‘Orphan Black’ Finale: Showrunner Talks Season 3 Deaths, Season 4 ‘Reset’

orphan black season 3 finale
Courtesy of BBC America

Spoiler warning: Do not read on unless you’ve seen the season three finale of “Orphan Black,” titled “History Yet to be Written.”

The season three finale of “Orphan Black” finally provided some answers for many of the show’s lingering mysteries — revealing the continued threat of Neolution and the survival of Susan Duncan, one of the scientists behind Project Leda and the creation of the clones. While the finale left Delphine (Évelyne Brochu) at death’s door, after a nightmare-inducing encounter with Dr. Nealon (Tom McCamus) and some kind of parasite, it also had its share of hopeful moments, allowing the sestras to share a sweet family dinner before Sarah (Tatiana Maslany) reunited with her daughter, Kira (Skyler Wexler).

Variety spoke to “Orphan Black” co-creator John Fawcett about season three’s twists and what he and fellow creator Graeme Manson have planned for season four, including a return to the “vibe of season one.”

First you killed Paul, then you shot Delphine — do you just hate happiness?

[Laughs.] I like happiness as much as the next person, but happiness sometimes isn’t as dramatic as tragic love stories.

Can you definitively confirm that Delphine is dead, or is there still hope?

I would love to say yes or no, but this is “Orphan Black” and I don’t want to say one way or the other … We wanted to leave it in a hanging cliffhanger, so is she dead? Is she alive? I want the audience asking those questions.

Aside from Delphine’s shooting, the season finale ended on an uncommonly hopeful note. Why did you want to go that route instead of ending with a cliffhanger this year?

It was really important for us in one of our most complex seasons to end with a lot of answers and feel like we’ve had some triumph and victory, and be in a place at the end of season three where we could go “now we can take a breather, we can reset.” We didn’t want to end the season in some giant cliffhanger that meant we were gonna have to start exactly where we left off. We wanted to feel resolution and have more of an emotional ending to season three, so that it gave us a chance to reset for the beginning of season four. We just wanted a very different feel.

On a related note, it’s been awesome to see Alison’s suburban subplot add some levity this season — how important was it for you to have that balance when the ongoing mythology has been so dark and complex?

One of the things that was fun about season three was the fact that Alison and Donnie became “Team Hendrix” and had their own storyline. It was a different way to approach Alison this season for us, and it was nice, just from a writing standpoint, having a clone character that we love have a very different story to tell that wasn’t necessarily linked to the main plot where everything has to be interwoven super intricately. It was nice to be able to use that as a breather and a little bit of lightness. Moving forward, most of the time, we’re using elements to set up things that we want to do, that we know are in our plan for season four and five, so that’s all I’ll say [about Alison’s storyline].

Was it always the plan to have the Neolutionists as the ultimate antagonist, or something you decided over the course of making the show?

When we put Neolution in season one, it was to pave the way for this later season. It was definitely part of the big picture. That was definitely premeditated.

What about Susan Duncan still being alive?

That was something that we always intended. That was part of the mystery of the past: the explosion in the lab, Dr. Leekie and the Duncans and young Rachel.

It’s been awesome to see Rachel’s trajectory this season — you’ve always been so adept at shading these layers of humanity into even the most villainous characters. What can you preview about her journey next season, now that she’s been reunited with her mother?

That one’s a very tough one to talk about, because those aspects of where she is and where that story is going is an important storyline for us that has a lot of bigger picture ramifications. The thing I can talk about, is that I just like the implications of putting young Charlotte under Rachel’s charge. Rachel has been a character we’ve set up as a clone who was very powerful in season one and two, had this desire to be a mother, and was angry about the fact that she couldn’t have children, and now has been damaged physically to the point where she can’t walk. She has a Neolution tech eyeball and has basically been given what she wanted, which was to be a mother, so from a character point-of-view there’s a nice, neat place to go. A lot of our thematic elements tend to revolve around motherhood, sisterhood and family, and family secrets, and those are the kinds of things that keep the show grounded in a place that people understand, that keep it working on a strong emotional level. Any kind of mystery about family secrets and digging into that — cause every family’s got ‘em -– I’m always really interested in those kinds of stories and those kinds of themes.

There’s been criticism from some viewers over the past couple of seasons that the show’s mythology is getting too convoluted, which I suppose depends on how much you appreciate serialized storytelling. Is that kind of critique something you pay attention to?

It always is — we don’t wanna confuse people but the deeper you go into a mystery, the more balls you’ve got to juggle. It’s a complicated story. I felt like it wasn’t that complicated, but I think the point of this conclusion, coming to the end of this season, was always to be able to go “okay, we got all these answers, so what’s next?” and leave the audience peeking into a brand new rabbit hole, and the nice thing about looking into a new rabbit hole is that you get a chance to begin again a little. There’s elements that I miss from season one too — Sarah not knowing, at all, what she’s facing or what any of this is about, and I think that’s a place we always intended to go at the beginning of season four.

How cognizant are you of the need to maintain the mystery but not withhold answers for too long? It seems like a lot of serialized shows have struggled with that ratio after “Lost,” where viewers become frustrated that mysteries are just piling on top of mysteries with no resolution in sight.

It was a real issue with “Lost” because it made people very grumpy, and it made me wonder whether the creators knew where the show was going or not. When Graeme and I first started on the show, it was like “let’s map out where we want to get to. What’s the endgame? What are the tentpoles for however many seasons we want to tell this story for?” And make sure that every step along the way, we’re giving enough answers. We may get more questions as we go, but we’re giving enough answers to the audience to keep them satisfied that they’re not just watching something that doesn’t have any conclusion.

I’ve always appreciated the fact that you don’t talk down to your audience. You assume a level of concentration and engagement in your viewers, rather than spoonfeeding them what they need to know.

When we were developing “Orphan Black” as a feature film, one of the movies that we loved was “Memento,” and “Memento” is not a movie that you can sit passively and be entertained by. I really got off on “Memento” because I was sitting there going “what the f—k is going on?” and you’re trying to figure it out, so you’re really working actively as a viewer. That’s the kind of show that we wanted to create with “Orphan Black,” that thing where you can enjoy it and it’s emotional, but we want to activate the viewer.

Krystal was an awesome addition this season — will we see more of her in season four?

Yeah, we really like Krystal and Krystal’s a character that we’ve obviously been talking a lot about, so she’s definitely someone that we like.

Every year, you push yourselves creatively and technically with a group clone scene. Last year’s clone dance party was obviously a lot more flashy, but the finale’s dinner scene must’ve been just as challenging in other ways.

In a lot of ways it was more complicated. With the dinner party, it certainly had a different set of challenges. It’s interesting because it’s not as flashy — even when I watched the finale again, I watch that scene and by the end of it, I realize, “wait a second, I just watched a big huge dinner with four girls around a table,” so it doesn’t really stand out as being bigger or better than season two, but it was important in the way we wanted to end season three. I just had this idea that our big clone finale was going to be a Last Supper kind of feel, everybody around a dinner table. It is about family, and Sarah has gone through this journey starting as irresponsible street urchin to mother, to sister, to matriarch in a way, and I think that where she’s at at the end of season three is a huge distance that character’s come since the beginning of season one. Somehow it’s just nice having everyone around the table and having an emotional speech from Alison.

The sequence took two days to shoot, and so all the actors — I think Kevin [Hanchard] who plays Art was only there for one day because I think he had a commitment on another day, so I shot around that. But all the other actors were there for two days and we basically did two clones per day, and did a lot of technodolly motion control angles moving around the table. It’s certainly a huge technical challenge for Tat because by the end of that scene… one of the things that I still laugh at, I cannot get enough of, is these weird improvised moments that happened right at the end of the take where they’re quizzing Helena about the baking that she brought. None of that was scripted, and it’s very weird to improvise with a character who’s not on screen. I had to start with Alison, so Alison started asking invisible Helena questions, and we didn’t shoot Helena until the next day, so everyone’s responding to this weird improvisation that went over two days and had to be pieced together. It’s still one of the funniest moments — I laugh every time I watch it.

What can you say about the theme or direction of season four?

I want from season four a vibe of season one again. I want a lot of that paranoia back, and Sarah following a first-person mystery, and a feeling of not knowing where we stand again, and having the audience not know where we stand. When Graeme and I talked about it, it was like, “how do we give it a feeling of conclusion after three seasons and now push towards our bigger mystery?” We just wanted a reset after season three and a big emotional ending.

What did you think of the season three “Orphan Black” finale? Weigh in below.

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  1. Cata says:

    I loved it! I just don’t want Delphine to die!!

  2. william says:

    absolutely one of the best shows on tv. it’s right up there with game of thrones, penny dreadful, and banshee when it comes to great story lines and acting. love the cast and i hope delphine survives, she’s a good fit with the other characters along with ksenia solo.

  3. This is the greatest drama on tv. It is so incredible. Please don’t dumb it down for the masses next season.

  4. Megan says:

    I really liked this show at first. Deplhine and Cosima never got their big moment. They weren’t happy for near long enough, and so to kill Delphine off before that isn’t right. Also, way too much focus on Kira. Not interested in her being a bigger part of the show next season. Her importance to the clones cannot be greater than the original. Child actors in an adult storyline shouldn’t be the main event. Sounds like Kira will be, next season. I think that these writers are just doing whatever they want, and are not listening to thier audience. This show could be much better. Not sure I’ll watch next season. Definitely won’t while it aires. Too long of a wait for too little content. Not enough episodes to have a 8 – 9 month hiatus. That is ridiculous. All of these 10-13 episode shows need to have summer finales and winter finales like TNT does. The wait is brutal. And again, waiting for Kira….no thanks.

