So, this past weekend’s episode of Orphan Black, which is possibly my favorite show right now, introduced a transgender character. If you’re not familiar with Orphan Black, the show revolves around a bunch of clones, all played by Tatiana Maslany. It’s actually quite amazing that she’s able to pull off so many deeply unique characters. Anyway, the newest clone that’s been added to the show is Tony, a transgender man.
To be honest, this kind of came out of nowhere. I don’t think anyone could have predicted there’d be a transgender clone. The moment he appeared on screen, I just kind of thought to myself “oh…no. Don’t do this! No! No! No!” The introduction of a trans character in a show or movie rarely turns out well for us, but I have to admit, they did a reasonably good job so far. I didn’t pick up on anything glaringly problematic, but this is very dangerous territory for the show to be in. The whole thing could go really bad, really quickly. Still, I was impressed that Tony seemed to be a fully fleshed out person and got the pronouns right, despite, you know, the whole clone thing. (Side note: referring to a trans person as “fully fleshed out feels kind of weird.) He shared a lot of personality with Sarah, the main clone, but was distinctly Tony…whatever that means. They even took a moment to make it clear that he’s his own character when he uttered the words “there’s only one Tony.” And, while the other characters were a little shocked, their shock is rather reasonable considering that he’s a damn clone and all the others clones are women.
My biggest question around Tony, though, is why. Why add a transgender clone, especially when this clone doesn’t seem to add anything to the plot of the show. At the end of the episode, we saw Tony take off as if he was a one-and-done character, but his exit was a bit to quick and clean for Orphan Black. Nothing is ever that simple and no one gets out that easily on this show, so I’m hopeful we’ll be seeing more of him soon.
Typically, the writers of the show are extremely careful when introducing new clones and it’s obvious this isn’t something they take lightly. I’ve even read a few interviews with writers and producers for the show all making the point that they think each clone through and understand how careful they need to be with adding them. So why add Tony? Why a transgender clone? Is it simply for shock value? Any viewer of the show would agree they don’t need to go out of their way to add more shock, they’ve got enough built in. The previous episode alone left my jaw on the floor. So, I’m still a little perplexed as to why a transgender clone. My only guess is that Tony being transgender is meant to expand our idea of just how different all the clones are from each other. Even though they all share the same DNA, they’re extremely unique. This may just be another step in showing how little control the members of Project Leda actually had in the final product (the product being the clones).
Anyway, I hope we see more of Tony. Despite how dangerous of a place this is for them to be, I think it could be really interesting and him being a recurring character would help ease the fears that this was for shock value.
One last thing I want to hit on is that I think they found an extremely rare exception to the idea that trans characters should only be played by trans actors. In this case, Tony has to be played by Tatiana. There’s no other way this works. She plays all the clones and they obviously have to look reasonably like each other. Even after transitioning, there has to be a reasonable amount of likeness. However, I would love to hear a trans man weigh in on this.