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Graeme Manson: Back to the Beginning

Editor’s Note: The Hive is Orphan Black’s weekly Writers’ Room blog. Each week, someone intimately involved with that week’s production will take you behind the scenes. First up is show creator and season premiere scribe Graeme Manson. Oh, and before you read on, watch the premiere FREE here.

Hello #CloneClub, and welcome back to Season 4!

How did we get here, to this wild premiere?  We did it together, and largely intact. That goes for our crew too — our extended Orphan Black set family who put long hours and endless creativity into every episode.  That first day back on set this year was such a treat, like the first day of school with no bullies, just buddies.

But that first day of shooting was months after we gathered the writers of The Hive.  Season 4 saw some new faces, alongside our scribley vets. The Dream Team ’15 gathered in temporary digs in the West end of Toronto: Rus Cochrane, Kate Miles Melville, Chris Roberts, Alex Levine, Aubrey Nealon, Niko Troubetzkoy and Peter Mohan. Plus Science/Story Consultant Cosima Herter, story coordinator Renee St. Cyr, and early story development with our old friend Semi Chellas (she of Mad Men fame and Emmys).

Early days in the writers’ room with Alex Levine, Chris Roberts, Kate Miles Melville, and Aubrey Nealon
Writer’s favourite lunch haunt — Taco Time at Grand Electric. Renee St Cyr, Kate Miles Melville, Alex Levine, Graeme, and MacKenzie.
Graeme and John on too much caffeine.
Graeme and John on too much caffeine.
At the studio writers’ room. The view from our Assistant Evan Moore’s desk.

The truth is, this was the easiest premiere of all four seasons to write. Normally the first ep has to pick up and juggle every cliff-hung story thread of the previous season.  But 401 stood alone, and for the first time, we gave our characters a “break” between seasons — a couple months in Iceland rather than picking up hard on the story’s heels. That difficult work was left to Russ Cochrane in Episode 2, when Sarah returns to her sestras.

But this was about Beth. Beth, who we always knew had more to tell us. We got to cherry-pick Season 1,  revisiting the cast that Sarah met in Beth’s life. And in that early development, the writer’s room began outlining a season that would let us return to the beginning, and let Sarah tumble back down the Orphan Black rabbit hole all over again. Back to meet M.K., an elusive new clone with the key to Beth’s story, and back to Neolution, the shadowy movement bent on accelerating human evolution with new and dangerous science. Oh yeah, and back to Beth’s apartment — a set we had to completely rebuild cuz we didn’t keep it!

Our first read-through was huge — a full cast reading Episodes 1 and 2 back-to-back, with all the network execs in attendance. It also just happened to coincide with Tat’s birthday, so Mackenzie and the office conspired to throw a little surprise party… with the Spice Girls! That’s the day job of our friends Barb and Anika, creators of Alison’s Blood Ties musical, and perhaps (spoiler alert) another little something later this season.


Tat at the “Spice Girls Read-Through”

First day of shooting reunited us with Matt Frewer. Despite the ignoble end of Dr. Leakie, Matt kindly left his llamas behind on Galiano Island for a few days to play with us again. Inga Cadranel flew into town so Detective Angie DeAngelis could show up with cool shades, fat attitude, and the seeds of her early Beth grudge. Raj appears! We always loved his Beth-crush, and it was great to see it for real. We also got to see some early dynamics with Beth’s sestras Cosima and Alison. But lurking in a dark alley was always Maggie Chen, the straw that broke Beth’s back.

Inhabiting Beth was no easy feat for Tatiana. Beth is in a dark place, and we all wanted to push her to a scary place, to the broken edge of this woman. “Dinner with Paul” was a scene we knew we needed, climaxing with the moment with the gun to Paul’s head. We referenced A Woman Under the Influence. The scene was “on the board” from the beginning, so when it came time, it wrote itself quickly and changed little (we love those).

One of my favorite scenes is when Beth turns to Art for some kind of comfort, and their relationship crosses the line. In Season 3, Kevin Hanchard and Tat brought so much to the scene in the diner where Art tells Sarah he and Beth were lovers, that this was another of the moments we knew we had to see. John’s favourite sequence is the tragic shooting of Maggie, and the intercut aftermath. We love the sense of “being in Beth’s head” here, and I took great joy in shooting Maggie Chen, who’s always been a difficult piece of the puzzle.

Well, thanks for watching, and thanks for reading. The whole Orphan Black team goes through all the madness and sleepless nights for you, Clone Club. You’ve made it possible, supporting our “weird little show” (OK, maybe not so little anymore, but still very weird).  It’s sincerely an honor to tell you this tale. We see ourselves reflected in it, and we hope you see yourselves as well — in all your stripes and colors.

Yours in the C word (Clone!),




John at the creator's retreat getting kissed by a one-eyed horse.
John at the creator’s retreat getting kissed by a one-eyed horse.
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