Spoiler warning: Do not read this article until you have seen Orphan Black Episode 503, “Beneath Her Heart.”
“Keep ’em outta the garage.” —Donnie
Saturday’s new episode of Orphan Black, “Beneath Her Heart,” represented a tonal change from the first two instalments of Season 5, not only because we got to enjoy a trippy visit with the Hendrixes and their friends (both dead and alive) in Bailey Downs, but because we got our first hints of closure as the series heads toward the finish line.
Alison facing down her addictions, guilt and perceived lack of purpose to one-up Rachel and keep Helena hidden from Neolution felt like the completion of her character arc, a feeling that was punctuated by her surprise announcement to go away for a while. As a result, Alison and Donnie’s sweet rendition of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” played like the first goodbye of the final trip—and was a bittersweet reminder that our time with the sestras is indeed winding down.
To learn more about Alison’s big episode—including if and when we’ll see her again—we caught up with writer Alex Levine.
This episode focuses on Alison, and I understand all the core clones will have similar episodes this season. Why was the choice made to give each clone her own episode this season?
Alex Levine: The writers had always considered whether clones other than Sarah could carry an episode. Even in Season 1, we were asking ourselves that question—coincidentally, about Alison. But we backed off because we really felt, at least in the first and second seasons, that Sarah had to drive the story. She was the capital “H” hero, the woman of action, always asking the questions, always trying to uncover the conspiracy. So while we discussed and even tried to make an Alison-centric story early, we decided as a group to stick with Sarah. She’s really the heart of the show. But in Seasons 3 and later, the other clones started elbowing themselves to the front of the stage. Helena was especially riveting as a hero in her own right. And Rachel also started to carry hefty amounts of story. And Graeme had written a particularly powerful, more personal story for Sarah in Season 4 (Episode 407 – her ‘dark night of the soul’). So when John and Graeme came into the development room last summer for Season 5, they were committed to doing separate, more personal stories for each of the clones, not just Sarah. And each of the characters were so well developed by then, their worlds so rich and fleshed out, that it was easy to see how it could finally work.
In a flashback, we see Alison and Donnie do mushrooms with Aynsley and Chad. (It was SO great to see those characters again!) The scenes were hilarious but also showed that Alison chose to cope by using drugs very soon after finding out she was a clone. Why was it important to show that moment?
Early in the development of Season 5, John Fawcett wanted to have a church picnic. John’s really the curator of Alison’s suburban world. That church picnic morphed into the Fall Fun Fair that you see in the episode. We also knew we were going to focus pretty early on the stakes of Leekie’s body and Rachel using police leverage to try to force the Hendrixes to give up Helena’s whereabouts. What we didn’t have was Alison’s personal story. That character has been through so much over four seasons: drug dealing, adultery, pill addiction, letting Aynsley die, burying Leekie. She’s a high-strung suburban train wreck. Point is, we have delved deeply into Alison’s character, but we wanted to showcase a side of her that we haven’t seen.
So when we landed on the idea of exploring what she was like at the time she first learned she was a clone, it was exciting. But we still didn’t know how to dramatize her struggle from denial to acceptance, both in flashback and in the present. It’s a complicated personal story, but we also wanted to tap into that feeling everyone has that they might be living the ‘wrong life,’ so to speak. At the end of the day, this is an episode about one of our central themes: identity. We spun a bunch of versions of that flashback story before we landed on a mushroom trip. Not only was it realistic to show how Alison has used substances to cope in the past (and present), but the trip allowed her to explore and talk about her feelings about being a clone, her identity, and her life in a thoughtful, navel gazing, but realistic way.
After Donnie collapses on stage, Alison sees ‘ghost Aynsley’ in the audience. Does this mean she has forgiven herself for Aynsley’s death?
Yes. We wanted to resolve Alison’s feelings of guilt about letting Aynsley die in this episode in order for her to be able to move forward in her life, forgive herself, and recommit to her sisterhood. So that was an important part of the story that Graeme Manson really helped to focus in on during the rewrite process. The flashbacks allowed us to show that Alison and Aynsley were once extremely close and not as competitive and adversarial as we see them in Season 1. In that light, it’s easier to see how Alison might get over what she did—with Chad’s help of course.
After all the times that Helena has saved Donnie and Alison, the big payoff is that Alison—who is repeatedly told that she is useless—faces off with Rachel and saves herself, Donnie and Helena. What does that moment mean for her?
This is really the culmination of Alison’s growth as a character. She’s gone from this somewhat selfish person to someone who gets involved in the clone fight reluctantly, to a real hero who is willing to put her neck on the line to save her sisters. Remember when we met her, Alison was the person who wanted to throw money at the problem and keep herself and her family far from the front lines. But so much has happened, including Helena having saved Alison and Donnie from the Cheek Choppers last season. So Alison hasn’t forgotten that. And she finally realizes it’s time for her to step up.
Alison tells Donnie that she is going away for a while. Does that mean we won’t be seeing much of her the rest of the season?
Every season we have to park one or more of the clones in a bunch of episodes for production reasons. Season 5 is no different. The time it takes to change Tat from clone to clone in terms of hair and makeup is very difficult on production. We just can’t afford to show them all every episode, and frankly, we don’t have the screen time. So yes, Alison is going away, but she’ll be back before you know it. And she will come back with surprises!
Kira isn’t telling Sarah or Mrs. S much about what happens when she meets with Rachel, but also she appears to be holding Rachel at a distance. What is going on in Kira’s head right now?
Kira, at this point in the story, is growing into a more mature person, realizing she’s not just an object anymore, not just something that everybody wants. Sarah has let her down a bit, in the sense that she has been overprotective like many mothers are. But Kira knows she’s finally in a position to make choices for herself. And Rachel is offering her the opportunity to understand herself and her biology. That’s an offer Kira has to take seriously. But Kira understands Rachel better than anyone. She knows there’s strings attached somehow… How’s that for a vague answer?
Art was prepared to go all in and kill Engers when she dug up Leekie’s body. He’s in a really tough spot. What can we expect from his storyline in the next few episodes?
Art narrowly escaped putting himself and his family in terrible danger. He has to continue to toe the line—to work with [Engers] for Neolution in order to keep his daughter safe, but he has to try not to jeopardize the clone sisterhood. Art’s life ain’t easy!
Whose idea was it to have Alison and Donnie sing ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ to end the episode? That was very sweet and moving.
We knew Kristian is this multi-talented guy, that he could highland dance and play mandolin. So using those talents were targets of Graeme’s early on. As usual, when we use a known song, it comes down to fit and cost. We had a bunch of tunes we were choosing from, but we wanted to find a song that gets going quickly, where both singers in the duet get to sing pretty much right away. This song was perfect emotionally, but truth be told, we had no idea it would play so well. That’s a testament to the actors. Tat and Kristian have worked together in these characters for so many years there is a lot of trust and understanding there. I thought Kristian’s vulnerability in that scene was amazing. It felt real and honest and I was blown away.
Can you give us any hints about Episode 504?
I consider 503 a change up, a different kind of OB episode. 504 is more of a traditional thrill-ride. Sarah and Mrs. S team up and have to work through Sarah’s lingering resentment from 502/503. And we welcome back an old adversary…
Orphan Black airs Saturdays at 10 p.m. ET on Space.
Images courtesy of Bell Media.