Orphan Black 508: Writer Aisha Porter-Christie on Clone Club’s devastating loss

Spoiler warning: Do not read this article until you have seen Orphan Black Episode 508, “Guillotines Decide.”“Chickens.” —Mrs. S

Well, that was a gut-punch. After providing nearly five seasons of fearless protection and guidance to Sarah (Tatiana Maslany), Felix (Jordan Gavaris), Kira (Skyler Wexler) and, indeed, all of Orphan Black‘s Clone Club, Mrs. S (Maria Doyle Kennedy) met the fate that greets most beloved TV and film mentors: sacrificial death to help the protagonist meet her destiny. It’s not like the writers didn’t thoroughly foreshadow her death this season, repeatedly showing that Sarah was finally mature enough to take care of Kira and fight Neolution on her own. But that didn’t make the loss hurt any less. Mrs. S was the rock of the family, and Maria Doyle Kennedy imbued her with a perfect blend of steeliness, heart and humanity all series long. Her death—and the sacrifice she made to win Clone Club’s freedom—truly changes everything as we head toward the series finale.

Fortunately, episode co-writer Aisha Porter-Christie was able to take a break from working on Shadowhunters to help us make sense of this heartbreaking episode—and give us some hints about what to expect from Orphan Black‘s final two episodes.

You co-wrote the episode with co-showrunner Graeme Manson. What was it like to work with him?
Aisha Porter-Christie: He’s just the most supportive person throughout the process. He really just lets you take a run at things and mentors you through the whole process. And his brain works in such an interesting way, where you’ll write a version of a scene, and he’ll find a way to make it sing. Like, he’ll add a line or two that just really encompasses something deeper, something more than you imagined when you first envisioned the scene. I can’t wait to one day be that good.

Mrs. S’s death is a huge turning point in the series. I have to say that I was fearful it might happen because there was some foreshadowing about Sarah stepping into S’s shoes, but I was hopeful she might make it. When was it decided that Mrs. S was going to die? 
It was already on the board and decided by the time I joined as [the Season 5] story coordinator that Mrs. S would die. So I came into it a bit late, and it also wasn’t my episode to begin with, so I never had those early discussions. But I know that it was exactly as you said, that it was time for Sarah to step into her own, and in a way, she had always been using Mrs. S as a crutch, and Mrs. S is the matriarch of all matriarchs. She is the one who has kept this family together, and Sarah has made a lot of mistakes and has had a lot of growing to do, but it was time for her to really take her place and step into Mrs. S’s shows. And, unfortunately, on shows like this, the only way for your main character to truly achieve their destiny, in a way, is to face that kind of crushing blow and loss. Which is sad, because Sarah has faced a lot loss and a lot of trials in her life, but luckily Mrs. S has imparted so much wisdom on her throughout the season, throughout prior seasons, and she’ll always know that Mrs. S will always be with her going forward in that kind of heartfelt way.

We knew it would have a lot of impact, not just on the fans, but on the characters on our show. And it was a way of grounding the sacrifice that was required to free our people from the shackles of Neolution. We knew it wouldn’t be easy, and we knew it would be bloody, and unfortunately, Mrs. S was a casualty in that. But the fact is, she won. She won us our freedom.

I loved her death scene because, as sad as it was, it was really fitting. She not only took out Ferdinand, but she made sure he died first. She was a badass until the very end. Tell me about writing that final confrontation. 
We knew we wanted it to be Ferdinand because I think for most of our writers he’s one of our favourite villains out of the entire series. We were unaware for a little while whether we would have James Frain available to be with us for Episode 508, but luckily that all worked out. And once we knew that, we kind of just pulled the trigger and ran with it.

That death scene took a lot out of us, and it was kind of Graeme’s brainchild. He went on this tangent researching women and whether or not they would die faster from a gunshot wound than a man would, and that’s where you got the whole 14 per cent more likely to die statistic that we had in there. But I think overall when we were discussing it, we knew that we wanted it to feel like this death match between two seasoned killers, and—at least from Mrs. S’s side—she’s going into it knowing that she could possibly lose her life. That was one thing, is we wanted Mrs. S throughout—as you mentioned the foreshadowing—to know that death was a huge possibility and to do it anyway.

And Ferdinand’s arc within the episode is interesting as well because I personally love Ferdinand. I love his relationship with Rachel, as twisted as it is. And I think in this episode the thing that we wanted to make really clear is—as greedy of a bastard as he is and as power hungry as he is—the one thing he truly cares about is Rachel. And this is a character who has lost everything—everything!—and so when he goes after Mrs. S, he’s carrying all of that with him, the loss of Rachel. It’s not just that he’s there to take back what S stole, he’s there to get revenge on the fact that she convinced his powerful lady love to side with her sisters and become what he thought was weak. So there are the two things that we wanted to play with going into that. That’s where we got some of that fun dialogue within that scene, with these two seasoned people circling each other before actually getting down to blows.

