Whether or not you’ve caught onto Orphan Black, here’s a handy, condensed (and largely spoiler-free) guide to the first three seasons.
Jeremy Cassar

12 Apr 2016 - 5:10 PM  UPDATED 14 Apr 2016 - 5:32 PM

Season 4 of Orphan Black premieres on SBS On Demand on Friday, 15 April. But before you launch into the new episodes, here’s what you need to know about the Canadian sci-fi series…


The (complicated) story so far


Sarah Manning’s a rebellious London punk and the broke sole provider for her young daughter and stepbrother. After witnessing the suicide-by-train of a woman who could be her matching twin, Sarah steals her bag and assumes the dead stranger’s identity.

This decision gradually forces Sarah into a shadowy world of biotechnological conspiracy. Numerous identical clones enter her orbit, some as clueless to the mysterious phenomena as our heroine, and some part of the conspiracy. When an unknown assassin begins picking them off one-by-one, Sarah has no choice but to get to the truth of her past, in order to save herself and those aligned to her.

Cue three seasons of double-crossing, jaw-dropping reveals, and a whole lot of actress Tatiana Maslany fighting alongside or against herself. Joining her “Clone Club” is Cosima the badass geek and Alison the Stepford wife. Out to stop them is deranged and child-like Helena, and the ruthless and business-like Rachel.

Throw in the ominous Dyad institute – an organisation hell-bent on using genetic engineering to evil ends, and a story-world where allegiances are constantly shifting and where digging for the truth only ever reveals a new bottom, and you end up with a show that gives viewers the good kind of whiplash.  


Which clone is which?

We know Sarah Manning is our tempestuous heroine.

Beth commits suicide in the first episode, for reasons related to the conspiracy.

Alison is the soccer mum aligned with Sarah, who wants nothing more than to hold on to her safe, suburban life.

Cosima is aligned with Sarah, who develops a mysterious conspiracy-related illness.

Helena is certifiably insane, an important figure in Sarah’s childhood, and set on killing the clones, driven by the implanted idea that she was the first.

The manipulative Rachel Duncan is season two’s villain. She’s aligned with the underbelly, and will stop at nothing to get close to our protagonist.

Charlotte is an actual child version of the clones. Tony is a trans clone. Krystal is the naïve manicurist. Jennifer is down-to-earth and very sick. Katja is German.

Easy, right?


Who the hell is who? An abridged guide to the clones of Orphan Black
Keeping track of Tatiana Maslany’s numerous roles in Orphan Black is a skill in itself. But don’t give up, we’re here to get you sorted.


What means what?

Orphan Black: Also known as “child in the black” – one that was saved from the illegal trafficking of black market clones.

Clone Club: The unofficial title given to the alliance formed by Sarah, Alison and Cosima.

Pro-clone: A clone aligned with the shady powers-that-be.

Project Leda: The initiative that sparked this whole clone fiasco. All created by the project (except for Rachel) were unaware of the other clones.

Neolution: Or ‘neo-evolution’; a biotechnological belief that we shouldn’t wait for natural evolution and should take all necessary steps to improve the human.

Prolethean: An extreme religious sect set on destroying all cloning-related practices, and those who taught Helena the thirst for blood.

Monitors: Each clone is assigned a monitor, someone close to them who reports data back to the scientists. These unfortunate folk do so without knowing why, or that their subjects are clones.

The Dyad Institute: The mysterious biotechnological body responsible for Project Leda, owned by the largely faceless Topside Corporation.

Castor Clones: The group that proves Leda ain’t the only clone game in town. I won’t give away the specifics.


Tatiana Maslany is not a twin or triplet or quadruplet

While Maslany missed out on a 2013 Emmy for Best Lead Actress in a TV Drama, she definitely earns the title of Hardest Working Performer On TV.

One can only imagine the colour-coding system Maslany has to implement on her scripts and call-sheets, as she juggles personas and wigs and accents with the frequency of a circus performer in the throes of an amphetamine addiction.

Kudos to the woman, as the separation between clones would remain well-defined even if she didn’t change costumes – a helpful talent considering she’ll occasionally play a clone pretending to be another clone.

Even attempting to imagine the ins and outs of her job description gives me a headache.


Things grow complicated

Any high-concept premise has the potential to grow unwieldy (hey Lost, how you going?), and Orphan Black is no exception. Have no fear, though, as when the show’s plot threads become too entangled, the writers seem to find a way to straighten them out again.

And even the ones that don’t are compensated by the creators’ staggering ambition and the propulsive energy of the show. 

In other words – don’t let a few confusing moments or missed bits of info turn you off the thing, no matter how often the nearest wall receives the force of your head.


Where we left off at the end of season 3 (MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD)

Sarah and her Clone Club manage to (for the moment, at least) quash both military and black market enemies, while learning that both Castor and Leda were created by the group of pro-neolutionists from season one. She ends the season on a high-note, travelling with her foster mother, newly introduced foster grandmother to reunite with her daughter, Kira. 

Meanwhile, Delphine, Cosima’s former lover who was really sent to keep an eye on her, tries to prove her regret and loyalty by taking a seemingly fatal bullet.

Now-one-eyed Rachel is reunited with her surprisingly alive mother – neolutionist Susan Duncan, who just happens to have little Charlotte (the youngest clone) in custody.

What’s Susan’s plan for season 4? Who shot Delphine? Was it Scott? Is Delphine dead? Why is Beth still a thing? She can’t be alive, can she?


Starting from 15 April, new episodes from season 4 will be available on SBS On Demand every Friday at 6pm (AEST), just hours after the US broadcast. Those new episodes will then broadcast on the following Tuesdays (starting from 19 April) at 9:30pm (AEST) on SBS 2.

Need to catch up? Seasons 1 and 2 are available on SBS On Demand. Season 3 will air on Friday 15 April from 10:40pm (Episodes 1-5) and Saturday 16 April from 10:20pm (Episodes 6-10). On Sunday 17 April, the entire season will be available on SBS On Demand.

In addition to announcing when new episodes will be available on demand, The Guide will also be featuring a variety of exciting content about the show, including interviews, essays and more so check in frequently.