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2017 Staff Choice Performer of the Year - Tatiana Maslany



This article was written by DJRiter (Twitter: @DJRiter) with contributions from Aimee Hicks.

All actors must dream of finding that perfect role, something with depth and substance that they can sink their teeth into. They thrive on taking parts that give them the opportunity to create distinct and different characters where they can show their range and talent. Rarely, however, do they get the opportunity to do that on one show playing not one, but five different characters, and a multitude of their counterparts. Five years ago, this week we were introduced to Sarah Manning and her Leda clone sisters in a quirky show called Orphan Black, which was met with critical acclaim. While the show itself was brilliantly written, nothing would have worked without an actress who could handle the challenge of playing multiple characters, often opposite herself. Thankfully, the producers found such an actress in the brilliant Tatiana Maslany.

From the first moment she stepped onto television screens, fans quickly recognized that Maslany was special. Her acting was a gift that came from a lot of hard work, and a great deal of a God-given talent. Years from now instructors will be using film of her five years on Orphan Black as a master class in acting. Orphan Black and the Leda "Seestras" became a worldwide phenomenon and the great responsibility of carrying it rested on Maslany's shoulders. A task she handled with ease to great acclaim.

Knowing Sarah's five-year journey with her "Seestras" was coming to a close this season must have been very freeing for her as Maslany held nothing back. She turned this final season into an homage to the women she had created and fans had grown to love. This was an intense season full of complex storylines and difficult loss for the characters. Throughout it all Maslany gave it her all turning this season into one that fans of this show will forever remember. For that reason and others, we will attempt to describe here why Tatiana Maslany has so rightfully earned the title of SpoilerTV's 2017 Staff Choice Performer of the Year.

Alison, Helena, Rachel, Cosima and Sarah, the five main Leda clones, became some of the most unique characters on television and the unlikeliest family. Alike in so many ways (united by family) and so very different in others, but the biggest thing in common is that they were all parts of Tatiana Maslany. She is so amazing at playing these unique characters that it never feels like the same actress. What is even more remarkable are the scenes where she plays opposite herself. In one stand out episode, Clutch of Greed (5x2) she did this not once, but twice. She was Sarah playing Rachel being chased by Rachel and then later in the same episode she played yet another clone, the reclusive and gentle MK pretending to be Sarah (which resulted in one of the series most gut-wrenching deaths as MK was stomped to death by the vicious Ferdinand (James Frain).

Creating one character is challenging enough for an actor but to create these five iconic characters in one series is a testament to Maslany's abilities. She resisted the easy way of keeping them very similar to one another, making her job much easier. Instead, she embodied each "Seestra" with their own quirks, accents, personalities and in some cases even body language. Watching her giving each of them their moments to shine in this final season was a gift to fans and a pleasure to watch. Rather than an in-depth analysis what happened in the final season storylines of Orphan Black, this article is going to take a different approach and look at the moments that allowed each sister to shine and what Tatiana Maslany brought to them that made each so special.

Before diving into the main clones, this article would be remiss in failing to mention two of the other clones Maslany created who played important roles in the show's final season. MK, a seemingly meek but cunning clone using her computing skills to exacting revenge on Ferdinand for the murder of her sister clone and only friend, Niki Lintula. Then we have the clone that looked like Maslany had the most fun playing, Crystal. Crystal seemed to have a talent for blundering toward the truth. In Manacled Slim Wrists (5x6) she was particularly effective in the scene where she lures Leonard Sipp to her apartment to confront him about selling his cosmetics company to DYAD. And in her own unique Crystal style got her revenge on him! What made this scene even more fun was learning that Sipp was played by Tatiana Maslany's real-life boyfriend, Tom Cullen.

Alison

If you were to identify a "mother-hen" of the group it would be methodical, maternal, soccer-Mom – Alison Hendrix. For her, Maslany gave Alison a bit of a slouch, an easily excitable nature, and an almost afraid of her own shadow quality, when the truth was, Alison had a core of pure steel. Alison's body language was not as self-assured or powerful as the others but when push came to shove and those she loved most were threatened she could be the fiercest. She was the most underestimated clone. Her moment to shine came in Beneath Her Heart (5x3). This was an episode about redemption, forgiveness, and inner-strength. In this episode, Maslany got to dive deep into the qualities that made Alison such a unique character amongst all the sisters.

Alison never really felt she fit in anywhere, not with her suburban mom neighbors and especially not with her newfound family. Her insecurities led her to make some bad decisions, her alcoholism, and addiction, and one can't forget the bodies that began piling up in the Hendrix garage. Yet, this was the episode that brought the bulk of her story full circle. This was the episode where Maslany made Alison the most courageous. When she finally stands in the spotlight on the stage at the school to defend her beloved Donnie (Kristian Bruun), rebuke her judgmental neighbors and confess her own sins, chief of which was her guilt over not saving Anysley (Natalie Lisinska), Alison found her voice. Maslany filled Alison with righteous indignation and controlled fury, her voice pitched on the edge of hysteria.

Paramount to her portrayal of Alison was Maslany's amazing chemistry and partnership with Bruun. They had a wonderful connection that other actors could only hope to achieve with co-stars. They made it easily believable that these two would be together till death do them part and were also unafraid to let the characters be fun and goofy together. Donnie was Alison's greatest weakness but he was also her greatest strength and many of their tender scenes remain some of the best of the series. This episode was no exception, that quiet moment, late at night in their living room, when Alison tells Donnie she's going away was a prime example of two actors totally at ease with one another. It also gave us a glimpse into their singing abilities as they crooned, Ain't No Mountain High Enough to each other.

Maslany's ability to connect with her co-stars was also evident in Alison's few brief scenes in this episode with Felix (Jordan Gavaris). Although he portrayed Sarah's foster brother, and they shared many wonderful scenes together, Gavaris and Maslany's connection as Felix and Alison was special. It was like they were kindred spirits. Felix was likely the first to accept Alison, and quickly became a partner in crime with the Hendrixes in many of their comedic misadventures. But when the chips were down he was always there for Alison.

Another standout moment of Maslany playing opposite of herself comes when Alison finally has enough of Rachel and her minion, Det. Enger (Elyse Levesque)'s manipulation. They had made Alison doubt her value to her new family, yet they really didn't know all she'd done and sacrificed for them. Alison proves herself a fighter and a formidable opponent when she takes an epic stand against Rachel. She marches into Dyad to with a plan to bring Rachel to her knees and succeeds when she drops Leekie's head on Rachel's desk like a boss.

Helena

While clearly the most eccentric and dangerous of the clones, Helena had a relatively quiet season than others in the physical sense. However, she and the birth of the twins she was carrying was at the very core of the storyline this season. If there was a word to describe Helena it would be protective. Capitalizing on the chemistry between Bruun and Maslany, another distinctive partnership formed between these two. The masterful handling of this is yet another reason for Maslany's selection as Performer of the Year. The connection between Donnie and Helena was just as powerful as the connection between Donnie and Alison, which is attributed to Maslany's talent. Never once, did you believe you saw Bruun with the same actress.

A standout moment of Helena's in the final season comes ironically not in one of her action-packed fight sequences but in yet another masterful scene of Tatiana Maslany doing dual duty. In this instance, that moment came in Let The Children And The Childbearers Toll (5x4). On their way to confront a Neo, Sarah makes Mrs. S (Maria Doyle-Kennedy) take a brief detour to see the pregnant Helena who was hiding out in a convent with a Nun who had protected her as a child. During the visit, Sarah tearfully confesses to Helena she wasn't a good sister and Helena comforting her and giving her strength and hope to fight on. It was an odd sort of role reversal in that Sarah was the one on the verge of being out of control and Helena was a calming influence. It was a deeply poignant scene as Maslany nailed the conflicting emotions in both characters.

Rachel

Of all the sisters, Rachel Duncan was easily the most hated, and yet in an odd way, the most popular of the clones Maslany portrayed. That is due, in large part to the vulnerability she let come through the cold, ruthless and businesslike shell she created for Rachel. There is no arguing that Rachel has done many despicable things. In her own twisted way, she could always justify her actions, making it easy to hate a character that has done so many awful things to beloved characters. However, one must take into consideration what she was put through as a child, knowingly used as a test subject for most her life, being subjected to horrendous tests and paraded around in front of investors over and over again. She adopted her tough persona to survive. She had to adopt a tough persona to be able to endure all she was put through at Dyad. Yet, through her portrayal, Maslany made Rachel redeemable.

Her pivotal actions in building to the show's conclusion come in Gag or Throttle (5x7). Confronting and then rejecting her past, Rachel makes the dramatic decision in this episode to side with her sisters, despite fighting against them all this time. And all it took to break down her defenses was spending time with Sarah's daughter, Kira (Skyler Wexler). She could also be considered another of the amazing acting partners Maslany had on the show. Like Bruun, this talented young actress had to connect with two different Maslany characters, Rachel and her mother, Sarah. And kudos to Maslany in having each of those characters react to young Kira in such distinctive fashion.

Often during the series, Kira was wise beyond her years and was at times more of an adult than her mother, Sarah was. Her mother-daughter moments with Maslany had a natural ease and rhythm to them, filled with a warmth and genuine affection. With Rachel, Maslany had to create a coldness and distance between them, until Kira manages to break through her defenses. In Kira, it seems Rachel saw herself and managed to break the cycle to ensure that Kira wouldn't have to endure all the things she had to while growing up.

