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Orphan Black 503: Alex Levine on Alison’s big episode

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. 


Orphan Black 503: Alison longs for a normal life in “Beneath Her Heart”

M.K.’s tragic death on last week’s Orphan Black was tough on Clone Club, so this week’s extended visit to Bailey Downs may feel like a bit of a respite—if you consider Neolution putting the squeeze on the Hendrixes relaxing, that is.

Here is what Bell Media’s official synopsis says about “Beneath Her Heart,” written by Alex Levine and directed by David Wellington.

Alison seeks to return to normal but her community, Bailey Downs, has moved on from her. 

And here is our spoiler-free peek at the episode.

Welcome to the trip, man
Alison’s quest for normalcy takes her to the Fall Fun Fair, but old friendships, memories and vices come back to haunt her.

Lord of the Dance
If the thought of Donnie dancing in a kilt sends you into a fit of giggles, this episode is for you!

The Neos put Art in a jam
Enger’s search of the Hendrix home forces Art to make a hardcore decision.

Prepare to be charmed
Alison, Donnie and a lute. ‘Nuff said.

Orphan Black airs Saturdays at 10 p.m. ET on Space.

Image courtesy of Bell Media. 


Link: Time to bid adieu to Orphan Black

From James Bawden:

Link: Time to bid adieu to Orphan Black
So there I was at the local street bash in my Toronto neighborhood and a neighbor from several blocks away is telling me she never watches Canadian TV drama series.

“But you’ve just said you’re a loyal fan of Orphan Black,” I told her. “And it’s made right here in Toronto.”

And boy did she look surprised and chagrined! Continue reading.


Orphan Black 502: Writer Jeremy Boxen breaks down “Clutch of Greed”

Spoiler warning: Do not read this article until you have seen Orphan Black Episode 502, “Clutch of Greed.”

“I want to know why I’m like this.” —Kira

The Sarah Manning (Tatiana Maslany) we met back in Orphan Black‘s first season was a neglectful mother who disappeared for months at a time, leaving Kira (Skyler Wexler) in the care of Mrs. S (Maria Doyle Kennedy). However, the Sarah we see in Season 5 is completely changed: devoted, fiercely protective and determined to protect her daughter from Neolution at any cost. That’s why this week’s episode, “Clutch of Greed”which sees Kira willingly choose to spend time in the care of Rachel (Maslany)is such a kick in the gut. Sarah’s time of influence over Kira, already cut short by her previous selfishness, may now be over, handed over to the person she trusts the least.

And just as Kira turns to Rachel in hopes of learning more about herself, Cosima turns to Neolution founder P.T. Westmoreland (Stephen McHattie)whom we finally lay eyes onto understand more about the science behind her and her sisters. For a series Big Bad, who is also supposedly 170 years old, P.T. seems almost normal as he goes over Cosima’s latest test results (they’re excellent) and quotes an Arthur Conan Doyle poem. But while his chat with Cosima is disarmingly genteel, it appears in the same episode in which Ferdinand (James Frain) literally stomps the life out of M.K. (Maslany) in a fit of entitled male rage.

Rachel may claim it’s a “new day” for the clones, but this episode underscores that it’s just the same day, different week for Sarah et al., as they all continue to squirm beneath the heel of an oppressive patriarchy.

Joining us to discuss these issues, and break down all the major plot points in “Clutch of Greed,” is Orphan Black co-executive producer Jeremy Boxen, who wrote the episode.

You came over from another great show, Killjoys. How did you land on Orphan Black?
Jeremy Boxen: I have known Graeme Manson for a long time. We first worked together on a show called Endgame, which was shot in Vancouver. It starred Shawn Doyle as a Russian chess master with agoraphobia. So we’ve been friends since then, and this is the first time that our schedules lined up and I was able to get onto Orphan Black. I think we’ve both been trying to get me on it for a while, so this year, the stars lined up and I was able to jump on board, which is really exciting, because obviously it’s the last season, and we’re able to do some really satisfying things with it.

Is there extra pressure coming onto a show in its final season, especially one as beloved by fans as Orphan Black?
Yes, there are always different pressures with every season of television. With Orphan Black, there was pressure to get it right, but it was a thrilling kind of pressure because so much excellence had come before, and all we were trying to do was live up to that excellence and satisfy everyone who loved the show. So it was really a welcome challenge.

We finally meet the mysterious P.T. Westmoreland in this episode, and he looks like a normal Victorian gentleman. Was there much debate about what a 170-year-old prolongevity pioneer would look and act like? 
There was a lot of discussion about it, but Graeme came into the room with a clear vision already in mind of what he thought P.T. would actually bewhich was a throwback who was clinging onto the vestiges of Victorian society where he’d come from. So there’s this air of theatricality about him, this air of Victorian science, and a certain charm that P.T. Westmoreland had to have to really be at the top of Neolution and pull the strings in the way that he does as a puppetmaster. And also the hunt for an actor who could sort of live in both worldsthat old Victorian science world but also exist in the present in a very grounded way. So I’m thrilled that we got Stephen McHattie to do it.

