main index




Topical Tropes

Other Categories

TV Tropes Org
Kickstarter Message
TV Tropes Needs Your Help
Big things are happening on TV Tropes! New admins, new designs, fewer ads, mobile versions, beta testing opportunities, thematic discovery engine, fun trope tools and toys, and much more - Learn how to help here and discuss here.
View Kickstarter Project
Series: Orphan Black
How many of us are there?

Alison: When did 'I'...
Beth: ...become 'us?'"

Orphan Black is a Canadian Sci-Fi Thriller which stars Tatiana Maslany. Street Smart Sarah Manning (Maslany), an English orphan fostered in Canada, is heading home when she witnesses a woman throw herself in front of a train. Reeling as the woman looked exactly the same as her, Sarah takes advantage of the resulting panic and takes the woman's discarded handbag. Examining the purse's contents, Sarah identifies the woman as Beth Childs (also Maslany) and due to their eerie resemblance, decides to assume her identity in order to rob her home and clean out her huge savings account with her foster brother, Felix (Jordan Gavaris).

Not long into her plot, however, she suddenly finds herself in too deep. Not only was the late Ms. Childs a troubled police detective with a boyfriend and plenty of secrets, but Sarah soon uncovers a huge conspiracy which unveils that changes everything: she is one in a series of clones living across the world. Meeting with two of her "genetic identicals", soccer mom Alison Hendrix and biology student Cosima Niehaus (both also Maslany), Sarah learns that she and her clones are being killed off — turning what looked like an easy con into an investigation to unravel top-secret conspiracies.

Distributed internationally by BBC America, Orphan Black premièred in March 2013, has received widespread acclaim from viewers and critics, and even has a strong internet fandom. The show is especially notable for its editing and effects, which allow star Tatiana Maslany to play multiple characters at once. The show saw its second season end June 2014 and, has been officially renewed for a third series; the said series is set to air starting April 18, 2015.

Recap episodes here. (The Recap page needs some love.) Also check out the entries on the Awesome, Funny, Heartwarming, Nightmare Fuel, Oh Crap, and Tearjerker subpages.

Orphan Black provides examples of:

  • Accidental Murder: Beth was suspended from active duty because of a line-of-duty shooting of a civilian. Later subverted, as it turns out it wasn't accidental.
    • Donnie accidentally shoots Leekie in the head.
  • Acting For An As Yet Unknown Number: Tatiana Maslany plays all the clones.
    • In-Universe as well: Sarah impersonating Beth, Alison impersonating Sarah (followed by Sarah impersonating Alison), Helena not only impersonating Sarah to stab Amelia, but also impersonating Sarah impersonating your head spinning yet? The season 2 premiere now adds Sarah impersonating Cosima!
      • And in 2.07, Sarah impersonating Alison impersonating Donnie. Granted, not very well.
      • 2x09 has Rachel impersonating Sarah. And it is terrifyingly awesome.
    • Made more impressive by scenes where the various clones are physically interacting with each other. Yes, it's done with CGI and a double, but damn...
    • A younger version of this trope applies when we see flashbacks to Rachel's childhood, before meeting Charlotte, an 8 year old clone, both played by Cynthia Galant.
    • With Project Castor, Ari Millen is this to the male clones. As of the Season 2 finale, there are at least 3 of them.
    • Kathryn Alexandre, Tatiana's double, also plays the clones and helps provide Tatiana with the counterpart whenever the clones are interacting with each other. This goes even further; Kathryn also plays the Prolethean schoolteacher that Helena threatens when she is abusive to the children.
  • Action Mom: Alison can hold her own against any potential attackers. Mrs S. also keeps a shotgun. Sarah develops into this in season two.
  • Adorkable: Cosima, Donnie, Scott, Raj, and Helena.
  • Adult Fear: The series makes heavy use of this by showing how much potential danger the family members of the main characters would be in, particularly Kira. In the climax of episode 1.08, Kira gets taken out of the house by a known serial killer. She walks onto the road without looking first and gets hit by a car. Fortunately, she makes a quick recovery. Later, as part of the Season 1 cliffhanger, Sarah returns to Mrs. S.'s house to discover it's trashed and both she and Kira are gone.
    • In episode 1.04, the police interview a woman who woke up to find her son covered in blood. Not his blood, he wasn't injured, but there had been a murderer in her home with her child while she was asleep. That's certain to greatly disturb most people.
    • In 2.09 Kira is kidnapped again, and in the next episode Sarah is forced to go through all kinds of degrading rituals in order to recover her. If not for outside intervention she would have been a de facto prisoner of Dyad indefinitely.
  • All Periods Are PMS: Invoked by Donnie when Alison's got him tied up and is threatening to torture him to find out whether he's her monitor or not. While she may be justifiably angered by the suggestion, her reactionnote  does nothing to suggest otherwise.
  • All That Glitters: Sarah quickly discovers this about Beth's life.
  • Arc Symbol: A winged fish. The symbol of the Proletheans, it appears on characters aligned with them. So far, it has been seen on Helena (carved onto her knife), Tomas (engraved on his ring), Maggie Chen (branded onto the back of her neck), and Mark (on his belt buckle). One of their communes also bears it on a signpost.
  • Asshole Victim: Vic, Sarah's abusive drug-dealing ex who gets his finger sliced off and a nail gun put through his hand.
    • Also Tomas, who is shot through the head with a bolt gun in 2.02.
    • Henrik in 2x09, courtesy of Helena.
  • Attending Your Own Funeral: Sarah watches her own funeral through binoculars, and Vic tells Felix off for taking a phone call from her during it.
  • Auto Erotica: Alison screws Aynsley's husband Chad in the back of their van.
  • Badass: Plenty of them. Badassery seems to be one of the clones genetic traits, and half the rest of the cast have military/paramilitary backgrounds. Jury's out on whether Helena or Paul take home the title.
  • Badass Boast: Donnie, of all people.
    Donnie:Safety's on.
    Allison:... You weren't going to shoot him?
    Donnie: Not accidentally.
  • Badass Bystander: The Second Season premiere has three of them.
    • First the diner chef, killed by Mark but manages to fire off a shot killing Mark's partner.
