'Orphan Black' Boss on Season 4 Cliffhanger, Decision to End and Potential Movie

"For a long time, we've had a pretty good idea that season five would be the furthest that we could take the ball down the field," co-creator Graeme Manson tells THR about why season five will be the last.
Orphan Black IV Productions Limited/BBC America

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the season four finale of BBC America's Orphan Black.]

Viewers hoping for fast and easy answers from Thursday’s fourth season finale of Orphan Black will have to wait for the fifth and now final season of the BBC America drama for satisfaction.

The finale may have brought the sestras one step closer to the cure, but it also unleashed a whole new petri dish of cheek worms when Rachel (Tatiana Maslany) made moves to take over the board, launch a new clone program that allows for genetic testing and got all murder-like on Sarah (Maslany) and her mom, Susan Duncan (Rosemary Dunsmore).

By the show’s closing moments, both Sarah and Susan’s lives were hanging in the balance, while The Messenger (Geza Kovacs) and a resurrected Delphine (Evelyne Brochu) saved Cosima (Maslany) at their mysterious camp. At the same time, Rachel awaited a visit from the faceless Percival Westmoreland, Ferdinand (James Frain) kidnapped Mrs. S (Maria Doyle Kennedy) and Kira (Skyler Wexler) and Krystal (Maslany) somehow inserted herself into the Clone Club mix.

Ahead of the final 10 episodes of the series, THR caught up with co-creator and co-showrunner Graeme Manson to discuss the decision to end the series after season five, possible spinoff talk, where a fifth season could possibly pick up and the art of creating clones.

The series wrapped on several cliffhangers; will everyone make it out alive?

Everybody is hanging in the balance. Sarah’s been winged in a pretty serious way, she’s stuck on the island alone. Ferdinand is holding Mrs. S and Kira, so they’re holding onto Sarah’s heart. She’s wounded on the island. Rachel is just about to answer the door to the mysterious Westmoreland and there may be blood.

How hard is it for you guys to actually kill off a clone at this point?

It’s super hard and it comes up all the time. You’re balancing your dramatic impulses to do something drastic against the parts that you need as a writer to continue telling the story. That goes not just for clones but for our supporting cast. There are certain cast that are sacrosanct, but I’m not going to tell you who they are.

This season came the introduction of MK. Is the plan to unveil a new clone every year?

There’s no mandate. We are a clone show and part of the fun of the show is to meet these new clones then see yet again what Tatiana can do. However, the story has to call for it. We put a lot of time and effort into creating a new clone. So that new clone needs to have a huge impact and be necessary to the story. With one glaring example really [Tony], we don’t do red shirts. It’s not a mandate, and perhaps we feel less like it’s absolutely necessary as we get into season four and five. We’ve populated this world with characters that have stuck. And that Tatiana has managed to breathe such life and vulnerability into. You don’t want to just throw another one out there because it feels like the shocking thing to do. We really need a reason and we need to be inspired and Tatiana needs to be inspired to do it.

This season lacked any huge all-clones in scenes or many clones playing other clones. Was that a conscious decision?

It wasn’t a conscious decision. If it’s not a switcheroo we haven’t seen before, if it’s not fresh and deeply called for, we don’t want to be repeating ourselves. Unless it feels fresh and really original, we’re not just going to throw clone swaps in there because people expect them. It’s quite the opposite.

At this point are you concerned with capturing new audiences or simply maintaining the one you have?

This deep in a serialized series, regardless of whether someone is a fan already you have to write assuming the audience has seen everything. We’re just not that kind of show. The short answer is that mindset going into it that serves our fans first. We expect the person watching to be up-to-date on the twists and turns and nuances of Orphan Black.

That said, in the beginning of every season, it’s really gratifying to see how many new people are flocking to it and catching up. That continues to astound us, at the beginning of season four how many new audience members we had who were catching up through three full seasons of Orphan Black to start four. That’s a really neat aspect to it, and that’s the way people watch TV these days.

Will Evelyne Brochu’s schedule impact Delphine’s return next season?

Of course. It’s the reality of writing for television. You work with the cast you have, you work with the availability you have. All the constraints will affect how writers write the story. I have no idea what that scheduling conflict will look like, but she’s a busy actor and we have others that are as well. Actor availability affects the story, period.

As it stands are you looking to pick up where season four leaves off or create a bit of a time jump?

