Midsummer, 2012. Sarah’s story had already begun when our gregarious, enthusiastically nerdy brood of season one writers shuffled out of the city’s oppressive heat wave and into a cool, dusty corner room next door to what was about to become a very busy production studio. We gathered with Orphan Black creators John Fawcett and Graeme Manson, who’d given us the first episode’s script. Graeme delivered the state of the union, writing-wise: start with hard science and drive with character. John delivered the mandate for the look, style, and tone: mystery, intrigue, suspense, body horror, mind f**ks. By the end of week one, our heads were buzzing with what we knew so far; hearts pounding with all we had to learn.
Did we imagine we’d soon identify with blastocysts, quaking Aspen and slime mold?
Um… no. But identity? That was something each of us could get up on our hind legs for, and rail on for days. We continue to suppose that’s why we were lucky enough to be there.
Who defines any of us? What decides who we are, and who we might become? Why we’re here? Who do we belong to or with? Who is part of us?
As individuals. As people. As a species.
Enter the amazing Cosima Herter, our official science officer. History, philosophy and science were called for, and she was going to give it to us, naked: the good, the bad, the horrific. We began our first crash course on the human condition according to evolutionary biology, Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species, Watson & Crick, Dolly the Sheep informed all we imagined possible.
We began writing as a troupe of sub/urban punks, living in the wake of Occupy’s uneasy accountability movement: reckoning ourselves with social debts and thefts. Straw men and sacrificial lambs, imposters, fraudsters, long-cons and shell-game schemes are all the rage in the wider world. What people are capable of is the headline news. Folks are battling to protect their private data in the courts; judges are telling state authorities and social media services that abusing our personal information online is, well, creepy and uncool. We’re tweaking our privacy settings, while unwittingly sharing more and more with total strangers, potentially sinister third-parties. We’re confronting global scams, collapsing fiscal fronts, disinformation, lies and tough truths.
As writers, we traded conspiracy theories and happily debated one another about the parts we all play in bad things, about the nature of complicity, and what’s evil. Vital to Sarah’s story were the explosive truths about the science behind it. What was possible? What was probable?
Like the DNA, we were all about to become intimately familiar with, the terms of Sarah Manning’s existence held in their fibers such a twisted yarn that, once unraveled, it would stretch farther and wider than any of us tend to conceive. Every choice we made would impact all the rest. Forwards and back. Worlds needed to be built to collide – and spectacularly. Cards needed to be doled out, then kept close to the vest.
Lest we get ahead of ourselves. Give too much away.
In Sarah, we had twin icons of subversion in one canny package: The Outsider and The Orphan; always juicy emblems of mystery, and discovery. Add science and the vital analogies got inescapable. We were donning proverbial lab coats and playing creators. Taking what we’d learned and extrapolating to what’s possible, even probable – where human ambition and intolerance meet what’s really out there, behind closed lab doors.
Where Sarah’s going has everything to do with where human beings have been, scientifically. What we’re like.
Just as our paranoia reached a fever-pitch only the barely informed can find, Cosima applied a balm, some balance to our worst fears about what science was capable of doing to identity. She played us John Bonner’s “Slime Mold” movies. She explained the definition of biological altruism, the other side of what we’re capable of, the other end of the truth about people.
And that’s when we knew what Sarah Manning’s journey was really all about.
It seemed weird to call ourselves, in tribute, ‘The Stalk.’ So in honor of the superorganisms, noble sacrifices and common causes, we became The Hive.Read More