SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched the series finale of Orphan Black.
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.
NEXT: How Rachel was almost killed off and what happened on the last day of filming