  5. Andy Shriver says:

    I hope so much for Tatiana to win her Emmy later this month. I like her off stage outspokenness on issues like the evil of couch casting. The concept of Orphan Black, Tatiana’s winningness, the writing, the cast, all add up to a delicious whole. Tatiana’s delivery on the characters is superb. Helena is maybe unique in drama. Allison is a real winner, capable of burying a corpse, pushing her husband down a flight of stairs (a bit much),watching her neighbor go down the garburator (I lived in Calgary for a year, now San Diego), and still sweetly charming the school parents for their vote. Aside from number one, Sarah, Helena is just my favorite. “I don’t think they come back for refund.” Cosima, Rachel, so good. I can handle the complexity. If I don’t get every nuance, I’m happy to go with the flow. (For profile purposes, I’m a ninety year old man who still rides motorcycles, four of them, and can still fall in love with the lady characters). If it’s possible to resuscitate Delphine, I hope you do, and the beautiful three of them live happily ever after. I like Art Bell, too, although he was richer when he was a bit of an antagonist. Felix is (more was) a very important character, important playing off Sarah early on. He was more flamboyant in the earlier parts, which was the strength of the character. If everyone just turns out to be a nice guy or gal (like Felix and Art), we lose. Like if Rachel just becomes a mom, ho-hum. I feel bad not patting each character on the the back individually, and for overlooking all the male clones, but this would be too long, and some characters do impress me more than others. Incidentally, Tatiana’s male clone didn’t come off to me. I agree with another comment that killing off Paul who had been filled in pretty well, in favor of Cal, who seemed to be created as a convenience, would not have been my choice. The audience can be comfortable with imperfect characters; aren’t we all?
    No question, I like Canadian drama – Rookie Blue, Battlestar Galactica, Da Vinci’s Inquest,… , and just a few American ones including Law and Order, In Plain Sight. And British, oh my wife and I are sad to see the end of Scott and Bailey, maybe the best ever.

  6. I think you can make Delphine and Cosima’s relationship even more wonderfully compelling than Tina and Bette’s (L Word) was – I held on for them to get back together for SO long, and screamed when they finally did. Love, love, love this show. Don’t kill Delphine, so just too good.

  7. June Diciocco says:

    I am 80 years of age hoping I am around for more OB seasons but could you break up the wait a bit ? Many series have 6 weeks of shows and 8 weeks to film the next season and give it back to us quickly.
    Having to wait a year I hold my breath hoping I am here to see if Delphine lives to get back to Cosima . Can’t imagine the writers spoiling the lovers triangle waiting to see if Helena has her babies, if Felix finds a partner and settlers down etc etc . But I am a huge fan no matter what you do .

  8. Lois says:

    I am one of the activated viewers you describe. I got my own sestra (who continually is in need of guidance in our continual phone conversations we call “okay, this is the critic’s corner”. Holy cow. This show has pushed thought into characters portrayed by one actor like NO OTHER in which I’ve been engaged. I’m a 61 year old fan who feels the character, right along with all those younger fans.

  9. kim sutton says:

    that was great ..i so enjoyed the season final and i am still thinking about it..i love quirky shows i am a big twin peaks fan..hope when its back next year it doesn’t change to much you have to stay true to your roots..

  10. Z. Mulls says:

    The plot got so convoluted I stopped paying attention. The various mythologies just started to eat each other. The show would not really work without Tatiana Maslany’s amazingly layered work. She doesn’t just do the walk and the voice and the hair and the makeup and the costume — she creates a fully rounded character of each clone. I loved Kristal, and I’m looking forward to seeing a lot more of her. I’ll keep watching the show as long as Maslany keeps bringing such humanity and commitment to her work. I like Felix and Donnie as well, but beyond that they are all just pretty good TV actors.

    I’m glad to hear the creators reference LOST and the need to have an endgame. Hopefully the S4 plot will be more streamlined, and give the clones more of a chance to interact.

  11. Holy Freaking Christmas Cake says:

    I still think they may have missed an opportunity by killing Paul. Not that episode six wasn’t amazing, I just feel like they squandered some opportunities in the second season to create more of a layered character and sort of ran out of ideas. I would have been interested to see more development between Paul and Sarah, since they did seem to share some similarities and had pretty great chemistry.

    With Delphine, it was probably more of a scheduling issue with the actress, but I hope this isn’t another “fake out” like they’ve had in the past.

    I also wonder if Cal will have much of a presence next season. I realize that some characters can and should remain on the periphery, but I question the addition of so many unavailable actors when there are series regulars that have as much, if not more, potential.

