Orphan Black has always been able to mine comedy from uptight clone Alison Hendrix (Tatiana Maslany), but the high-strung hilarity that dominated her Season 1 storylines paled in comparison to the insanely comical series of events that transpired when she was cast in a musical at her community theater at the start of Season 2. The idea had been swirling around the writers’ room since last year, but co-creator John Fawcett’s initial concept was incredibly different.
“We originally conceived it as Grease and wanted Alison to play the role of Sandra Dee,” co-creator Graeme Manson told BuzzFeed. “That gave us all in the writers’ room endless fits of laughter, but Grease was prohibitively expensive. We kept looking for other musicals, but the large ones just made no sense. It was coming down to the wire and it looked like we might have to write an entire musical when our assistant, MacKenzie Donaldson, said we should check out this little musical she was involved in producing and had taken on the road to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.”
Enter Blood Ties, a darkly comedic chamber musical about a group of women in a bachelorette party forced to cover up a suicide, written by Anika Johnson and Barbara Johnston. “It was a real jaw-dropping moment,” Manson recalled of discovering just how perfectly Blood Ties echoed the struggle Alison was already facing in the aftermath of letting her presumed monitor, Aynsley (Natalie Lisinska), die in the Season 1 finale. “We worried a little bit at first that it might be too on the nose, but ended up deciding this twisted little show was on the nose in the right way,” he said.
The decision to have Alison take over Aynsley’s role, however, was a late addition. “Having Aynsley originally in the musical was a great way to doubly up the stakes because it meant that her murder is literally on stage,” Manson said. “That’s the fortuitous thing going on with this musical that eerily paralleled the storyline. It added this other layer of psychological complexity to Alison’s slow unwinding.”
That unwinding, fueled by the realization that her husband Donnie (Kristian Bruun) is actually her monitor, came to a head in the May 3 episode of Orphan Black when a booze-and-pill-plied Alison took a dive into the audience on opening night.
“We knew that Alison’s breakdown was going to come to a head on opening night because, psychologically, there’s nothing more perfect for Alison than to have that breakdown on stage, in front of everyone,” Manson said. “It’s her deepest fears realized.”
So where does she go from here? “Alison really hit rock bottom and will have to pick herself up and dust herself off now. And she’s going to have to do it in a very isolated way,” Manson teased. “In the larger clone story, they’re currently very much divided and the process of coming back together is an important one, but Alison has to deal with her personal issues first. For Alison, the betrayal of Donnie is actually a deeper issue than Aynsley’s negligible homicide. So, first and foremost is: What will she do about Donnie?”