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As Orphan Black approaches the halfway point of its fifth and final season, airing on Saturdays at 10/9c PM, here’s a reminder of why BBC America’s cloning drama is one of TV’s most consistently clever shows.

1. Its episode titles quote Darwin, Bacon, Eisenhower, and more.

Each season of Orphan Black takes its episode titles from a particular author or piece of writing. Season one’s episode titles reference Charles Darwin‘s On the Origin of Species; season two’s episode titles are all Francis Bacon quotes; season three’s episode titles borrow from Dwight Eisenhower‘s farewell address; season four’s episode titles draw from the works of feminist scholar Donna Haraway; and season five’s episode titles are all quotes from the Ella Wheeler Wilcox poem “Protest.”

2. Aldous Huxley’s classic 1932 sci-fi novel, Brave New World, is a recurring motif.

This one shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, since Huxley’s novel is renowned for the way it explores the scientific possibilities (and ethical implications) of human cloning. Anyway, Huxley himself is honored most overtly in the name of one of the show’s most menacing villains, scheming scientist Dr. Aldous Leekie, portrayed by Max Headroom himself, also known by his proper name Matt Frewer.


3. The H.G. Wells novel The Island of Dr. Moreau is another frequent reference point.

Because it’s a book about a very questionable scientist doing a series of very questionable genetic experiments: Soooo Orphan Black.

4. The show also draws from Greek mythology.

In Orphan Black, the scientific initiative pioneering the creation of female human clones is called “Project LEDA.” In Greek mythology, Leda is a Spartan princess seduced by Zeus after he adopts the form of a swan. She later gives birth to two eggs — one containing a pair of mortal twins, the other containing a pair of divine (or God-like) twins. So it’s easy to read Project LEDA’s name as an elegant classical reference to the idea of duality at the heart of human cloning.

5. But the writers dip into mainstream pop culture, too.

The season one episode “Effects of External Conditions” actually references both Pygmalion, the classic George Bernard Shaw play, and Steel Magnolias, the famous ’80s tearjerker starring Sally Field and Daryl Hannah. As we noted in our episode recap at the time, these stories were chosen because they’re “acute examples of female identity issues in popular fiction that beautifully echoed the themes of this episode.”

6. Sarah and Felix’s adoptive mother, the mysterious Mrs. S, is based on punk icon Patti Smith.

The show’s co-creator Graeme Manson told Maria Doyle Kennedy, who plays Mrs. S, that Smith was the “original inspiration” for her complicated and controversial character. “She’s a huge beacon for me, so that sealed the deal,” the actress told TVLine.

7. One of Orphan Black‘s smartest characters is based on a real-life scientist who works on the show.

In Orphan Black, Cosima Niehaus is a pin-sharp former Ph.D student who always feels driven to find out the truth. In real life, Cosima Herter is an equally intelligent (continuing) Ph.D student who verifies the show’s scientific elements. Describing her Orphan Black consulting, Herter tells us: “I’m a resource for [the show’s] biology, particularly insofar as evolutionary biology is concerned. I study the history and the philosophy of biology, so I do offer some suggestions and some creative ideas, but also help correct some of the misconceptions about science. I offer different angles and alternatives to look at the way biological science is represented, so (it’s) not reduced to your stereotypical tropes about evolutionary biology and cloning, but also to provide some accuracy for the scripts.”

8. And I.R.L. (In Real Life) Cosima says the show’s premise isn’t as far-fetched as you might think.

“I think that the possibilities for the kinds of science that are being represented [on the show] are not fictional,” she says. “I think some of the things that make these things fictional are the fact that there are actual clones running around, but the capacity or the potential or the research to create such an event is not fiction.” Intriguing, right?

9. Let’s not forget that the show’s writers are fond of a clever one-liner.


10. Oh, and there’s an interesting fan theory regarding the show’s title.

In Richard Greene‘s (100% unofficial) book Orphan Black and Philosophy: Grand Theft DNA, he argues that the show’s title refers to orphans hidden “in the black” when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister of the U.K. in the ’80s. It’s a plausible one, to say the least.

Have you spotted any clever references in Orphan Black? Let us know in the comment sections below.

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Filed Under: Orphan Black
By Nick Levine