Orphan Black and cultural style

Readers of this blog know that I’m a fan of the show Orphan Black on BBC America (Saturdays at 9:00). It resonates with the transformational and multiplicity themes so active in our culture now.  See my post here.

I finally got to see Episode 1 of the new season (2) this morning and I was captivated by this scene.

Apologies for the quality of this clip.  I shot it with my phone.  Perhaps the show runners Graeme Manson and John Fawcett would consent to put the original up on YouTube.  (In fact, the last moment of this clip shows Manson and Fawcell in a Hitchcockian turn.  Manson is the camera man.  Fawcett is the the man in the glasses.)  (See the whole of this episode on the BBC website here.)

I think this clip touches on a couple of recent posts, especially the one on Second Look TV and the one on “magic moments.”  You decide.

But the real opportunity here is to comment on a truth in anthropology.  My field is, among other things, a study of choice.  There are so many ways of being human, of acting in the world, that people must choose.  (There is a famous story about a Russian actor proving his virtuosity by delivering the word “mother” in 25 distinct ways.)  How will we say a word, make a greeting, or carry ourselves?  We have to choose.  There are, for instance, lots of ways to do a “high 5.”

We have to choose from all the choices and once we choose we are inclined to stabilize the choice and use it over and over again.  It may shift with the trend, and we alert to these shifts, but for the moment, an invisible consensus says, this is how we do the high 5.

But this is not only a personal choice.  We make these stable choices as the defining choice of a nationality, ethnicity, gender, region, class, status, and so on.  Eventually, this choice becomes a style, a signature way we express ourselves.  It is a way we are identified by others.

Hey, presto.  Imagine an actress’ delight.  With styles, she has a  device with which to tell us who her character is and what her character is doing in any given part of the narrative.

Tatiana Maslany, the Canadian actress who plays the clones, has the exceptional task of delivering the “truth” of each clone even as she must make them identifiably different.  But of course she is going to use style.

In this scene, she is giving us Alison, the suburban clone.  The minivan, pony tail and jump suit label that identity, but then comes the hard part.  To show Alison in all her Alisonness.  And still more demandingly to show Alison under duress.  (Sarah, the street toughened con-artist clone, can handle herself in a fight.  The trick is to show Alison making her response up as she goes along.)

There is lots to like in this scene and, reader, please exercise your “second look” privileges to go back and scout around.

I love the moment when we see Alison spraying and blowing.  She is after all a multitasking mom.

I love the ineffectual last tweet that comes when she gets pitched into the waiting van, expiration meets exasperation meets astonishment. Who is this man?

I love the small gesture with which Maslany gathers her composure before leaving the van, squaring the shoulders and fixing her pony tail.

And then the wonderful look of dismissal she gives her captor as she closes the door of the van.  Alison is back in possession of her suburban self possession.  What’s nice about this among other things is that it shows the Alison beneath the Alison.  Yes, her self possession has been shaken by this event but where most of us would be wordless and traumatized, Alison is back.

That last moment of the clip, the one in which we see a brief, Hitchcocking appearance from the show runners, I like as well.  There was a time when it would be ridiculous to talk about these showrunners and the movie making master in the same breath.  But TV is getting so good these days, the comparison is not far off, and closing all the time.

It’s usual to talk about this Golden Age of TV, but that suggests the TV is now completing its glorious ascendancy.  And this just seems wrong.  With performances like Maslany’s and shows like Orphan Black, I think it’s more likely that TV is just getting started.

Thanks to the anonymous reader who discovered a naming error.  (Now corrected.)

 

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