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‘Orphan Black: Echoes’ isn’t meant to be a clone of a clone show, its creator says

By Tracy Brown, Los Angeles Times
Published: June 23, 2024, 6:05am
2 Photos
Krysten Ritter as Lucy 
 &dagger;in &ldquo;Orphan Black: Echoes.&rdquo; (Sophie Giraud/AMC/TNS)
Krysten Ritter as Lucy †in “Orphan Black: Echoes.” (Sophie Giraud/AMC/TNS) Photo Gallery

Of the fun memories made as a first-time showrunner, Anna Fishko counts among them learning the minutiae of what it takes to film a scene that shows the star of her series, Krysten Ritter, emerging from a vat of pink goo.

“They would bring me six sample jars of different pinks [and] we would have a whole meeting about which color pink we think it should be,” says Fishko, the creator and executive producer of “Orphan Black: Echoes.” “I learned a lot about how much a giant tank full of goo weighs. And how long it takes to heat the goo up if you’re going to put a person in it.” (Six hours, for those who are wondering.)

Set predominantly in 2052, “Orphan Black: Echoes,” premiering at 10 p.m. today on AMC and BBC America and streaming on AMC+, stars Krysten Ritter as Lucy, a woman who wakes up one day with no memory of her past. After stumbling upon a tank of a mysterious pink substance, she learns that she was printed out in a high-tech lab.

“Lots of magic goes into creating those moments,” Ritter, who also serves as an executive producer on the series, says of her goo scene that’s featured in the show’s promotional materials. “There was a lot of prep [and] a lot of conversations about it. A lot of technical stuff to wade through … they put a 70-pound belt on my waist to hold me down. But it was fun, and it made for such a great image.”

“Echoes” takes place in the world introduced in “Orphan Black,” the acclaimed sci-fi series that saw Tatiana Maslany portray more than 14 distinct clones over the course of its five-season run that concluded in 2017. While certain details establish a connection between the two shows, “Echoes” is less a copy of the original than a complement that further interrogates similar themes around humanity and identity.

Fishko, who has previously written on shows such as “ Pieces of Her,” “ The Society “ and “ Fear the Walking Dead,” says that although AMC and Boat Rocker were interested in revisiting the world of “Orphan Black,” they “very specifically didn’t want to do the same thing over again.”

“They didn’t want to make a show about a person who turns out to have a bunch of biological clones of herself at the same age,” she says, citing the technical challenges of pulling off the feat as well as the inevitable impossible comparisons that it would invite. “I felt like if we were trying to do exactly the same thing over again, it was always never going to be quite right.”

Instead, Fishko leaned into “Orphan Black’s” broader themes around identity, found family, sisterhood and “the ways in which science makes us ask big questions about our lives as it advances.” The original series was one she watched with her husband, a former philosophy professor whose area of interest was personal identity. She was also able to bounce ideas off John Fawcett, co-creator of the original “Orphan Black,” who served as an executive producer and director on “Echoes.”

“We did a lot of talking and thinking about what people have loved about the original show,” Fishko says. “Why they loved it, which characters were important to them and that feeling of fun. I tend to be a pretty serious dramatic writer, and it was a challenge for me, in a good way, to try and find some humor and find some lightness and do things a little bigger than I might naturally, instinctively have done.”

Fishko wanted to ensure that “Echoes” is just as accessible to viewers new to “Orphan Black” as it is to the franchise’s devoted fan base, the #CloneClub. The show center on a whole new cloning project and mystery, so no prior knowledge of the original series is required, but there are nuances and callbacks that fans will pick up on.

For Ritter, who is no stranger to joining franchises with established fans after starring in Marvel’s “ Jessica Jones,” part of the appeal of “Echoes” is that the story and series stands on its own while being a part of a broader universe.

After reading the script for the first episode, “I really appreciated how much my character got to do,” Ritter says. “There were deep emotional themes, the sort of ‘Bourne Identity,’ sci-fi on-the-run stuff, a fighting sequence and that beautiful relationship with Lucy’s stepdaughter,” Charlie (Zariella Langford-Haughton). Lucy also presented an intriguing challenge for her as an actor because she had no backstory.

Fishko describes Lucy as a survivor.

“She is someone who had to make her way in the world with no support and no resources and figure everything out from the ground up,” Fishko says. Lucy makes a life and finds love, forging “connections … that gave her something to lose.”

“Echoes” also sees Lucy cross paths with teenager Jules (Amanda Fix) and a scientist (Keeley Hawes) whose identity is technically a secret but who plays a key role in the central mystery.

What Fishko can say about Hawes’ scientist is that she is “a complicated character with a complicated history.”

“I was pretty interested in pushing the characters into a kind of gray area that would be engaging for people to think about,” Fishko says. “I feel like oftentimes, in this kind of story, you end up with good guys and bad guys, and there isn’t always a lot of subtlety to that.”

For as much as the action and scientific intrigue propel the story, “Echoes” is about relationships. Learning about “how the women all intertwine throughout” the show with different dynamics and “having scenes with all of these other women was really exciting to me,” Ritter says.

Lucy is “trying to figure out who she is, where she fits in the world, and falls in love with people,” she adds, describing “Echoes” as “a story of identity and love.” Lucy is protective of those she comes to care for, and over the course of the episodes, “she steps into a bigger purpose.”

“Connection and relationships are really important in the show,” Fishko says. “‘Do those things make us who we are?’ is something I thought a lot about. Are you the relationships that you have? Do they define you? And also, is it possible to re-create them or is your cumulative experience of them actually the thing that defines the relationship?”

Both familial and romantic love is highlighted in the series. One romance in particular echoes a fan-favorite relationship from the original “Orphan Black” and gets the spotlight in the new show’s fifth episode, written by Fishko. (Hint: It involves making crazy science.)

“I am a very sappy romantic at heart and so I got to find my secret spot for a sweet love story,” Fishko says. “I was very nervous about how the studio and the network would respond to it because ultimately, it unfolds slowly [compared to the other episodes], but everyone loved it.”

Just as weighty in “Echoes” is the theme of motherhood. Ritter was particularly drawn to the relationship between Lucy and Charlie, the deaf teenage daughter of Lucy’s boyfriend, Jack (Avan Jogia).

“I responded to the relationship with Charlie because I’m also a mother,” says Ritter, noting that this was the first time she has been able to explore such a bond onscreen since entering motherhood herself. Ritter learned sign language for the role (as well as some Spanish).

Coincidentally, Fishko, who remembers pitching “Orphan Black: Echoes” while pregnant with her second child, compares the experience of showrunning to parenthood.

“I knew it was going to be a big job because I’ve worked in TV long enough to know that,” Fishko says. “But it’s kind of like having children, where everybody tells you that it’s going to be hard but you don’t really understand what they’re talking about until you have them.”

And, like parenting, “having a team of people who you can really trust and be there to support you through that is so amazing,” she says.

Much like the original series, “Orphan Black: Echoes” feels timely. Female agency and bodily autonomy have once again become political battlefronts, and debates around artificial intelligence have invited anxiety about the future and deeper questions about humanity. Even the bioprinting technology used for cloning in the show, Fishko says, is not as outlandish as some might think.

While there has been no official word on whether “Orphan Black: Echoes” will continue beyond a first season, Fishko remains hopeful.

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“I’m very motivated to tell women’s stories,” she says, pointing to the political climate and her experiences since becoming a parent. “Being a mother [and] understanding how that impacts your life in a way that I just don’t think I could have imagined before I had them. Being in a marriage and what that takes. I’m interested in trying to find a way to talk about those things that still feels entertaining and not like lecturing.”

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