    • Then there are the two "couriers" used by Sarah, the first who extorts $20 from Paul for use of a burner phone, and the second who distracts the Neolutionists with Sarah's phone to allow Sarah to slip away unnoticed, even telling off the Neolutionists with "Up Yours".
  • Bad Bad Acting: Averted with Alison in her theater group. Tatiana Maslany manages to portray her as a fairly stiff amateur (not to mention one who is drunk/high to combat her stress and anxiety) on the stage without making it over the top.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Averted. Sarah and Helena come out of fights injured or bloody. Alison looked quite disheveled after her Cat Fight with Aynsley and the morning after her drunken face plant off a stage.
  • Big Damn Heroes: In 2x04, Helena comes to Sarah's rescue when she's tied up and about to be killed by Daniel.
  • Bi the Way: Delphine.
  • Biodata: In episode 10, Cosima decodes the clones' DNA using binary and ASCII, to find that Leekie encoded a patent into their genes.
  • Black and Gray Morality: Sarah and Felix are morally dubious characters at best - Sarah gets involved with the clones so that she can steal Beth's money. The clones are willing to get their hands dirty to survive. On the other hand, they're up against one conspiracy that performed illegal human cloning experiments and another of religious zealots who want to kill them.
  • Blackmail: Paul works as Beth's (and, later, Sarah's) monitor to keep the Dyad Institute from releasing information about a friendly-fire incident he was involved in in Afghanistan.
    • Later, he finds out about Olivier's past, including some outstanding warrants for sex offenses, and threatens to let the police know unless Olivier helps him cover up evidence of Helena's existence.
  • Black Comedy: Alison in particular is an excellent source of dark humor, combining her suburban lifestyle with the dangerous clone world in unexpected ways.
  • Blondes Are Evil: The protagonist clones are naturally brunette. The antagonist clones, Helena and Rachel, have dyed their hair blonde. They're also the ones who know about the cloning conspiracy up front, instead of learning about it.
  • Blood from the Mouth: Katja begins coughing up blood because of a mysterious respiratory infection. Cosima suffers the same symptoms by the end of Season 1. Amelia, Sarah and Helena's birth mother, dies with blood in her mouth from wounds inflicted by Helena.
  • Blood-Splattered Innocents:
    • Sarah when Katja is shot. While she's not entirely innocent, the effect is still the same.
    • A straighter example would be the little boy from Episode 4 whom Helena covers in her blood.
  • Body Horror: Olivier's tail. Lampshaded by Paul and Sarah's reluctance to see it, and doubled down with Helena cutting it off.
    • In the second season, Henrik wants to know what happens between Gracie and Helena. When he doesn't like her answers, he sews Gracie's mouth shut and locks her in a closet.
  • Bound and Gagged: Donnie (along with a blindfold) before Alison starts torturing him.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Averted. Every single child on the show, and there's a good number of them, is well-behaved and pleasant to be around. It probably makes it a lot easier for their parents to deal with the various opposing factions.
  • Call Back: When Sarah and Helena confront each other after Helena stabs Amelia, Helena is wearing Sarah's "London Calling" shirt, and also says the phrase out loud like Sarah did with Paul in the pilot episode.
    • In 2x03, among Helena's first words upon regaining consciousness is "I've already got a family", the last thing Sarah said to her before shooting her.
  • Camp Gay: Felix is so fabulous it's almost painful. Fortunately, there's much more to his character than just that.
  • Canada Doubling: Mostly averted as unnecessary since the show is set in Canada, but in the scenes with Cosima and Delphine at the University of Minnesota it's obvious that, despite the thick snow on the ground, they aren't actually in Minneapolis.
  • Canada Does Not Exist: The show is set in Toronto. However, it's awfully vague about it and even being set in Canada; most of the license plates do not have 'Ontario' or anything on them. You have to freeze frame to catch the key details - a Canadian driver's licence etc. Some of the more obvious elements are the Canadian dollar bills and Family Day being a major part of one episode's plot.
    • As well as the police being the Metropolitan Police (although in RL, they're been the Toronto Police Service since 1998, the name is still commonly used) and Art's business card giving the 416 area code for his phone number when we see it in closeup. The constant references to Alison's home being in Scarborough don't hurt either.
  • Cat Fight: Alison and Aynesley in the street between their houses, outside the former's minivan, after she has her fling with Aynesley's husband Chad.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The security footage of Beth's suicide. Fired in 1x09, when Art uses it to figure out that Sarah took over Beth's identity.
    • The AI (Artificial Insemination) gun that makes an appearance in 2x02 is later revealed to be used on Helena to extract her eggs on 2x04.
      • Becomes a Chekhov's Boomerang when it is used yet again in 2x09 by Helena, this time against a strapped-down Henrik.
    • Kira getting hit by a car in the first season gets referenced again in the next when Delphine mentions the use of cells in her tooth to treat Cosima.
    • Helena is the only clone who is left-handed. This becomes a major plot point when she gets shot in the chest, and survives because her heart is on the opposite side of nearly everyone else's. This is an actual medical condition that sometimes occurs in identical twins, and pushes this beyond Fridge Brilliance into Fridge How the Hell Did They Even Pull This Off territory, in addition to providing pretty clear proof that Helena's shooting and survival had been planned from the very beginning.
    • Ethan Duncan's copy of The Island of Doctor Moreau, which he leaves with Kira when he's taken into custody by the Dyad. It is implied to have the key to his cipher that could save Cosima's life. Cosima finds out about it when Kira shows her the book in the second season finale.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: An odd example in that it's with an actress instead of her character. Throughout season 2 we see several videos of Rachel from her childhood, letting us know what she (and by extension all of the other clones) looked like as children. It prepares us for meeting Charlotte in the season finale and knowing immediately that she's a clone as well, since she looks just like young Rachel.
  • The Chosen Many: The clones, as Sarah discovers she's one.
  • Click Hello: Inverted. Donny greets Vic this way when he catches him spying on him and Allison (while the two are trying to hide a body, though Vic hasn't seen that yet). In the end it turns out the click was Donny turning the safety on, since he has no intention of shooting anybody accidentally.
  • Church Militant: The Proletheans in general.
  • Clones Are People Too: The entire basis of the series.
  • Cloning Blues: Alison seems to be particularly afflicted by this and it is implied to be what pushed Beth over the edge into suicide. Subverted by the series itself, however, because the clones are entirely individual persons who are the product of a realistic cloning process.
