FYC: Tatiana Maslany in ‘Orphan Black’

Remember Christine Cagney and Mary Beth Lacey?

Rhetorical question to emphasize solid, prominent women on television. I mean, between them they won about thirty Emmys in the ’80s. Then there was Dana Scully, the level-headed, grounded FBI special agent with a scientific brain. Emmy liked her too (more than her male partner). Good actresses win Emmys, sure, but I see strong women winning Emmys. They liked that Manhattan police detective Olivia Benson. And that super-smart fact-finder from the Los Angeles police Brenda Leigh Johnson. They were also a fan of that psychic lady Allison DuBois. And that mafia boss Tony’s wife Carmela. Women and performances of influence and awe.

What about Sarah Manning from Orphan Black then? She is an underdog, she is gritty and determined. She is street-wise and smart – even in the midst of ultimate danger. Doesn’t she fit the bill? She goes head-first through all manner of obstacles you or I could hardly imagine, but you buy into it. Sarah is a female protagonist with grit between her teeth. In fact she crunches it up and spits it out. Sure, she had a tough upbringing, raised by her foster mother with her little brother Felix. Sarah also has a little girl. That’s right, she is a mother too. A single mother. She has neglected her daughter somewhat, due to circumstances perhaps out of her control, but by God is she ruthlessly firing on all cylinders to make up for that now. Her character is not over-the-top, it is just that she runs faster than our eyes can see. She has too.

Some of those character traits run right through those other leading ladies in Orphan Black. Have a look at the enigmatic Cosima Niehaus. She brings sexy back to science and nerdville. She is a hell of a lot more than that though. Cosima wears her freshly broken heart on her sleeve while still working with the very woman she loves – neither able to completely trust her or be with her. Ouch. That pain shows, all the while hanging tight, trying desperately to brush over the day-to-day severity of her own could-be-fatal biological illness. Hang in there Cosima.

Consider Alison Hendrix too, Orphan Black‘s most humorous and subtle acting brilliance. A model-family woman who lives in the suburbs, organised and highly-maintained, her life is anything but ideal or simple any more. Hey, her own husband was her monitor. And after letting her “best” friend die, she heads for rehab herself. Whether it is mending her marriage, conducting narcotics deals, or burying a dead body correctly, Alison remains conservative and longs for order – even as the falling dominoes start to scatter chaotically out of line. Vote Alison.

And how can you possibly ignore the illustrious Helena? A ferocious, fearless, bushy-haired cuckoo. I am, of course, being too harsh, she may be the sanest one of all. You are at first made to believe she is the enemy, and then grow to admire her. You have no choice in that. For the record, Helena is the character in Orphan Black I love the most. Her up-bringing was also a sheltered one – she appears to be a prisoner whether locked inside a cell / box / bunker or not. As an adult now she is a spontaneous, vengeful woman, she would beat up and slice up anyone who would even mention hurting those she loves. And so she does. But her heart is in the right place, truly.

The most amazing and compelling aspect of Orphan Black (as if you did not know by now) is that all of those incredible characters, and a few others, are portrayed by the majestic Tatiana Maslany. That fact alone warrants strong recognition and admiration. The potent and virtuoso way Maslany executes these roles, in all their variations and mimicking of one another, is a feat of astonishing bravura. After three seasons, my relentless marvel and opinion has not altered. Not for one single episode, a scene, or moment. And I know I am not the only one. The performances in bringing Helena, Alison, Cosima, and Sarah to the screen are all worthy Supporting Actress contenders in their own right. This is one actress, though, doing work like nobody else. Anywhere. An accomplished actress proving herself worthy of the mantel “Best” over and over.

Bravo Tatiana Maslany, Emmy should have been considering you long before I wrote this.

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