The Almost-Real Science in ‘Orphan Black’

Photo: a olin

On television, women don’t usually play grownup human beings; they play slightly oversize children, helpless and pouty, driven by appetites they can’t possibly understand. At the show’s surfeit of interesting, adult females, the mind reels. That they are merely egg containers would seem boringly reductive, in a biology-is-destiny way, except that it’s such an interesting answer to science fiction’s big question: Who creates life? It could be said that “Orphan Black” is a feminist “Frankenstein,” if it weren’t true that “Frankenstein” was a feminist “Frankenstein” … One trick, in “Orphan Black,” is keeping the story ahead of the science; another is keeping the women ahead of the men.

— If you’re not watching “Orphan Black,” a BBC sci-fi drama about six? eight? twelve? clones, each played by the unbelievably talented Tatiana Maslany: start. Today, preferably. (The third season premiered earlier this month—two seasons won’t take long to binge-watch.) At the New Yorker, Jill Lepore draws parallels between the vaguely nefarious scientific undertakings on “Orphan Black” and the very real history of eugenics, germline editing, genome mapping and birth control. “Orphan Black” stands at the crossroads of feminist television—full of brilliant, distinct women who are, to cop another popular TV show’s theme, strong as hell—and controversial science.

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