You knew “Orphan Black” was something special from the first episode five years ago. On Sunday, a classic TV series and Tatiana Maslany’s performance for the ages wrapped up with a heartfelt emotional finale that included an extraordinary double birth scene.
EW spoke to creators Graeme Manson and John Fawcett about the show’s sendoff:
Life. And death. We got both on the series finale of Orphan Black. The clones dispatched with both fake P.T. Westmoreland and Dr. Virginia Coady, but brought two new lives into the world when Helena gave birth to twins Arthur and Donnie in an emotionally charged scene that flashed back and forth between the present of Helena giving birth (with Sarah coaching her) and the past of Sarah giving birth to Kira (with the deceased Mrs. S by her side).
But the show was not done. We then jumped into the future and saw the sestras freed from conspiracies: Helena as a mom, Alison on the receiving end of a Donnie strip tease, Rachel providing intel on 274 Leda clones (including a new one named Camilla) out there that still needed to be inoculated, Cosima working with Delphine to inoculate them, and Sarah battling with the loss of Mrs. S and how to be a good mother for Kira. Instead of a mystery wrapped inside an enigma wrapped inside a question mark, the show finished on a very personal note as the clones helped Sarah overcome her feeling of loss and doubt — the last shot of the series being of Mrs. S’ empty house as Sarah, Kira, and Felix left for a day of fun in the sun at the beach.
We spoke to creators Graeme Manson and John Fawcett to get their thoughts on the final chapter of the Orphan Black saga. They talked all about that emotional double birth scene, the different ways in which they almost killed Rachel off, and what happened on set after they yelled “cut!” for the final time. (Click through both pages to read the entire article, and also make sure to check out our finale Q&A with Tatiana Maslany. and head here for news on a possible Orphan Black movie.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When did you guys come up with your plan for how you wanted to end Orphan Black?
GRAEME MANSON: John and I sort of had a general ending in mind for quite a while. Helena’s been running around pregnant two seasons, so we knew that the finale was going to be having the twins, and technically we talked about that scene and how much that would mean to boil it down to Sarah and Helena. John had really strong ideas about making it an extremely difficult and dramatic birth, but also a massive, massive assault for Sarah, which I think was one of the most effective parts of that birth scene. And we had this idea that it was going to be a two-parter. We had that idea and we kind of knew where the cliffhanger was going to be, and then we knew early this year that after the climax of those first two acts that we were going to jump a few months into the future and see where everyone was and see what the future looked like.
JOHN FAWCETT: That was always kind of the plan. When we arrived at the finale, it really felt important not only to have a dangerous dramatic birth, but to do it early in the episode and to finish the real plot mechanics early in the episode so that we could jump ahead in time and be with the characters three months in the future. That was something that I think we always kind of knew that we wanted. There may have been some plot things that we hadn’t quite figured out, but I think tonally we knew what kind of episode we wanted 10 to be — that it was going to be an emotional departure and a goodbye and we wanted the audience to have a chance to be with these characters and to feel like they were going to be okay. That was really important to us.
While we were developing episode 9, the only big shift that happened was originally Graeme and I had thought that when Helena was grabbed she was going to be taken back to the island. So it was going to be Sarah coming to the island and rescuing Helena on the island, and that was the big thing that changed at the last minute. We decided that doesn’t work for us, so we brought the bad guys to us rather than us go to the bad guys. Other than that, we had this plan in place for the last three years.
There have been a lot of birth scenes on TV before, but I honestly cannot remember a more emotional one than this. John, tell me about this scene you shot that goes back and forth between Helena giving birth with Sarah there coaching, and a flashback to Sarah giving birth to Kira with Mrs. S coaching her through it, because that was pretty extraordinary.
FAWCETT: It’s interesting because when we talked about this season in broad strokes, we knew that we were going to be using flashbacks. It was going to be Sarah at the forefront of the last two episodes, and especially important in the finale. I also said to Graeme when we killed Mrs. S at the end of episode 8, I said, “Oh, for the love of God, there is no possible way that I can make a finale for Orphan Black and not have Maria Doyle Kennedy in the episode.” She’s got to be on set. She’s got to be there for the finale. So we went, okay, well, let’s use her! Let’s have flashbacks with Sarah and Mrs. S and use that as strongly as we can to support Sarah’s journey here. So when it came to designing the birth sequence, Graeme had this beautiful idea to crosscut these two births, and so that’s sort of how it was born.
