomes that there are no common “birthdays”. (A similar criticism can be directed at the confluence of clones in the one local area; however, here there were a number of coincidental meetings and whatnots, and it would only have been a matter of time before such coincidences would have led to public attention.)

*There is nothing wrong with an extended epilogue, per se. The problem is rather that the antagonists put up so weak a fight that a) the final showdown was hardly worth watching, b) the epilogue (in some sense) came too early. By analogy, consider an evening-filling boxing event where the concluding main fight ends with a first round knock-out.

As an aside, another area (in addition to “tabula rasa”, cf. the original post) where “Orphan Black” is potentially dangerous is the negative take on eugenics: Eugenics does not only bring opportunities, but could actually turn out to be a necessity to rescue humanity from disaster. Every time eugenics is associated solely with mad scientists (evil master-minds, Nazis, whatnot) in fiction, the prejudice in the broad masses increases and its civilized use becomes the less likely.

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Written by michaeleriksson

April 6, 2018 at 2:05 am

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