Russ Cochrane: Love, Blood, and Sacrifice
Editor's Note: This week, we hear from Episode 9's writer: Russ Cochrane.
Here’s a little fact that may not be all that surprising: writing Orphan Black is a complete trip. Getting to play with complex characters, flesh out compelling backstories, and navigate this often bullet-train-paced story with hairpin turns is as fun to create as I hope it is to watch. But it’s also a huge responsibility. So many amazing people are involved with the making of Orphan Black that we feel compelled to give them material that’s worthy of their time and talents; not to mention the spectacular fans who have devoted hours of their lives and emotional energy into this crazy little world we’re unraveling.
We also feel the responsibility to use our time wisely—spending these ten short hours to explore the world, unravel the mysteries, and delve as deeply as possible into the characters' emotional lives. All while having a shitload of fun along the way. But as these story threads expand out rapidly from an explosive start, there comes a point where we have to fold the stories back in and tie the different threads together as we close in on the season finale. To do that, I found it helpful to go back to a few primal elements of Orphan Black to unify these threads into one larger story: love, blood, and sacrifice.
There’s a very hard question we find many of our characters struggling with as we push to the end: how far would you go and what would you give up to protect the people you love?
When we first find Helena, she's living a suburban life dressed in Alison’s clothes, and even helping the Hendrixes with the "family business." She’s trying her very best to walk a different path, to suppress her killer instincts. She knows that if she’s to be accepted by her sisters and be a suitable mother to her unborn baby, she needs to change. Even when she learns her embryos have been taken for ransom, she contains herself. But when Alison’s "babies" are threatened, Helena makes the hard choice. She knows in order to keep them safe she’s going to have to step off this new path—back onto a bloody one.
We ask that question again of Delphine as Cosima learns some unsettling information about Shay. For Delphine, the answer seems clear: she’ll do whatever it takes to protect Cosima and the other Leda clones. But Delphine’s threats on Shay’s life are complicated—it’s not just love that motivates her actions. There’s also suspicion, and maybe even jealousy. Ultimately, it was someone else making a sacrifice for love who was the guilty party—Gracie betrayed us for her love of Mark.
But the question rings the loudest with Sarah, on a literal kill-mission to eliminate the Castor Original. Despite everything that Sarah has been through so far, she has never taken a life. We wanted to take her on this journey where she was actually standing on the threshold, gun in hand, asking herself if she was capable of crossing that line. And it was very deliberate that she would find herself staring down someone who had faced that very same question—and did what needed to be done. Kendall Malone had killed John Sadler to protect her daughter—even though it had fractured their relationship and pushed Siobhan out of her life. But Sarah never expected that the Castor Original she hoped to find would also turn out to be her own. That changes everything.
So now that hard question falls to Siobhan…
Yup—it’s a trip. And that’s a little glimpse into how we navigate it. Hope you’re enjoying it as much as we are.
Some other random notes for what they’re worth:
The Original: As we pushed the story toward finding the Original—Siobhan’s mother and the genetic source of both Castor and Leda—one thing we knew was that we didn’t want to find a detached, calculating scientist or willing conspirator at the end of the clone rainbow. Instead we felt it important to uncover someone who had been much like Sarah: a civilian caught up in something of which she never asked to be a part. Fleshing out her backstory as a prisoner convicted of a violent crime helped us form Kendall Malone into a character we couldn’t wait to put on screen—and pit against Sarah and Siobhan. But it was the incomparable Alison Steadman who breathed life (and smoke) into her beyond what we could ever hope.
Maria Doyle Kennedy, Songstress: Not only is Maria a phenomenal actor and lovely human, she’s also an immensely talented singer/songwriter who has recorded several albums. We had hoped to find a place (and to convince Maria) to showcase that talent on Orphan Black because it felt like a very natural part of Mrs. S’s backstory—and something that brought a lighter, more fun side to this complex character. Leading up to this episode, a few of the other writers and I went to see Maria and her husband Kieran (who plays her old bandmate/guitarist “Kieran”) perform at a local cabaret. It was one of the best nights we spent all year—watching Maria command the audience like the coolest spiritual den-mother, pouring out love and good vibes through the microphone.
London in a Deep Freeze: Orphan Black’s challenging production schedule meant our dream of shooting Sarah’s return to London on location in the UK was a near impossibility. So director Vinceno Natali, cinematographer Aaron Morton, and VFX Supervisor Geoff Scott managed to bring London to us through sheer determination and mad talent. If only it hadn’t been so bloody cold.
The Team: Finally, this writer’s blog wouldn’t be complete without a major shout-out the other writers I had the pleasure of building this season with: John and Greame, Aubrey Nealon, Alex Levine, Chris Roberts, Sherry White—and, for a time, Kate Melville and Lynn Coady. Easily some of the smartest and coolest people I know.
Cheers all. Enjoy the finale.