  • Cluster S Bombs: Bordering on FX Network-levels. Sarah and Felix, being English, tend to use "shite" more than the four-letter variation.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: The clones' hair is the key way the series helps to distinguish and characterize them for the viewer. Beth has it pulled back tight. Katja has dyed bright red hair. Sarah has straight black hair that is usually somewhat ill-kept. Alison has smoother-looking hair, pulled into a ponytail with bangs in front. Cosima has dreadlocks. Helena has curly, ratty blonde hair. Rachel has straight blond hair in a Sci-Fi Bob Haircut.
  • The Conspiracy: Two of them, in fact. The first is the Neolutionists, who created the clones and monitor their lives, while the second is the Proletheans, a group of religious fanatics opposed to their existence, who use Helena as an assassin. Later, Mrs. S. implies there's a third one, Project LEDA, which is specifically centered on Sarah, and presumably why she and her twin Helena are the only fertile clones, as not even the Neolutionists know why this is.
    • 2x06 elaborates a bit on the history behind the clones and the conspiracies surrounding them. The Duncans' experiments on cloning began as a purely scientific endeavor, until the military took over midway through the development of the clones, the Dyad Institute being one of their contractors. Apparently, the Neolutionists were a splinter group that infiltrated Dyad, headed by Aldous Leekie. Eventually, he stole Rachel from her parents and killed Susan, after which Ethan went into hiding.
    • In the season two finale, we learn of a fourth conspiracy: Project Castor, a subdivision of Project Leda except it's male clones being monitored by the military. Whatever agenda they have is currently a mystery left for the next season.
  • Contemplative Boss: Rachel, when we first see her on the phone with Dr. Leekie. Which helps hide her face so we don't know she's a clone as well until we see it an episode or so later.
  • Coolest Club Ever: The Neolution nightclub.
  • The Coroner Doth Protest Too Much: Invoked by Rachel after Leekie is killed. Although she had nothing to do with the death, she announces that he died of a heart attack, knowing that this will sound suspicious and make Delphine and the Clone Club think she ordered his murder.
  • Creator Cameo: Showrunners John Fawcett and Graeme Manson pop up at the Dyad Institute reception in the Season 2 premiere, as (respectively) an event photographer and a guest posing for a snap with Dr. Leekie. (Doubles as a Stealth Pun since Fawcett was also "behind the camera" as the episode's director.)
  • Criminal Doppelgänger: Gordian Knot variety. You have Sarah (who is a criminal) impersonating Beth (a cop) and trying to hide forensic evidence lifted from Katja that would flag Sarah's criminal records. And that's before Serial Killer Helena shows up...
  • Cross Referenced Titles: The last two episodes of season 2 are "Things Which Have Never Yet Been Done" and "By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried". They come from the same Francis Bacon quote (allowing them to fit in with the season's Idiosyncratic Episodenaming) but narrowly avert Compound Title by the second phrase not directly following the first in the original text.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: In the Season 1 finale, Aynsley dies in a manner worthy of Final Destination. Her scarf gets caught in the garbage disposal, causing it to strangle her as it's sucked in. Alison just stands there and watches her die.
  • Cry Cute: Most of the clones, at one point or another. When they do, its always both heartbreaking and adorable.
    • Sarah: When she sees Kira at the funeral and when Kira is hit by a car.
    • Alison: In episode 8, you just want to give her a hug.
    • Cosima: When she breaks up with Delphine.
    • Beth: You can see tears on her face right before she kills herself.
    • Helena: During her walk with Kira.
    • Rachel: When she's reunited with her adoptive father, the creator of the clones.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Off-screen, it takes Helena less than ten seconds to deal Daniel a lethal wound and he's not exactly a wilting flower.
  • Dance Party Ending: The season 2 finale features a scene where four of the clones, Felix and Kira all dance to some music provided by Cosima.
  • Danger Takes A Back Seat: Katja contacts Sarah/Beth in this way. It doesn't end well for Katja.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: Sarah impersonates Beth after finding out about her sizable savings account. She also impersonates Katja to retrieve the briefcase from her hotel suite.
  • Death Faked for You: Sarah uses Beth's suicide to fake her own death to start a new life for herself.
  • Disappeared Dad: Adopted father or no, Ethan Duncan's "death" and later reappearance did a number on Rachel and Dyad just made it worse.
    • Kira's father. Because Sarah never told him she was pregnant. We meet him in season 2 and he quickly proves to be a pretty good dad to Kira.
  • Disposing of a Body: Sarah buries Katja in a gravel pit.
    • Alison helped Donnie bury Leekie under their garbage floor after the former accidentally killed the latter near the end of the second season.
  • Don't Come A-Knockin': When Alison and Chad are going at it in her minivan, leading Meera to hurriedly lead her own children away.
  • Double Standard: Rape, Female on Male: Sarah commits rape by fraud on Paul, since he thinks she's Beth. While not portrayed as a good thing, it's not played as particularly heinous, either. Alison and Cosima both seem pretty shocked (and Alison somewhat horrified) when they find out about it, probably because Sarah did it primarily to keep Paul from finding out, not out of genuine sexual desire. However, the shaky morality of Sarah sleeping with Paul becomes moot when it's revealed that Paul was basically pulling the same trick on what he thought was Beth, and is further mooted when Paul implies that he suspected all along that she wasn't Beth anyway.
    • Averted in 2x05. Paul is clearly being coerced by Rachel and the scene is very creepy and Fan Disservice-y because of it.
  • The Dragon: The Dyad Institute's chain of command is rather long. Olivier Duval works for Aldous Leekie, who works for Rachel Duncan, who works for Marian Bowles.
  • Dramatic Irony: Gracie doesn't like Helena on first meeting her because she's a clone. Well, it turns out that in 2.10, her husband is also a clone, unbeknownst to her.
  • Driven to Suicide: Beth. Sarah later throws this in Paul's face by telling him that he drove her to it by betraying her trust.
  • Driving Questions: Why were the clones created? Who was the original? Why was Sarah, alone among them, fertile? And why is that important enough that the Dyad Institute is so interested in Kira? Is the respiratory disease that Katja and Cosima show symptoms of, and which killed Jennifer, something that all the clones risk getting?
