An Oral History of Orphan Black's Second Season Finale

Jan 12, 2010

With the third season of BBC America's Orphan Black right on our doorstep (April 18, 9/8C), Blastr decided to take a look back at the stellar second-season finale episode, "By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried," from the perspective of its creative team. Knowing full well that co-creators John Fawcett and Graeme Manson embed a plethora of foreshadowing and easter eggs (both visually and verbally) into all of their Orphan Black scripts, we figured the best way to prepare for Season 3 would be to dissect the important scenes featured in the second season finale, get insider intel on some things we might have missed that are important to the ongoing narrative and just find out what the team's favorite moments were.

As a brief episode refresher (SPOILER ALERT for those who may not be fully caught up), the second-season finale finds clone Sarah Manning (Tatiana Maslany) ready to sacrifice herself so she can get back her daughter, Kira (Skyler Wexler), from the clutches of her sister clone and Dyad director, Rachel (Maslany). From inside Dyad, clone Cosima's (Maslany) health is continuing to fail, but she works her own tricks to protect Sarah, Kira and her lover, Dr. Delphine Cormier (Evelyne Brochu).  By episode's end, it's revealed to Sarah that there's a whole other level of secret cloning that's been going on when she is shockingly introduced to Rudy (Ari Miller), an alpha male clone, who is brother to Prolethean Mark Miller, and who is part of the previously unknown Project Castor.

 If you haven't watched the second-season finale, you should stop now, as the team speaks freely about events that transpired therein ...

The opening of the episode introduces a different narrative device for the series, with Sarah Manning fighting Mrs. S in a heated argument in the past intercut with Sarah's future surrender to Dyad.

John Fawcett (co-creator/writer/director): The open was definitely very different for us stylistically, from a writing point of view and from a visual point of view. It's an out-of-time sequence. Because, what was happening with Sarah and Mrs. S, there's an aftermath quality, but there's also a flash-forward to Sarah being brought into, prepped and interrogated in this weird black room at Dyad, which we had a little glimpse of in Episode 9. The cross-cutting would add a lot mystery and a lot of tension to show where Sarah was emotionally with Mrs. S. And because I knew we were creating the black room environment for Dyad, I wanted to contrast the sharp, hand-held camera moves with bright, hot backgrounds in the stuff from the past. The contrast made it easy for the viewer to keep track as we bounced back and forth from then and now.

Maria Doyle Kennedy (Mrs. S):  I remember filming that scene really clearly. Only one or two lines had been written, but [Fawcett] decided he wanted something much more from the encounter, so we were given free range to just improv our way through an argument. Tat and I both love the opportunity to do that, so we had a lot of fun ripping through each other for what seemed like ages. We would change what we were doing each time, so there were several takes of hurled insults. We had to have a real hug at the end!  And I think Mrs. S truly accepts Sarah's embrace for what it is, an attempt at peace, and a belief in her love for them.

I remember filming that scene really clearly.

At Dyad, audiences see a whole different level of secret rooms, different from the white, brightly lit offices that housed Rachel and Dr. Leekie (Matt Frewer). Sarah is taken into them to be interrogated.

Fawcett: There is a layer to Dyad that is presented more to the public. But there's obviously the basement of the old area that was used for something in the past, and that's where they keep their clone program and Cosima and things they don't want the public to know. There's probably even a sub-basement below that where they do slightly more nefarious things. The black rooms was a fun, but simple, way to communicate that.

A new character, Dr. Nealon (Tom McCamus), is given the sinister chore of grilling Sarah with incredibly intimate questions about her medical history and past -- of which he already knows a lot.

Fawcett: Dr. Nealon gets introduced here. It's interesting, too, because we're also trying to say in Episode 9, where we see Rachel in the black room, distraught watching old images of herself and her father, and old images of Sarah and Kira, she then speaks on the phone with Dr. Nealon. Even though you don't see a face, he's been her personal physician since she was a young girl at Dyad. They have a history together, and that's an important aspect to understand as we move into Season 3.

Rachel pulls a power move on Delphine in the elevator and essentially bans her from Cosima and the clone research, which puts Cormier at a crossroads.

Evelyne Brochu (Dr. Delphine Cormier): I think it's a moment that sets up a lot for Season 3. We're going to see Delphine in a more difficult position, but she's also going to have more responsibilities and more power.  With power comes a lot of sacrifice ... but it also allows a little space for revenge.

It was about leading up to a really great climax and who turns and who surprises.

Sarah is then put into a room where she can watch Rachel speaking with Kira in a thinly veiled attempt to force Sarah to give up her ovaries in exchange for her daughter.

Fawcett: Rachel is doing this very specifically to get what she wants from Sarah. It's no secret that Rachel wants to have children herself, and this also illustrates that in a creepy way. There's something really "ick" about Rachel knowing that Sarah is watching her and Kira doesn't. There's something about playing this dialogue to Kira but a whole other thing to read between the lines to Sarah, who she knows is watching on the other side of the glass.

