Orphan Black 505: Writer Jenn Engels on Cosima and Cophine

Spoiler warning: Do not read this article until you have seen Orphan Black Episode 505, “Ease for Idle Millionaires.”

“This is what he does, he divides women.” —Cosima

In the same Orphan Black episode in which P.T. Westmorland’s (Stephen McHattie) evil plan for Kira (Skyler Wexler) was finally revealed (he wants her eggs!), so was his overall M.O. for success: The Neolution founder thrives on dividing women. This tactic was on full display at ‘ole P.T.’s twisted family dinner, as he happily watched Cosima (Tatiana Maslany), Rachel (Maslany) and Susan (Rosemary Dunsmore) jockey for position at his table and tried to pick the scabs of Cosima and Delphine’s (Évelyne Brochu) long-standing trust issues. If this was Season 3, we’d be in for yet another round of clone mistrust and Cophine heartbreak, but this is Season 5, and our beloved characters have learned their lessons and aren’t falling for the same old tricks anymore. So instead, we saw Cosima and Delphine defy P.T. and come to an understanding on their relationship, Sarah and Kira bond and swap skills in preparation for a showdown with Rachel, and Mrs. S (Maria Doyle Kennedy) and Delphine continue their clandestine alliance to protect the clones. With all these women finally working together, you just know that P.T. Westmorland isn’t long for this world–despite the fact that Cosima is now locked in his basement!

We caught up with “Ease for Idle Millionaires” writer Jenn Engels to learn more about Kira’s special abilities, Cophine’s relationship-saving compromise and how Cosima is going to escape that basement.  

We finally found out the key to Kira’s special abilities: Lin28A. Has this revelation always been part of Graeme Manson and John Fawcett’s evil conspiracy plan, or is it something the writers came up with this season?
Jenn Engels: As far as I can remember, I think there was definitely a desire to make use of Kira’s amazing healing abilities, but it was certainly not worked out in Season 1 that in Season 5 we were going to come back, and it was going to be this . . . I believe [science consultant] Cosima Herter had put this nugget of an idea about this gene related to healing, so that came up very early in the season. So many of these ideas are put in motion by Cosima Herter as like, ‘Let’s look at this, let’s remember that,’ and with this wonderful sort of constant, gentle reminder of, ‘OK, guys, it’s never one thing,’ which is a line I’m really glad lived and stayed in that final confrontation between Cosima and P.T. : ‘You know it’s never one gene, it’s never one thing.’ Then I remember having a eureka moment of learning about Wilms’ tumour when we learned that it’s just a gene that doesn’t turn off, doesn’t stop reproducing and becomes a cancerous tumour. And when we learned that, we thought that was really interesting, and we could put that into the science that’s happening on the island.

This episode really brings Cosima’s series-long struggle to maintain her humanity both as a scientist and a science experiment full circle. What were the major themes you wanted to hit when writing it?
From a story point of view, we really had to move the science piece forward and the conspiracy piece forward, so that was the main effort of the puzzle work for the longest time. And when we finally nailed that, it was like, ‘OK, now let’s figure out the story part of it.’ Because the early drafts of it were still pretty dry because we were working so hard to make those science and conspiracy pieces work that it was like, ‘OK now we can add the emotional piece and what is Cosima’s journey in this.’

And director Helen Shaver had a lot to do with that when she came in and started working with us on it. She really put it to me bluntly, like, ‘What is the most important thing to Cosima in this?’ And we came across the idea of humanity because we knew we wanted to tie it in with her discovery that she is a clone and that other devastation in the scene with Delphine where she learns she’s intellectual property. And so just working with that idea of, ‘I’m not who I think I am, everything that I thought about myself is a lie, I’m not even a real human, am I?’ So that behest of Delphine’s that ‘You have to fight this with everything you have and everything you know yourself to be, all these wonderful qualities, like your intellect and your passion and your sense of humour, those are you and nothing can take that away from you.’ This full circle of humanity. They can’t take this away from you, use those things to fight them and you will win. And then circling back to that when P.T. puts the gun in her hands and challenges her and tries to bring her down to his level, and for a moment she’s debating it, like ‘Am I going to put this guy out of his misery? No, this isn’t my thing to do. I’m not gonna do this. I’m not gonna lose my humanity and become P.T. in the process.’