  • Drowning Her Sorrows: Alison, trying to deal with the guilt she feels over having let Aynesley die.
  • Dr Feel Good: Beth's appointed therapist.
  • Eiffel Tower Effect: Averted. Despite being set (mostly) and filmed in and around Toronto, the series seems to go out of its way to avoid showing the CN Tower.
  • Entitled to Have You: Vic's entire storyline in the first season revolves around Sarah. When he finds out that she's still alive, he keeps demanding that she get back together with him and tries to punish her for leaving. As of season 2, he's still not over her.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Sarah's street smarts and levelheadedness are clear in how she decides to assume Beth's identity just seconds after the latter's suicide. Her love for her daughter is also made evident when she freaks out over Mrs. S and Kira attending her fake funeral.
  • Everybody Has Lots of Sex: Well, everyone but religious nut Helena and Alison before her marriage falls apart. Alison finally gets in on the action in 2x09.
  • Everything Sounds Sexier in French: Delphine. In Cosima's first real interaction with her, Delphine says that she's pleased to meet her in French and Cosima repeats the phrase with a lovestruck smile.
  • Evil Inc.: The Dyad Institute, the corporation that created the clones and apparently the backers of the Neolution movement.
  • Evilutionary Biologist: Dr. Leekie. His Neolution movement is all about "self-directed evolution" and he sees no problem in creating human clones or experimenting on them to advance this goal.
  • Evil Twin: Helena to Sarah, literally.
  • Evil Versus Evil: The Neolutionists versus the Proletheans. The Neolutionists are into ethically dodgy scientific research and want to own the clones, and are opposed by the Proletheans, who are violent religious extremists. The Neolutionists tend to come across as A Lighter Shade of Black since their methods are less coercive and they tend to be more personally pleasant.
  • Eye Scream:
    • Helena recalls an abusive nun at the Orphanage of Fear in which she was raised: “Sister Olga locked me in cellar. She gave me darkness. So,I gave her darkness." (Helena then wiggles her thumbs and makes a popping noise to indicate her meaning). Helena is also shown using the technique in season 2 both during a Bar Fight and when escaping from the Prolethian compound.
    • Rachel in 2x10, who gets a sharp pencil in the eye fired by Sarah using a device constructed by Cosima and Scott to help Sarah escape.
  • Fanservice: There's plenty here for all genders and orientations, although there's a fair amount of Fan Disservice as well.
  • Faux Yay: Delphine tells Cosima she's never been with a woman before, and her conversations with Leekie leading up to that suggest she is not only faking the attraction to Cosima specifically but to women in general, in order to effectively serve as her monitor. Subverted, apparently, when she seems afterwards to stay with Cosima willingly.
  • Feminist Fantasy: Along with having a main cast consisting almost entirely of complex female characters, the series explores the following themes: identity, motherhood, female autonomy, and reproductive rights.
  • The Final Temptation: Each of the main three clones is offered a choice: Sarah and Alison will get a safe, "normal" life with their kids, while Cosima gets a job at the Dyad Institute and a chance to study the clones - as long as they agree to submit to routine, bi-annual testing. It seems like a good enough deal, however, and Alison nabs it. Sarah nearly does as well...until Cosima reveals that Dyad put a patent on their genetic code, making them the institute's properly and the contract pure lipservice.
  • Fingore: Vic, when he is unable to produce the cocaine for his mob bosses.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Sarah, Cosima, and Alison. Also Alison and Felix.
  • First Episode Spoiler: It's virtually impossible to even discuss the series without mentioning that Maslany's characters are clones, which isn't technically revealed until the third episode (although it is heavily hinted at the end of the first one).
  • Foreshadowing: When she first learns about Beth, Sarah wonders if she might have a twin sister. She does - Helena.
    • Cosima's science lesson to Kira foreshadows Rachel losing an eye.
    • When Felix first brings up Tony, Sarah initially thought he was talking about a different set of clones who happened to be male rather than a trans man clone. In the second season finale, it's revealed that there is in fact a different set of male clones.
    • Any mention of the military leads back to Project Castor.
  • Foster Kid: Sarah, Kira, and Felix were all fostered by Mrs. S.
  • Four Lines, All Waiting: The show spends a lot of time establishing the inner lives of its characters, enough so that the plot itself is advancing somewhat slowly. You have Sarah's life, Sarah-as-Beth's life, Alison's life, Cosima's life, Helena's life, around the fringes the lives of the supporting characters and the actual events of the plot itself. The show is quickly approaching Loads and Loads of Characters.
  • Friend in the Black Market: When Sarah needs a gun, Alison refuses to lend her one of her own and thus goes to visit her friend, "Ramon", a friendly employee at the local big box store and Alison's supplier of pills and firearms.
  • Freudian Trio: Sarah is Id, Cosima is Ego, Alison is Superego.
  • Functional Addict: Alison, drinking and popping pills while being a suburban soccer mom, until she gets sent to rehab.
  • Genre Blind: An interesting example in the Toronto Police Department characters, who are managing to make substantial progress in uncovering Clone Club despite being completely confused about the various iterations of Beth Childs who keep showing up. Art is later "inducted" into Clone Club by Sarah. Played for Laughs in the case of Alison's neighbors and husband.
  • Genre Savvy: Sarah, when she first meets corporate "ProClone" Rachel Duncan and quips "Is this the part when 20 more of you robot bitches walk in for effect?"
  • Girl-on-Girl Is Hot: Cosima's geeky colleague starts stammering when Delphine kisses her in his presence.
  • Given Name Reveal: In the hospital, Paul tells Olivier he has learned his real name—and the outstanding warrants that come with it—in order to blackmail him into helping cover up Helena's existence.
  • Government Conspiracy: Project LEDA was originally a government conspiracy before being taken over by DYAD, and in the Season 2 finale it is revealed that they never stopped trying to make clones... And then, of course, there's Project Castor, which was taken over by the military.
  • Guile Hero: Sarah and, to a lesser extent, Felix. Kira seems to have shades of this as well.
  • Happier Home Movie: When Sarah finds Rachel's hotel suite, she finds a tape of Rachel with her "parents" seemingly expressing love despite the present Rachel expressing little emotion.