And then, for me as the director, and as a guy who makes a movie about clones, one of the fun things we were doing here is creating a clone shot that is not really obvious, which is putting Sarah's reflection in the glass and seeing Rachel on the other side of the glass. It was a cool, new way to show two of them in the same frame, which is always a challenge. It's one of those things as a director and co-creator, I never want you to feel the visual effects part of the show. I don't want people to think about it and just think Sarah is in one room and Rachel is in other. The magic of it is they are being played by one actor.

Outside of Dyad, Mrs. S calls upon Paul Dierden, who is revealed to be a double agent, to help her get Sarah and Kira out of Dyad.

Graeme Manson (co-creator/writer): [We decided to do the Paul reveal] more towards the end of the season, but it felt organic with Orphan Black in that the sands are shifting and characters reveal themselves to be different than what you thought. It was about leading up to a really great climax and who turns and who surprises. It was an earlier episode when Paul and Mrs. S met for the second time, and there was a lot of stuff there. It was mysterious enough that we could pull from that and have some revelations from that moment here.

Dylan Bruce (Paul Dierden): The first two seasons were a mystery to me. I thought a lot of the stuff that happened to [Paul] really happened to him, but it didn't, because he was playing the double agent. I didn't know, which is good because you don't want to intimate that you do. But now I know about Afghanistan. It's not just a code word for something. [Laughs]

It's always cool to take a character seen in one way and get to expand them in a different direction.

Inside Dyad, Rachel attempts to have her father, Ethan Duncan (Andrew Gillies), reveal the cipher key that he embedded in his files. However, Duncan refuses and instead commits suicide by cyanide pill to Rachel's shock, anguish and rage.

Tatiana Maslany (The Leda Clone Sisters): It's always cool to take a character seen in one way and get to expand them in a different direction. Rachel has always been buttoned-up and aloof and difficult to access emotionally, so it was fun to get to push her in a new direction and let her scenes unravel so her austere facade crumbles a bit. I think a lot of these clones are dealing with identity, and family has a lot to do with identity, so any time we get a little glimpse into the backstory of any of them, or learn something we didn't know it's exciting to see them shaken up by it ... especially someone like Rachel, who is seemingly so put together and untouched by pain, fears or insecurity.

Kristian Bruun (Donnie Hendrix):  I love the scene where she's with Duncan in their last scene. [Tatiana] just blows my mind. Anytime you get a shred of humanity from Rachel, it's huge, because she gives so little most of the time. It's mind-blowing and heartbreaking at the same time.

In an awkward meeting between Sarah's lovers, Paul and Kira's father, Cal Morrison (Michiel Huisman), Mrs. S gets to say what the audience is thinking about these two handsome men when she quips, "Look at the two of you. I don't know how she does it."

Doyle Kennedy: That line was always scripted, and it made me laugh as soon as I read it! I loved saying it.

Inside Kira's Dyad bedroom, Cosima bonds with her over a science lesson that is really an ulterior motive.

Fawcett: It's fun whenever you are doing something where the audience knows the characters have a plan but they don't know what the plan is. You know that Cosima is scheming here. You can tell. And you know that she knows she's being watched. At the end of the day, she wants Kira to draw this picture that ends up being a clue for Sarah. What I love about the scene is there are so many different layers and clues within it. One of the final layers on top of that is getting to see Cosima and Kira interact and seeing Cosima teach science to Kira.

As Sarah is held in constraints in prep for her ovarectomy, Rachel blithely hands over Kira's drawing that directs Sarah's attention to a fire extinguisher rigged to launch a sharpened pencil ... that hits Rachel right in the eye and allows Sarah to escape with Kira.

Fawcett: Graeme had the whole pencil-in-the-eye concept that was kind of ludicrous. Whenever absurd ideas get mentioned, sometimes they get laughed out of the room or they manage to get some traction with the fact they are so crazy. I loved the idea of firing a pencil across the room into Rachel's eyeball, but at first glance it's a crazy, slightly dumb idea. I managed to talk him down from an ax in Rachel's head, where I kind of said, "Maybe that's not the best idea." I didn't want to kill her! She didn't quite deserve to die. I liked the pencil idea because it was an absurd image and I knew it could potentially hurt Rachel in a lot of interesting, different ways. I was interested in that because of where we could drop the character down to and how different she would be in season three. I was interested in handing off a physically damaged character to Tatiana as a new acting challenge for season three.

Manson: Cosima and Delphine helped in the [scheme] so it wasn't just Sarah against Rachel. It was about "We pull together to subdue the threat to Kira, who is our little marvel child."

Bruun: You never thought you could feel bad for Rachel in any way, and then she goes on to do more horrible things and gets a pencil in the eye, so you're like, "Yeah! Take that!" But then you are also like, "You poor, broken thing." She's as broken as Helena is, essentially. Helena is an explosion out, and Rachel is an implosion.

In a first for the series, clone sisters Sarah, Helena, Alison and Cosima end up together in Felix's (Jordan Gavaris) apartment with Kira. In a moment of peace, they spontaneously break out into a dance party that reflects their individuality and the family bond they share.