In Orphan Black, it often feels like Évelyne Brochu achieves the impossible – making an impression as conflicted scientist Delphine despite sharing the screen with the acting dynamo that is Tatiana Maslany. Managing to stand out amid a constantly expanding cast of main characters – more often than not played by Maslany – and make Delphine's story seem anything but superfluous is no small feat.
And although Brochu plays just the one character in the sci-fi series and not 10, Delphine has inhabited a multitude of different roles throughout the series. When we met Delphine, she was a protégé of former DYAD organisation head Dr Leekie (Matt Frewer), assigned as a spy to clone Cosima (Maslany). Posing as a immunology student, she fell for Cosima while monitoring her, blindsided by her feelings for someone she was encouraged to treat with as much distance as a lab experiment. At the end of season one, she ostensibly gave it all up, turning her back on her former mentor and everything she thought she believed, attempting to take down the organisation from the inside for Cosima’s sake.
By season three with the death of Leekie, she was installed as the new head of DYAD, her ambitions to help Cosima gone at the expense of being a ruthlessly ambitious antagonist who double-crosses her clone allies. It was a whiplash of personality changes, but Brochu handled it with earnestness and grace, even when relying on extremely little guidance in terms of writing to make sense of how her motivations have changed again.
Brochu's performance has never been bravura, happy to work quietly in the background until her moment comes. She sports a French accent (described be her as “Marion Cotillard speaking English”) in the role, but it's not attention-grabbing like Maslany’s cockney drawl as Sarah Manning. At the beginning, she was somewhat of an odd presence on the show – the conflict that arose out of her struggle between her job and her romantic feelings made her a gold mine of potential, but there was no time to explore it. In the first two seasons, whenever there was a glimmer of her complicated psyche being explored and brought in to the fold of the show, it had to quickly be dashed.
Then season three happened and the morally grey eugenicist became unprecedentedly powerful. Delphine's new role called for cold calculation, but despite her desire to be the all-business, detached leader her former superior was, she was not. Her level of emotional attachment and impulsivity betrayed her. It was no longer a question of whether she was truly in love with Cosima, but what exactly she was willing to sacrifice for the relationship or the job.
This was all gleaned from Brochu’s performance, a masterclass in subtle developments and reading volumes into the most seemingly insignificant actions delivered in snatched seconds. The mantras and fake strength, shown by little cracks in resolve is what Brochu excels at on the show; the incidental shoulder hunches, vocal inflections and changes in stride depending on who she’s with.
When she’s with Cosima she softens, her tone less abrasive and insistent, her body almost sinking into itself as her guard comes down. Then there’s the fact that when she crosses the threshold into an office, it’s like she changed bodies at the door, clicking into an entirely different gear. In the season three opener, she stepped out of an elevator with Maslany-as-Sarah-as-Rachel and, with a simple hair flick, everything about her changed. Her posture hardened with a forced smile – another person entirely.
“We all have our part to play,” Delphine said to Sarah at the beginning of season three. The other characters very clearly have two different selves – one designed to protect and one of softer truth. But to Brochu, what is the part Delphine is playing? Where does it end and where does it begin? Is it ever truly able to be shed?
Delphine was thought to be killed off at the end of season three, expended as an untrustworthy liability to the company, but made her triumphant return at the end of the fourth. Now, she’s back to not only help Cosima and company discover their identities, but also to find her own. Where does her true self lie? In the hands of Brochu, we may finally know.
Watch the final season of Orphan Black every Sunday night on SBS VICELAND at 8:30pm. Miss an episode? You can catch up via SBS On Demand: