Monday 6 November 2023

Orphan Black: Echoes – If I have to find out who I was to protect who I am…

Orphan Black: Echoes: 1x01 Pilot.

Before diving into Orphan Black: Echoes, six years after the end of the original show, I’d like to remember how it all started. Sarah Manning watched Beth Childs, a woman that looked exactly like her, step off a platform, into the path of an incoming train. Her reaction to what she had witnessed – grabbing Beth’s belongings and assuming her life, with the resourcefulness of someone who has spent her life carving out opportunities from difficult situations, set the course for the entire show. The glory of the original Orphan Black was always watching in disbelief that the great Tatiana Maslany wasn’t six or seven different actresses, bearing witness to the ease with which she played all these characters, always finding what made them unique so that they remained identifiable even when they were pretending to be each other. I would argue that this feat of acting on television, over so many seasons, has never been surpassed – Maslany was present as someone in almost every scene of the show, from beginning to end.

I think it is wise of Orphan Black: Echoes to not attempt the same, and the title is a giveaway here. There are echoes of the original show – subtle throughout the first episode, until they become a clear connection point at the end, when we finally find out why Keeley Hawes needs to have an American accent as her character, whose identity is only revealed in the final scene or the pilot. There are musical notes in the score that pay tribute Trevor Yuile’s (also the composer for Echoes) music for the original show, woven in as if they are slowly unravelling, until they finally come to a crescendo in the end, when the adult Kira Manning calls her aunt Cosima to say that she may have made an error. The camera reveals photos of the characters we know so well – Kira with her mum, and the greatly missed Siobhan Sadler, one of the last victims of the long fight for agency and freedom from the far reaches of Dyad. The final credits play over Orphan Black’s original theme music by Two Fingers. 

More literally, “Echoes” seems to refer to Lucy's traumatic flashbacks to a past she does not quite remember (Krysten Ritter, a great choice for the lead here, whose Jessica Jones is a character for the ages). Like Sarah Manning stepping into someone else’s life at a moment’s notice, Lucy reveals who she is immediately through her actions after waking up, in a room that looks like a normal living room. A woman she does not recognise asks her questions to test her memory, and finds that her short-term memory is intact, but she does not know what year she is, or her name, or the identity of a baby on a photo she is given. It’s a traumatic realisation, the lack of such vital information, and Lucy reacts to it with disbelief in violence. After an orderly injects her, she falls asleep but wakes up on the same couch hours later, immediately springing to action. She looks for a way out, and proves remarkably resourceful and technically apt at escape. She emerges into a warehouse that reveals the living room as a mirage – it was a box all along, set up to look normal. She discovers another container and a tank filled with substrate, from which an incomplete body emerges. The decoration is reminiscent of Westworld, in case the pieces haven’t fallen into place yet. The strange scientist, desperate in her pleas and clearly personally motivated (it would be fair to say that she is pleading), reveals to her that she has been printed from incomplete scans. Again, her reaction reveals who she may have been in that other life she no longer remembers. She successfully escapes, perhaps because her life is too valuable to merit more severe intervention. We learn after the opening credits that she has evaded capture for two years, that it is now 2052. 

Orphan Black originally ended in 2017 – so approximately 35 years have passed since Sarah, Cosima and Alison (and I guess in a way, Rachel as well) fought their way free from the corporate spiderweb that was Dyad, and the ideology of Neolution. As a reminder – among the many conspiracies they uncovered and eventually foiled, there were military experiments to create super soldiers, attempts to introduce a sterility virus for population control, designer babies for the rich created on the backs of mothers too poor to say no to being experimented on, and a man who wanted all the glory of defeating death without having the scientific knowledge to do it himself, so he claimed the accomplishments of women scientists as his own, while clinging to a worldview that exulted him above them and all women. We ended with Helena’s twin boys, and Delphine and Cosima finding the other clones across the globe to deliver them the cure that would save their lives. It will be interesting to see, in Echoes, what happened to what remained of Dyad – which, in some form or another, traces its roots back to the beginning of the 20th century and further, with a firm rooting in 19th century obsession with eugenics. 35 years is a long time for a discredited company to reinvent itself and come back from the dead. The company that printed Lucy – Kira’s Additive Foundation – looks exactly like the kind of endeavour that a company attempting to rehabilitate itself from public scrutiny would undertake. It is “a global health organisation, rooted in social justice” (if you remember the adverts Orphan Black created for the diverse Dyad offshoots, it all seems very familiar), seemingly an ethical undertaking to bring medical research to those least likely to have access to it, but the confrontation between Kira and Tom (Reed Diamond – in a way, apparently reprising a version of his character from Dollhouse) reveals that there is an ominous corporate structure above, a “man” that Tom works for, that sounds anything but benign. Tom talks openly of dealing with the threat of Lucy and what she may reveal of her identity to the world drastically – capturing her dead, not alive, as all previous attempts have failed. The preservation of life is low on his list of priorities, and it is clear that the main reason for why Lucy has been allowed to escape alive so far has been Kira’s personal stake in her life. 