  12. Luli says:

    The only thing I want for next season is more Seestra scenes…. More Cosima and Sarah, more of the four of them, just more of them together. Can’t believe we have to wait a year for season 4. :( Also I hope Ksenia Solo comes back as Shay.

  13. Ranha says:

    Seriously, did you have to put that huge spoiler in the friggin TITLE? Not really giving us much of a chance to avoid it there, are you?

    Great. I may as well not even watch it now, thanks for nothing.

  14. Jamie says:

    I LOVE this show! I’m so happy it’s coming back for season 4!! Don’t stop! I was really happy to see Kira at the end. I hope she and Cal are in season 4. Looking forward to 2016!

  15. Kat7 says:

    LOVE this show! better than Walking Dead! Keep it coming! the worm thing is weird, is that whats making all the scientist crazy? One twist after another, now i’ll have to wait till nxt year, Oh by the way Helena is my favorite, so wild & twisted with just a hint of sanity!

  16. The work made during this season is what makes the show such a big hit – the quality keeps just going up and up. I also love how little things from season 1 keep coming, like Pouchy. Those details give it a certain reality because the world is that small in real life anyway. And new things like Shay, Krystal, and the friendship between Helena and Donnie are just amazing (so is bringing a loving, caring Jesse into Helena’s life, nicely done!) The two things that truly broke my heart (although in very specific different ways) were how Paul died and Delphine being shot. She has a very promising character development, is openly bi (which is amazing for representation!) and knows about Neolution. She is not a liability.
    With the season finale resetting everything, I hope we get to see more of Felix’s shenanigans in his life as an artist, more of Denise the cat, and obviously, a more relaxed Delphine who is alive first of all, and does not have DYAD and Topside on her all the time.

    • Dgirl32 says:

      Yes, bring back Delphine. After everything she did for Cosima and her sisters, she does not deserve to bleed out alone on a garage floor while the Leda girls yuck it up at a dinner party.

  17. Brian says:

    Good, rich, diverse finale.
    Great analogy to Lost and how shows have to deliver answers and reward viewers for their engagement.
    Finally- a writing team that understands that the audience deserves answers, along the way to a good Story’s conclusion.

  18. Sara lauch says:

    If you guys are planning to kill Delphine for the next season I’ll promise you that there won’t be any vibe of season one anymore.It’d be a better idea to keep the door open and give the character a chance to live ’cause the last show who killed a character like in this case, will may be cancelled in the next few years (Person of Interest).

  19. Daria Lily says:

    Loved the show. I’m wondering why they shoot Delphine if she was already poisoned by the parasite thing.

  20. shellinaya says:

    This whole show is awful. Why do bad shows like this get so much attention and good sci-fi is cancelled?

    • D says:

      She wasnt poisoned she shot Nealon before.

    • Mr Furious says:

      It really is an awful show. I watched the first season and it was fun watching Tatiana Maslany play all the different characters and she really is good at it and deserves all the praise she gets, but, goddamn, the plot of the show is so stupid. People like crap, though.

      • little albatross says:

        What are some good sci-fi shows, in your opinion? I’m not being snarky or anything, I’m just curious because I think this show is really REALLY brilliant, so I’m wondering if you know of any really good shows Ive been missing out on or if you just have a different taste in science fiction than I do.

    • Antifwit says:

      You are a muppet

  21. RH says:

    I think its funny how John said he doesnt talk down to viewers when thats what he & Graeme have been doing regarding Delphines death. Shes obviously dead and we wont be seeing her again so their glee with people being upset about it is extremely off-putting.

  22. Debbie says:

    Love Orphan Black and season 3 finale was great. I can’t wait for season 4. Tatiana definitely deserves an Emmy. Still not crazy about the boy clones. They are boring compare to the girls. They just don’t have distinctive personalities like the girls. Nothing against the actor . Still hooked and looking forward to more.

    • The boys don’t have distinctive personalities because of the way they were raised, in a room all together, aware they were clones and trained to be killers. The girls have more personality because they were adopted/fostered into real families and grew up ignorant of their origins.

  23. sarahthehobo says:

    Loved it! Very happy to get some closure on some important points and exited for what is to come! Just please bring Delphine back. She’s such a strong character and we love that chic.

  24. Goodbyenoway says:

    I felt the show went off the rails this season and I gave up half way through. I hated the new male clone? Why did they choose someone who can’t act and who was ugly looking to boot? What a mess for what was once a great show. Fail.

    • WelcomeToTheTrip says:

      I’m sorry, but there is not one actor on the show who “can’t act”. And what does his physical appearance have anything to do with? I like Ari Millen, and from the way the other actors on the show talk about him, he seems like an incredibly awesome human being.

    • Ugonna Wosu says:

      Wow. Anyway, your loss, it was great the second half of the season. The finale was amazing, and ari millen can act and is attractive.

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