I loved Cosima’s conversation with him, including the story about the cheese and the cow. Where did that come from? 
The bulk of the conversation came from our group work, like most of the things on the show, but I was very pleased that I was able to work in the poem about the cow, which is a little Arthur Conan Doyle poem that I had found by chance, because my spouse was in a book club and the book they were reading at the time was a graphic novel about Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace teaming up to create a steam powered computer in Victorian times [“The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer” by Sydney Padua]. So it was a very steampunky, kinda funny, heavily researched novel, and as part of the research, in the foot notes, this poem was listed. So I was like, ‘You know what? There’s a confluence of Victorian science and imagination that’s perfect for someone like P.T. Westmoreland.’

Cosima made the decision to stay on the island and ‘follow the crazy science,’ like Delphine told her to. What is that going to mean for her?
Well, obviously his science is very intriguing, and it’s attractive, but from my point of view, I would say that Cosima is always interested in helping her sisters and the rest of the world. So there will always be that interesting tension between being able to do good in the world and being drawn into some science that is perhaps unpalatable and that’s sort of the brunt of the season, as she gets closer to P.T. Westmoreland and deeper into his science, the question is where will she find herself and what choices will she make at the end of it?

Rachel also recently met P.T. Westmoreland and seems very changed by the experience. What is going on with her?
You know, what can you say about Rachel? She keeps her cards close to her chest and the extent to which she has bought into P.T. Westmoreland’s vision and power versus the long game that she’s playing is something that only Rachel knows. I believe that will continue to play out through the rest of the season in surprising ways.

Ferdinand does not like Rachel’s new Zen-like vibe, and takes out his rage on M.K. Why was the decision made to kill poor M.K.?
Very early on in our discussions for the season, we came to the realization that M.K. would be dying for a number of story reasons and character reasons, and it made sense for that to happen at the hands of Ferdinand because of their ugly history together that was still left unfinished. So apart from the story reasons for that to happen, there’s a very personal, emotional reason for M.K. and Ferdinand to come together in that way and for Ferdinandbecause of everything else that he’s going throughto act so horrifically. And the tragic result is something which will have some ripples throughout the next few episodes.

M.K.’s death was shockingly violent. 
Orphan Black is not a show that traffics in violence for violence sake. It all comes from character and scene. So the horrific violence we see on Ferdinand’s part is really an extension of the awful power structure in which the sisters find themselves, the patriarchy, and a lot of male control and a lot of male violence. So Ferdinand killing M.K. is a very concrete example of the kind of danger in which the sisters find themselves.

It certainly reminds viewers of just how dangerous Ferdinand is. 
It really does, and it gets to the reality behind all the fun we’re having, which is the patriarchal power struggle that exists really has the potential to result in horrible violence.

Kira makes the major decision to defy Sarah’s wishes and spend time with Rachel in hopes of learning why she is the way she is. How is Sarah going to handle that going forward? 
That’s one of the questionswhat are we going to see from Sarah? Because this is really what we had fun doing this year, was charting Kira’s agency as she really comes into her own. She’s just growing up and taking control of her own life and asserting her own wants and needs. So that’s a new challenge for Sarah for sure, and we thought it was important as we’re dealing with various structures of power but also generational structures and how knowledge and wisdom is passed down from one generation to another, particularly in a matriarchal fashion. So one of the questions for the season is how does Sarah negotiate with all the women in her life, and in this case, her daughter, who is coming into her own?

It was so great to see Delphine and Mrs. S finally begin working together! Although, I thought Delphine was supposed to be in Sardinia. How did she get to Toronto? 
The thing to keep in mind with these two is they always have more cards up their sleeves then we think. Out of anybody, these are two characters who are really playing the long game, so it’s going to be very interesting to see what they’re cooking up, and when it comes to light for everybody else, how it fits in with the story at large. But like you say, it is pretty juicy to see them working together, and it’s going to pay off in some very interesting ways.

And in terms of the practicality of Delphine getting aroundshe’s magical, isn’t she? [Laughs.] She has the skills to appear where she needs to be, I would say.

What was your favourite scene of the episode? 
I really liked the one-shot clone switcheroo scene with Sarah and M.K. It was a thing of beauty to see them rehearse and see it come together, the way that Kathryn [Alexandre] and Tatiana acted together in the scene and rehearsed it and really blocked it out.

I was able to be there for it; we workshopped it to make sure all the dialogue fit in the right place and all the emotional beats landed. And on a technical level, it was very difficult to pull off, and for me coming onto Orphan Black for the first time, it was really fascinating for me to watch how technically that everybody put it together, from the crew running around and shooting the scene with the Technodolly to how things were stitched together in post-production with the CG and making it all very seamless so that the drama really popped and nothing else got in the way of that.

What can you tease about the rest of the season?
I’m really looking forward to the fans being able to live with the characters in the moments that we get to spend time with them in ways we haven’t seen before, either through flashbacks or interesting scenarios. This season really is a season that allows us to spend time with the characters in a very intimate way and everybody gets their big emotional moments. So I think fans are going to be pretty satisfied by the end of it, no matter who their favourite characters are.

Orphan Black airs Saturdays at 10 p.m. ET on Space.

Images courtesy of Bell Media.


Link: What We’re Really Losing When We Lose Orphan Black

From Jennifer Still of Vanity Fair:

Link: What We’re Really Losing When We Lose Orphan Black
As Orphan Black embarked on its fifth and final season last week, it became clear that the sci-fi series was finally ready to answer the big questions—about eugenics, biology, and morality—that have intrigued fans and critics alike throughout its run. It was never a clear path getting there, but the joy was in the journey—and once it’s complete, viewers will lose one of the most intelligent, empowering shows ever to air on television. Continue reading.