We’re not really sure, but the way that we ended this season is more like how we ended season one or two – very much everybody is hanging in the immediate lurch as opposed to season three, where we managed to have a bit of a breather between seasons. I’m not saying we won’t figure out a way to have a breather, but certainly the way we hung the main narrative, particularly Sarah, it calls for immediate action.  

Whose decision was it to make the fifth season the last season of the show?

It was very much a decision with John [Fawcett] and I and, to a certain extent, Tatiana as well. It's a creative decision.

Why is the time right to end the series?

Four seasons on Orphan Black, we chew up a lot of story every season. We chew up a couple seasons worth of story every season; it's a fast-paced show. I think we've done a good job of keeping the show sharp and relevant with packing all that much stuff in and our biggest fear is repeating ourselves. We just didn’t want the show to become watered down. We really think it's cooler to cancel yourself. (Laughs.) To go out on your own terms telling the story that we want to tell. That's the way we presented it to our networks and they were good enough to agree with us and to not want to drag it out and get other showrunners involved or anything. John and I made a pact that we would stay with the show until the end, and for a long time we've had a pretty good idea that season five would be the furthest that we could take the ball down the field.

Did it affect the way you crafted season four knowing you thought of season five as the endgame?

I guess it played it a part. We were feeling it ramping up but we knew it wasn't a done deal. We knew that there was a possibility it would go longer, etc., but that this was what we wanted to do. We felt like we were setting up a really good runway for what we want to do in our final season, but we were leaving the door that we would have to stretch it out again and push the end point down the road. But that possibility did risk the issue of watering down the show and watering down the sharpness and the concepts and starting to repeat yourselves and seeing a new Tatiana clone for the sake of seeing a new Tatiana clone, rather than a deep-seeded story need and a strong desire from all of us to create a new character.

Was the reveal of the Westmoreland character always intended for the final season? Or did that develop with the show?

Well, we did have this concept from the beginning that we were going to get to this figure and that figure may well be the top of the pyramid. But we've sort of done that before where we get to a figure at the end of the season but that's sort of the layers of the conspiracy, I don't think that that's that unusual.

In terms of P.T. Westmoreland and setting up a cool mystery for season five, that's definitely what P.T. Westmoreland is all about. We pose some interesting questions there so the guy wrote the original book of Neolution is 150? 160 years old? How is that possible? That's the question we wanted to plant and the mystery we want to start peeling back when we start season five.

Are there any other changes you foresee for season 5 tonally or structurally now that it's confirmed next season will be the last?

I don’t think tonally or structurally, but I'll tell you one thing is that John and I and the writers cannot wait to be working toward a solid end point. It's one of the big challenges of serialized shows is you're looking at the end of the season you're working on, be it season two or season three or season four, and you have to consider where you're going in the future. … You have to consider more than just one season when you're working out where you're going to at the end. On a show like Orphan Black, we would have a very loose idea of what we wanted to do at the end that only solidified itself once the mysteries of the season had played out and the scripts were written for six or seven episodes. Then we'd go, "Oh, OK, I feel what the season finale should be."

This season will be different because we'll be going, "Here's the whole ball of wax and what it all boils down to and what we'd like to see at the very end." Then we can work backwards and really build a really intricate season that doubles back on itself and that sets things up early. We always try and do that, but it gets easier and I think we can even be more thorough when we know our end point, when we're literally planning the finale at the same time we're planning the premiere.

Have you and John had the series finale of the show in mind since the beginning? Or has that evolved has you've been working on the show?

We always had our concept, yes. It was loose enough, but also specific enough that we felt like we knew where we were going. And then we'd be like is season three the time when we're going to get there? No, feels like we're going to get another season so we can't do that. But that sort of flagpole we planted a long time ago. I believe that there's elements of the finale and the end point that we were considering… I believe that there were elements of it in the original pitch even before we had a show greenlit.

Have you and John started working on season five yet?

We’re always throwing ideas around. John and I have been on the phone and we’ve been spending a little time on it as we sort of cross paths between Toronto and Vancouver this spring. We’ve been grabbing our time on Skype and in person and we already have some pretty juicy ideas of where everybody lands and where we kick off next season.

Have you considered any spinoffs? Has been there talk of that?

Yes, there has been some loose talk of that, but I can't say where it's at right now. We're completely consumed with this. We've always jokingly said we 'd love to do a movie, but those aren’t things that, at this point, that we know are going to be happening at all. I think we're looking forward to a rest. (Laughs.)

What did you think of the Orphan Black finale? Do you think its the right time to end the series? Sound off in the comments below.

Twitter: @amber_dowling

comments powered by Disqus