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‘Orphan Black’ Co-Creator on That Horrifying Scene and the Possibility of a Spinoff


[Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers from “Orphan Black” Season 5, Episode 2 “Clutch of Greed.”]

Our worst fears from watching the Season 5 trailer came true in Saturday’s episode of “Orphan Black”: One of the Leda clones died.

“We’re really going to hear it from the fans,” series co-creator Graeme Manson said about killing off a beloved character. “I think if you watch five seasons of the show, you’ll realize that this isn’t the clone of the week show. We want to care deeply about them. We want to invest in them. It comes down to the decision of whose going to make it out alive because the bottom line is nobody is safe.”

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The death happens as a result of Sarah Manning (Tatiana Maslany) being pursued by Ferdinand (James Frain). She insists on retrieving MK (Maslany), who is suffering from the debilitating disease that has hit so many of the Leda clones, from her hideout, but MK refuses and instead offers to masquerade in the Rachel (Maslany) outfit that Sarah had been wearing. Once Ferdinand arrives, then MK would buy Sarah some time to escape with her daughter Kira (Skylar Wexler).

Unfortunately, once Ferdinand discovers that ruse, that MK is in the Rachel disguise and not Sarah, he snaps. Not only did MK lose him a lot of money when he botched the Helsinki job in which she was supposed to die in a fire, but she also stole money from his accounts in a previous season. Add to this his obsession with Rachel who had recently dismissed him as a sexual partner, and he spirals into a vengeful, senseless rage in which he conflates his hatred for the two women and brutally stomps on MK’s chest repeatedly until she dies.

Saying Goodbye to MK

Tatiana Maslany, "Orphan Black"

Tatiana Maslany, “Orphan Black”

BBC America

Manson explained why MK, one of the newer clones introduced on the show, was chosen. “There’s not one clone on the show or one supporting cast who couldn’t, in a twist of plot, wind up in the same boat as MK, having to put down their life and sacrifice themselves to another, for a greater cause of the sisters, which is what MK does,” he said. “I think we wanted to lessen this blow a little bit by very early on saying, ‘Okay let’s make sure that MK is sick.” Her way of hiding in the shadows and having so much difficulty reaching out, part of this has to do with her own decision. She is the one who can sacrifice herself because she believes her life is about to be cut short by the clone disease.”

In order to give her more time on the screen before her death, the show crafted the technically challenging scene in which Maslany as both MK and Sarah would switch clothes as part of the disguise.

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“We really thought that MK might bite it at the finale of last season,” said Manson. “We don’t kill clones lightly, so we wanted to make it very memorable. We were looking for a way to do it that’s both arresting and that gives value to that clone that’s helped us. It was a technical challenge for us to do a long shot showing sort of behind the scenes of these switcheroos that we do. I don’t think since Sarah played Rachel in Season 3 have we gone behind the scenes and watched one clone turn into another. All the while that they are in the same frame, they’re changing clothes and handing things to one another.”

Unfortunately, MK’s death was one of the most personal and brutal ones we’ve seen on the show so far. Being a Leda clone comes with many dangers, but before, the clones that we’ve seen die were usually ones we didn’t know very well or their deaths were fairly quick, such as Beth Childs (Maslany) stepping in front of a train or Katja Obinger (Maslany) dying from a sniper rifle shot to the head.

Tatiana Maslany, "Orphan Black"

Tatiana Maslany, “Orphan Black”

BBC America

“We’re not going to pull any punches,” said Manson. “If we’re going to give her clone her due, and she’s going to sacrifice herself, we’re going to challenge the audience while we’re doing it. James Frain is a wonderful actor. He can be deliciously evil. It was a conscious construction of a strange scenario that we wanted to play out and that would be horribly violent, that it would have this moment of recognition in it for Ferdinand. Right now, all his frustrations with Rachel would play out right in front of his eyes because at this moment, MK is dressed as Rachel. So there’s this deliciously perverse level of things playing out for Ferdinand. Perhaps he even loses control because he is now countermanded an order from Rachel. That can’t go well even though Rachel seems to be wielding the velvet crowbar these days.”

Manson was on hand that day while co-creator John Fawcett directed the scene. “It was a hard scene to watch,” said Manson. “In that violent moment when Ferdinand loses himself and he stomps her, Tat had this big, hard, fiberglass body cage that fit her whole upper torso [on]. It doesn’t look pleasant when you’re sitting on set either.”

In the Wake of MK’s Death

James Frain, "Orphan Black"

James Frain, “Orphan Black”

BBC America

MK’s death has almost immediate repercussions as well. Although Rachel and Ferdinand had made their association strictly business now, in killing MK he’s disobeyed her.

“She’s been anointed on high by P.T. Westmorland, [the founder of Neolution],” he said. “And P.T. Westmorland seems to have a legitimate desire to keep these other clones alive. Rachel’s not supposed to lose any of them and she makes that clear. We’ll see what’s in store for Ferdinand for countermanding that action. Rachel is trying to look at this in a different light because of her new position at the head of Neolution. She’s trying to exercise restraint and look good for her new big boss. Ferdinand put a wrench in that.”

Continue to next page for Alison’s journey and spinoff talks >>

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‘The Crown’ Season 2 Review: Despite Focusing on Relationships, Netflix’s Drama Turns Too Dreary and Cold


There are far worse ways to study history than watching “The Crown” — high school history class comes to mind, especially at schools with misplaced teachers like Mr. Kraz. But there are better ways, as well, even in television’s incomplete, sensationalized fashion. Pertinent period details frame series like “The Americans” and “Mad Men,” or there are meaningful tales told of specific historical figures like “John Adams,” the “Band of Brothers,” and “The Young Pope.” (Hey, the future will one day be historical, too, and Lenny will be pope.)