  • Healing Factor/Made of Iron: Kira and at least a few clones seem to have this. Kira basically bounces back from getting hit by a car. Helena survives and recovers from some pretty severe injuries and is implied to have endured a lifetime of torture at Tomas' hands; she might also be immune to the clones' Sterility Plague. Sarah is the only known clone who has been able to conceive and bear a child and she also walks off a major car crash.
  • Heroic BSOD: Sarah begins to have one when Daniel is about to kill her in Rachel's apartment. It goes Up to Eleven when she's saved — by Helena.
  • Hidden Depths: Alison is not at all how she appears with her perchant for guns and violence. Sarah also turns out to be one of the more responsible clones. Rachel secretly harbors a strong desire to be a mother. Cosima is the only clone who seems to project an image true to herself.
  • His Name Is...: Half-averted in the season 1 finale. Amelia has told Helena, disguised as Sarah, that Mrs. S isn't who Sarah thinks she is. Before she can elaborate, Helena sheds her disguise and stabs her. Amelia lives long enough for Sarah to find her, but Amelia can only stammer out "your foster mother ..." repeatedly before dying.
  • Hollywood Genetics: In the third episode,Cosima tells Sarah that clones' fingerprints may be close enough to all match when in reality not even identical twins have the same fingerprints. However this may be a case of Artistic License since it's still early in the series.
    • Even accepting this premise leaves a Plot Hole, unfortunately. Beth's finger prints would have been put into the system when she became a police officer. If Sarah's arrest happened first, Beth would have had quite some difficulty getting into the police at all. If it happened second, the whole mess should have exploded then. Since only Sarah's fingerprints came up when Katja's were run, it must be that Beth's aren't in the system — presumably the showmakers don't know that police employees' fingerprints go into the system.
  • Hollywood Healing: Averted when Donnie tells Alison at her intervention that the burns from when she dripped hot glue on him some weeks earlier still hurt when he's in the shower.
  • Hollywood Law: The idea that a genomic patent gives ownership over people developed from it, and even their children. How in the world is a message encoded in DNA legally binding!?
    • How about the fact that Dyad honestly believed their patent for illegal human clones would be respected?
    • There's also the fact that patents in Canada expire twenty years after the application, so the apparent age of the clones suggests that it would already have run out-assuming they actually went to the patent office and registered their cloning methods.
    • The contracts Dyad wants the clones to sign are completely unenforceable. 1. What's the Dyad going to do, go to court and say "Hey judge! The clones we illegally made and illegally observed aren't doing what we want-and now that you're paying attention, there's quite a few suspicious deaths related to us?" The Dyad would all be in jail if their illegal behavior was brought to a court's attention. 2. Even if cloning was legal, you can't compel behavior. So if a clone decided to break the contract the courts wouldn't compel them to show up to undergo testing/research. All they could do is sue them for damages.
    • Making all of this more hilarious is that the odds are that if this went to court, the most likely outcome is that it'd be the nail in the coffin of gene patents, and that's assuming they did file a patent. If they didn't, they probably would be laughed out of court, and the publicity would at best severely cripple their finances. Of course, they may be expecting none of the clones to call them on this, or do the basic internet searches...or work in a field where the duration of patents is relatively common knowledge, like molecular biology.
    • The season two premiere addresses this somewhat when Rachel is shown to be discussing lobbying strategies with several foreign officials in order to pass laws favorable to them gaining more control over synthetic DNA. Still wouldn't work considering the very serious laws about slavery and not being able to patent humans.
      • Although that scene is actually referencing the real life US Supreme Court decision in favor of allowing artificial gene patents that happened between the first and second season, although this still wouldn't make the clones their property.
  • Humiliation Conga: Poor Vic. In the second season, in rehab. Felix drugs his tea so he falls face first into a table, getting covered with glitter, glue, and feathers. Then he gets thrown to the floor to hide him from the lady running rehab. Then as Fe carries him down the hall, he smacks his head into a doorway. Then thrown to the floor again. Then he wakes up in a pile of garbage, covered in blood and glitter, with everyone from rehab and a cop staring at him in disgust.
  • I Ate WHAT?: A rare deliberate, conscious version in the first episode when Sarah-as-Beth drinks hand soap from the bathroom in order to induce vomiting and cut the hearing short.
  • Identical Stranger: This is what Sarah originally believes to be the case after stealing Beth's belongings and impersonating her.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming/Literary Allusion Title: All the season 1 episode names are taken from Darwin's Origin of Species. The season 2 ones use Francis Bacon quotes instead.
  • I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: How Donnie kills Leekie in 2x07.
  • Impersonating an Officer: Petty criminal Sarah witnesses the suicide of a woman who looks exactly like her - who ends up being a seemingly loaded police detective. Wanting the money for her daughter, Sarah impersonates her and attempts to ingratiate herself into her life - it works, for the most part, until the other cops catch on. Of course, since she and the woman were clones, not like Sarah had a particularly hard time of it.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Katja's respiratory infection is treated as a possible genetic defect the clones may suffer. Cosima has caught it by the Season 1 finale. A video diary from another clone, Jennifer, shows the disease running its course; it's pretty gruesome.
  • Inelegant Blubbering: Rachel is reduced to a sobbing, screaming mess when her father commits suicide.
  • In Love with the Mark/Becoming the Mask: Delphine and Paul both fell for the people they were monitoring.
  • Insistent Terminology: Alison doesn't like the "C-word" (not that one) so they're "genetic identicals."
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Dripping hot sequin glue on your husband's chest to the point of causing quite visible third-degree burns definitely counts as this trope.
  • Jigsaw Puzzle Plot: Convoluted conspiracies concerning clones.
  • Jumped at the Call: Sarah seesaws between this and Refusal of the Call in early episodes.
  • Kiss of Distraction: Sarah pulls this on Paul in the first episode.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: There's the clones, the various people in their lives, at least two villainous organizations and whole host of side characters.
  • Make Up Is Evil: When she's impersonating Sarah while meeting Amelia, Helena gives herself away (to the viewer) by the light red eyeshadow she hasn't removed.
  • Mama Bear: Both Sarah and Alison show this towards their own kids, and all the clones (even Helena) are very protective of Kira, as is Mrs. S.
    • In 2x09, Helena shows shades of this after seeing one of the kids in the Prolethean commune being verbally abused.