In the two years that have passed since Lucy’s original escape, she has lived on the streets, she has become an addict, she has rehabilitated herself with the help of Craig (Jonathan Whittaker), who runs a sober living community (he argues that since he doesn’t live there, sobriety does not apply to him). She is living off-grid in a trailer that she rents from Jack (Avan Jogia), earning a living in an orchard, paid in cash. She has become a substitute mother to Jack’s daughter Charlie (Zariella Langford), who looks teasingly like she may be a grown-up version of the baby picture that Kira gave her when she first woke up. She has learned ASL to help raise Charlie, and she showcases her engineering abilities both when she builds a rocket for Charlie’s school project and when she attempts to fix a car, hinting at her life before that she cannot remember. Jack and her are discussing moving in together – they’ve kept their relationship secret from Charlie. It looks like the beginning of a life for Lucy, presumably for the first time since her escape a reason to find clarity about her past and something to protect. It’s a pivotal moment for her, especially since she is stashing away money and holding on to a gun as if constantly ready to run again – because when a car hits her at her workplace and she is taken to hospital, a single phone call brings her back onto the radar of the organisation that is chasing her. She narrowly escapes a hitman (Charlie shoots him with stunning accuracy), and immediately realises that this means danger for the people she cares about, not just for her. She hasn’t told Jack about her past, or her lack of remembrance, but the situation forces her to vaguely explains the danger they are all in. She takes them to one of Jack’s army buddies to seek shelter and then decides to take on her pursuers, to force them to give her freedom – which, if you remember the long, long fight it took for the original clones to break free, seems like a project she is ill-suited to take on alone. 

She manages to track a location from the hitman’s wiped phone that leads her to a very large apartment building, and she has a profound sense of recognition when she sees a teenage girl walk out of it, who happens to listen to the same song she was listening to earlier in the car. This version of Lucy has a handler (who claims that she doesn’t know anything, that it’s above her pay grade), but appears to not know much about her own identity – but for now, she’s Lucy’s hostage. 

Random notes: 

I think Orphan Black: Echoes will have to navigate carefully around the precedent that both Westworld and Dollhouse (which I guess isn’t very much remembered, for good reasons) have set, but I think the idea that Lucy was created out of personal grief and the inability to let go is a very interesting starting point (Black Mirror’s Be Right Back always comes to mind as a moral warning against it). It will also be very interesting to see how far the show goes in tying in the re-emergence of Dyad, or whatever its equivalent here is, into the changes in the world since 2017 – a time before the true ravages of the Trump administration were obvious, and before the repeal of Roe v Wade by a Supreme Court stacked with conservative judges. 

Orphan Black has primed viewers to mistrust anyone close to Dyad’s pet projects, but for now Jack, in spite of his past as an army medic (let’s not remember Orphan Black’s experiment with male clones, Castor) seems trustworthy enough – he did not reveal Lucy’s location to anyone as far as I can tell. 

I really like the subtle world-building Echoes is doing – from how old technology still exists alongside the new, how the modern city has emerged along with traces of the old. Lucy’s car feels lived in – like an old pick-up truck, hand-modified with newer tech by someone with the skill to do so but not the resources to have it professionally done, or to buy a new car. Like Sarah did, Lucy lives on the periphery of this new world.  

It will be interesting to see how Kira Manning got caught up in all of this, and what involvement Cosima (and Delphine…) had in whatever Dyad is now – they were always eager to make their crazy science, and are the characters most likely to have contributed to the technology that created Lucy. On the other hand, Kira has grown up with a curiosity about the science as well. 

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