She communicated her plan to Art (Kevin Hanchard) and coordinated Kira's escape. Rachel finally chose a side and fell into line with her sisters and proved that Rachel Duncan is no longer a Neolution pawn. In doing so she knew finding any semblance of freedom meant removing her bugged eye, giving new meaning to the Bible passage (Matthew 18:9), "And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee." That particular scene could easily qualify as the most gruesome of the season if not for the whole series. Kudos to Tatiana Maslany for the way she played that moment. She showed us Rachel's humanity in this episode, exposing a side of her the audience has never seen before. That allowed this moment to carry a lot of extra weight as the audience had a reason to feel compassion for Rachel.

Cosima

The brains or thinker in the family was clearly Cosima, who spent most of the season trapped on the Neolution island. She was the perfect one to match wits with P.T. Westmorland (Stephen McHattie), the mastermind behind the movement that ultimately created her and her sisters. Although a scientist, it could easily be argued that she was the "free-thinker" of the family. This character will be most remembered for her romance with fellow scientist, Dr. Delphine Cormier (Evelyne Brochu) in yet another example of Maslany's incredible ability to share chemistry and connect with her co-stars.

The lovers had been separated when it was thought Delphine had been killed, yet the two are poignantly reunited in the first episode of the season Few Who Dare (5x1). The theme of their story is always finding each other against insurmountable odds. Through betrayals, heartbreak, and loss these two have continually found a way back to each other, defying even death because they couldn't leave the other. No matter what Dyad and Neolution have thrown at them their bond was unbreakable. Even when they occasionally seemed to stand on opposite sides of the fight. Theirs was a complex and complicated love.

The intense scenes between the two in Ease for Idle Millionaires (5x5) that solidified their status as an iconic on-screen couple. Forced into a bizarre dinner party by Westmorland, the two not only survived his attempts to pit them against one another but emerged stronger. One very important moment was when Cosima confronted Delphine after the dinner revelation that left her feeling betrayed. Delphine held Cosima's hand to her heart and in a stunningly beautiful, cinematographically and editorially, moment the past and the present merged to show this couple at a full circle moment. The last time they stood like this, Delphine was fighting to get Cosima back. This time, while she's still fighting for the woman she loves, she was prepared to let her go. It was quite evident that no matter the response, she was going to keep fighting the good fight.

Once a long time ago they stood nervously staring into each other's eyes, Delphine staring down at this woman she was falling for and threw caution to the wind with a passionate kiss. At that time everything was in her hands. This time, their roles were reversed and it was up to Cosima to decide what she wanted. Was she going to put a final end to the heartache and the secrecy that had marked their relationship? Or was she going to choose to stay with the woman she couldn't deny loving? Her hand was being held tight to Delphine's chest where she could feel the beating heart that she once thought she'd lost. Cosima had to quickly process the shocking choices she was offered. Brochu and Maslany were exceptional throughout, but this scene contains some of their finest moments together onscreen. When Cosima moved in, you could virtually see the wheels turning in her head as she was processing everything. Yet, she dismissed all of her fears and made her desires known so as not to lose Delphine again. The two actresses shared a terrific chemistry and thankfully their real-life respect for each other seeped into each aspect of their performances to produce these masterful moments.

Tatiana Maslany is a phenomenal actress, but more than that, she is also an exceptional person. Acting is her profession, but she often goes above and beyond the call of duty. By playing Cosima she was given a chance to be a vocal proponent of LGBT rights and she immediately latched onto the opportunity. When given the chance she always spoke about the disparities facing the LGBT community. In fact, on more than one occurrence, she got emotional about it. In every interview, it is always evident just how wholeheartedly she cares. Yes, she played LGBT characters, but the amount of emotion that came out of her when discussing the topic shows that she cared and was passionate about these topics long before she brought Cosima to life. It became evident again when the show introduced transgender clone, Tony. Maslany talked so lovingly about that character and the challenges that came with trying to do right by that portrayal. She is such a beloved actress, but she is also a beloved person because of her incredible heart. She is a good person who genuinely wants to make a positive change in the world and she is a shining example of how a performer can use their platform to do good.

Sarah

Ultimately, Orphan Black began and ended with Sarah Manning. She was the heart and soul of the series. She was the warrior. She started the series fighting and grew, particularly in this final season, as the battles took on more significant meanings. She was tough, she was the warrior. In Few Who Dare (5x1), she fought to survive her injuries from her brutal fight with Rachel that had ended the previous season. All she wanted was to escape from the island to get back to her daughter, only to feel devasted and betrayed when has to send her daughter to be with Rachel at Dyad. To protect her new-found sisters Sarah was forced to send Kira off with Rachel, relations between mother and daughter were strained and her daughter barely looked at her. Maslany was especially powerful in her pain and misery, her silent tears as Kira walked away tore at viewers hearts.