  • Mandatory Motherhood: Hank intended on forcing several women, including his own daughter Gracie, to be surrogates for his and Helena's babies.
    • Inverted by Ethan Duncan, who designed his clone- daughters to be infertile so they couldn't have children even if they wanted to. Sarah and Helena's ability to conceive and carry children was a fluke.
  • Mega Corp.: The Dyad Institute.
  • Mid-Season Twist:
    • Season One: Helena makes contact with Sarah, the Neolution movement is revealed as the clone-makers, Paul is given the opportunity to sell out Sarah and chooses to remain loyal to her, Sarah leads Helena to Olivier, the cops restart their investigation from scratch and link Katja to Sarah and learn they resemble Beth.
    • Season Two: Rachel reunites with her father, she and Leekie have a showdown in Dyad and Leekie loses. Alison discovers that Vic is selling her out to Angela, so Felix and Sarah help her deal with him. Donnie discovers about the cloning experiment and Alison is finally able to confront him with everything on the table. Cosima discovers that Kira's cells are the cure for the clone disease and Sarah and Kira decide to help her. And Donnie confronts Leekie and accidentally kills him.
  • Misaimed Fandom: In-universe, Ethan Duncan presents The Island of Doctor Moreau to Kira as a children's story and presents the eponymous Mad Scientist/ Mad Doctor as a role model. Similarly, (showing some Not So Different parallels) a few episodes later, the Prolethian leader Hank tells Frankenstein as a children's story, and while acknowledging that Victor was wrong to neglect his creation, clearly identifies with/admires Victor.
  • Missing Mom:
    • Sarah before the events of the show started. She disappeared for a whole year and left Kira with Mrs. S.
    • Sarah and Helena's surrogate mom, until the penultimate episode of Season 1.
  • Mood Whiplash: The many storylines give the show the opportunity to cut quickly from lighter, more humorous scenes (usually involving Alison and her neighbors) to darker ones (usually involving Helena) without any real time for the audience to transition.
  • Moral Dissonance: Paul seems to resent having been blackmailed into being Beth's monitornote . That does not stop him in the slightest from getting Olivier to help him cover up Helena's existence by threatening to reveal to the police that Olivier has outstanding warrants under his real identity.
  • Morality Pet: Kira serves as this for Helena. It's implied for Sarah as well.
  • Murder By Inaction: Suspecting Aynsley of being her monitor (erroneously), Alison does nothing to prevent Aynsley from accidentally strangling herself with a scarf and a drain grinder, even avoiding leaving fingerprints while she watches.
  • Multicolored Hair: Katja has fuchsia streaks in her hair.
  • My Greatest Failure: Paul is haunted and blackmailed by something he did in Afghanistan, which he reveals to be a friendly fire incident in which he killed 6 Marines.
  • Naked Apron: Felix gets a scene of this while he's painting.
  • Named After Somebody Famous: Several people and places are named after scientists known for championing evolution:
  • Nausea Fuel: In-Universe and very literally when Sarah-as-Beth drinks the soap.
  • Neat Freak: Alison. When she's out of her house and crashing at Felix's place, she cleans his entire flat.
  • Never Give the Captain a Straight Answer: Mrs. S calls Sarah and tells her that she'd better come over and see ... Amelia, her birthmother.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The trailer for 2x08 has someone dropping the line "You need to find Beth Childs." However, the episode makes clear that the character who drops the line didn't know that Beth killed herself.
  • Nightmare Fuel: Invoked by name by Felix in regards to items found in Helena's storage locker.
  • Noodle Incident: Dyad's leverage over Paul goes unexplained until the first season finale.
  • Not So Different: For two organizations that seem very different, the Neolutionists and Proletheans use similar methods and both think of the clones as objects rather than people.
  • Odd Friendship: Felix and Alison develop their own unique bond over the course of season 1. Compare and contrast Alison's uptight suburban housewife persona with Felix's streetwise, urban, bohemian-artist style.
  • One Steve Limit: Averted. Apart from Sarah Manning, one of Alison's neighbors is named Sarah Stubbs. This later became a plot point when Alison tested to see if Donnie knew about the other clones, and thus was her monitor, without revealing the fact she does. Doubles as an Alliterative Name.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping/What the Hell Is That Accent?: In-Universe. When the clones try to impersonate each other they don't always get it right. In particular, Alison's impersonation of Sarah in the fourth episode. Actually pretty good acting on Tatiana Maslany's part.
    • For characters that are supposed to be English, Sarah and Felix's accents are all over the place. Possibly justified by having lived away from their home country for so long and the former switching accents to impersonate Beth.
    • Mrs S. is Irish, but her brogue is often unnoticeable. Like her foster children, it could be explained by her long years away from her home country, first in England then Canada.
    • Amelia , Sarah and Helena's surrogate mother, is from Cape Town. Her Canadian actress makes a bold stab at some kind of South African accent, but can't really manage it.
    • Folks who were born in Russia or the Ukraine have been known to clench their teeth over Helena's "Ukrainian" accent...
    • Even Donnie occasionally suffers from this. During Alison's intervention, he at one point pronounces "been" the British way, with a long "e" ... a pronunciation far more common in Western Canada than Eastern.note 
  • Orderlies Are Creeps: Olivier's assassin, who is at least posing as one.
  • Pet the Dog: When Delphine tells Leekie about the other clones Cosima is/was in touch with she doesn't tell him about Kira, even when he asks for more details about Sarah.
    • Helena lures Kira away from Siobhan's house but lets her go. Unfortunately, her act of compassion does not end well.
    • After Mrs. S. explains to Sarah that she's taking Kira with her to London and leaving Sarah and Felix temporarily, she later lets both Sarah and Kira leave after she learns that the people sheltering them were actually turned by the Proletheans.
    • In 2.05, Leekie goes behind Rachel's back to assist Delphine and Cosima with their research.
  • Playing with Syringes: Olivier's assassin, briefly, before doing the dirty work.
  • Plot-Triggering Death: Beth's suicide in front of Sarah and Maggie Chen's shooting.
    • The season two premiere has the death of a diner chef and a Prolethean agent.
