The Cast and Creators of 'Orphan Black' Discuss the Show's Final Season
"We’re in a world where the more you know, the more you’re in danger."
Ken Woroner/BBC America
It's time to start saying goodbye to the sestrahood of clones on BBC America's Orphan Black, which premieres its fifth and final season on June 10. Fortunately, during a Toronto set visit back in early February, the cast and crew promised a lot of twists and turns, ensuring that the series ends just as well as it started.
During that visit—which included a set tour, watching some filming, a visual effects demo, and prop, wardrobe, hair and makeup explainers—I heard from the show's creators Graeme Manson and John Fawcett, as well as stars Tatiana Maslany (plenty of clones), Évelyne Brochu (Delphine), Jordan Gavaris (Felix), and Kristian Bruun (Donnie).
"This was a show that really shouldn't have gotten made in the first place. Nobody wanted to make it," explained co-creator John Fawcett. It's hard to believe that statement now with the show's multiple awards and nominations, culminating in Maslany finally winning Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series statue at the 2016 Emmys.
Indeed, plenty has happened for the show and its star since it premiered in 2013. But before we explore Orphan Black 's legacy, let's get into the real dirt: spoilers. Previously, the show revealed that the founder of Neolution is still alive. To add even more drama into the mix, Susan Duncan—Rachel's sinister adoptive mother—was left with a gut wound after Rachel stabbed her. This new season kicks off where the last one left off.
"We're on the run in a brand new location that's gonna unfold as a mystery over the first part of the season," said co-creator Graeme Manson. "We have a strong Sarah and Helena storyline running through this year." This season will also see Maslany playing a younger version of Rachel. "She's still who she is, but she's definitely a product of having been raised in a very specific environment," described Maslany.
There are big developments for the other clones as well, including episodes focused on individual sestras. "Graeme and I felt really like we wanted to explore those characters a little deeper than we had in previous seasons and allow more screen time," said Fawcett. "There's been a decent effort to kind of create stories that allowed us to get much, much deeper into each individual character."
Even Felix will "get an episode to shine where we get to see him in his element a little bit more," according to Jordan Gavaris, who also shared that Felix has a new art project. "This is a bit of his story and what is important to him."
"I think something about his sex life will be explored in the fifth season," Gavaris teased before later elaborating that this season will also "explore, for a little bit, more of his gender fluidity. Because he's always been a queer character. He's not just gay. He's always been genderqueer." As for Felix's relationship with his adoptive sister Sarah and the rest of the clones, he's "sorted out his priorities. I think it's very clear that he's about these women." "He's sort of officially in it for the long haul," he added. "No more insolence or resistance—he's with Sarah."
During the set visit, I also got some insight into Alison and Donnie. "We start the season off in the woods and they're kind of hiding out, but that doesn't last long. Shit goes down," said Kristian Bruun. (If you're wondering, their kids are with Alison's mom down in Florida.) Donnie's primary role this season is not unlike it's been in the past: supporting Alison and Helena. And yes, the suburban life adventures that often provide the show's comic relief will still be present as well. "We have an episode where the church Fall Fun Fair becomes a central location and some very ridiculous Donnie things happen," Bruun teased.
When it comes to Cosima and Delphine—the couple Manson once told Évelyne Brochu is the love story of the show," Maslany says there will be "a real admittance of where they're at."
"I think the cool thing that we're going to see this season is that they're gonna get back to science, and that's where they connect the most," said Brochu. Speaking specifically to her character, she added: "She's looking out for the sisters and still trying to save Cosima. She's trying to help to free them. Find answers and finally set them free."
But her methods, as usual, will undoubtedly be the cause of future rifts for Cosima and Delphine. Brochu explained there will be questions for both of them about their dynamic moving forward. "We're in a world where the more you know, the more you're in danger. Delphine is someone that truly knows that," she said. "And so she's still trying to protect Cosima by withholding information."
