Orphan Black 506: Scribe David Bezmozgis on the comedy and tragedy of “Manacled Slim Wrists”

Spoiler warning: Do not read this article until you have seen Orphan Black Episode 506, “Manacled Slim Wrists.”

“I was trying to save us all.” —Susan Duncan

Orphan Black fans have learned to brace themselves for the sixth episode of each season. In Episode 306, Paul (Dylan Bruce) met a heroic end, and in Episode 406, Kendall (Alison Steadman) was executed in gut-wrenching fashion. So it should come as no surprise that Episode 506, “Manacled Slim Wrists,” also packed an emotional wallop. While Krystal (Tatiana Maslany) provided levity with her surprisingly productive fight against big cosmetics (Neolution wants to deliver Lin28A through dermatology products!), Susan’s (Rosemary Dunsmore) storyline came to a sad conclusion, as her late attempt to stop P.T. Westmorland (Stephen McHattie) ended in her death.

We spoke with writer David Bezmozgis—who joined Orphan Black in Season 5—about all the major plot twists in the episode, including Krystal’s return, Susan’s demise and the revelation that P.T. Westmorland is a fraud.

You are a well-known novelist and filmmaker. What made you want to cross into television?
David Bezmozgis: I’m interested in different forms of storytelling. I think there is a lot of really interesting storytelling happening in television right now. So, I’d been developing a TV series with the production company that does Orphan Black, Temple Street, and we got along really well, and they said, ‘Would you be interested in writing on a show that you didn’t create?’ and I said, ‘Sure.’ And I also knew that they were best known for Orphan Black, and I thought it was a great show. A lot of what I like about television, they really managed to do. It looks spectacular. The writing is always smart. The latitude that they have tonally between things that are intellectual, scientific, emotional, funny, you just don’t find a lot of shows like that, where the fabric is so rich.

Fan favourite Krystal returns in this episode, with her hilarious mix of partly clueless, partly spot-on ideas. Did you find her character easy to write for or challenging?
It’s not really Krystal on her own that presents challenges. You’ve seen the episode, it’s bifurcated, with Krystal holding a lot of the story on one side, and then it’s really ‘the death of Susan episode’ on the Island side. So you have a pretty dramatic and mournful story on one half of the episode, and you have the usual exuberant and funny Krystal story on the other. So writing each of them individually was OK, but making them go together was the challenge.

And I love Krystal, because Krystal isn’t just funny, but she has this peculiar intuition and intelligence. She’s often right, and there’s a warmth to her. If you write her just for laughs, that’s not why people love Krystal.

It was fun to see Tatiana Maslany’s partner, Tom Cullen, guest-starring as Len Sipp. How did that come about?
You know, it’s one of those things that happened organically. Over the course of the season story arc, characters are developed often for one episode and they don’t find a place in that episode, and then you think maybe the character will work in another episode. In fact, another version of Len Sipp existed, but he was older, kind of an overweight, German, sleazy guy, and I spun him differently. And not just me, but we started spinning him in a more attractive direction, so there wouldn’t be such a dichotomy where Krystal is so cute and this guy is so repulsive. We tried to see if we could bring them closer together, and then as it developed, he became more and more hip and cool, so we had to cast differently. So that conversation started, and Tom was available. I don’t remember who raised the issue, maybe it was Tat, but it filtered into the room that this was a possibility. Because now the character was somebody that Tom could play, which hadn’t been the case and then suddenly was. And then I think a lot of people got excited about what that would mean, particularly being the last season, that we can do these things in the swan song season.

Cosima lets the people at Revival know that P.T. Westmorland is a fraud. Did you ever consider making his Fountain of Youth genuine?
I don’t think I’m speaking out of turn when I say that when I met with Graeme [Manson] to talk about what the arc for the season was initially, in what was sort of my interview, he mentioned the idea for P.T. Westmorland. I think at that point, we weren’t sure that he was a fraud, maybe there was some way that he could be this or that. And then we started thinking, if he was a fraud, what was the nature of how he could even assume that role? That was something that we talked a lot about in the writers’ room, is he a fraud or not? Because there are implications to both. Then we moved to the idea that he was a fraud. And, whether he was or wasn’t a fraud, we realized that it’s a ‘Why now?’ question. Why is he being exposed now? What is it? And it’s this idea that, whether he is a hundred million years old or not, that he’s dying, and that this is what has ramped up his desperation.

Susan finally tried to stop Westmorland, but she paid for it with her life. It seems like there is always a heartbreaking death in the sixth episode of the season.
I think there were multiple versions where Susan died earlier and Susan died later, but we’d landed on this idea where it kind of seemed like midseason was the right time, and we would have midseason climax elements as we ramped up to the end, and Susan’s death is a significant part of it. She’s a much-beloved character, an interesting character, and a much-beloved actress, so I think we were all cognizant that we wanted to give her an appropriate—and I’d say even a graceful—death. And, in some way, sort of a bittersweet and heroic death. So we started working toward that for this episode. For me, it was one of the main tent poles of what we were working toward when we were writing 506.

I thought her death scene with Ira (Ari Millen) was gorgeously eerie and deeply moving.
And you have to credit Grant Harvey, who directed the episode, for having the vision for it. We worked closely in collaboration, but I think he did Episode 406 last season when Kendall is killed, and that episode and how it was done, when Kendall says to Cosima, ‘Look away,’ still gives me chills. Grant has this wonderful emotional intelligence and sensibility, and I think he brought so much to it.

And what about Ira? Not only did he find Susan dead, but he was also in very bad shape.
Keep watching.

What are some of your favourite moments in the episode?
One is the teaser with the makeup YouTube instructional. It was a lot of fun to watch Grant film with Tat and Cara [Ricketts]. They had so much fun with it, and that was great. And also this little detail that for a lot of people may or may not matter: it was big Mud (Jenessa Grant) episode, and this character has been kind of enigmatic, strange, and all the sudden you get into her depth, and the introduction of her when she shows up wearing that cowbell. For me, finding that detail and building her story around this cowbell, which we discover she imposed upon herself as part of this psychological and emotional debt and dependence she has with Westmorland. I remember some people mentioned it was like a David Lynch-y detail in the story. Little things like that.

What can you tease about next week’s episode? I’m very worried about Kira going off with Rachel.
Episode 507 will deal significantly with Rachel. It’s written by Renée St. Cyr, and it’s a beautiful episode. You can see by the way this episode ends, Kira is in great peril. It will hinge on the relationship between Kira and Rachel.

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

Images courtesy of Bell Media.