Orphan Black 504: Writer Greg Nelson on Sarah and Mrs. S’ undercover mission

Spoiler warning: Do not read this article until you have seen Orphan Black Episode 504, “Let the Children & Childbearers Toil.”

“Your hands never get dirty.” -Susan Duncan
“No, only my beautiful, filthy mind.” -P.T. Westmorland

So that’s what happened to Dr. Coady!

A season and a half after Coady (Kyra Harper) was presumed to have met her demise at the hands of Ferdinand (James Frain), the evil doctor (and we now know just how evil she is) turned out to be the “Neolution defector” that Sarah (Tatiana Maslany) and Mrs. S (Maria Doyle Kennedy) were searching for in tonight’s new Orphan Black episode, “Let the Children & Childbearers Toil.” Meanwhile, Cosima (Maslany) discovered a chamber of horrors in P.T. Westmorland’s  (Stephen McHattie) basement, and Sarah and Helena (Helena) shared a huge bonding moment.

We caught up with Orphan Black writer and co-executive producer Greg Nelson to learn more about the decision to bring Coady back, what’s going on with the Creature in the woods and Sarah’s maturing relationships with Helena and Mrs. S.

A lot happens in this episode. It connects a lot of dots from previous seasons but also has some pivotal moments of character growth. What were your major goals/concerns as you began writing it?
Greg Nelson: Once we landed on the big reveal at the end of the episode, which was bringing Coady back, then the whole episode really became about getting to that moment. It happened, obviously, on two levels. Both for Cosima on the Island, and her exploration of the basement, seeing the horrible room where they had kept the creature, the monster, and sort of understanding the level of danger she was in, that the clones are in and that Kira is in, because of what P.T. Westmorland is capable of doing, and at the same, with Sarah and S discovering Coady. So it all seemed to come together nicely storywise when we landed on that, and then it was really about telling the story.

The island story was a pretty straightforward story to tell. The trickier one was the Sarah and S story, because they had to get to their big discovery, but at the time, we were picking them up in a situation where they were really caught. At the end of Episode 502, a terrible thing happened with M.K., and the hammer really comes down from Rachel, Kira is going in and visiting Rachel, and they feel powerless. It’s a show where–particularly with Sarah–she is constantly on the move, constantly trying to get to the bottom of things, fight back against the bad guys. So we needed to create the sense that they’re doing something at the same time as they can’t be seen to be fighting back against Rachel. So, it was a tricky story challenge, because–without giving too much away–they had to be really active and awesome in the way they respond to this level of danger.

And they also had relationship issues that they had to work out, there’s so much going on there. That was the trickiest part, was sort of blocking out their road trip, where they go on the road and try track down the little bit of information that S has, and the relationship stuff of S keeping it from Sarah, all of that was tricky. One of the things we were conscious of, was wanting to have Sarah and S in a new relationship and showing that basically Sarah had earned the ability to deal with S and an adult. There’s always been a quality to Sarah of being still the kid, still the rebellious adolescent, S constantly having to step in and help with Kira. Now, it really feels like in this episode–and we talked a lot about this in the writers’ room–about how Sarah is able to step up and deal with S as and equal, and that was a big moment for those characters. That really formed the heartbeat emotionally of that story, and it really pays off when Sarah says, ‘No, we’re going to see somebody else on the way,’ and she kind of takes control of the mission for a little bit, and the banter between S and Sarah kind of has a new kind of maturity to it.

I loved the scene with Sarah visiting Helena, too. It really moved their relationship forward. 
This is a scene that Graeme knew was coming. It was a scene that he had in his pocket, that he knew–just in terms of their relationship–he had sort of been waiting for this scene to happen. It had been a long time since Sarah and Helena had had a scene together. And it’s the same story that I just talked about with S, where all of these characters–and this goes through the final season, the final trip–all of these characters were reaching a new level of maturity with each other, the sense that they had been through so much together, that they had learned a lot about themselves as well as each other. And that feeling, I felt, was really suffused in that scene between Sarah and Helena. When you think about it, are there any two characters in the show that have gone through a bigger journey in their relationship? They’ve gone from being massive antagonists to being, in some ways, the closest of the clones.

So Graeme had a lot to do with that scene. In every season, there are scenes that you really kind of see as tent pole scenes, scenes that really anchor the thing and the relationships. So it was really an opportunity for them to establish their relationship as twins and equals and sisters supporting each other in a new way.