The technical aspects of doing it were a completely different thing, but I’m so glad that you found it as moving as I did. I mean, in the end, it’s an extraordinary bit of emotional Orphan Blackness. After I shot it, I was like, “Wow, I’ve never seen that on TV before.”
MANSON: Yeah, twins. It’s not just one birth, it’s two.
FAWCETT: And it’s a long sequence, so our hats off to Tatiana, to Maria Doyle Kennedy, and to Kathryn Alexandre, Tatiana’s acting double, for the amazing work that they did in that set.
MANSON: And don’t forget Kevin Hanchard! Don’t forget Art was there for support.
FAWCETT: It took a lot of work to do that birthing sequence. It’s such an emotional scene and they’ve got to be there every single time. When you’re doing these complicated shots, you never get it in one take, so you’ve got to be there emotionally so much. It’s incredibly draining on an actor, and then on top of that, we have live babies that we were like, “We’re going to have live babies in a clone shot!” It was very challenging. There is no question.
It’s interesting that the hurdle Sarah has to clear really has nothing to do with clones or conspiracies but rather her own insecurities as a mother.
MANSON: Yeah, that was the whole thing that we really wanted to do. We wanted to come back from this place and we wanted to ask ourselves: Okay, for each character, what does freedom look like to them? And so we sort of alighted them this idea that we would return to Helena’s baby shower, much the way that season 3 opened with the baby shower.
We loved that mirror, but also we wanted the last person over the hump to be Sarah — this girl who’s been through so much, who lost her mother, who has been everybody’s rock and has not been able to emotionally come to terms with everything that they’ve gone through. We really love the concern about her shown by all the other characters, and Tatiana did a marvelous job of portraying that real subtle quiet pain, that inability to move forward that Sarah has there. And, of course, it’s only her sisters that can help her move forward like she helped them all the way along. This reluctant hero has grown up and she’s filled her mother’s shoes.
Graeme brought up the whole baby shower party. John, how tricky was that four-clone scene at night on the patio to shoot?
FAWCETT: It was a long scene. I remember reading it in the script with Graeme and going, “Oh my God, these are the longest scenes we’ve ever done!” Because a lot of our scene work is not often very lengthy. So this is a long sequence, and it’s divided up here and there. We cut away to Felix in the car with Rachel, cut back in, but it’s a long bit with the sisters in the backyard. To be honest, technically once you’ve done clone dance parties and clone dinner tables and clone twin births, this was actually a fairly simple scene to shoot in the big scheme of things. It took a little while because there was obviously a lot of them in the scene.
I think the most difficult aspect of it was really trying, as a director, to be very, very focused on the performances and to be very focused on what each character was bringing, and be there for Tat in every moment and be present there with her in every single moment. The challenging part was just how emotional that scene was. I think that was the night that we wrapped the character of Cosima. That was her last scene, and so I remember it for that. I remember knowing that as soon as I called “cut” on set and we were done with the scene that I was never going to see Cosima again after that, and we had many days like that. You go to set with your heart on your sleeve a little bit and you just be there. You just be there and be in it and just try and be present. That’s what it was for me. That’s what I remember from it.
You did something really interesting with Rachel at the end here, where even though she redeems herself and gives them this vital info about the other clones out there, she is still excluded from that inner circle and told by Felix that she can’t come in. Did you play with different ideas in terms of how Rachel’s story would end?
MANSON: We did. John, myself, and the writers — we wanted Rachel to come around this year, but we didn’t want any of it to be easy, and we didn’t want to put too rosy a ribbon on it at the end. But we did have a lot of convincing to do to convince networks and producers that this was a good idea for the character of Rachel. A lot of people really thought that she was irredeemable. How could you redeem Rachel? But slowly chipping away it was a really big arc this year of revealing Rachel to herself first, and then how is Rachel going to react? And through episode 8 and 9 we played with the tension of not knowing where Rachel was going to land, but then when we do get to the end and Rachel has sided with her sisters, I think she knows that there is no way that Sarah would allow Rachel to walk into that house, and I think that they all know that.