The cast and creators were tight-lipped on specifics of the final season, but Manson did offer up a vague note by saying, "We get some interesting answers to things, to questions we may never have even thought of and some questions that might be very obvious." However, everyone was happy to talk endlessly about the legacy left behind by Orphan Black and its many characters. "The show became political without us really realizing it," said Manson. "It certainly feels more political now than it has before."
"It became inspirational for so many young people, for so many young women. Tatiana and so many of the other women who work on the show kept the feminist themes of the show and our themes of identity, nature versus nurture, diversity, inclusion."
Bruun, a regular on a show where the men take a backseat to the women, says he couldn't be happier about that reality."I'm really proud of the fact that it's a feminist show. It's very LGBT-positive and supportive. And I think we need to put more of those stories out there, especially right the fuck now."
In fact, that might be Orphan Black's most enduring legacy: its treatment of its queer characters and themes. "We were trying to be a diverse show and from the very get-go sexual orientation was all part of it," said Manson. "Felix was always a gay character, always someone who was gonna be never defined by their sexuality, which was our immediate mandate."
"This is where Tatiana came in," he added, explaining that the actor—who has been a producer on the show since season 3—helped them develop Orphan Black's queer characters and find the "moral statement of the show around these issues."
"When you develop a very voracious fan base as Orphan Black has, there's a sort of responsibility you suddenly have to really pay attention to the voices and pay attention to the audience feedback," said Gavaris.
"It's very hard to be a political show," he continued. "It's hard because ultimately you're going to end up alienating someone. You'll end up alienating people that don't agree with progressive gay politics, and sometimes you make the mistake, or a mistake, and you end up alienating a subculture of the gay community."
Gavaris realizes some gay men might not enjoy Felix as a representation of the gay community. We won't see Felix in a monogamous relationship, and Gavaris believes that's a good thing."His love life was something I really wanted to explore," he said of earlier seasons. "I was really fixated on this idea of him maybe finding a partner."
"But ultimately when I gave it a bit more thought and I started talking to different friends in my community, and just like other artistic opinions and gay opinions about this particular character, that it would be interesting if he was never going to be in a long-term relationship, if that was never something that he was even looking for. That maybe Felix has and always will be polyamorous, or not monogamous at the very least."
During its run, Orphan Black also introduced us to transgender clone Tony. "There was a lot of responsibility in not playing a trope," said Maslany. "I was terrified to step into his shoes because it's a huge thing politically and there's so little representation. And I know that by no means does a cis woman playing a trans man equal representation, but the thing of our show is that one person plays all these roles."
Maslany has also played queer in her portrayal of Sarah, even though that was only confirmed last season when we saw her kiss a random woman at a club. "There's no question in my mind that Sarah's been with women and that she's open to that," said Maslany. As for everyone's favorite lesbian scientist, Cosima, Maslany told me, "She can't help but be sort of blown away by Delphine and turned on intellectually and physically and emotionally and everything. The two of them really push each other's buttons in that way.
Fans have certainly latched on to these queer characters, such as in season three when it looked like Delphine had been lost to the Bury Your Gays trope. The fan reaction over social media was intense enough to cause Maslany, Manson, and Fawcett to do press defending the move. Fortunately, she survived. This reaction, according to Maslany, "spoke a deep truth about how much the audience cares about these characters."
And the audience should care about these characters and this show. It is indeed political, now more than it's ever been. If it makes some uncomfortable, that's no accident—it's pure Orphan Black.
"Let's fucking creep those ideas in there," said Bruun. "Creep the ideas of yes it's normal to be gay and open and in love, it's normal to be in control of your own body or it should be, it's normal to be a feminist, it's normal to see powerful women, it's normal to see weak men, it's normal to see every iteration in between on the spectrum, because that is the actual fucking world that we live in."
Season 5 of Orphan Black premieres June 10 at 10/9c on BBC America.
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