Was it always the plan to bring Coady back, or did that you only come upon that idea this season?
No, that happened in the room, for sure. That was sort of a discovery that occurred to me one day as we were thrashing through the story, and we had talked about Coady coming back in at some level, and we had talked about having a discovery at the end of this episode that leads us closer to the mystery of P.T. Westmorland and what he’s up to. And we realized we could put those two together. It was one of those lightbulb moments where you go, ‘Oh, of course! It’s Coady they discover!’ And it provides you with a huge reveal at the end of the episode, and the rush of the backstory of Season 3 kind of fills in, and it just brings up to a whole new level of stakes because Coady is one of the baddest villains that Orphan Black has ever had.

Then there was a certain amount of going into the past to kind of figure out Coady’s line, so we could connect it all in a way that made sense. It’s not stuff that we had contemplated previously. But once we started to do that work, where we figured out that Coady was involved with P.T. Westmorland, she was involved with Susan, that there’s a history that they all have together. It was one of those things that connected the dots throughout the whole series, not just in this season. It enriched the world by connecting the backstories–and that’s all stuff that we’re going to learn more about in Episodes 505 and 506.

We learned that Mud has a special relationship with both P.T. Westmorland and the Creature. What can we expect from her in coming episodes?
Mud is one of those fascinating characters who is a bit of a cipher. We know that she has a kind of special relationship to P.T. Westmorland already. We see her in this episode administering the medical care to P.T., and we’re going to find out later what that’s all about. She has access to the house in a way that other people don’t; we see her going through that special entrance way that Cosima can follow. And we have the scene in the woods where she takes the blanket to the Creature in the woods.

I can’t say too much in terms of where that goes, but in terms of the Creature itself, the general growth of seeing him from Episode 501, where he’s a really, really scary violent presence that Sarah runs into, the sense of menace he provides through Episodes 502, 503 and into 504, and then in Episode 504, it’s the first little hint that there’s a presence, a personality behind that creature. I think we get a little glimpse of that. David Wellington, I think, beautifully shot that scene in the woods with Mud. It’s a tricky scene to shoot, because we want to have a little moment of human connection between Mud and the creature, but we want to maintain that sense of menace. But when we go into the basement and see that terrible room that the creature was kept in, we also begin to see him as a victim. And so it really begins in this episode to change. You know, we’re building up P.T. Westmorland as such an evil guy, and so it begins to change our perception of the Creature at, I think, exactly the right point in the season. Suddenly, we’re looking ahead to, ‘Oh, this creature is going to be the clue to something else.’ It’s all starting to pay off.

The things we learn about the Creature’s background also make us fear for Kira all the more. She seems to be the key to everything. 
The thing that was interesting working on Season 5–I hadn’t worked on the first four seasons, but I’d watched them–and the wonderful thing about Kira and the way she functions in the series is that she starts out being an emotional pull for Sarah. In those wonderful first episodes in Season 1 when we see Sarah watching her from across the river, and there she is with S. That incredible love that she has for her daughter, the tragedy of how Kira is caught in the crossfire to some degree as Sarah is targeted by Leekie and Neolution, Kira–as the most vulnerable member of that family–becomes a bit of a pawn in that power struggle. And it’s heartbreaking because she’s just a child, and the emotional stakes around that character are so high for S and for Sarah.

And then I thought what the show and what Graeme did so cleverly is that they planted a seed fairly early on with that car accident that Kira has where she has really fast healing, and you see that starting to come back again in Season 5. And so she becomes a keeper of the stakes in a whole new level. Suddenly, she’s not just an emotional touchstone for us, but she becomes incredibly important in terms of the science. This season, she’s both somebody that we care about and our characters care about, but she also holds the key to the great questions of Orphan Black in terms of the science and Susan and Neolution and P.T. Westmorland. And as we go through the season, we’ll see more and more how Kira’s biology and genetics are a really, really key part of the Orphan Back mystery.

What can you tell us about next week’s episode?
The next episode is just fantastic. I think the best thing to say about Episode 505 is we really start to draw back the curtain on P.T. Westmorland, all those questions about, Who is P.T.? What is happening to him? It’s going to be really enjoyable for people to start to get a good look at him and his operations and what he’s got going. We don’t get all the answers by any means, but we spend some time in P.T.’s world, and it’s quite an interesting place.

Orphan Black airs Saturdays at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT on Space.

Images courtesy of Bell Media.