As a Cophine fan, I was thrilled that you finally resolved the long-standing trust conflict between Cosima and Delphine once and for all.
When we came up with the idea of answering that teaser, of answering such a huge moment in their relationship, I was totally psyched and really daunted by the idea, knowing the level of expectations from the Cophinery of it all. It just felt like we’ve got to take the black hat off of Delphine for good, and this seemed to be the way to answer that. You can’t reverse too many times–she’s good, she’s bad, she’s good, she’s bad. So you just have to deal with the reality that she’s done some things that maybe that we’re not so great with, but she’s always had her reasons, she’s always been ambitious in ways that Cosima is not. But we just sort of felt like, ‘What if there is this middle ground where Delphine will always do things behind Cosima’s back because she thinks she knows better, and Cosima will always forge ahead and be impulsive, and can we just agree to disagree on this because we love each other so much and just accept it for what it is?’ And that seems like a really neat way through. So when we came upon that in the writers’ room, it was like, ‘Yeah, that’s our solution.’ Because we do want a happy ending for these guys, and we do want a feeling that they are going to make it.

I loved Cosima’s line about P.T. Westmorland dividing women. Where did that come from?
It sort of came from finding the backstory with Susan and Virginia Coady, that they were both involved. It just seemed so baked into the idea that all these women are being subjugated and held down, and this is the way he takes their power away from them. There would be strength in numbers, but he finds ways to divide them, and Neolution as a whole does that. It just felt like that’s totally a part of the whole universe. So it felt like the best way to fight this guy was not to let him win by falling for his tricks that would divide them.

Speaking of women working together, Delphine and Mrs. S are still working together to protect the clones. What else do these two have up their sleeves?
I can’t hint too much, but it was really great to have a reminder that there’s a lot of weird tension here. We’re glad to see that there’s an alliance that we hadn’t been expecting, and I think Maria [Doyle Kennedy] played it really beautifully, like ‘I’ve gotta do this, but this isn’t like she’s one of my daughters, one of my pets.’ There is a charged history between them.

Sarah is bonding with Kira by teaching her some of her old grifting tricks. Is that going to come into play with Rachel?
We now know what’s ahead for her, we know the plan. So we’re going to see more of her at Dyad, but this is a season in which she is really coming into her own power. So I really like the scene where Mrs. S comes back and is happy to see her girls good once more after being so divided at the end of Episode 502, but also a sense of, ‘Oh, you did that did ya? You want to be in on the family business?’ So, Kira’s going to use her smarts and her street smarts that she’s learning from Sarah, but I don’t want to tip too much.

Susan is a fascinating character. She seems the lesser of four evils when compared to P.T. Westmorland, Dr. Coady and Rachel, but I still don’t trust her.
She’s an amazing character, and Rosemary [Dunsmore] is a terrific actress who plays those levels really well. I love that scene with her and Rachel seeing each other for the first time since the stabbing. She’s obviously incredibly wary of [Rachel] and incredibly scared but also still thinking, until Rachel touches her, that she’s got, if not the upper hand, then some hand here. But what I love about this show is that no one is white or black, and she’s guilty of a lot of very questionable acts, and she’s incredibly ambitious and that’s blinded her to her inhumanity. So I think she is somewhat but not perfectly redeemed in this season.

What were your favourite scenes in the episode?
I really loved that scene between Susan and Rachel. I thought it looked beautiful. I thought [director of photography] Aaron Morton just lit that so beautifully, and Helen [Shaver] got great performances from those amazing actresses. And I loved the climax with Cosima and P.T. and the Creature. I literally got chills and cried while they were filming that. Tatiana is so raw and yet so wonderfully in control. It’s a knife edge of ‘I am totally open to what’s happening in the moment, but at the same time, I’ve got it completely under control so it works for the camera, and it works for the crew, and it works for my fellow actors.’ It’s really amazing to behold.

And I also loved Andrew Musselman’s performance [as the Creature]. We knew when we were writing this that it had the ability to go to a really bad place acting wise and writing wise, and we knew it was going to be tough casting it. And when I saw Andrew give his audition–which didn’t have any words in it, obviously–he played this stunted and terrified but very human creature so beautifully and with a lot of restraint. And he was such a nice guy, such a pleasant guy, such a funny guy. In the scene where Salvador got killed, he was doing these takes at one or two o’clock in the morning in minus 11 degrees without socks and a coat, and he was just giving it and going over and over again. Working with him was a real highlight of this episode.

When we last see Cosima, she’s caged in P.T. Westmorland’s basement. What can you tease about Episode 506?
Well, she’s gotta get outta there, or we’ve got a pretty static episode! [Laughs.] So, who’s going to help her with that? It doesn’t seem like she has a lot of options.

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

Images courtesy of Bell Media.

A.R. Wilson

A.R. Wilson

A.R. Wilson has been interviewing actors, writers and musicians for over 20 years. In addition to TV-Eh, her work has appeared in Curve, ROCKRGRL, Sound On Sight and Digital Journal. A native of Detroit, she grew up watching Mr. Dressup and The Friendly Giant on CBC, which led to a lifelong love of Canadian television. Her perpetual New Year's resolution is to become fluent in French.
A.R. Wilson
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