Serial Box’s Orphan Black: The Next Chapter Is a Mostly Successful Experiment in Transmedia Storytelling

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It is no easy feat to translate the success of Orphan Black the TV series, which was so predicated on the visual aspect of Tatiana Maslany’s riveting performances, to the page. Serial Box’s stable of writers (Madeline Ashby, Mishell Baker, Heli Kennedy, E.C. Myers, Malka Older, Lindsay Smith) have ably wrangled the TV show’s five years of science-thriller worldbuilding and over a dozen unique characters into a sequel that should satisfy fans in plenty of individual moments, if not potentially overall. It was an ambitious experiment, changing the very DNA of the story by crossing over into a vastly different medium with its own perks and drawbacks. Yet the spirit of Clone Club shines through the final episodes of Orphan Black: The Next Chapter, which see younger Clone Club members Kira and Charlotte surpassing their predecessors to save the world on their own terms—and which opens up a variety of futures for both generations of clones.

Spoilers for Orphan Black: The Next Chapter season 1.

While the Orphan Black comics had the benefit of illustrating as many clones as they liked between their pages, they weren’t able to delve as deeply into the series’ lore as Serial Box’s sequel has. Nor, as prequels or side-quels, could they cover so much new ground. Just like Charlotte’s decision to reveal Clone Club’s secrets to the world, adapting Orphan Black as prose (and as an audiobook, thanks to Maslany’s stellar performances) may have had its weak moments, but was undoubtedly the right choice—because a world with more clone stories is always more preferable to one without.

That said, the serial seems to suffer an identity crisis between whether it’s telling a global story or a local one. This is especially true as the season sought to wrap up all of the new plot threads in one climactic showdown. The latter episodes converge upon the remote Nasgwine’g village in Quebec—the Francophone separatists’ rustic, self-imposed isolation bringing to mind P.T. Westmoreland’s faux-utopian island village Revival in season 5 of the TV series. But in that case, it was Cosima and Kira who were in danger, not a hundred-odd strangers; the emotional investment is lacking. That the final action should center on the Canadian government trying to wipe out supposed terrorists within their own borders with a genetically-targeted virus delivered via mosquito drone feels like a story that almost doesn’t even require the presence of Clone Club.

Except that the Nasgwine’g are a foil when it comes to matters of fiercely protecting one’s genetic code from outside influences. Project Leda’s clones are intimately familiar with this necessary self-preservation, even and especially when it morphs into self-defense. That the first reaction to the outing of clones is to link them to violence is so telling; everyone from gossip rags to General Eloise Thibault herself wants to make damning pronouncements about these clones being unstable creatures, dangers to society, individual time bombs of rage waiting to explode on unsuspecting innocents.

But why shouldn’t they be angry? These women have been, at best, lied to for their entire lives, and at worst… well, Helena has some competition where Vivi is concerned when it comes to the extent of psychological harm that can be inflicted upon a clone shaped into a spy. Orphan Black: The Next Chapter never shies away from exploring this female fury, from legitimizing it even if that means Rachel is breaking wrists with bottles of cava and Helena is going full woodland predator. Each clone has her own unique way of coping with the same problem, and each woman’s perspective is treated with respect. Who would have thought that one of the most powerful conversations in this serial would be as simple as Sarah, Cosima, and Alison listening to Charlotte vent her frustrations about not having more autonomy within her own family?

Which is why it would have been more effective to devote more pages to hundreds of clones around the world simultaneously coming into potentially devastating information, rather than have that be background information to the local attempted genocide of a non-clone population. The snapshots from the beginning of Kennedy’s Episode 6—clones being harassed by camera crews, or victims to bleach attacks—seemed the more obvious moments to expound upon.

In fact, that brief montage resembles the sequence originally planned for the TV series finale, in which Maslany would have portrayed dozens of new clones moving about the world, still blissfully unaware as to their status. The production ran out of the time and resources to present this, but the Serial Box writers would have had no such hurdles.

Due to so many moving parts, so many character beats to hit within the space of about hour-long episodes, many of the plot threads are lacking the necessary tautness of dramatic tension. Individual scenes—like when Art got stabbed with the clone virus!—are harrowing in the moment, but there is never the sense that something irreparable will happen, that separated family won’t get reunited or love interests will be turned against one another.

Not that it always has to be action, either! The side plot in Ashby’s Episode 8, in which Alison and Donnie face off—naked!—against a government thug in a fancy sex club and invoke rules of consent to get him kicked out was ::chefskiss:: Scenes like this felt closest to the tone of the original series, where the characters were at their best in the moment and there wasn’t the overwhelming feeling of needing to rush to the next move on the chessboard.

But after all that rushing, we reach a season finale that brings Clone Club back to a new status quo—one that forces them out of their own self-imposed isolation, and that hearkens back to Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower. The final episode title, and that of the surprise epilogue, are drawn from a moment in which hyperempath and Earthseed founder Lauren Oya Olamina is challenged with potentially the greatest existential crisis: being told that her God doesn’t care about her at all. Her response is calm and forward-facing:

“All the more reason to care about myself and others. All the more reason to create Earthseed communities and shape God together. ‘God is Trickster, Teacher, Chaos, Clay.’ We decide which aspect we embrace—and how to deal with the others.”

Clone Club always has to have a few exiles. While Rachel’s return felt a bit anticlimactic, it was also completely in character of her to reach for the chance to get back on top, then experience a crisis of conscience when it comes to poor Kira. The fact that she had spent the last half-decade living humbly with her call-center job and microwaved meals makes her sacrifice all the more impressive.

And then there’s Vivi, the newcomer who infiltrated Clone Club in more ways than one and who had every chance to reconnect with the family she thought she had imagined. The chameleon’s inability to adapt to the new status quo is bittersweet; it’s simply too emotionally triggering for her at this moment, so she ends the season back in familiar rhythms: reunited with her handler Arun and reconsidering how her clone status could be an asset. After all, she now has 270+ alter egos.

It’s unclear if Serial Box intends to greenlight a second season for Orphan Black: The Next Chapter. If Arun had met Vivi with “I have a new case that only you can take on,” that might have shed some light on the serial’s future. Instead, in the cheeky epilogue narrated by Jordan Gavaris himself, it’s Felix who gets some intriguing intel—from Krystal! Considering that the beautician-turned-whistleblower-turned vlogger is one of Project Leda’s more chaotic clones, here’s hoping she’s got the key to a new season, because Serial Box has laid impressive groundwork to keep expanding the stories and the storytelling of Clone Club.

Orphan Black: The Next Chapter is available now (in text and audio formats) through Serial Box.

Natalie Zutter wants more Vivi Valdez! Talk Orphan Black with her on Twitter!

This article was originally posted on
https://www.tor.com/2019/12/05/serial-box-orphan-black-the-next-chapter-season-1-review/

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