‘Orphan Black’ Creators Preview Final Season: ‘We Went For All the Feels’

Like the saying goes, if you love something, set it free. That’s a lesson Orphan Black co-creator John Fawcett learned firsthand while putting the finishing touching on the show’s series finale. Fawcett and his fellow clone mastermind, Graeme Manson, spoke with Yahoo TV the day after locking the final episode, and he says that letting go wasn’t an easy process. “I dragged my feet for awhile. I didn’t want to give it up! I don’t know that I was making it better anymore — I was just nitpicking over details. I literally just had to go, ‘Okay, it’s done.‘”

As the chairmen of Orphan Black‘s international Clone Club, both Fawcett and Manson are well aware about the fan excitement surrounding this final season, as well as the sadness that accompanies saying goodbye to these beloved characters. But they also confess that having a definite endpoint allowed them to re-enter this shadowy world of clones and conspiracies with renewed creative vigor. “In a lot of ways, it was easier this season than it has been because we were working towards a destination,” Fawcett says. “In other ways, it was the most difficult, because we had to tie all of these threads together, and there’s a lot of expectations.” On the eve of the beginning of Orphan Black‘s end, we chatted with the creators about how Season 5 became the most character-intensive season yet, and why they wanted to give fans “all the feels.”

Heading into this final season, what overarching themes were on your minds?
John Fawcett: One of the biggest for me was: “From great strife comes rebirth.” That’s certainly something I feel after doing five seasons of this show! [Laughs] And I think it lands on all of our characters to some degree.

Graeme Manson: We sat down with the writers early on and asked ourselves to look at where the characters started and where they are now. We really wanted to try and give the audience a new angle on the journey of these characters they know so well. So we did some character-based episodes this year, and allowed ourselves to use flashbacks.

Fawcett: The first two episodes of Season 5 are very plot driven, and kind of typical Orphan Black episodes. Episode 3 is the first character-based episode, and it’s focused on Alison. We decided this year that we really wanted to broaden each of our favorite clones and allow the audience a deeper understanding of them.

It sounds like an extrapolation of what you did by bring Beth back last season. Through those flashbacks, the audience really got the chance to know her before saying goodbye again.
Manson: It definitely springs out of Beth, and the experience of bringing that character back. It was difficult narratively, but rewarding for the fans and a great challenge for Tatiana. This year, we’ve embraced flashbacks strongly. That will be fun for the audience who have followed these characters from the beginning. Once you get deeper into a series, like Season 4 or Season 5, you want to do something fresh and interesting without blowing everything up. So going deeper into your characters is a good way to do that rather than going, “Okay, we’re suddenly in Tahiti!”

Fawcett: And there’s only so deep the conspiracy can go before you naturally hit an end. In some ways, the conspiracy plot in Season 5 is much simpler than it’s been in past seasons. It’s important for us that there’s still a lot of twists and turns and uncertainty. But really, you’re coming to the end, and there’s only so far you can dig into the conspiracy. So we decided to dig deeper into the characters to expand our story.

Looking ahead to the series finale, did you already have the ending firmly in mind, and did it change at all as you plotted out the season?
Manson: Plotwise, John and I had the ending in mind for a long time. And the ending was important in a season that we decided was going to be our most character intensive. When we got to the end of our story, we wanted to feel like it would give a taste of the future, so it felt open-ended and not closed. Our finale has an interesting structure; it’s a bit of a two-parter between Episodes 9 and 10, so it’s going to be good, long drawn-out agony for the audience. It’s a lot of fun that way. [Laughs] We agreed, and all the writers agreed, that what we wanted was the feels. We went for all the feels!

That’s certainly what the fans want!
Fawcett: That’s also what Graeme and I want. We do find ourselves very interested in what the fans say, and how they’re reacting to the show. But at the end of the day, we’re the ones who have to live in it, be in it and make it. So it’s really what was right for the series. It’s hard. I don’t know the finale can ever be what Graeme or I expected it to be. I think it’s really damn good, but I’m so critical of everything.

Manson: John’s probably seen the finale a 100 times. I’ve been the outside eyes, so I’ve only seen it about 5 or 6 times, and I never got through it without crying in three separate sections. Those might be my feels! But I think a lot of the people who have seen it get pretty emo.

Did you involve Tatiana Maslany in crafting the clones’ final journeys?
Manson: We began bringing Tatiana into the writers’ room in the first season. Nobody has deeper access to these characters than her when you’re thinking about the hearts and deeper drives of these characters. That’s kind of been a constant ever since. We’ll go to her with character questions daily, but there are longer sessions where she’ll actually come into the writers’ room and sit with us. During the finale, we did that a couple of times. She even gave up weekend time to come in and help us figure out the sticky points of character, and really nailing this thing.

What was it like to watch her accept her Emmy last year?
Fawcett: I wasn’t there, I was prepping [Season 5], so I watched it on TV with all the other plebes. [Laughs]

Manson: It was really something for us. It was so unreal, but we felt it was deserved. She accepted with such humility. and went right back to work on Monday. She made us all feel from producers to production assistants that we had all won that award together. And that’s Tatiana.

Fawcett: We all had so much belief in her from the beginning. To be honest, thinking about the Emmys is not even in our head [early on]. Certainly as a Canadian TV series, it seemed like Pluto! I do remember taking her aside at our Season 1 wrap party and saying, “I think you’re going to win an Emmy for this.” I felt onto that belief that it was possible, and it happened. We’re very proud of her.

It’s also a credit to you both for crafting a genre show that was able to bring home an Emmy. As fans know all too well, that’s notoriously difficult for genre television.
Manson: That really meant something to us. Who was the last genre Emmy winner for Best Actress? Was it Jennifer Garner for Alias? [Note: The answer is Gillian Anderson for The X-Files in 1997] John and I are really happy that we were allowed to do these mash-up of tones, and we have to thank our producers and the network for their trust. We had these different worlds, and we were like “Why does it need one tone?” We have a Sarah tone that’s our throughline, but we want to be able to genre-hop within our genre. And that’s something we’ve been allowed to do and the show was successful at doing it. It’s an element of the show that helped it stand as unique.

Fawcett: Because of the diversity on television these days, you’re starting to see a lot smarter, character-driven science fiction. That’s why Orphan Black was so exciting to us. Yes, there was a plot-driven element, but what really got us excited at the beginning was all these characters.

The final season of Orphan Black premieres Saturday, June 10 at 10 p.m. on BBC America.

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