Little did we know that fateful day when Beth Childs (Tatiana Maslany) stepped in front of a train, relinquishing her life to her clone-sister Sarah Manning (Tatiana Maslany), how twisty and torrid a tale would be revealed. ORPHAN BLACK is not simple story of a clone stepping (literally and figuratively) into the shoes and life of another who looks exactly like her — it is a complex story of multiple clones (male and female) who were engineered as part of a government/corporate experiment that went disastrously wrong. In and of itself, human cloning is a humanity-triggering dilemma. What ORPHAN BLACK does best is put you into each of the clones’ shoes and lets you walk a mile in their lives to see why human cloning is so complicated morally, ethically, politically, and emotionally. In the past five seasons, ORPHAN BLACK challenged viewers’ expectations and delivered one of the finest science fiction shows to grace the television screen. Through the eyes of Sarah, Beth, Cosima, Alison, Helena, Rachel, M.K., Krystal, we saw the nuances behind each of their identities and chosen lives. Each claimed their own fate and defied anyone that sought to control them as property and not individuals in their own right. That is not to say that it has been easy tracking the many layers of clones upon clones and the entangled stories of the factions (government or otherwise) that sought to control and possess them as manufactured-property. In an effort to untangle a bit of the verbiage and names used to identify the clones and their counter-parts, here is a quick cheat-sheet, from A to Z, of the various players and moving parts in ORPHAN BLACK:
A is for Alison. Alison Hendrix is one of the sister-clones to Sarah, Beth, Cosima, Helena, as well as the rest of the Leda clones, married to Donnie and mother of two adopted children: Gemma and Oscar. Alison is the quintessential housewife living in suburbia, but who also has a side-business dealing drugs and who does not hesitate to obtain guns for her and her sister-clones’ own personal safety use. (A is also for Art, who was Beth’s detective partner. A is also for Angie, who is Art’s current detective partner. A is also for Ainsley, a neighbor of Alison’s, who died by strangulation when her scarf was caught in a sink garbage disposal.)
B is for Beth. Beth is one of the sister-clones, who died when she stepped in front of a train in the first episode. Beth was Art’s former detective partner. Sarah briefly impersonated Beth in Season 1 to get information from the police and to figure out what was going on as she discovered the clone secret, initiating her quest to discover of the Leda clones’ origin. It also led to Sarah getting involved with Paul, Beth’s boyfriend, who was also spying on Beth (then Sarah) on behalf of the government. (B is for Brightborn, which is the company that seeks the Leda clones’ DNA in order to genetically-engineer children.)
C is for Cosima. Cosima is another of the sister-clones. Cosima is a scientist who is working furiously to find a cure for an illness that is killing off the clones. Cosima is also the lover of Delfine, another scientist who is helping her, but who was also recruited to initially spy on Cosima. (C is for clones. C is also for Cal, who is Kira’s biological father and Sarah’s lover. Then C is also for Project Castor. Project Castor was the male-counter part to the Leda clones. Project Castor was run by a black ops division of the government to develop male clones.)
D is for Delphine. Delphine is Cosima’s lover and a fellow scientist who becomes embroiled in the dualing interests of Dyad, the Proletheans, and the government, all which seek to control and possess the genetic code of the Leda clones. (D is also for doppelgänger as the Leda clones look identical and the Castor clones also look exactly alike. D is for the Dyad Institute, which claims to have a patent-interest in the Leda clones. Dyad is a subsidiary of Topside. D is also for Donnie, who is Alison’s well-meaning husband and who not only comes to her rescue, he also helps all the other clones when he can.)
E is for Evie Cho. Evie Cho is an unscrupulous, ruthless business woman who works at Brightborn, a company looking to exploit the Leda clones unique physiology to genetically-engineer children. (E is also for Ethan Duncan, who is Rachel’s adopted father and one of the scientists who helped create the Leda clones.)
F is for Felix. Felix is Sarah’s adopted-brother and confidante. No matter how dangerous or crazy things get for Sarah and the clones, Felix is in the thick of it to help them out. (F is also for Ferdinand. Ferdinand works for Topside, which funds the Dyad Institute. He is also the occasional lover of Rachel.)
G is for Gracie. Gracie is helps Helena escape from the Proletheans in Season 2 and then runs away with one of the Castor clones, Mark. (G is also for Gemma, Alison’s adopted daughter.)
H is for Helena. Helena is one of the sister-clones from the Leda clone experiment. Helena was raised religiously and was indoctrinated to hunt and exterminate all the clones as abominations against God. After meeting her twin-clone, Sarah, Helena reformed and now assists her sister clones when they are in danger. Helena is currently pregnant from her time held captive by the Proletheans, and she will do anything to protect her unborn babies. Helena fell in love with Jesse and hopes to join him to raise her babies with him one day.
I is for Ira. Ira is one of the Castor clones, who is the lover of Susan Duncan (Rachel’s adopted mother).
J is for Jennifer Fitzsimmons, one of the Leda clones who died from the same illness that Cosima is dying from. (J is also for Jason Kellerman, an ex-boyfriend of Alison’s who tries to assist her in her drug business. J is also for Jesse, who is the tow truck driver that Helena fell in love with.)
K is for Kira. Kira is Sarah and Cal’s biological daughter. Kira is considered a medical anomaly and miracle child as she is the first offspring of a genetically-engineered clone. Kira seems to have a telepathic link to all the Leda clones, the extent of which remains to be revealed. (K is also for Kendall Malone, the mother of Mrs. S and the source of the genetic material used to first create both the Leda and Castor clones. K is also for Krystal, one of the sister-Leda clones, but who does not know about all the other clones or that she was genetically-created as a clone.)