  • Police Are Useless: Averted, despite Art and Angie being Genre Blind. The fact that the cops are actually good at their jobs makes the whole conspiracy that much more complicated. By the end of Season 1, they begin to figure things out. The Dyad Institute pulls Sarah out of police custody before she can tell Art everything.
  • Pop Culture Osmosis: Manson and Fawcett regularly re-purpose 60's pop music. Some examples:
    • Sonny and Cher's "I Got You Babe" during Sarah and Helena's diner sit-down.
    • The Archies' "Sugar Sugar," which Helena badly (but enthusiastically) sings along to during a road trip with Sarah.
    • The Trogg's "Love Is All Around," which is used not only when Alison's kids visit her in rehab, but also after Donnie accidentally blows Leekie's head off.
  • Porn Stash: In "Conditions of Existence", Alison suspects her husband of being in on The Conspiracy, so she starts going through his things. She keeps finding places where he's hiding stuff from her, but they all turn out to be porn DVDs instead of sinister conspiracy-related material. While it would look like he had already gotten rid of the incriminating files beforehand, we later find out in 2x07 that Donnie is absolutely clueless about everything conspiracy related and the stash is most likely real.
  • Posthumous Character: Beth. We only find out about her in bits and pieces through other characters.
    • Jennifer, another clone in Season 2. Cosima watches videos of her last days while trying to come up with a cure for the Incurable Cough of Death that the clones are susceptible to.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: Sarah has a great one in the season finale with Helena.
    Sarah: I've already got a family.
  • Promotion to Opening Titles: Évelynne Brochu (Delphine), at the beginning of Season 2.
  • Properly Paranoid: Pretty much all of the clones. When you're being targeted by two conspiracies, it's probably difficult to be too suspicious.
  • Reality Ensues: Sarah initially manages to fake her way through her impersonation of Beth pretty well, largely due to the fact that everyone believes Beth was traumatized by a recent civilian shooting and Paul knowing Beth has emotional problems. The deeper she gets the more the facade starts to crack, to the point where she has to have "Beth" quit her job. By the end of Season 1, the cops finally catch on and arrest Sarah and Felix.
    • Kira isn't fooled by Alison's impersonation of Sarah for even a moment. Alison has to tell her the truth.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: At the end of episode 1x05, "Conditions Of Existence," Paul finds out Sarah's trickery and confronts her on it. After Sarah drops the "Beth" act, she coldly calls him out for being Beth's monitor.
    Sarah: You observe her. You let people into her home. Like last night. Doctors came and medically examined her in her sleep. She knew. You're a plant, and she killed herself because the man that she loved turned her whole life into a lie. She knew you didn't love her and she couldn't understand why you wouldn't leave. And now she figured it out.
    • And in episode 2x07, Donnie gets an even colder one from Alison, who calls him out for working for Leekie and putting her family in danger with his spy work.
  • Reckless Gun Usage: Inverted. When Sarah-as-Beth is given Beth's service weapon back, she's too nervous to even load it. Art notices and flips out on her for riding empty.
    • Let's just say Donnie didn't mean to shoot Dr. Leekie.
  • Room Full of Crazy: Helena has one.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Katja.
  • Sanity Slippage: Due to the nature of the situation each of the clones (and Felix too) show some signs of fraying around the edges to one degree or another.
  • Sarcastic Confession: There are multiple times when one clone is asked if she is a twin of one of the other girls, and the response given is "we're clones." Naturally, nobody believes that.
  • Scare Chord: Helena's leitmotif makes heavy use of these to exceptional effect.
  • Science Hero: Cosima.
  • Second-Hand Storytelling: We finally learn exactly what happened to Paul in Afghanistan when he tells Sarah about it in the elevator.
  • Self Harm: Helena has cuts on her back which makes it look like she has wings, and it seen cutting multiple times in season one.
  • Send in the Clones: Averted by the main (female) clone characters, who all look and act very differently from each other. Invoked when Sarah first meets Rachel Duncan (see the Genre Savvy entry). Played straight in the Season 2 finale, when we discover that Project Castor has been producing identical male clones.
  • Shout-Out: The town Alison lives in is Bailey Downs. Given that the show is directed by John Fawcett and stars Tatiana Maslany, this might not be a coincidence.
    • Delphine in episode 6:
    Delphine: It's really nice to make a friend in the brave new world.
    • The train station where Sarah sees Beth kill herself is Huxley Station, named after an author who wrote a book in which the entire population is genetically engineered.
    • Also, the man who created the clones and is apparently responsible for the experiment is named Dr. Aldous Leekie.
    • First rule of Clone Club.
    • There are a lot of Ginger Snaps connections. For one, Alison lives in Bailey Downs, where the first movie takes place. And just like Ginger, Olivier has a tail (albeit a prosthetic one), and gets it cut off (just as Ginger tried to do to hers). In Episode 2.01 Sarah escapes an attacker by kicking a hole in a wall, much as Bridgette did in the climax. Tatiana Maslany and Eric Johnson (Chad) were also in the sequel, Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed, as Ghost and Tyler. This is not surprising, given that John Fawcett, who directed the first movie (and produced the subsequent movies), is one of the creators of Orphan Black.
    • A character in a conspiracy thriller named Art Bell? Really?
  • Staging an Intervention: Alison's husband and friends try to stage one about her recent odd behavior (due to her clone Sarah filling in for her), her increasing alcoholism, and torturing her husband when she suspected that he was her secret monitor/handler.
  • Starts with a Suicide: Beth jumps in front of a subway car in the early moments of the pilot.
  • Stepford Smiler: Alison tries for this when her life starts to fall apart. It goes off the rails pretty rapidly.
  • Stepford Suburbia: Where Alison lives. She cheats on her husband with Aynsley's husband, but it turns out they're both had affairs before.
  • Sterility Plague: Alison asks early on if Kira is Sarah's biological daughter (Alison's children are adopted) and we later learn that Beth was infertile.
    • Again referenced when Helena asks Kira how she could possibly be Sarah's daughter. Helena is visibly distraught by this.
    • Tomas immediately declares that Kira shouldn't exist upon learning of her existence, and decides to hunt her down. Delphine deliberately hides her existence from Dr. Leekie.
    • Possibly averted in that the encoded patent in the clones' DNA covers "this organism and derivative genetic material", implying that their creators may have accounted for the possibility of children... or further cloning. It's later revealed that Sarah is the only fertile clone they're aware of.
