'Orphan Black' Boss on Finale Shocker: It Introduces a 'Whole New Dimension' (Q&A)
Co-creators Graeme Manson and John Fawcett talk to THR about the aftermath of Saturday's season-two closer and why they abandoned the original plan to kill a pivotal character.
[WARNING: Spoilers ahead from Saturday's Orphan Black season-two finale, "By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried"]
Wait, more clones?
BBC America's Orphan Black closed out its 10-episode sophomore season with a huge bombshell: Sarah, Alison, Helena, Cosima and Tony (aka LEDA) aren't the only clones walking the Earth. There's a male side to the conspiracy (aka Castor). As Sarah discovers Prolethean Mark is a clone.
It kicks off a new trajectory for Sarah as she finds herself deeper down the rabbit hole in her never-ending quest to figure out her true origins. In doing so, the clone drama bid farewell to several characters, Prolethean leader Henrik and Duncan, but also unveiled the true intentions of Paul — deep undercover for the military all this time — and Marion — a new, worthy ally.
Orphan Black co-creators Graeme Manson and John Fawcett talk to The Hollywood Reporter following Saturday's season closer, including the decision to make Mark the male clone (it almost didn't happen!), the daunting four-clone dance scene and broad plans for a yet-to-be-announced third season.
Let’s start with the introduction of the male clone. When did you decide that that would be the season-two endgame?
Graeme Manson: It was a plan that we had at the end of the first season. We thought it was a pretty good way to open a big door to a whole new dimension of the conspiracy and a nice throw to a new season.
Was there any serious thought over making the male clone someone other than Prolethean Mark?
John Fawcett: We knew that we wanted to introduce a male side to the conspiracy. To some degree, we talked a lot about what the possibilities would be for that. It was important that the right decision was made, and we talked about everyone. We had crazy conversations about who the male clone could be. Ultimately, the decision was made that the story thread that made the most sense was the male clone would be Prolethean Mark.
Manson: And for a few reasons. One, it really doubled the end of the season back on the beginning nicely.
Fawcett: It’s a bookend. To be honest, the character of Mark wasn’t supposed to live beyond episode six. There was a whole plan for him to die quite violently.
Manson: At the hand of Paul!
Fawcett: There was a scene at the end of episode six where Paul and Mark meet up in the bar while Helena meets Jesse. We know that both these men are on Sarah and Helena’s trail respectively, and it was going to be a mano-a-mano showdown between the two of them in which Paul is going to murder, or kill, Mark. But through the first few episodes of the season, we realized that Ari [Millen] playing Mark was not a character we wanted to kill. He was doing such interesting work, and so we made the decision to save him, and right about that time, we were actually also making the decision on who we wanted to see the male clone be at the end of the film. A further little bit of interest in that, Ari actually, we kept that a secret from Ari, and he didn’t find that out until just before the finale scripts were passed up. Graeme had to call him and tell him.
How did he take that news?
Manson: He was thrilled because he knows he’s going to get a pretty cool acting challenge coming up in quick succession at the end of the finale. We introduce two more of those guys.
Fawcett: We had our reasons for wanting to keep that quiet from him. It was a big secret for one. And two, we didn’t necessarily feel that Ari needed to know prior to the finale. That was our decision to keep it under wraps.
Manson: The crew didn’t know what was going to happen until we dropped the script. We told Ari maybe 10 days before we were going to shoot the scenes with him.
What does this mean for Mark, who also just married Gracie, and the other male clones moving forward?
Fawcett: A lot of the things that we put in motion at the end of season two are obviously big story components going forward and new pieces to the puzzle. We believe in giving the audience answers, but we have our mysteries and we want to earn the answers. This is kind of a new aspect to the larger puzzle that is Orphan Black.
Manson: For Mark, it’s interesting that that clone certainly seems to be naive. He doesn’t know his true nature yet, so that’ll be interesting to see which of those characters do know their true nature.
How does Sarah discovering the male side of the clone world change things?
Manson: Now we’ve got two sides. We’ve got the LEDA side — the female clones — and the Castor side — the male clones. They’ve been operating without knowing anything about one another. But now, because Paul was deep undercover for the military, the boys know a hell of a lot more about the girls than the girls know about the boys.
Is that a bad thing?
Manson: Oh, there’s many bad things about that. (Laughs.)
Now that we know what Paul had been doing all this time, is Paul a major player in season three?
Manson: Yeah, definitely.
Fawcett: There’s not too much that we can say about that. Paul, is that character important to us? Yes, he is. There’s much more to see from him.
And Marion, who's now on Sarah's side, and Cal?
Manson: Marion is apparently a new ally, so she’s important going forward. And Cal is pretty important going forward too.
The dance party scene with Sarah, Helena, Alison and Cosima must have been quite difficult to achieve. How much of a headache was that?
Fawcett: Obviously it’s a very time-consuming process. But we had never attempted a scene with four clones before. We had only ever done three. We like to push ourselves and there’s a lot of satisfaction in seeing the four girls together and to introduce Helena to Alison and Cosima. That was something we knew we really, really wanted to do. We also had this sticky note stuck up on the board that just said, “clone dance party,” which had been sort of absurdly stuck up there from the beginning of season two and had no real home. But every single day we’d come into the room and we’d see it up there — it was in big black letters — and Graeme and I really wanted a scene where everybody danced together.
