It Turns Out the Season Finale of Orphan Black was a Little Unrealistic

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OrphanThe season finale of the cult BBC America science fiction series Orphan Black included a major plot twist which was extremely controversial among the show’s small but vocal fan base.

SPOILER ALERT: The show is the story of a group of clones, all played by Canadian actress Tatiana Maslany, discovering that they’re all clones and that they were created by a mysterious corporation called Dyad for unknown purposes. Throughout the course of the first season, Dyad’s intentions toward the clones have mostly seemed to be sinister. They’ve secretly done experiments on them while they slept, furnished them with boyfriends or husbands who were in fact simply their “monitors” among other things.

SUPER DUPER SPOILER ALERT: In the season finale, Dyad comes out of the shadows a bit and offers the clones what appears to be a good deal: The company, represented by a character played by Matt Frewer, says they agree to leave the clones alone and basically give them their dream lives if they agree to submit to periodic testing. While the various clones are in the process of deciding whether to take the deal and whether Dyad can be trusted, the hipster science geek clone, Cosima, finishes a project she’s been working on of decoding her own DNA.

In what’s meant to be the big shocking twist of the first season she finds that legal language asserting that she’s property of the Dyad Corporation is somehow literally written into her DNA. This revelation leads the main character clone, Sarah, to intuit that the intentions of Dyad towards her and her daughter are not benign and to go on the run as opposed to taking the deal.

For a show in which human cloning was apparently invented over 25 years ago, surprisingly it was this plot twist which much of the show’s fan base found too unrealistic. Fans were split into two camps: Those who thought the whole thing was completely ridiculous, that there was no way a court would rule that a corporation owned a human being no matter the circumstance, and those who found the twist to be not too much of  an extrapolation of trends going on in the real world such as Monsanto successfully claiming patents on certain seeds.

A U.S. Supreme Court case decided today may shed some light on this debate roiling the Orphan Black fan community. Today the Court ruled that isolated human genes may not be patented. The decision seems to leave open the possibility that if genes are manipulated into something that doesn’t occur in nature, the product of that manipulation could be patented. But clones are simply copies of human beings, which exist in nature all over the place, so this decision really doesn’t seem to leave a lot of leeway for Dyad to claim a clone’s genes  as their intellectual property, much less claim ownership of the clones themselves, at least in US Courts.

So, the naysayers win. Orphan Black, a show in which human cloning has existed for some 25 years, was unrealistic in its depiction of Intellectual Property law.

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  • ryus

    Read the fine print of the supreme courts finding… Synthetic DNA can be patented (just not natural dna) and all the clone in the show have synthetic dna. Plus they where attempted to be patented about 30 years before the ruling, so the show can easily dance around this ruling.

  • Eric Deamer

    You make a good point and it’s something I’ve also seen said in discussion of this same thing at io9. I’m out of my depth on the science but it seems convincing to me that this case about the cancer gene patent, which only had to do with isolating a pre-existing human gene, wouldn’t really speak to synthesizing new human DNA, which I guess is what the cloning process would entail. I guess I did misread it, though I was basing it just on a newspaper summary and not the decision itself. Really my main point is that I thought it was funny that anything related to the issue at all came up in the real world so quickly after the finale. However you read this legal decision, I think the nitpicking on the whole “they think the clones are their property” plot point was a little ridiculous. Regardless of whether the language would hold up in court in the real world the point was merely that it showed the ultimate attitude of Dyad towards the clones and potentially toward Kira and showed they couldn’t be trusted.