The bracingly original clone show returns.
With sky- high ratings, a global following and universal praise for its wildly versatile lead actress Tatiana Maslany, you’d be excused for thinking Orphan Black creators Graeme Manson and John Fawcett are slowing down to enjoy the fruits of their labours, making things easier for themselves as they enter the third season of their hit show. Alas, sighs Manson, you would be wrong.
“For the writers it didn’t get any easier,” the executive producer tells SFX of year three. “It’s a very serialised show. We chew up a lot of story every episode. Because our pace is really fast and we like twists and turns. To keep that pace up, we have to go through a lot of story. Keeping all that grounded and as the world expands – and this is very important to us – keeping it centred on the ‘ clone triangle’ of Sarah, Cosima and Allison, with Sarah as the leader tracking down this vast mystery and getting closer and closer to her own story… It’s a challenge to keep that at the centre when there’s a lot of other threats going on on the outside that are awesome and could threaten to distract us.”
“we have a lot of hard science for science geeks who like the show”
This year those threats take the shape of the male cloning initiative Project Castor, the members of which are played by Ari Millen.
“I would say that the Castor side of things is our main antagonist force that is aligning against us,” explains Manson, having just completed work on the season finale. “Ari Millen’s done a terrific job in the third season, and we’ve really enjoyed giving him these characters to work with. They’re quite different from our female characters, who grew up in Project Leda in this kind of social engineering experiment, where their individualism was almost encouraged. Whereas the characters he plays, such as Mark Rollins and Rudy, were raised in more of a military academy environment. So they’re less distinct, they’re less individualised, and they’ve been brainwashed together in that sort of military consciousness. That us- versus- them consciousness. So it’s a different spectrum that he’s playing with. It’s not as broad, I suppose, as Tatiana’s, but no less challenging. Because he’s still got to delineate these characters… Now, one of them, Mark, we know quite well from the first season; and we know that character had something that he was struggling with. But a character like Rudy…”
Manson laughs. “We’re really enjoying a villainous villain.”
In the face of such villainy, and with Sarah’s crazed sister Helena now in the hands of the military ( thanks to Mrs S), Manson tells SFX the issue of trust is one of season three’s primary concerns. “I think that sort of boils down to ‘ We are stronger together,’” he says, “which is one of the real themes of this season.”
The meaning of “together” changes frequently in the world of Orphan Black; and the latest clone to join the ranks of Sarah and her sisters is by far the youngest. The same age, in fact, as Sarah’s daughter Kira. Does the issue of cloning children hit home more strongly than ever through the introduction of Charlotte?
“Yeah,” Manson replies. “I mean, it’s some very interesting territory, and we found a terrific little actress in the girl who plays Charlotte. But there’s also the practicality of shooting with kids. It’s difficult to shoot with kids, because they just can’t work the hours. So you have to be careful of just how much story you give them. With our kids, with Charlotte and Kira, I think the best thing we
can say is we’re playing a long game with them. And they don’t need to play that heavily in our crazy run- and- gun world of Orphan Black to be important.”
As for the abilities Kira has demonstrated – which include healing quickly and distinguishing her mother’s clones – Manson says they too will be explained over time.
“Each season ends in many, many questions. We don’t feel like we have to come back the next season and answer all of those questions. We are looking at it as a series structure and not just a season structure, and not just an episode structure. So those are great questions that are bound to be answered some day.”
Since Sarah’s sister Cosima, whose life is threatened by a disease, is a favourite of Orphan Black fans, we ask Manson if we’ll learn her fate this year.
“Her life is hanging in the balance. But in the way that we approach science in Orphan Black… First of all, if you look at the show over the course of two, and now three seasons, how much time has gone by, it’s like a month and a half of something. So in reality, with a disease, an autoimmune disorder like she’s facing, it can be a long journey of ups and downs. The science takes a while to develop. Gene therapy can be hit and miss. I think that’s something very realistic about that. It’s not gonna be clean. It’s gonna be messy. She has a terminal illness. It’s not like it ever goes away or leaves her mind. It’s always with her, and it’s always with us. But much like she’s not defined by her sexuality, the character’s not defined by her illness either. And she wants to face it bravely and on her own terms and not be a martyr and just not be defined by that herself. That’s a long way of saying her illness, like her sexuality, is not the most interesting thing about her.”
Regarding Sarah’s less sympathetic sister, the no- nonsense Rachel, fans were left wondering if she was even alive after her eye was gouged out at the end of the season. Manson confirms with wicked glee that “Rachel is gonna have to struggle this year. It’s kind of delicious to see that very poised ice queen have her dignity taken away from her.”
six of one
With so many of Orphan Black’s players already on its chess board, SFX asks Manson if viewers’ continued craving for new clones factors into his storytelling.
“It’s a balance. Myself and John and Tatiana, we know how much fun it is to meet a new clone, and our fans love it so we really want to do that again this year. I don’t want to tease that too much, but we’re pretty excited about it. But on the other hand, we don’t do random clones very much. We like them to mean something. So we don’t introduce them lightly. On top of that we have a complex story, with a lot of threads. We don’t want to keep adding threads without tying a few of them off. They don’t all need to get introduced and tied up in one season. So chances are, if a thread comes up, if we’ve touched on something in season one, we’ll probably try and incorporate
it as we go. We try and stay flexible that way. But it’s nice to be in a season now, season three – and going into season four, for us writing – where we feel we have a mythology that we can tell the story from, and not just generate story by run- and- jump- and- plot.”
After three years, Manson remains surprised that his show has captured the imaginations of so many fans, given that it’s not set in the distant future, on another planet, or in a world of metahumans.
“I find it really cool,” says the producer of the ever- swelling ranks of “clone clubs” worldwide. “I’m always very encouraged by our fans, because so many fans respond to the intelligent, the higher aspects of what we’re trying to do, thematically, in writing. We have a lot of hard science for science geeks who like the show. And that’s fabulous. I’m not a scientist, but we use our science consultant frequently; and we just try and keep our science one step over the line into science fiction. We like to know exactly what the science is, and then take it that one step further.”
“Not only that,” Manson points out. “We’re slowly presenting a view of science that’s a nexus of some very pragmatic and practical things in our world, that are of practical science these days. That is a sort of nexus of private enterprise, military, mass wealth and patents […] In that sense, science becomes politics. We always try and look at it from that perspective. And we’re always reminded by our science consultant that science is what scientists do. So what are the forces pushing discovery? And in which directions? You can jump off into science fiction there, because that’s the starting point. Because that feels like the real world. It’s not very often that science is depicted that way, depicted as politics.”
But no matter the science or the politics, the creator adds, “We just have to remember whose story it is, that it is the girls’ story. And when that journey is rewarding each season, that’s when we know it’s working, despite how hard it is for all the writers.”
Orphan Black is on BBC America from 18 April, and BBC Three in the UK, date TBC.
When you can’t trust yourself, who can you trust?
She’d had better days.
We’ll start to see more of the male clones this series.