Tatiana Maslany as Sarah Manning (Left) and Helena (Right) BBC America: Orphan Black Season 2 Episode 5. Photo: BBC America
While all the separate characters in Orphan Black could be considered an ensemble cast with distinct fully fleshed-out storylines for every character. However, the majority of the story pivots around sisters Sarah Manning and Helena.
Twins by an accident of nature and born outside the program because their surrogate realized what kind of life they were headed towards and spirited them away, Helena and Sarah defy and encapsulate everything they were created for.
At birth, Helena was put into a Catholic orphanage in Ukraine and eventually found by the religious sect of neolution. They abused and brainwashed her into believing she was the original that all the clones were created from and that it was her mission in life to murder them. Trained to murder and live on the run, Helena was laser-focused on her task, so how she looks is not a priority. With little to no color in her wardrobe she easily fades into the background as she wears a combination of what she’s given, finds on the road, and what she gets to use for a disguise. Wearing those clothes till they no longer serve her purposes or they are too coated in dirt and blood.
While she doesn’t dress in any distinctive way, her hair is her signature. Bleach blonde, curly and voluminous Helena’s hair, it’s hard not to notice her. While her hair lets her stand out her face tells you a lot about who she is and what she’s had to survive. However, deciding Helena’s look was a journey that started with inspiration from the Joker.
“I would have to say the most challenging and the most stimulating was coming up with [Sharah’s twin] Helena. They had seen her originally as a sooty black eye makeup kind of a joker. We kind of ignored that – in fact we ignored that completely.”STEPHEN LYNCH IN AN INTERVIEW WITH GLAMOUR
While the Joker inspiration certainly reflects her mad murderous nature at the beginning of the series they know that this look would not carry through her transformation in the rest of the series and so they turned to religious iconography for inspiration.
“We used the church as our research because she was raised by nuns in Eastern Europe and she’s a damaged character. We looked at the silent version of Joan of Arc … We used Michelangelo and frescoes, and Eastern orthodox and Latin American statues that cried real tears. We just wanted something new, something we had never seen before.”STEPHEN LYNCH IN AN INTERVIEW WITH GLAMOUR
Another outward expression of Helena’s character that is hidden to us most of the time is her wings. A troubling and disturbing insight into her past, Helena has cut the image of angel wings into her back when seeking to repent or to refocus on her original mission. However, this was not always the image showrunners had in mind for her wings.
“I had been asked to do a tattoo, and frankly it just bored me. We had to come up with something else. So we thought what if she creates angel wings with scarification. So we grabbed our show runner’s assistant and we did our own photo shoot to convince the powers that be. I was really proud of that. It’s really off-kilter and nothing we’ve seen before.“STEPHEN LYNCH IN AN INTERVIEW WITH GLAMOUR
Helena continues her crazed murder spree until she finds herself unable to murder Beth Childs because she instinctually knows it’s not Beth, but Sarah.
At birth, Sarah is put into the British foster care system and adopted by her foster mother, who moves them to Canada. A troubled youth Sarah becomes an accomplished con artist and single mother who desperately wants to regain custody of her daughter and create a better life for them. So when she witnesses Beth step off the train platform and takes her identity in an attempt to get enough money to move away with her daughter she unknowingly throws herself into Dyad’s path.
In all five seasons, Sarah’s aesthetic is punk, and she doesn’t care or think about what other people have to say about her appearance. Messy hair ripped jeans and leather jacket all in black and grey. Like many of her sisters, Sarah’s makeup is one of her defining features. While the original inspiration for her was Amy Winehouse, lead makeup artist Stephen Lynch decided she needed to be more relatable,
“She is enigmatic and on the run,” … “So we considered those things and probably went a little Amy Winehouse on Sarah the first time. We were about 90 percent there but thought [the makeup] was a little bit much.”Stephen Lynch in an interview with Vanity Fair
Lynch certainty brought it down to a very real level. While she always has dark eye make up Sarah is rarely seen with lipstick or any other makeup and above all else, she looks tired.
“…I thought we all know and recognize this girl: we see her on the train and think maybe she sleeps there or in subways or on park benches. We want her to be a bit worn down by life. We decided to make it look like she maybe wears a little makeup on top of her old makeup and never cleans her skin properly. There is always a hard, worn-out kind of look to her that we want to reflect her inner state.”STEPHEN LYNCH IN AN INTERVIEW WITH VANITY FAIR
Sarah is certainly worn down by life as she becomes the main clone searching for answers while simultaneously trying desperately trying to herself and her daughter out of Dyad’s hands. Her make-up and style become progressively less extreme as the stress weighs down on her.
As Sarah is struggling and her style becomes less defined, Helena is finally starting to find new meaning in her life and develop a style.
As Helena is finding her new place in the world she simply wears what she is given. Whether that’s it’s the conservative Mormon esc dresses from the Neulotion cult she’s kidnapped into. A mishmash of clothes from Sarah or if the drab khaki prisoners clothes she’s given when detained by the military. Helena continues to have little interest in how she dresses until she starts to embrace her clone club sisters.
As Helena starts her new life among her sisters and gets ready to be a mother she continues to wear what is given to her. Because she lives with Alison her clothes consist mostly of pinks and bold patterns that permeate Alison’s wardrobe and from here she begins to develop joy in her life she’s never had before she also develops her own style. While she loves the clothes Alison gives her, Helena takes down the color during a little escape into the wood but never again fully abandons color. By the end when her troubles are mostly behind her Helena’s the prints and colors that reflect the joy she finds in life with her family.
After five seasons Sarah, Helena, and the sisters have achieved all they have struggled for and learning that their differences are what gives them value. These differences created by Tatiana Maslany, Stephen Lynch, Sandy Sokolowski, Laurie Drew, and Debra Hanson illustrate the power those differences can have on-screen when created through hair, makeup, and costume and brought to life with acting.
“We do a character workout with Tat and Stephen [Lynch, the head of makeup] and Debra Hanson [head of wardrobe]—we collectively build a character.”Sandy Sokolowski IN AN INTERVIEW WITH GLAMOUR
In the series the sisters often need to impersonate each other. Here are some of the times Helena and Sarah impersonated their sisters.
Thank you for reading the “Creating The Clone Club” Series! If you missed any of the previous editions, please follow this link for more content! Congratulations to our Senior Editor, Elizabeth Joy Glass, on another in-depth, insightful, successful series of articles!
Want to know more? Check out my sources.
Miller, Julie. “Here’s How Orphan Black Transforms Tatiana Maslany Into a Cast of Clones.” Vanity Fair, 2015, http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2015/04/orphan-black-clones.
Shapouri, Beth. “More Onset Secrets From Orphan Black???You’ve GOT to Hear the Background on Helena!” Glamour, 2 May 2014, http://www.glamour.com/story/more-onset-secrets-from-orphan.
Shapouri, Beth. “How Much Cosima’s Wig Weighs and Other Shocking Hair Secrets From Orphan Black.” Glamour, Glamour, 12 Jan. 2016, http://www.glamour.com/story/how-much-cosimas-wig-weighs-an.