Twelve Days of Bookmas: Orphan Black – The Next Chapter

Book cover: Orphan Black - The Next Chapter (SerialBox)Orphan Black is one of my all-time favourite TV shows, a complete tale well-told in five seasons. Imagine my surprise and delight when Serial Box announced they had cooked up a sequel – narrated by none other than Clone Queen Tatiana Maslany herself.

It should go without saying that this post will include minor spoilers for the TV show (hell, the fact that there is a sequel is a spoiler), but seriously: if you’ve never watched Orphan Black, you should stop reading and start there without knowing who lives and who dies. It’s a dark speculative thriller, deeply feminist, cheerfully queer, unafraid to be absurd and as compelling as fuck. At the centre of its success is Tatiana Maslany’s peerless performance as the clones, in which she not only convincingly conjures up endlessly distinct yet identical characters, but regularly made me forget that they were all played by the same actress (who was presumably talking to a tennis ball most days on set).

Still here? Then let’s talk about The Next Chapter.

The big win here is that Tatiana Maslany is back as narrator, ensuring an easy transition from screen to audio. In addition to the familiar voices of Sarah, Allison, Cosima, Helena, and Rachel, she proves up to the challenge of Delphine and Art, if on unexpectedly shaky ground with Fee. What I didn’t expect was my depth of attachment to those voices: it was like walking into a room full of old friends, all the more welcome in 2020.

Another win is that we find out what happened to our faves. Some things were predictable – Sarah is struggling to raise a teenage daughter as headstrong as she is; Cophine are happily married, with an extensive line in pharmacologically-enhanced homebakes – other developments surprised me, but made me deeply happy (for example, giving Art the happy ever after he so richly deserves, if only temporarily).

But Clone Club’s hard-earned peace is about to be shattered. The Next Chapter picks up the story eight years later, with a plot spanning a covert CIA cloning program, governmental paranoia, genetically-targeted biological warfare, and the ethics of the security state vs the protection of individual liberties. It is thumping good fun, introducing an array of new characters (I particularly liked Priyantha Jaysara of the Mounties – The Next Chapter is unapologetically Canadian rather than being set in Orphan Black‘s ambiguous North America – but expect new clones too) and ratcheting tension through a familiar escalation of plot twists to deliver a high stakes conspiracy that puts all of the Ledas – and their CIA cousins – at risk.

One of the aspects of Orphan Black I adored was that it was unafraid to take time out to explore how the clones and their relationships were affected by the events they were dealing with. The Next Chapter is no different: we get ringside seats for Kira’s attempts to escape Sarah’s controlling paranoia and establish herself; and broader intergenerational conflict as Kira and Charlotte lobby for Clone Club to go public, arguing that secrecy puts the Ledas around the world at more rather than less risk. Meanwhile, Cosima resents her self-imposed obscurity and the career sacrifices it forces her to make as Delphine’s star rises ever higher.

All in all, The Next Chapter is a worthy sequel – an extension of the canon that I can happily accept. The writers have captured the essence of the characters and delivered an entertaining new adventure that opens the doors to a world of further shenanigans. I’ll certainly be back for Season Two in 2021, and not only for the obscure comfort of hearing Tatiana Maslany voice my favourite clones again.

Note: I listened to and recommend this as an audio drama, but it is also available in print.