main index




Topical Tropes

Other Categories

TV Tropes Org
Series: Orphan Black
How many of us are there?

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

Orphan Black is a sci-fi show about a human cloning conspiracy, staring Tatiana Maslany.

After witnessing the suicide of a woman who happens to look just like her, street-wise orphan Sarah Manning assumes her identity in order to acess the massive amounts of cash in the dead woman's savings. But their uncanny resemblance is not sheer coincidence: she and Elizabeth (the woman she's impersonating) are clones, and there are more of them all across the world. Not only that, but they're being killed off. Suddenly what looked like an easy con for Sarah is now an investigation to unravel two conspiracies: who created the clones, and who wants to wipe them out.

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.
    • Turns out it wasn't accidental..
  • Acting For A Hitherto 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?
    • Made more impressive by scenes where the various clones are physically interacting with each other. Yes, it's done with CGI and body doubles, but damn...
  • Action Mom: Alison can hold her own against any potential attackers. Mrs S. also keeps a shotgun.
  • Adult Fear:
    • The climax of Episode 1.08: Kira walks onto the road without looking first and gets hit by a car. Don't worry, she makes a quick recovery.
    • 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.
  • All That Glitters: Sarah quickly discovers this about Beth's life.
  • Arc Symbol: A winged fish. It appears carved on the handle of Helena's knife, engraved on Tomas's ring, and branded onto the back of Maggie Chen's neck.
  • Asshole Victim: Vic, Sarah's abusive drug-dealing ex who gets his finger sliced off and a nail gun put through his hand.
  • 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.
  • Beauty, Brains and Brawn: Alison, Cosima, and Sarah respectively. Subverted as to the Beauty part since they all look basically the same.
  • Bi the Way: Cosima and Delphine.
  • Biodata: In episode 10, Cosima decodes the clones' DNA using binary, 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.
  • 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.
    • Kira covered in her own blood after getting hit by a car.
  • Camp Gay: Felix is so fabulous it's almost painful.
  • Canada, Eh?: The show is set in Toronto.
  • 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.
  • 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. Allison has a simple ponytail. Cosima has dreadlocks. Helena has curly, ratty blonde hair. Rachel has straight blond hair in a Sci-Fi Bob Haircut.
  • 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.
  • The Conspiracy: There are two. The Neolutionists, who created the clones and monitor their lives, and the Prolethians, a group of religious fanatics opposed to their existence, who use Helena as an assasin.
  • 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...
  • 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 slowly choke 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.
  • 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
  • Death Faked for You: Sarah uses Beth's suicide to fake her own death to start a new life for herself.
  • 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.
    • 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.
  • Dr Feel Good: Beth's appointed therapist.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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: The clones.
  • Foreshadowing/Shout-Out: 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 made of clones.
    • Also, the man who created the clones and is apparently responsible for the experiment is named Dr. Aldous Leekie.
      • And Delphine tells Cosima that she's glad to have made a friend in this brave new world.
  • 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.
  • Freudian Trio: Alison is Id, Sarah is Ego, Cosima is Superego.
  • Girl on Girl Is Hot: Cosima's geeky colleague starts stammering when Delphine kisses her in his presence.
  • 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. Played for Laughs in the case of Alison's neighbors and husband.
  • 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 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 cloning was legal, you can't compel behavior. So if a clone decides to break the contract the courts won't compel them to show up for testing/research.
    • 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 will be laughed out of court, and the publicity will at best severely crippled 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.
  • 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.
  • 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, it's 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.
  • 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."
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Mid-Season Twist: 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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:
  • Neat Freak: Alison. When she's out of her house and crashing at Felix's place, she cleans his entire flat.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • Plot Triggering Death: Beth's suicide in front of Sarah and Maggie Chen's shooting.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Posthumous Character: Beth. We only find out about her in bits and pieces through other characters.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: Sarah has a great one in the season finale with Helena.
    Sarah: I've already got a family.
  • 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 5, "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.
  • 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.
  • Room Full of Crazy: Helena has one.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Starts with a Suicide: Beth jumps in front of a subway car in the early moments of the pilot.
  • 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. It seems like sterility among the clones might turn out to be a plot point, and possibly reveal who is the original.
    • 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.
  • 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."
  • 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.
  • Undying Loyalty: Sarah and Felix are very loyal to one another, mostly to Felix's detriment.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Deconstructed with Alison and Aynsley. Their friendship rapidly deteriorates into mutual animosity.
  • 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."
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: At the end of 1.09, Tomas is locked in the cage he imprisoned Helena in previously. As Sarah leaves with Helena, Dr. Leekie and Paul arrive, and it appears that they might encounter Tomas, but they never do.
  • Wig, Dress, Accent: Basically how Sarah impersonates Beth and Katja. 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.

The OdysseyCanadian SeriesThe Outer Limits
Odyssey 5Science Fiction SeriesOtherworld

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