    • As of 2.03 it appears that the clones are subject to an auto-immune disorder that targets the uterus, rendering them sterile. Sarah is presumably immune, possibly a result of sharing the Healing Factor that Kira and Helena seem to possess. Events later in the season suggest that Helena is immune as well. Project LEDA is also implied to be related to this.
    • In 2.08 Ethan reveals that Sarah (and presumably also Helena) were mistakes and the clones were barren by design.
  • Strapped to an Operating Table: Several examples.
    • Olivier before his death, due to his injury. Also because of it, he is strapped face down.note 
    • Helena does this to Henrik in season two, as revenge for what he's done to her and Gracie.
    • Sarah gets this treatment from Dyad in the second season finale.
  • String Theory: Art and Angie put one of these together. It lacks the string (so far) but has all the other elements.
  • The Troubles: Mrs. S states that she ran an orphanage for children lost in part due to this.
  • Three Plus Two: Clone Club. Sarah, Alison and Cosima make the Power Trio while the late Beth and Katja round out the Five-Man Band. Felix counts as a Sixth Ranger.
  • Title Drop: Sarah asks her foster mother Mrs. S. where she came from. Turns out she was an orphan brought in from the underground...or, as Mrs. S. describes it, "from the black."
  • Theme Tune Cameo: Helena's ringtone is a countermelody of the theme song.
  • Those Two Guys: Art and Angie seem to be turning into this, with Art only slightly more invested in the truth behind Sarah.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: When Sarah first learns that she's a clone.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Somewhere between finding out his wife is a clone and shooting doctor Leekie, Donny apparently grew a pair.
  • Torture Always Works: Averted. Despite being severely burned by the dripping glue, Donnie does not confess to being Alison's monitor.
  • Torture Cellar: Alison's craft room, when she has Donnie tied up in there.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The ad campaign spoiled the main plot, in addition to Beth and Katja's deaths.
    • And now that the show's initial run has ended, Space's ads for the show include the final episode's Wham Line. Hope you don't get into this show during its rerun season!
    • And if you haven't gotten into this show by now, you've very likely had the existence of Rachel spoiled by BBC America's ads congratulating Tatiana Maslany on an award nomination.
  • Twin Switch: After only one season we've already had: Sarah as Beth, Sarah as Katja, Alison as Sarah, Sarah as Alison, Helena as Sarah and Helena as Sarah as Beth.
    • Over the course of season 2, we also see Sarah as Cosima, Sarah as Rachelnote  and Rachel posing as Sarah to kidnap Kira from the hospital.
    • Hilariously invoked in the second season premiere when Sarah leaks Alison's location, and the make of Alison's van to Daniel. When Daniel captures Alison, he is forced to let her go when he realizes he has been had.
  • T-Word Euphemism: Alison sometimes uses the letter "F" as a stand-in for "fuck".
  • Un-Confession: Under interrogation by Art after she's arrested for impersonating Beth, Sarah is just about to reveal the secret of the clones to him when a lawyer retained for her by Dyad walks in and tells her to say nothing more as the interrogation is over.
  • Undying Loyalty: Sarah and Felix are very loyal to one another, mostly to Felix's detriment.
    • Art's loyalty to Beth even extends beyond her death and is extended to Clone Club when he is inducted into it.
    • Helena develops a loyalty to Sarah and Kira that survives even beyond her being shot by the former.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Deconstructed with Alison and Aynsley. Their friendship rapidly deteriorates into mutual animosity.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Sarah-as-Beth, all over the table at the hearing as a result of drinking the soap.
  • Vomiting Cop: Subverted by not taking place at a crime scene but at a disciplinary hearing, by having it be self-induced and the character doing it being someone pretending to be a cop.
  • Waif Prophet: Kira, who wakes up sensing that "something bad is about to happen" minutes before the police burst in and arrest Sarah and Felix.
  • We Hardly Knew Ye: Katja and Beth don't survive the scenes that introduce them. Though this is subverted, since Sarah goes on to impersonate both of them.
  • Wham Line: "Sarah, I'm your birth mother." and "I had twins".
    • Episode 10 gives two in a row, when Sarah meets with Amelia, her birth mother. First, Amelia tells Sarah that Mrs. S is not who she says she is. This is immediately followed by Sarah asking Amelia "how did scientists put baby inside you?" in Helena's accent.
    • Also from Episode 10: "This organism and derivative genetic material are restricted intellectual property."
    • From the season 2 finale: "While DYAD carried female clones to term, the military faction carried the males."
  • Wham Shot: Towards the end of the season 2 premiere: A shot and bloody Helena staggering into an ER, alive.
    • The final moments of the season 2 finale which show that the Project Castor male clones are played by Ari Millen, meaning that Mark is a clone.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: A few early scenes indicate that Delphine and Leekie are in an intimate relationship. When she hooks up with Cosima, this is never mentioned or dealt with again.
  • Wig, Dress, Accent: Basically how Sarah impersonates Beth, Katja, and Cosima. With Alison it's basically hairband, blouse and accent. Justified in that they're all clones and look exactly the same, so that's pretty much all she needs.
  • Withholding the Cure: Rachel obstructs Cosima's medical treatment on at least two occasions; mostly to force Sarah to bend but partly out of spite.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Helena, so much.
  • You Have Failed Me: Dr. Leekie has Olivier killed in the hospital for letting Helena get away and lying to him about it, although it is slightly subverted by his decision to promote Paul to replace Olivier even though he at least suspects (correctly) that Paul was complicit in the deception.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Chad has had more than one affair prior to going at it with Alison in her minivan, and of course Alison is still technically married to Donnie at that point.
    • Later, at Alison's intervention, she tells everyone that Aynesley "blew the roofer" of their vacation cabin, ending any chance that the two might reconcile.

Odyssey 5Science Fiction SeriesOtherworld
An Adventure in Space and TimeHugo AwardBlows Against the Empire
The OdysseyCanadian SeriesThe Outer Limits (1995)
Only ConnectTurnOfTheMillennium/Live-Action TVThe Osbournes
The Only Way Is EssexSeries of the 2010sOur America With Lisa Ling

alternative title(s): Orphan Black
TV Tropes by TV Tropes Foundation, LLC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available from
Privacy Policy