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Tatiana plays Alison playing Sarah: Costumes and Clone Swaps

by Ethan Tussey

by Staci Stutsman for IN MEDIA RES

In the selected video, a fan names the scene in which Helena plays Sarah playing Beth as a favorite and asks Tatiana Maslany which clone imitation she would like to see. With a playful lilt in her voice, Maslany responds, “I would like to see Alison as Helena.” This fan calls for more “clone swaps” in the coming seasons. These clone swaps have quickly become fan favorites as they explicitly call attention to the strength of Maslany’s performance style and her ability to differentiate between each distinct subjectivity. I believe that, in these moments of clone swapping, the multiplicity of Maslany’s performing body makes uniquely visible the performative nature of femininity. Especially through its use of accents, props, and costumes, the series emphasizes the constructed nature of gendered identity. For example, when Alison masquerades as Sarah, Maslany’s performance style reads as Maslany-playing-Alison-playing-Sarah and a viewer’s knowledge of this deception allows for a consideration of the purposeful use of props and gesture.

In “Effects of External Conditions,” Alison must pose as Sarah in a visit to Sarah’s daughter, Kira. She wears a ski cap, a leather jacket, tight pants, and boots. She walks with an exaggerated stagger and put-on hunch. She excessively blinks her eyes in Alison-like style. She presses her tongue up against her teeth in Sarah-fashion but her eyes are slightly wider than Sarah’s would normally be. As soon as Kira sees her, she sees right through the performance. “You’re not my mummy,” she asserts. “Silly, of course I’m your mom,” Alison says in a strained English accent. Maslany’s acting style allows Kira and the viewer to read through multiple layers of performance and notice their constructed nature. Maslany and her clones’ ability to manipulate codes of performance facilitate the playful pleasure of the “clone swaps” as we are invited in on the joke of the show. Maybe season three will let us see, as Maslany jokingly suggests, Alison or Rachel as Helena. One can only begin to imagine the props and gestures that would inform such a performance.

Orphan Black and Costumes

A clip from "Orphan Black"

from Orphan Black (2013)
Creator: BBC
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey