In its fourth year, Orphan Black ta kes a d ark t rip to Wonderland. Joseph McCabe gives chase
The game of clones TV series is back, twistier than ever.
t’s fitting that the ads for the fourth
season of Orphan Black have chosen to reference Lewis Carroll – and not only because the author’s most famous book just celebrated its 150th anniversary. Just like Alice, Sarah Manning and her clone “seestras” – all of whom are played by the preternaturally gifted Tatiana Maslany – have, in the last few years, found themselves thrown down a rabbit hole filled with conspiracies and cutting- edge technologies as they’ve sought to unravel the mystery of how and why they came to be. This year, however, their journey leads them to where it began.
“It’s a pretty balls- to- the- wall trip,” executive producer Graeme Manson tells SFX. With only seven days left in the shooting of season four’s finale, the show’s co- creator is tired but upbeat.
“We really thought a lot about this season at the end of last year and the beginning of this year. We decided to go back to the beginning. We really wanted to take it back to the opening of the whole series, and that fateful moment on the train platform with Beth. We always thought there was more going on there than met the eye, that it would be fun to go back and see what else was going on in Beth’s life.”
Fans can expect to learn more of the late character’s world through both flashbacks and the show’s present story. “It’s fair to say a little bit of both. I think we will get a chance to see Beth. We have seen her before. But the exact sort of narrative way that she shows up is really part of the surprise this season.”
To the delight of Clone Club fans everywhere, Beth’s mysteries have resulted in yet another new character for Maslany to portray.
“Of course we don’t want to give too much away,” laughs Manson. “But it’s safe to say we discovered this new clone was someone attached to Beth, or that Beth knew. So there’s sort of a window into the past. A new ally, the one who shows up in the sheep mask.”
That mask, it turns out, is more than just a bit of surrealism…
“The whole concept of a clone wearing a mask was, we thought, interesting. It’s getting kind of meta. So we were like, ‘ What kind of mask? Is it an Anonymous type thing?’ When we happened on the sheep it really struck a chord with me, because it’s speaking about clones, talking about Dolly the sheep, even if we don’t approach it too directly. I like what it said about that. And it’s kind of creepy too.”
Expect that creepiness to be continued throughout season four, which Manson describes as darker than years past.
“I think we get to some really interesting places. I think we take Sarah to a place as dark as she’s ever been. But it’s something that she has to do to gather her sisters together, to bring them together, and sort of come from slaughter, which I think that this season really does in spades. Now that we’re near the end it really feels like they’ve been through a tremendous journey. Sarah had to go to those dark places for the sake of her sisters. And they all go to dark places – Allison, Cosima and Sarah all got to go to the dark side to get through it this year.”
Contributing to season four’s darkness is new character Evie Cho ( played by Jessalyn Wanlim), who may or may not aid Cosima in her ongoing health scare.
“She’s an interesting character who shows up as probably a new, improved Dr Leekie character, very much an antagonist for Sarah and her sisters. The science she’s doing is very cutting edge, very interesting, very much along the lines of gene- editing technology. So it’s an interesting element of the science that she brings to it, and a new element as well…
The mystery of Kira is the human side of all the clones
Alliances are always hard to come by in our show, but Cosima is definitely heavily invested in her own science. We know how good she is, how smart she is. But we found our original last year. So when we last left them we had the material to theoretically create a gene therapy for Cosima. I think she’s got the smarts. But do we have the resources? Surely along the way she’s gonna need some scientific allies to get through this. I’m not sure if that’s gonna be Evie Cho or not.”
Manson is quick to point out that real science fuels Orphan Black’s fiction.
“CRSPR gene- editing technology is very interesting. People are seeing how key this science is, this kind of gene- editing technology for the germ- line editing, where you’re actually affecting the genome of offspring and not the person, not the parents. These things are akin to nuclear fusion in the 20th century. They’re that big. They’re things that have the ability to create something brand new and unforeseen, as well as the capability of being terribly destructive… I saw some articles just the other day in which scientists impregnated a mouse embryo with synthetic male mouse sperm. That was interesting… In terms of the show this year, germ- line editing, gene editing, and CRSPR technology were certainly on our minds and at the forefront of what our science consultant Cosima Herter was having the writers’ room consider and look at.”
As for the show’s other cast additions, the producer says, “We’re going to dabble in a couple of other new characters that we’ve seen in the past. I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to say we’re excited to see Krystal back again at some point this season. She’s a pretty fun character. So, more clone hijinks!”
one for all
Maslany, explains Manson, played an integral role in developing the show’s latest clone.
“When we start to come up with a concept of a new clone we get her involved in the process of that really quickly. So as soon as we have a new clone and we have a story function for that clone we’ll go to Tatiana and say, ‘ These are some of the elements that we’re working with. How does she fit into your palette of characters in your mind?’ We’ll have a number of conversations from there that then expand into experimenting with hair and make- up, and getting her into hair, make- up and wardrobe so that she can start to feel the character, embody the character, find that physicality of the characters that she’s so good at. A new clone is pretty great to see on screen. But it’s also a lot of fun for us to come up with these characters and make sure they’re distinct and complementary or clashing or whatever we need. It’s not a new clone each episode, so we take our time in developing these characters. They have story function and they have some real juice when it comes to adding to the world and adding to this cast of clone characters that Tat plays.”
Orphan Black’s biggest mystery will continue to be its smallest character – Kira. While more will be learned about Sarah’s daughter this year, Manson tells us she’ll continue to represent an enigma that’s best left unexplained.
“The most interesting thing to me about Kira has always been that the mysterious side of her is the most human side of her. I think that she is in effect sort of a little empath, if you know what I mean. The fact that she’s Sarah’s daughter and occasionally has sort of a connection to her mother, to her mother’s sisters. I think that that’s a very human thing. You don’t want to get too close. I don’t want to pick apart and give a scientific reason for why Kira is empathetic. I don’t think science can decipher empathy. All of that is to say I don’t know what kind of answer people want from Kira – the mystery of Kira is the human side of all of the clones.”
Now that the show is in its fourth season, many may wonder how long their beloved Clone Club will continue. Manson says that the story is now in its middle years.
“It feels like we’re getting closer to the end. We’ve known where the story is going, and we’ve been stretching out the middle of the story I guess. It feels like we’re getting closer to where we can sort of slide into what we see as the end of the story. But I think that it could be a couple more seasons until we get to that.”
Until then, expect the journey through the rabbit hole to grow curiouser and curiouser.
Orphan Black returns to Space in Canada and BBC America in April. UK broadcast TBC.
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