Jeremy Boxen: For M.K., It's Personal
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. This week is one of Episode 9’s scribes, Jeremy Boxen.
So this episode was kind of a daunting thrill to write. To pen a script for such a talented crew and amazing cast — anchored of course by Tatiana Maslany — in their final season — it was a real honor, and I didn't want to let them down. And there were some pretty big tasks to pull off here, such as: set up the power dynamic between Sarah and Rachel that would drive the season, introduce P.T. Westmoreland on screen for the first time in a way that would both live up to the myth of the man and feel completely grounded, and kill a beloved sestra. After being a fan of the show for so long, it was also my first Orphan Black script. I was jumping right into the deep end.
Luckily, the writers' room was jumping in with me. As with most TV, scripting this episode was a collaborative process. Our story discussions were exhaustive... and sometimes exhausting. M.K.'s death, of course, formed the bulk of our debates. Graeme Manson and John Fawcett had wanted to shoot a clone switch on the fly for some time, and early in the process of developing this season the room quickly realized that Episode 502 was the right opportunity to dovetail tragic content (M.K.'s death) with thrilling form (real-time clone switch). The general concept came quickly then. But the story mechanics that got us there were revised beyond count — it was a constant process of fine-tuning the logic of Sarah sneaking Kira out of school and ending up alone with M.K. as Ferdinand was in pursuit, and balancing it all against production needs like scheduling and budget.
The emotional content of the death took us even longer to work out. And rightly so — M.K. may be a fictional character, but to us she's a real person. Ultimately, we felt the best way to serve M.K. was to motivate the showdown through the unfinished, ugly business still unresolved between her and Ferdinand. Facing down this man is a noble sacrifice she makes for Sarah, but it comes from an incredibly personal place for M.K.
And can I point out how brilliantly John Fawcett directed this episode? I'm floored by how he created the single shot, clone-switch-on-the-fly set piece. It was all achieved through intricate choreography of actors, crew, and equipment that was then fit together seamlessly with CG magic. It was wild to see the complexity of it all. But it was just as thrilling to be there for the virtuoso acting of Tatiana and her scene partner and double, Kathryn Alexandre. As a writer, I was drawn into their dance, workshopping the sequence with them to establish the pace and deepen the emotional beats. Watching them bring it to life was the highlight of my time on Orphan Black. And the audience doesn't realize it, but the intimate emotional work Kathryn did on set inhabiting both M.K. and Sarah (as Tatiana played opposite her in both these roles) is very much present in the finished scene. Even after Kathryn is visually replaced with a clone, but she's still an invisible spirit that gives life to the show.
Some backstory for one of my favorite small moments: the Arthur Conan Doyle poem P.T. Westmoreland quotes is called “A Parable,” and it came to my attention by chance through my spouse, who was reading a graphic novel called The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage for her book club. Its author and artist, Sydney Padua, compiled tons of research for her story of Ada, Countess of Lovelace, and Charles Babbage, as they partnered to create a steam-powered computer in Victorian England. Padua featured Conan Doyle's poem in footnotes as an example of Victorian theological satire, and I thought it fit perfectly in the mouth of our Victorian-era scoundrel, Westmoreland. As our science advisor Cosima Herter would say, chance and contingency drive evolution — in this case, the evolution of a script!