Tatiana plays Alison playing Sarah: Costumes and Clone Swaps

Curator's Note

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.


First, I think this is a great post, and I love that you're calling attention to the moments of purposeful masquerade within the diegesis, particularly because of the ways that (as you say) these diegetic moments resonate with the ways in which Maslany herself masquerades as several women with distinct expressions of femininity (or, thinking of it a different way, distinct relationships to dominant modes of femininity). And it's also interesting how Sarah, a con artist, can masquerade as other clones (the cop, Alison, Cossima) and pass, while Alison's masquerade is undone by the physical manifestations of her neuroses. I wonder if it is similarly productive to think about Maslany's star persona as related to masquerade? Particularly if we think about Dyer's work on stars, specifically regarding audience desire for "authenticity," and the recent NYT interview with Maslany (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/05/magazine/the-many-faces-of-tatiana-mas...), which I think frames her in interesting ways in terms of personal and performance authenticity as well as femininity (perhaps even in terms of a sort of feminine authenticity? but maybe I'm reading too much into the article).

Thanks for your reply, Lindsey! I think it's useful to think about tv performance in conversation with stardom. While TV studies has done some work on stardom and TV, a lot more work has been done on "TV personalities" as the TV counterpart to film stardom. I think, though, that we are increasingly seeing a lot of the same discourses around TV stars as film stars in terms of their star text and their authenticity as a person/worker/actress. We definitely see this around Tatiana Maslany in OB. What's especially interesting, I think, is the sheer number of the "behind the scenes" OB videos that BBC American has put out. There's something odd about these videos as they simultaneously affirm Maslany's authenticity yet expose the constructedness of many of the scenes. This is made more evident in the videos concerning Maslany's acting style in conversation with Kathryn Alexandre, her body double (who they also insist is an "actress in her own right"). The show seems particularly invested in letting the viewer in on the constructed nature of the image and using that truthfulness to affirm Maslany's authenticity.

I am reminded by your post of the many articles that cite Maslany's performance as one of the best performances on television right now (or, ever). The same ones then go on to point out how Maslany gives nine memorable performances. This of course is true, but false at the same time. As you've pointed out here, Maslany gives many in-between performances, too. Whether is be Sarah as Cosima or Alison as Sarah there are, in fact, many more performances that Maslany manages to give within each season. You point in your post to the moment where Alison must masquerade as Sarah in order to help Sarah out (which we later discover fooled no one). As an audience we almost expect Alison's performance as Sarah to fail because she is Alison, a suburban soccer mom, whereas Sarah is a con-artist. As you detail, Alison cannot manage to take on the Sarah persona because Alison still shines through. But what about a moment of "clone swap" where Sarah's performance is the one to fail? I'm remembering the season two premier when Sarah took on the role of Cosima. She had the costume, she had the props, and she had the accent but she still failed to convince Delphine because she didn't have the emotion (love) nor the desire to kiss Delphine. I find this moment to be one of the more interesting in the series thus far because it shows how large a part emotion and not just personality plays into Maslany's individual (and dual) performances.

Thanks for your reply, Liza-Anne! I think what you're pointing to underscores the melodramatic nature of the show. While the show is switching between genres (across the bodies of its clones, even) I feel like it's still fundamentally rooted in melodramatic storytelling that is playing with our understanding of emotions and love, virtue and villainy, the idyllic space of the home and of motherhood, etc. The fact that Sarah cannot pass as Cosima due to her inability to effectively masquerade emotion calls attention to the generic center of the show. Sarah failed as Cosima because she could not effectively mime the melodrama of Cosima and Delphine's romance.

This is great. Stories of twins “swapping” with each other have such a long history in popular media about twins. I almost want to read it as a nod to Patty Duke! At the same time, the swapping is very much about fan involvement with the show, as this video shows. In a way, it shows wonderful respect for fan cosplay as well. As you note, the highlight of the clone-as-clone scenes is the moment when the viewer is "invited in on the joke." For me, this is most successful when the other characters are still in the dark. That requires a very nuanced performance indeed. I wonder about the clues that are used to tip off the viewers. Helena has distinctive makeup that offered a big hint when she was pretending to be Sarah, for instance. It would be interesting to explore swaps and viewer engagement (because viewers must be on our toes...)

Thanks for your reply, Moira! I'm so glad that you bring this up. I just responded to Liza-Anne about the melodramatic nature of the show and have a very similar reply to your comment. I think the fact that the viewer is invited in on the joke of the show through performance is what makes the show so melodramatic. Melodrama, which operates on the pathos that results from viewers having more knowledge than the characters on screen, fuels the plot. OB knowingly plays with this knowledge and allows the viewers to read codes of performance in order to intensify our emotional reaction and connection to the characters and in order to amp up the suspense as we wait for the other characters to decode the deception we have already witnessed.

Really great post, Staci! I love the way you highlight the importance of props and costumes in the performance. It emphasises the work and labour involved in gender performance, and also the way that certain performances are more available to us than others - Alison, for example, couldn't perform Sarah from her wardrobe alone. Your discussion with Moira about viewer knowledge made me think of one of the other key elements of performance in the series - the monitors. Much like the "clone swap" performances, there are layers of performance involved in the monitors' relationships with the clones. However, for the audience (at least in the first season), we're as much in the dark as the clones as to where the layers stop. Do you think there's a comparable pleasure in this sort of masquerade?

Great posts and a great IMR week! I really like how this conversation is shaping up, especially regarding the multiple layers of Maslany's performance. In an earlier IMR piece, I suggested that this is similar to Tom Gunning's Cinema of Attractions, and that the audience reaction is for the latest of Maslany's performances-within-performances (http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/imr/2014/04/07/orphan-black-and-...) Incidentally, I'm co-editing a special issue devoted to TV performance for the journal of Film and Video and would love to get a submission devoted to the show. Contact me at rcolintait@gmail.com for details.

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