Manson: I think a lot of people thought we were joking. (Laughs.) But as we stuck with the idea, we saw an opportunity A) to do our four-clone scene in an active manner. Then also, it grew as we realized where it should land in the season. We realized that that could be the emotional climax and that pivotal point where the sisters come back together — that we give the audience that relief and that joy, and what better to do than dance.
Fawcett: Plus it is very much a fast-paced episode. It’s just great to have this moment where you can watch them hang out together and it’s fun to see how each character has a different dance move and that's part of the plot. It’s great to see Felix interacting with all of the girls. It was a complicated sequence. There were three separate dance rehearsals, which included our visual effects supervisor and Kat whenever we could get her.
Manson: And three doubles.
Fawcett: The scene where Helena meets her sisters and the dance party, between those two sequences, it took us two full days to shoot.
It showed how much growth there was in the Helena character, and how far everyone has grown. Her cordial meeting definitely wouldn't have happened in season one.
Manson: And this was also too, going back on the technical, it wound up being weeks and weeks of rotoscoping and lovely compositing. It was a big visual effects job for [VFX supervisor] Geoff Scott.
You touched on Marion. How do you foresee her dynamic with Sarah growing?
Fawcett: We’re hoping that Marion will give us some more information. And Marion is pretty powerful. She’s a good ally for Sarah if Sarah wants to learn more about herself and about her origins.
Manson: Yeah, definitely a good person to take Sarah’s hand and lead her through the looking glass one more time.
When Cal was introduced, there was mention of military ties. Will he factor into the story more, aside from being Kira's father? I speculated that there might have been a deeper connection.
Manson: It’s OK if you think that. (Laughs.)
Fawcett: I think one of the things that we’ve kind of ingrained in most of our audience, that you never truly know anyone on the show. As far as Cal goes, I think that he’s an attractive character to us. He’s someone that we want to develop further, and he’s also important to the story flow because he’s Kira’s father.
Rachel’s breakdown following Duncan's self-sacrifice stood out. Can you talk about that moment and where Rachel's mindframe is after seeing Duncan die?
Manson: That scene really began with designing the room. When we were talking about when we were going to do this, John was like, “It’s a black room. It’s all black — shiny black.” Everyone was like, “That would be hard to shoot in.” But it was super effective in this rear-screen projection, so we designed the room to fit the tone of the scene that we wanted to do and then Andrew [Gillies] and Tatiana [Maslany] just brought it. It was such a powerful scene.
Fawcett: Emotionally, Rachel is trying to use the home movies to provoke Duncan to use his love for her to give up information that she needs, that she wants. When he refuses to do that, when he begins to see that her plans and her schemes run deeper, he starts to realize that she is scheming and using him. He makes the decision to end it to try and terminate the experiment. And for Rachel, it’s interesting, because it’s an unexpected and extremely emotional moment for her. She’s had both of her father figures die in a very short time span and I think she is still emotionally attached to Duncan, even though she doesn’t want to show that to anyone. Towards the end of the season, the idea was to take Rachel, this coldhearted character, and put the screws to her and beat her up a little bit psychologically so we could see some of the human elements in her.
And seeing Alison and Donnie bonding over burying Leekie was a fun touch.
Manson: Yeah, it seems like people are really happy to see Team Hendrix together.
Fawcett: A family that slays together, stays together.
They're definitely a comedic pair.
Fawcett: Alison and Donnie and the Hendrix family, those storylines are always a lot of fun to write because they are kind of — even though we try to keep them real — inherently comedic. We spent all season with these two driven apart and mistrusting each other and we knew we wanted to bring them back together. What better way than over their deepest, darkest secrets of accidental manslaughter? We also loved the fact that they were going to consummate their reunion by shagging on the freezer.
That was a season highlight.
Manson: Did you need that last shot of Donnie’s butt?
Probably not, but it's OK.
Manson: I kind of did. (Laughs.)
Fawcett: Just for the record, we had to do a little effects work on Kristian [Bruun]’s butt.
Manson: We had to remove the man panties.
Fawcett: Graeme and I and Geoff Scott and all of the effects guys laughed a lot as we worked on Kristian’s naked butt.
Were there any surprising reactions to the transclone, Tony?
Manson: Now that it’s been a couple of weeks, it seems to us that Tony fits well into the fabric and seams of our show, and that’s what we thought all along. In a show about identity, who better to represent that in a brave fashion than a trans person. There was a little — some people didn’t like it, some people didn’t like the episode, but I think overall that we conquered the divide a little bit.
Fawcett: We kind of knew that episode eight was going to be a very different episode for Orphan Black, that it was going to feel different. We did that on purpose, because we wanted to be bold and to try new things and not allow the show to fall into a formula. I think we’re happy with the way the episode turned out, and we love Tatiana’s performance as Tony.
Manson: Whatever backlash we might have gotten — some from fans, some from critics — we got some amazing personal responses from kids going through gender dysphoria and those kinds of personal battles. I know that Tatiana did and we did too. We got these personal affirmations of people saying, “Thank you for representing what I go through, 'cause I’ve never seen it on TV before,” and that personal connection made it worthwhile, I think, for all of us.