How 'Orphan Black' Is Returning to Its Roots in Season 4

"Everybody is answering for things they’ve done in the past," co-showrunner Graeme Manson tells THR about season four. "It’s part of the going back or looking back to go forward."
Courtesy of Ken Woroner for BBC AMERICA

When John Fawcett and Graeme Manson originally pitched the idea for Orphan Black, it was with the intention of showcasing three full seasons of clones. Then recognition for Tatiana Maslany’s portrayal of 11 characters and counting blew up and a longer-term investment was discussed.

As the show gears up for its fourth season return, complete with a new Thursday night time slot and an acquisition aftershow from Canada, it’s coming off one of its most controversial seasons yet thanks to the addition of the Castor clones (played by Ari Millen).

With that storyline put to bed and the Prolethians supposedly quiet for now, it’s time to return to the mysterious Neolutionist roots of the series that Fawcett and Manson so carefully crafted back in the day, along with the “sestra-hood” that gained such a passionate fan base for the series in the first place.

To gear up for the premiere, THR caught up with the showrunners to tease everything from Neolution and new relationships to incoming clone M.K. and Delphine’s fate.    

How is this season a return to the show’s roots?

Graeme Manson: It was always an intention and it really sort of solidified in the back half of the third season, but we felt that we had raced past a bunch of story and planted a bunch of seeds that we could come back to in our fourth season.

John Fawcett: By the end of season three, we had answered a lot of our big questions and wanted to end it with a feeling of resolution and closure in a way. Of course there are still lots of doors wide open, but we wanted to end Sarah in a different place so that we could launch off a different foot. We wanted a feeling of return to season one where we didn’t know who was pulling the strings. We didn’t know who the bad guy was.

How does season four fit into your original three-season plan, which then expanded to a five-season plan?

Manson: The truth is three was always a pretty elastic number; it’s what we presented when we were pitching the show to show that it had legs and could be perpetual. But it is elastic, and as we worked our way through one and two seasons we came up with more tentpoles and ideas we thought we could base a whole season on. So the big things in season two and the big things in season three and introducing Castor, that’s something we had chosen quite early on in the process of developing the seasons and then the question became making the middle elastic enough that we could put off some of the things we’d planned for a while that we know still have coming.

Does this mean the Castor clones are officially done?

Fawcett: We tackled the real story of Castor in season three and it felt like a chapter of Orphan Black. Just because we answered most of those questions doesn’t mean that storyline is closed. These things don’t just go away, they kind of interweave and work together. Ultimately, that storyline may become less important for a little while only to show that it has more importance later. That’s how a lot of this stuff works. But I feel like Graeme and I, we love Ari and there will always be a place in our world for him. But yeah, we’ve dealt with the bulk of the Castor storyline.

How does Neolution fit into the new season?

Manson: It certainly is a return. We were really aware in season one of planting the seed of Neolution, but we were really only looking at epilogues of that. Our plan was always to come back to it because that’s where the heart of the conspiracy lies. We wanted to spend some time building out the worlds and building out our cast of characters only to come back to the birth of the series with Beth and Sarah on the tracks. And to also come back to the first steps that Sarah made at the lower levels of Neolution. There was more to mine there.

Fawcett: Not just more to mine, but Sarah’s journey in season one touched the beginnings of Neolution, but her investigation and her own path led her to different answers. Now in season four, it’s circling back to the beginning and we like that feeling. She’s literally had to go back and track her steps to see what she missed. 

Does that return open the door for more characters with tail and other mutilations?

Manson: Well, that’s certainly part of the fun.

Fawcett: It was Graeme’s idea back in season one to have a character with a tail. I thought it was absolutely idiotic, but I kind of went with it. And it was awesome. We loved it. And no one else really believed in it, other than Graeme and I. And then it was this awesome thing, it was so amazing in season one to watch Helena cut Olivier’s tail off and then hurl it on the dance floor… it’s just one of those classic Orphan Black season one things. Yeah, of course we’re going to go back to Neolution and do some more of that.

Manson: We’re both pretty into David Cronenberg-type body horror stuff. That’s always been a touchstone for us, somewhere where our tastes really overlap, especially John. So we can’t help ourselves is the answer.

How integral is new clone MK to all this?

Fawcett: The interesting thing about MK is that when she appears on the scene we realize that she is an informant of Beth’s past. She’s also very cagy and allusive. She’s somewhat eccentric and security conscious and paranoid and clearly had some bad things done to her in the past. She isn’t going to trust easily, so she doesn’t just show up on your doorstep or want to go for coffee. You have to work to maintain that relationship.

How do the Krystal and Tony clones fit into this season?

Manson: Krystal was a favorite of ours and was a fan favorite last year and we’re really looking forward to putting her together with some unlikely partners this year. We love the character; she makes us laugh. We’ve always been a show that doesn’t want to take itself too seriously, that was a major agenda for John and I. So Krystal sure helps us with that.

Fawcett: With Tony, we need the right door back in. We still think about Tony a lot, but we’re still looking for the right way back in.

Will Donnie (Kristian Bruun) and Alison also continue to provide comedic relief?

Fawcett: They’ve done a lot of bad things. ... They’ve killed or manslaughtered a couple of people. They got involved in drug trafficking. They’re a lively couple but they come with a bit of baggage. It’s a good thing they’re funny otherwise I don’t know. So things are a little bit heavy in the sense that the heat’s going to come down. The Hendrixes are going to feel some heat in season four.

Manson: Everybody is answering for things they’ve done in the past. It’s part of the going back or looking back to go forward. Everybody’s got to pay the piper a little bit this season.

Fawcett: There is a haunted nature to all of the characters this year, there’s no question.

What’s in store for Felix (Jordan Gavaris)?

Manson: When we left him last year, his little chosen family suddenly changed dynamics by this biological relation that suddenly Sarah and Mrs. S. were a form of blood relatives. So we’ve left Felix while we’ve been on holidays in Iceland. He’s been doing a lot of thinking for himself and has a really interesting journey this year.

Delphine’s fate is obviously on everyone’s minds – has the Cophine fan base altered her story for you?

Fawcett: We always knew that the fans were very invested in Cosima and Delphine as a couple. As this evolved over two, three seasons of trust and betrayal and love, that’s been a relationship we’ve been invested in too. We’re doing it because we created that relationship and we love that relationship. It’s fantastic to have fans love it as well and picked it up and made it their own. But before the fans loved it and made it their own, we made it our own. Does the fan reaction drive what we’re going to do with the story? I would say we try to not let it happen. We do know that there is a lot of outpouring of love and desire for certain characters on our show to be alive when they probably should not be alive.

Orphan Black returns Thursday at 10 p.m. on BBC America and Space.

Which storyline are you looking forward to when the show returns? Sound off in the comments below.

Twitter: @amber_dowling

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