What separates these programs from Netflix’s new crown jewel is an opinion; a stance, one way or another, on what all this means; a personality of its own making rather than a suffocating allegiance to facts. And in a darker second season about the most personal problems of Queen Elizabeth’s life, this voiceless neutrality breeds an even colder, more distant, and altogether less engaging set of historical accounts.

Those who enjoyed Season 1 won’t likely be overly upset, as these shifts are subtle and easily overshadowed by an onslaught of prestige. Scripts are well-crafted. Images are opulent in texture and scenery. Acting remains a top attribute, especially Matt Smith and Claire Foy who are even more front-and-center this year than last. Favorite figures like Jared Harris and John Lithgow are missed, as are their heartfelt characters (Harris’ kingly father figure) and episodes (most notably, “Assassins”), and Peter Morgan’s second season fittingly opens on a bleak, rainy day in February, 1957.

Queen Elizabeth (Foy) and the newly crowned Prince Philip (Smith) are at a crossroads. Sitting in the shadows, reluctant to face each other, the married couple’s allegiance to one another is being questioned in the public, and the two must decide how to move forward. Before an answer is given, the series shifts back in time five months to examine how the royal pair ended up in such a state.

The Crown Season 2 Episode 2 Matt Smith Netflix

Mercifully, this isn’t a framing device for the entire season — Morgan catches up to this scene in the third episode — but it does draw attention to the predominant themes of marriage, equality, and progress. Episodes focus on Philip’s frustrations with his position, his tragic childhood, and his perceived dalliances with women other than Elizabeth. The series doesn’t go so far as to show Philip with another woman, but it strongly implies casual couplings during his time away from the city and depicts a budding vanity that often distracts from his duties.

Smith builds a character who’s easy to dislike without being totally alien: It’s both a challenging and enviable development to take on, and Smith progresses Philip quite well. The kind of presumptive sexism displayed will make him an even more hated figure given current cultural context, but he’s not a monster or a predator; he’s merely a powerful man doing what powerful men did at the time.

The latter point is more of the show’s stance than an absolute interpretation. Morgan makes some bold choices in what he’s willing to include, but bold choices do not equate to bold positions. “The Crown” only goes so far, after all, even with its principal subject. Though Elizabeth is often made into a pitiable object, she’s more reactive than declarative in Season 2.

The Crown Season 2 Claire Foy Matt Smith Netflix

Characters often bring up the queen’s obligation to the crown, and they almost always frame her allegiance to tradition in contrast to personal desires. Last season saw Elizabeth deny her sister the love of her life because their marriage would embarrass the family. Margaret (Vanessa Kirby) is still smarting from that decision — she’s quite the drunkard in Season 2 — but Elizabeth has moved on; she’s accepted her duty and is entirely possessed by it.

The show seems to have followed suit, and the fifth episode illustrates the underlying problem of hiding behind history. Based around Lord Altrincham, an unknown newspaperman and failed politician, “Marionettes” focuses on how the writer’s scathing opinion of a speech made by the queen gains traction. At first, her advisers tell Elizabeth not to worry about it. They think it will be dismissed outright because of the subjects’ undying loyalty to her office.

But when Altrincham appears on television to defend his articles, the tide turns. He’s not a crackpot or an attention-seeker. He genuinely loves the monarchy and wants to help it transition into the 20th century. He’s speaking for the people, and the people are behind him. The episode ends with a footnote, saying the royal family eventually adopts every one of Altrincham’s suggestions, and this final word successfully shifts the episode from its original position — the condemnation of a crackpot vs. the queen — to its ultimate message: that one man speaking truth to power can sway the course of history.

The Crown Season 2 Dogs, corgis, running Netflix

It’s a strong episode on its own, but “The Crown” lacks the same courage overall. Morgan’s drama only feels comfortable taking a stance when its got historical precedent behind it: The condemnation of the royal family’s stuffy policies is included because someone actually condemned it and they listened, whereas when the family’s outdated and inhumane beliefs are brought up — like their disgusted intolerance of homosexuality — “The Crown” seems to shrug and say, “Well, that’s how it was back then.”

Whereas “Mad Men” and “The Americans” provide context to indicate how the audience should react (think about the opposing marketing firm throwing piss balloons on black protesters, or Philip’s struggle to follow through on certain missions), “The Crown” is content to just depict what happened. When the queen is forced to think about homosexuality, she collapses and her hand is shown grasping the window, like Kate’s in “Titanic” — except Elizabeth isn’t in the midst of passionate backseat sex, she’s just passionately unhinged at the idea of a man kissing another man. Such a simple point could’ve been made without the grandiose bombasticity that lends the series a coldness that’s hard to come back from.

It doesn’t condemn these ideas just as it doesn’t condemn Philip’s actions. Of course, it doesn’t support them either. While very good at instructing the audience how Philip and Elizabeth are feeling, rarely does it evoke the same level of feeling from viewers. The series is so diligent to the history books — “There was a meeting and, as best we can tell, this was discussed, so they probably reacted like this…” — there are more frustrations than surprises and more acceptance than understanding.

Some viewers may look for exactly this in their television: a beautiful recreation of historical events, connected by safe assumptions about the people who lived through them. But television is capable of so much more, and whether you like “The Crown” or not, its medium evokes stronger, richer feelings elsewhere.

Grade: B-

“The Crown” Season 2 premieres December 8 exclusively on Netflix.

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