I’m sure this episode must have been emotional for the cast and crew. 
When the 508 script landed, there were a lot of tears. People were very happy with it, people thought it was a great episode in the crew and the cast, and that made us very happy because we wanted to service S in a real way. And Maria Doyle Kennedy was also happy with the script, and then she helped us make it so much better on set by bringing so much more to it, her performance and shouldering that burden of being a martyr with such grace. She was just phenomenal.

It was incredibly tearful on set. Everyone came down, the producers, all the actors came and sat at the video village and sat and watched her final moments. And then she came out to this massive round of applause, and we all gathered for cake and champagne afterwards, and it was this huge celebration, because she’s such a huge part of the show, and she’s like everyone’s mom and everyone’s friend, and she’s just such a cool human being in general and so sweet. It was great to be able to celebrate her in this way, not just on the page, but overall. It was fun to have her go out with a bang—no pun intended! [Laughs.]

How are Sarah and the rest of Clone Club going to deal with this loss?
It’s interesting because they’ve faced so much tragedy throughout the five seasons, but this is by far the biggest blow. I think the person we have to worry about most is Sarah because, as much as she’s learned a lot from S and is in a position to fill her shoes, this will by no means be easy. And we’ve seen Sarah spin out before, so it’s all very up in the air as to whether she’ll be able to keep it together going forward. But Sarah always has ways to distract herself and do what needs to be done, so we’ll just have to see.

And what will Rachel do now that she’s betrayed both Neolution and Ferdinand? 
I don’t know. It will be interesting to see whether or not her sisters accept her, because S was the one who sort of offered the olive branch and allowed her this chance at redemption, and she actually—in our minds at least—made the decision quite early, after that scene she had with S, to side with her sisters.

But she had a moment where she realized that Ferdinand was a man who truly cared for her, and she tried to bring him over to her side, to bring him along for this decision that she was making, and then she realized that he just wouldn’t stand for it. But, as much as she betrayed him, I think his death will have an impact on her as well, and I’m not sure that she has much else in her life right now. So I think she’s sort of set adrift, and we’ll see whether or not she’s able to be with us for the rest of the season or what that means.

And there was another sad death in the episode—Gracie was killed!
I know. [Sad sigh.]

What will happen to Helena now that Coady finally tracked her down through Gracie’s phone? 
Helena has always been a fighter. We’ve seen that. She’s not one to get down on herself, she always fights back no matter what. But Coady’s the kind of villain that can get in someone’s head. Coady’s the kind of villain that can push you past your limits and sort of get you all twisted up. So it will be interesting to see those two together again and see the impact that Coady has with her fangs fully bared and Helena in such a vulnerable position. Because she cares so much about her babies. We see that she’s even writing this little novel or journal she has that she calls her memoirs, so we understand what they mean to her, these miracle babies. And to have her at Coady’s mercy, it’s going to be interesting times going into Episode 509 and 10, for sure.

On a more positive note, Cophine had some beautiful scenes this week, including the one where they send off all the Neolution proof to the press. It was great to see them finally fully trust each other and see Delphine fully accepted into Clone Club. 
After Episode 505, what we really wanted to get across was that they had reached a new level of trust in one another. They have sort of a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ relationship now, but they’re very aware that the other person will always act in the other’s interest. They know that they are both good people, and they will never do anything to hurt the other. So there is just a degree of intense trust between them. We wanted to keep them closer than ever even though Delphine was going off and doing her covert ops. And I think when Cosima has her line in the beginning, her little paraphrasing of a Jane Austen quote from Northanger Abbey, I think it says, ‘There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature,’ it’s just a way of expressing how Delphine feels about Clone Club. Without even realizing it, Cosima is basically articulating what’s happening behind Delphine’s sacrifice.

And what was really great in being on set, was that last moment, when they get to be together and press that button to send off the emails and expose Neolution, that was an incredible moment between the two actors. Like, Tatiana was not necessarily meant to cry. It was supposed to be an emotional moment, but she just laughed in joy and she just broke, and it was just tears and she was just weeping. And Evelyne was just like, ‘Oh, my God.’ And holding each other—that moment was so real and so raw between the two of them. I get choked up just by watching it now. It was great to see the end of their arc, basically, as a couple. They’re closer together, and the question just now remains, what will they do with their freedom? Because we know that they’ll be together, but what will they do with their freedom? What does their future look like?

What can viewers look forward to in the final two episodes? 
This will be Clone Club’s last stand, and whether they triumph or fail, they have all banded together. Hearkening back to the beginning of the series and all the people we saw in Season 1, all these people are together with one goal of saving Helena and getting rid of Neolution once and for all. And it’s just great to see the sisterhood between the clones and also the people who are adjacent to them like Donnie and Art and Felix. It’s great to see them all together for this final battle.

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

Images courtesy of Bell Media.