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Aubrey Nealon: Bets, Basketballs, and Breakthroughs

Hi CloneClub,

The main thing I remember about writing Episode 302 is that fellow Orphan Black scribe Alex Levine owes me $100,000. That’s because, while we were breaking this story, Alex got it in his head that he could toss a toy basketball into an impossibly small space in a support beam that runs across the writers’ room ceiling, 16 feet above. He spent hours trying. When he missed—and he always missed—the ball would careen across the writers’ table, crashing through lunch plates, overturning coffee mugs, destroying laptops.

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Finally, after countless failed attempts, Alex decided it was impossible, and to emphasize the point he offered a hundred thousand dollars to anyone who could do it. So now all the writers started trying. A lot more stuff was spilled and broken.

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Days passed. We dug in on 302, which proved to be a challenging episode to crack. Second episodes often suffer from the simple fact that they follow the premiere, and the premiere is a greedy beast. Not only does the premiere demand a lot of time and energy from the writers, it demands a lot of story. It tends to gobble up ideas that were planned for Episode 2 or 3 or beyond. This is as it should be. The best advice I ever got about writing TV was: Don’t save your good stuff. Use it all. Use it now. Then come up with more good stuff later.

For 302, we knew we wanted to open up the world of the Castor boys, introduce the mysterious and menacing Virginia Coady, and give Cal a suitably heroic and emotional send-off. We just didn’t know what shape any of this would take. As we struggled to figure it out, the basketball challenge played out in the background like a clumsy metaphor for the story-breaking process. A lot of repetition, a lot of frustration, a lot of swearing. A lot of tossing ideas up and hoping they stick.

Then one day I had a breakthrough. Everything fell into place. Had I come up with a guiding structure that would elegantly arrange all the components of 302 into their most dramatically satisfying spots? No; I think Russ Cochrane probably did that. He usually does.

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But I did toss that basketball into the impossibly small space in the support beam. It was perfect. It was beautiful. Levine hasn’t paid me my $100K yet, but I know he’s good for it.

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– Aubrey

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