She fought with Mrs. S (Maria Doyle-Kennedy) in Let The Children And Childbearers Toil (5x4). The list of people who shared tremendous on-screen chemistry during the run of Orphan Black would be incomplete without Doyle-Kennedy. A wonderful example of this and of just how alike their characters were despite often being at odds comes in this episode. On an adventure that involved an incredible amount of teamwork, they quickly reverted to their con days, displaying a wonderful timing and cadence between the two actresses. Arriving at a bar, Mrs. S no sooner finished explaining what they were doing there than Sarah jumped into action. They had no coordinated plan and just totally played it on trust and instinct. It was a beautiful moment of mother and daughter team work because at the end of the day Mrs. S is the only mother Sarah has ever really known. Despite their differences, these two will always go to bat for each other. Even though the lady they targeted was totally blinded to the fact she was being played, she did actually deliver onto Mrs. S some sound parental advice. However, she's done pretty well so far, minus a few rebellious hiccups along the way, with raising Sarah, Felix, and Kira, so she doesn't really need any help.

Later Sarah fights everyone because she doesn't want to grieve for the tragic loss of Mrs. S at the hands of Ferdinand in One Fettered Soul (5x9). Perhaps the most beautiful moment of the episode was the saddest and it occurred at the funeral when Sarah struggled with the letter and Felix took over it, adding to the many wonderful scenes that illustrate the connection between Tatiana Maslany and Jordan Gavaris. Even though Mrs. S. wasn't there in body it felt like she was there in spirit giving them all the strength to get through it.

And Sarah fights for Helena when she learns her pregnant sister has been kidnapped, is likely in labor and has been taken to the Neolution island. She literally storms the proverbial castle to save her sister. Sadly, to go save Helena, Sarah had to leave Kira behind, but the young girl seemed to understand why her mom had to go. Kira felt Helena's pain and understood enough of what was going on to know the severity of everything. Even though Sarah had to leave Kira, they shared some terrific scenes together. Skyler Wexler and Tatiana Maslany delivered some really nice mother-daughter moments as they both mourned Mrs. S. and tried to make sense of their new normal. The fact Sarah was able to pry herself away from Kira for Helena showed off just how much Sarah is willing to do for her sisters, in particular, Helena. It's that family bond that has been one of the greatest hallmarks of this show. No matter what they've all been through on this journey they are always there for each other.

And when all the fighting was done in To Right the Wrongs of Many (5x10) we get perhaps the most vulnerable of all Sarah Manning moments. Neolution has been defeated, they now have a list of all the clones and can save them, they have two new lives to protect in babies Art and Donnie, Helena has written their story in a book called Orphan Black, the fighting is done and Sarah doesn't know what to do. There was a lot going on in this finale, but the aftermath was so well explored in the magnificent final scene of the series. The Seestras are gathered around the backyard fire pit at Alison's. If ever there was a scene to showcase how brilliant Tatiana Maslany has been these past five years portraying these amazing characters this is it. And it all comes back to where it began, as Sarah tearfully confesses there's no one left to fight and she doesn't know how to be happy. That brief dialogue from that moment was, powerful enough to win Maslany another much deserved Emmy.

While Maslany had some great acting partnerships throughout the run of Orphan Black, perhaps her greatest partnership was with an actress whose face we never saw. Kathryn Alexandre served as Tatiana Maslany's acting double. For five years, she was in every scene that required Maslany to act opposite herself. While the principal camera was filming the star in character, Alexandre was there to give her someone to react to or play off of. To do that Alexandre was just as invested in the characters as Maslany was to evoke the proper response. In a manner, a portion of this Performer of the Year Title goes to Alexandre as her presence in those scenes gave Maslany a foundation to build her brilliance upon.

Orphan Black quickly built up its fandom which became known as the Clone Club. Maslany almost always mentioned the Clone Club during interviews for the show. She avidly shared the stunning fan art and videos that were created for her. Every person involved with the show and Maslany, in particular, was supportive of the Clone Club. It was even said that the final season was for the Clone Club. The writers took great care to write a beautiful season while also making sure to drop in nice little moments for the fans. Maslany always picked up on those moments and made sure they were extra special. Even though the show has ended Clone Club lives. Season Five of Orphan Black was a love letter from Tatiana Maslany to the fans of the Leda "Seestras", the Clone Club, and you can tell it was just as difficult for her to say goodbye to Sarah, Alison, Cosima, Helena, and Rachel as it was for the fans.

This article explores the many examples of why Tatiana Maslany was chosen as SpoilerTV Staff Choice 2017 Performer of the Year. We couldn't possibly cover every incredible scene of this final season of Orphan Black that featured Tatiana Maslany, feel free to discuss your favorites in the comments below.

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