Platonism in Orphan Black

So, I recently took a MOOC about three of Plato’s dialogues (Euthyphro, Meno, and Republic Book 1). By the way, I highly recommend taking MOOCs, especially if you’re a writer and/or also like me in that you miss the structure of college classes, but don’t want the hard commitment of actually going to grad school. MOOCs are free online college courses and they’re great for getting structured knowledge about all kinds of subject areas.

Anyway, in this MOOC, I got reacquainted with Plato’s theory of forms and at one point, I realized that this is basically what the Dyad Institute is trying to achieve in Orphan Black.

Form theory basically says that there is something called “The Good,” (represented by the Sun) of which we can only know pieces, rather than understanding or defining the whole thing. There are also perfect forms of concepts such as justice, virtue, holiness/piety, etc. These perfect forms live beyond the physical world. The Good, essentially, shines its light on these forms, but all we see here are the shadows and these shadows move in front of a flickering fire, which represents our beliefs. Belief itself is a shadow of the Good (the Sun). So, we can never fully know the complete nature of things like justice, virtue, holiness, etc., but we can point to examples, which are parts of these forms.

I thought it would be fun to make a diagram applying form theory to Orphan Black.


It’s a rough sketch and may not be entirely accurate since I’m not completely sure that Dyad’s goal is the creation of a perfect human. The end of season two suggests that they’re aiming for a specific military perfection, but not a broader perfection. Furthermore, Dyad seems at least partially aligned with Neolutionism, which allows self-determination as far as achieving the perfect/ideal body goes. This wouldn’t fit with the notion that there’s already some preexisting yet unidentifiable Good or Perfect Human that Dyad is striving for.

With this reading of Orphan Black using Plato’s theory, we see that all the clones are just shadows of shadows of some indefinable ideal, so it’s no wonder they’re not even close to perfect. So, whatever Dyad is trying to achieve, they actually won’t ever get there no matter how many sets of clones they make.

I think this reading also diminishes the need to know who the original clones are. While this is an interesting question, I wouldn’t be mad if Orphan Black never addressed it. After all, in this model, the original clones are “belief” and beliefs don’t exactly take on physical, identifiable forms (or clones) to begin with.

It also shows how most of the clones closely match some possible ideal trait, but also fall very short of the mark. Sarah and Alison, for example, represent different forms of motherhood, but neither is Motherhood herself. Rachel Duncan is supposed to be the form of leadership/control, but her breakdown in season two clearly shows otherwise. When Dyad created all of the clones, they were trying to achieve some balance of ideal mental and physical health, which we see break down in nearly all of the main clones.

All of this is to say that not only is Platonism everywhere, but the way it appears in Orphan Black actually makes it pretty easy to understand. As we get ready to enjoy season three, I’m sure we’ll be given even more characters and plot points that grapple with other ethical and philosophical ideas.


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