FAWCETT: It seemed to me, Graeme, for a while there, you really wanted Rachel dead too.
MANSON: I don’t…
FAWCETT: No, you weren’t on the Rachel dead bandwagon?
MANSON: We didn’t know exactly how it would play out, but you, in particular, were very invested in the character of Rachel. [Killing her] was the easy narrative way out. We thought that there was a deeper story to tell there and we’re really proud of how we told it, particularly setting her up with that episode 7.
FAWCETT: We didn’t want to wrap a big bow on it but we wanted Rachel to come around at some point. We wanted her to do the right thing, and we wanted that all through the seasons. We’ve seen her do some things that are kind of good, but then go back to being bad. It’s really fun for her being bad, but I felt like if there was any way to redeem this girl that this was the season to do it in, and it would be great to see her and realize who she is and that she’s not better than everyone else. Rachel, she’s been one of my favorite characters through so many seasons, and this season, in particular, I think Rachel has an incredible story arc.
MANSON: You’re right though. I remember now, John. At the beginning of the season, I was lobbying to have Sarah lop off Rachel’s head with a samurai sword.
FAWCETT: You wanted Rachel to drive her wheelchair off the dock and into the lake as I recall.
MANSON: Yeah, we floated a few Rachel deaths, but I’m glad we did the hard work of ending her story this way.
You guys need to go back and make a supercut of all the Rachel death scenes that you didn’t do.
FAWCETT: One of the other things that I will note that is one of my favorite little subtle elements to those scenes with Felix and Rachel is we very subtly added some visual effects to Rachel’s eye, because her eye has been replaced. It’s obviously a glass eye now, and so we just ever so subtly kind of adjusted her one eye so that you could see that it was just a little off kilter, and that was the crown and glory on those Rachel sets, which I just love.
The very last shot of Orphan Black is of the empty house. Where did that idea come from?
MANSON: We found that late. It was easier for us to figure out where the other clones were when we see them doing whatever they want to do with their freedom, and then we were asking that question, “Well, what does freedom look like to Sarah?” And freedom to Sarah is accepting her role as a mother, it’s accepting the death of her mother, it’s accepting this family, and it’s the ability to stay in place. And then I remember it was John, your idea that it should be in the kitchen, it should be Mrs. S’ home. It should have that teapot in it, and it was just a nice little send-off.
FAWCETT: Because at the end of the show after everything that Sarah has come through, the last thing that they’re going to do is they’re going to go as a family down to the beach, and actually just go to the beach and enjoy the day. And it just felt so strange doing that. It didn’t really feel like Orphan Black at all when we shot that scene and ending in the wide shot in Mrs. S’ house. I think that’s a set that we’ve had so much in the series. It means everything. That place is Sarah, and it is Mrs. S, and it is Kira, and I like the idea that when they left for the beach, they ate breakfast really quick and left breakfast out on the table, and just left. I wanted that feeling that everything is right in the world, and that things are going to be okay.
So what was the last day on set like?
MANSON: The last day on set was the birth. Right, John?
FAWCETT: It sure was. The birthing sequence took two days. Sarah wrapped earlier that last day, and then right at the very end, we were left with Helena and Art, and so it was Helena that wrapped last. It was about four o’clock in the morning when we wrapped, and at about one or two o’clock in the morning people just started showing up on set. At one point I stepped out of the set and went back to the monitors, and there were tons of chairs set up, and all of the cast had arrived. All these people that I hadn’t seen in a long time, and all the current cast, and everyone was there.
MANSON: There must’ve been 80 people at the monitors.
FAWCETT: Yeah, for the last two hours.
MANSON: When we called “cut” there was just silence, nobody quite knew what to say. I think John said, “Let’s not say anything,” and we all just stood there for a while. And then slowly people started to pipe up, from crew to cast, to just express what the show has meant to them and the experience of all working together and completing this crazy story together, and then Maria Doyle Kennedy sang a beautiful song.
FAWCETT: And then we had bagels.
MANSON: And champagne.
FAWCETT: Yeah, it was quite something, because everyone was there and we just all gathered on set and it was just a big group hug basically. We just all huddled on the set and no one wanted to leave.