L is for Dr. Leekie. Dr. Leekie is one of the founding members of Neolutionists, working inside the Dyad Institute, who was later killed by Donnie in an accidental shooting and then buried under Alison and Donnie’s garage. (L is also for Project Leda, which was initially the government experiment to create the female clones using Kendall Malone’s unique DNA.)
M is for M.K., who is one of the newly discovered sister-clones. M.K. is a genius at computer hacking and has been invaluable in assisting Sarah and the other clones stay one step ahead of Dyad and Topside. (M is also for Mark, who is one of the Castor clones who helped Helena and Gracie escape the Proletheans.)
N is for Neolutionists. The Neolutionists are a murky group headed by Dr. Leekie within Dyad and Topside to control the genetic-testing of the clones and monitor their assimilation into society.
O is for Oscar, the adopted son of Alison and Donnie.
P is for Paul. Paul is the ex-lover of Beth, occasional lover of Sarah, and government agent used by Dr. Leekie and Dyad to monitor both Beth and Sarah. Paul’s genuine feelings for Sarah made him an asset in thwarting plans by Dyad, the Neolutionists, and the military to capture and control the Leda-clones. Paul scarified himself to save Sarah in Season 3. (P is for Proletheans. The Proletheans are a religious sect determined to use the Leda clones genetic material to procreate with their founder’s DNA.)
R is for Rachel. Rachel Duncan is one of the Leda clones, who is ruthlessly determined to run Dyad as she sees fit. She is also the adopted daughter of Susan and Ethan Duncan, and occasional lover of Ferdinand. (R is also for Rudy, one of the Castor clones, who along with his twin-clone Seth sadistically preyed on women. Seth died due to the mysterious defect killing the clones. Rudy was later killed in Season 3 by Helena.)
S is for Sarah. In Season 1, Sarah Manning discovered that she was a clone and tracked down the Leda clones after assuming Beth’s identity. Sarah is the biological mother of Kira, adopted sister of Felix, and foster-daughter of Mrs. S. As her clone family expands, Sarah counts Cosima, Alison and Helena as her sister-clones and later extends that family to Krystal, M.K., Rachel and other clones as they enter her life. Helena is Sarah’s twin-sister clone. Only Sarah and Helena have been able to conceive biological children, making them highly desirable to Topside, Dyad, the Neolutionists, the Proletheans, and the government. Sarah was romantically involved with Paul, who died to save her life in Season 3. Sarah is also still romantically involved with Kira’s father Cal. (S is also for Mrs. S aka Shioban, who is Sarah and Felix’s foster mother, who will protect them and Kira against anyone and everything. S is also for Scott, who is a fellow scientist who works with Cosima and who has become embroiled in the Leda clones’ fight for autonomy and helping them find a cure to their genetic defect. S is also for Susan Duncan, who is Rachel’s adopted mother. Susan and her husband Ethan were instrumental in Project Leda to create the clones.)
T is for Topside, a shadowy entity that funds the Dyad Institute and considers the Leda clones its exclusive property. (T is also for Tony, who is a transgender Leda clone. T is also for Tomas, a religious zealot who trained Helena to be an assassin for God to eliminate the Leda clones.)
U is for unity or unified purpose. When Sarah discovered her sister-clones, it served a greater purpose of unifying the Leda clones as siblings and sisters dedicated to helping each other in claiming and retaining their autonomous lives.
V is for Vic. Vic is Sarah’s ex-boyfriend who tried to cash in on her alleged illegal activities, but who only ended up on the receiving end of a power drill and was scared off from bothering Sarah further. (V is also for Virginia Coady, who worked for the government black ops division that oversaw the Castor clones.)
W is for webcams. Webcams are the primary communication device employed by the Leda clones to keep in touch and keep off of Topside and Dyad’s radar.
X is for x-ray. It was though an x-ray of Sarah’s jaw that the maggot-bots were first discovered. Using the maggot-bots, the Neolutionists are working their behind-the-scenes gene manipulation to further advance their scientific tests on the clones without their knowledge, as the maggot-bots are used to control gene therapy inside the clones.
Y is for yard. Donnie and Alison’s backyard has played a big part as multiple storylines usually converge at the Hendrix house, whether it is disposing of dead bodies, dodging drug dealers, or evading the police who seem to believe that something nefarious is going on there.
Z is for zygotes. Everything in ORPHAN BLACK revolves around the formation of human life — whether by natural procreation, cloning, or by genetic-manipulation of zygotes.
ORPHAN BLACK may have started off as a case of stolen identity, but it slowly revealed itself to be one of the most layered and complex examinations of human identity and human autonomy. The very essence of the show can be broiled down to the question of: is a clone a human? And if so, can they be claimed as property? Fortunately, these seemingly simple questions have created a rich tapestry of characters and stories that have kept viewers enthralled for five seasons. It is going to be hard to say goodbye to the show as Season 5 concludes its wondrous journey, but we are happy to savor all the final moments with them.
You do not want to miss one second of its final 10-episodes, so be sure to tune in for the Season 5 premiere of ORPHAN BLACK on Saturday, June 10th at 9:00 p.m. on BBC America.
SENIOR ENTERTAINMENT REPORTER | Tiffany covers events such as San Diego Comic-Con, WonderCon and press junkets, as well as covering events at the Paley Center in Beverly Hills. She has a great love for television and believes that entertainment is a world of wondrous adventures that deserves to be shared and explored. Tiffany is one of the newest members to the prestigious Television Critics Association and is happy to be able to share her passion for television shows with an even wider audience of fans and her fellow critics..