BBC America’s cult hit sci-fi series Orphan Black has continued its exploration of identity in its second season, most recently introducing Tony Sawicki, a trans male clone of lead character Sarah Manning. Both Tony and Sarah — as well as seven other clones — are all portrayed by actress Tatiana Maslany, and are embroiled in solving the mystery of their origins.
Orphan Black has already received much positive attention, including a GLAAD Media Award nomination, for complexly portraying both Felix, a gay character, and Cosima, a lesbian character, with its signature mixture of darkness and comedy.
After Sunday’s episode introduced trans man Tony, many fans, BuzzFeed reports, have expressed appreciation not only for his existence, “but [for] the manner in which the show handled the introduction,” including having characters enforce his male pronouns and not stumble over his attraction to men.
Orphan Black’s creators, Graeme Manson and John Fawcett, as well as Maslany herself told Entertainment Weekly that they planned to introduce Tony since the end of Season 1 and dedicated themselves to researching his trans identity.
Though they allude to the controversy surrounding non-trans actors portraying trans characters, Manson and Fawcett go on to say, “as long as we move forward with our hearts in the right place, hopefully the sexual politics rise above it.”
While the viewer response to Tony has been largely positive — and even ecstatic in the case of MTV News, which praises the show for “explod[ing] gender norms” with Tony’s “non-traditional” gender presentation, including his long hair — not everyone is satisfied by his portrayal.
In the New York Times’ ArtBeat blog, Adam W. Kepler describes the character as a “borderline cliché,” saying, “He shoots testosterone. He’s aggressive both sexually and socially. He’s a tough guy who wears flannel shirts, when he isn’t walking around in boxer briefs.” Kepler argues that Tony is solely meant for shock value and has not been allowed deep characterization akin to the show’s other characters.
It remains to be seen whether Tony will return, as the main characters end the episode by sending him away for his own safety. Manson and Fawcett, who are as yet unsure whether the series will be renewed for a third season, have left the issue unfinished, telling Zap2It, "We were hoping the character could stand on his own a little bit and return, but also to be an outlier who didn't have to become attached and glued to the main story.”