The second season of Orphan Black premieres this Saturday on BBC America at 9 pm EST, and I am so excited that I want to tell you all about it. I think it’s the best show on TV right now, and definitely the most feminist. So here are five reasons why you should watch the season premiere on Saturday and/or mainline the first season immediately. This post contains some spoilers, but none of them are major plot points.
1. It showcases the talents of the incredible actress Tatiana Maslany.
Orphan Black is a conspiracy thriller about women who are the subjects of an illegal human cloning experiment, and have to struggle with how that affects their lives and identities. All six of the clones on screen are played by one actress, Tatiana Maslany, who makes each of the characters instantly distinguishable by her body language and speech.
2. It fails the Reverse Bechdel Test.
If you haven’t heard of the Bechdel Test, it’s a test of gender representation in media invented by the cartoonist Alison Bechdel. It has three criteria: a) there must be at least two women, who b) talk to each other, c) about something other than a man. Only half of all movies pass this test, most often because the female characters never talk to each other; they are defined by their relationships with men.
By contrast, female characters and their relationships with each other are so central to the story of Orphan Black that when talking with a friend I realized that Orphan Black not only passes the Bechdel Test, but fails the reverse of the Bechdel Test. We couldn’t think of a single time when two male characters talk to each other about something that isn’t a woman.
3. It has queer characters who are so much more than stereotypes.
Cosima and Delphine are biologists at the University of Minnesota. Cosima’s innocent heart and Delphine’s moral ambiguity combine in a relationship that’s fascinating to behold. Their sexuality is not central to either of their characters, but neither is it inconsequential.
Felix is foster brother to Sarah, the clone who is Orphan Black‘s main character. He is very out and femme, but he is much more defined by his unswerving support of his sister than by his sexuality. He is also a sex worker and unashamed of it. None of the other characters judge him for it either. Such a sympathetic representation of a queer sex worker is sadly rare.
4. Many kinds of families are represented.
Sarah, the main character, is a single mother. Orphan Black also features foster mothers, surrogate mothers, adoptive mothers, divorced parents, unrelated people who choose to be family, and related people who choose not to be.
5. A central theme of Orphan Black is the individuality of women.
In the media, as in the world at large, women are all too often treated as interchangeable. One cardboard love interest or sidekick could easily be swapped out for another without substantially changing the story. The clones of Orphan Black are interchangeable in a literal, physical sense. Indeed, they successfully impersonate each other many times over the course of the show. But the fact that they’re genetically identical only serves to highlight how utterly individual they are. Their ambitions, motivations, and histories are all unique, and they could never truly replace each other. They represent the potential of all women to become. After all, in this show, one genome can unfold into so many possibilities: a depressed police officer, a punk rock con artist, a perfectionist soccer mom, a bohemian biologist.
Probably my favorite moment in the show is when a character asks Sarah, “There are nine of you?” and she replies, “No, there’s only one of me.” It gives me chills because it’s relevant to the life of every woman. Whenever we are caged in by stereotypes telling us how all women are, we want to scream back, “I’m not all women! I’m me!”
The villains of Orphan Black view the clones as interchangeable parts. But these women know better, and fight to keep their dignity. Their battle for individuality inspires me to fight for the autonomy of all women.