(This interview reveals major plot points from Orphan Black, specifically relating to the season-three finale episode “History Yet To Be Written.”)
With three seasons now under its belt, Graeme Manson and John Fawcett’s Orphan Black has emerged as one of television’s most confidently complex sci-fi dramas. While the mind-boggling elasticity of actress Tatiana Maslany anchors the action with nuanced portrayals of at least three different clones per episode, each new chapter brings new conspiracies, new paranoia, and new twists that threaten to shake the show’s foundation. The third season received some criticism for being more scattered, with its explorations of a competing male clone line and snowballing mythology. The season finale, however, centers on decreasing the threats—and the cast. The A.V. Club called co-creator and “History Yet To Be Written” writer Manson before he headed back into the season four writers’ room to discuss the revelations of the finale, whether or not the dead stay dead, and the wrath of scorned ’shippers.
The A.V. Club: A lot happens in this finale. There are so many questions, but the first one has to be: Is Delphine really dead? It looks like yes, but there’s no body, and yours is a twisty show…
Graeme Manson: Um… yes. Yes, but. Orphan Black is a cliffhanger. For all intents and purposes, Evelyne [Brochu’s character] is dead. But there’s always a crack of hope in an actor’s busy schedule. They can reappear somehow. But we had to make a bold story choice, and it was a story choice that was very collaborative with Evelyne. It’s a role that we wrote for her. It’s hard to make those big story choices with co-workers that have become your friends, but you got to do it. You got to do it for the good of the show. It’s about the whole story; it’s not about anything else. I mean, we really went for the strongest choice. And Evelyne was up for dying! [Laughs.] Actors really respond to the strong choices. We had made this decision early on that this was the arc of this season, and that we would go for it with the character as an individual. Go out with a bang.
AVC: Speaking of significant deaths: There was Paul’s sacrifice earlier this season, and by the end of this season, every male clone but Mark is dead. You spent a large chunk of this season shading in the male clones’ background with Castor… so how finished do we think Castor is at this point? Does this mean Ari Millen won’t be back in as significant way next season?
GM: Well, it’s every male clone but Mark that we know of. It’s a big-picture story, and so obviously we left the door open for Mark to come back. I think we can all look forward to Ari Millen next year.
AVC: It was always fun to see the male and female clones together. In this finale, Rudy and Helena finally have a fight.
GM: Yeah, that’s a powerful scene. That’s one of my favorites.
AVC: It’s powerful, and also a little frustrating! You want it to be as explosive as you know both those characters can be, but you pulled the rug out because Rudy glitches, and he can’t do it.
GM: Yeah. A little ode to Blade Runner.
AVC: When the AVC interviewed you at the end of the first season, you said you had always had a three-season big picture. Now that we’re at the end of the third season, would you say you adjusted that big picture since?
GM: Yeah, it’s been a process of sort of stretching it—figuring out how to move the endpoint a little bit more, or ultimately, find that endpoint and reboot somehow. We’re not at that point yet. We’ve still got some great story to come. That said, Orphan Black is a show that just eats up story. [Laughs.] So we eat our way forward pretty quickly.
AVC: This season alone several factions were fighting for and against the clones: Dyad, Proletheans, Topside, Castor, and apparently, the Neolutionists behind all of it, as we found out in the finale. Do you ever feel penned in by the ever-complicating mythology?
GM: Well, I think this year was a lot about Sarah fighting her way toward an understanding through a conspiracy with a lot of factions. At the end of the season, she’s cut through that, and she’s got one main foe or focus now moving forward. We met Neolution in the beginning with the sort of “pop science” of Leekie. It’s been the fifth column this whole time. I think Sarah can move forward next year with a new understanding, and a new focus on a many-layered but single foe.
AVC: So what would you say is the main thrust of season four?
GM: I think that it’s partly the same answer to the last question. It’s that Sarah has cut her way through to a new understanding behind her creation—and we’ve revealed Susan Duncan. The mother half of the scientist parents that created them has now revealed herself to be behind the curtain, and I think what’s going on behind the curtain is a huge focus of next season.
AVC: There was some unsure talk on the internet at the end of last season that Rachel was gone, but she was still very interesting this season, even from her hospital bed.
GM: [Laughs.] We all really enjoyed Rachel’s journey this season. Tat, too. Over the course of the series, building those journeys so that when you get to the end of it, it’s hopefully been a very different journey, but one you can marvel at for each of the clones. That’s what we hope to have. And with our supporting cast, too. So when you look back at Delphine’s arc, or when you look back at Paul’s arc, hopefully they’re satisfying. Cophine lovers aside—my apologies!
AVC: Yeah, you’re going to get some very angry and/or sad Tumblr gif sets.
GM: [Laughs.] It’s gonna be hell. If you can protect me, please! Anything you can do to help…
AVC: How about: Ksenia Solo did a great job this season, and just like Delphine said, she’s not a bad replacement. Not that you can ever replace Delphine… now they’re going to come after me, too.
GM: [Laughs.] Honestly, it’s just been great to work with an actor of Evelyne’s caliber for three seasons, and work together and become friends, a real part of the family. Same with Dylan [Bruce], too. Both actors—we worked with them to sculpt the end of their arcs, very carefully. Especially with the last few episodes for each of them.
AVC: So this season we had maybe three episodes with this new clone, Krystal, and she immediately became a favorite. How did she come about?
GM: That was a lot of fun, too. We don’t blithely introduce clones. We work on them closely with Tatiana. But Krystal came about really organically, through this character in season two that Tat would always put on between takes. It was just this funny, sort of airheaded character and we kept joking that maybe she would work her way into a clone, and that’s what happened. We’re refining it along the way now, of course, but again, that’s part of the fun of working through a bunch of seasons with these actors. We can discover something we like, and plant it, and give Tatiana lots of time to work up those characters. Yeah, Krystal was a lot of fun. Those scenes she had with Jordan [Gavaris] were some of my favorite scenes of the season.
AVC: Another thing from the previous AVC interview—you compared Alison letting her friend choke to death to a similar situation in Breaking Bad, which led our interviewer to suggest that Alison to become a global drug syndicate. Coincidence?
GM: [Laughs.] No, that idea really came from John [Fawcett]. Alison’s world is definitely John’s world, though we were more thinking Weeds than Breaking Bad. Hyper-suburban Weeds.
AVC: It was a pleasant surprise to see Patrick J. Adams back as Helena’s dive-bar boyfriend.
GM: Yeah, we wanted to give Helena a reward. [Laughs.] She’s been through a lot.
AVC: It was definitely good to see Helena get something after everything she went through in the Castor camp. Hopefully the rest of her pregnancy isn’t quite as rocky.
GM: Yeah, I know! Take some maternity leave, why don’t you?