Monday, July 20, 2015

My Doppleganger on OITNB

Brook Soso played by Kimiko Glenn
Let's firstly admit that the hardest thing for a writer to do for scripted TV is something that involves multi-protagonists. Lost nailed it, but those shows are few and far between. Those of us who have watched Orange is the New Black from beginning to end can see that the writer's first avoided this, but soon realized that the gold was in the neck (supporting characters) not the head (Piper Chapman). They also had enough wear with all to utilize the same 'flashback' recipe that worked so well for the Lost cannon. It's simple math. You have a prison, there's clearly more than one person there, and each one of the supporting characters has a reason they ended up in federal corrections, so why not use half of each episode to explore that? And boom, they struck gold. The first season was very flawed, but because it was so innovative, exploratory and unapologetic it was good bait and got all of us hooked. But had they stuck with following around the needy, entitled Chapman (Taylor Schilling) for all three seasons ratings would have plummeted faster than Donald Trump's. 
By the second season, they started giving the more prominent supporting players their own episodes and flashbacks. One in particular that sticks out is Lorna Morello's (Yael Stone). I've heard men who couldn't care less about that show say that they loved that episode and talk about it with vigor. Morello starts off the series as a rather hair-brained quasi-racist Italian from Jersey whom we don't necessarily hate but we definitely don't respect. The hyper-feminine inmate can't stop talking about some boyfriend and their subsequent wedding and we soon realize she has delusions of grandeur. She also seems to be somewhat sexually ambivalent in that she seems totally committed to this nameless faceless man, but allows Nicky Nichols (Natasha Lyonne) to go down on her on a daily basis. She keeps collaging what she calls a 'vision board' for what she absolutely believes will happen upon release, but somewhere deep inside of us we know that something is not exactly lining up. In the second season we learn the gravity of all of it. Turns out Morello was actually a 9th-level stalker of that guy she claimed was her fiancee and was convicted of breaking into his house on several occasions.

One of the most heartbreaking stories of the inmates of Litchfield. Lorna's plight is unforgettable even though totally implausible.
The genius of the writers made us actually feel for this woman in her flashback episode because as the truck driver for Litchfield, she decides to take off one day to that man's house and finds that he's in the middle of planning his wedding to someone else. She puts on the woman's veil and takes the world's saddest bath in their house. And we just can't help but feel sorry for her. 
By the third season, the writer's had covered most backstories of the Litchfield inmates who have more than 4 minutes of screen time with one serious omission. Someone whom I connected to immediately, and someone who talks about her life so much to her inmates that in fact she might not need an actual backstory episode; Brook Soso. She's introduced in Season 2 as a quirky, naive, teeny, and highly educated blabber-mouth who annoys everyone around her, sticks out like a sore thumb, but has a sweet disposition regardless. By season 3, she's finally pushed to her breaking point, by being constantly picked on, dehumanized, and bullied, culminating in Leanne's (Emma Myles) cutting off her hair while she's sleeping, the likes of which we haven't seen since the soap in sock beating of Gomer Pile in Full Metal Jacket. 
Everyone at Litchfield is given some kind of forgiveness and turnaround. Even the homophobic meth head Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning) has a 180 degree change of character, the only one who seems to be actually getting worse is Chapman herself. But Soso seems to have always remained an innocent, never plotting or being vindictive, she's the classic victim, but by the end of the season she turns from victim to survivor and we can't help but applaud that. 

Brook finally stands her ground.
The writers definitely give her her comeuppance though. Considering she's one hell of a smart cookie she retorts to her bully by saying 'it's hard for me not to be condescending when you're literally beneath me right now' when the others are forced to wash the floor. And my personal favorite; 'I can't help that I have Pocahontas hair and it's not my fault you chose Meth over teeth'. 
SPOILER ALERT. Stop reading here if you still haven't finished the season, I mean it's been two months get on it. In the last episode, the barrage of negativity against her takes its toll and Soso, left without any other options takes about a drum of Benadryl, saved by the grace of Poussey, Crazy Eyes, and mostly Taystee. And in the last episode gets inducted into their clique, considering she's been a lone wolf from her induction day. She might not be the most dynamic inmate at the Litchfield Correctional Facility, nor one with any kind of interesting journey to prison. All we find out about her is that she had a strict mother who pushed her since she was old enough to walk.
As women, we can all find one or more characters from the inmates at Litchfield to relate to. I definitely see aspects of myself in Gloria, Nicky, Flaca, and of course Red, but Soso had my heart from the word go. Her story might not be as interesting and dynamic as everyone else's but her character is one that I recognize very well. 

Finding peace in the freedom lake.
In a brief flashback we see her get scolded for playing the piano wrong, and as a child upon whom piano was forced, I totally remember that and can fully relate. Keep in mind I had Russian teachers fresh out of the Soviet Union, so it wasn't pleasant. I personally can also relate to when she straight up asks for help and gets none. With Healy (Michael Harney), the chauvinistic old-timer with ancient morale and a strict disposition telling her that depression is all in her head and she just needs to lighten up and the prison doctor trying to shove SSRI's down her throat, when all she wanted was just a little acceptance, we can understand why Soso felt so trapped. And in that amazing lake scene when she clings arms with Poussey (Samira Wiley) and then physically and metaphorically jumps into her circle, it's such a release. It seems that most things that happen to her, happen unfairly, and perhaps that's why she's not given a backstory. Everyone else is definitely guilty whether they were forced to do what got them incarcerated or not. But Soso is almost like a child. She has an adolescent innocence about her, and even though she can be a know-it-all and seems to never shut the fuck up, we're all glad that Taystee was able to revive her. Let's hope for a full on Soso episode in Season 4. 

No comments: