Brook Soso. She’s a new inmate on Orange is the New Black. She’s played by Kimiko Glenn, who is at least part Asian. The only other Asian inmate is Chang (Lori Tan Chinn) who was mostly nonverbal in season 1, but does have lines in season 2.
Brook is VERY verbal. Nonstop talking. If she ever shut up she might have to listen to what was going on inside her own head. Not something she’s willing to do.
She’s not good material for a close friendship with Chang. She doesn’t fit in with the black inmates or the Spanish inmates. The white inmates tolerate her badly if at all.
She’s not disruptive like Vee, although she does inspire some good behavior. I’m looking forward to getting to know her as time goes by because she feels like a permanent addition to the cast.
I want to talk about her mostly because she adds another Asian to a cast that is diversity on steroids.
Incessant chatter is her coping mechanism. Because she talks all the time we learn quickly that she’s a flaming liberal, that she is up on all the latest liberal causes, and that she has the liberal agenda down and wants to tell you all about it. She’s in prison for some sort of political protest, but we don’t know what yet. She’s optimistic and bright-eyed and cheerful. I hope it doesn’t get beaten out of her by the system.
When she first arrives at Litchfield, Soso’s scared of the showers. To be fair, the shower drains do urp up raw sewage on a regular basis. She goes unshowered for so long that everyone notices and complaints are filed about her stink. Bell (Catherine Curtin) gets the job of making her take a shower.
Soso tries passive resistance in protest to the forced shower, but she’s quickly picked up and carried to the showers. When she’s finally forced into the shower, she cries.
Soso, upset with her treatment, decides to go on a hunger strike. Passive resistance didn’t work so well for showers, but it may work better where eating is concerned.
Mendez (Pablo Schreiber) tangles with her in the cafeteria, where she announces loudly that she’s on a hunger strike in protest of the deplorable conditions in Litchfield. She wants others to join her.
As time goes by, she does get some people to join her hunger strike. That has some interesting consequences. Unfortunately, none of the consequences result in a lessening of her verbal diarrhea. One member of the cast does find a way to shut her up, but I don’t want to mention how, just in case you haven’t seen that part yet.
I’m glad they added an Asian character to the mix. When I reviewed August: Osage County, I suggested that the Native American actress Misty Upham be added to the cast of OITNB. I still think a Native American character would be a good idea. In fact, how about more than one Asian addition, and more than one Native American addition? We are, after all, peering into a multiplicity of women on this show.
Say hello to Vee (Lorraine Toussaint). Notice the dangerous headgear. Notice the deadly serious look in her eyes. Notice the nickname “queen” bestowed on her by the Orange is the New Black team.
Bringing Vee into the prison and into Orange is the New Black was a storytelling decision of brilliance from Jenji Kohan’s and the other writers on this Netflix Original Series.
It was such a juicy part – it gave Lorraine Toussaint a chance to move into Emmy Award territory. Why not give such a juicy part to one of the existing inmates? Someone we already think we know?
I have a few ideas about why an outsider, a newcomer, was important to season 2. Vee knew prison. She’d been there before. She knew Red, she knew the power Red used to wield from the kitchen. She knew how to turn prison culture to her advantage, just as she knew how to navigate life outside prison to her advantage.
A strength of season 1, a strength of the writing on this series, is the nuance. The layers revealed about each character in the storytelling, in the flashbacks. Because of that nuance, we thought we knew people.
But we didn’t know people in the way a master manipulator, a psychopathic user of human weakness like Vee knows them.
Vee knows how to spot someone who will be slavishly loyal in return for a glimmer of love, a glimmer of approval. She knows who will respond to family obligations. She knows who will go to the dark side out of a need for power or greed. She knows who will follow without question. She knows who can be tempted by the lure of a longed-for high. She knows who can be bought with bribery, with food, with small gifts.
Just watch Vee manipulate. She takes the sexy foster son she’s always lusted after to bed, then sends him out to be murdered. She comforts Tastee before her foster brother’s funeral by promising to protect her forever. Watch her work Tastee later in the prison when she realizes a piece of cake isn’t enough to win her over. Tastee wants an apology so Vee delivers. Watch her in the bathroom with Gloria where she uses tears to manipulate. Watch her deal with Black Cindy when Black Cindy uses cigarettes to get goodies for herself instead of profits for Vee. Watch her hit Poussey, both literally and figuratively, to keep her from influencing Tastee. Watch her promise friendship to Red and then lock sock her.
Lorraine Toussaint is brilliant in this part. I know I said that already, but damn, it’s worth repeating.
Vee goes into the prison and completely rewrites the culture in a few days. She recruits followers, sets tribes and factions against each other, breaks up friendships, and inflames hatred. She claims power with practiced ease.
Vee’s mayhem, Vee’s manipulations, pull back the curtain on all those characters we thought we knew. It gives us new insights. We see flaws, strengths, darkness, beauty in ways that we couldn’t in season 1 when everyone more or less got along. Vee disrupts, she brings an end to everyone just getting along, and personalities are laid bare in the process.
The women in Litchfield are criminals. They did bad things, stupid things, crazy things, violent things. But none of them are evil. Vee is evil. That’s another reason why Vee needed to be someone new to the cast. There was no evil-without-regret character already there.
Vee’s presence moves the story away from Piper. We still have Piper, of course, but her story doesn’t carry season 2 the way it did season 1. Season 2 is about power grabs, and Piper isn’t after power. Because Alex Vause will be back in season 3 in more episodes, Piper may come back into the forefront next season. Or maybe not. This story has taken on a life of its own. The actors, the characters, the chemistry between the actors, the fan response – all of it has carried Orange is the New Black bodily into places Piper Kerman’s original book never went.
So kudos to Jenji Kohan for writing Vee, kudos to Lorraine Toussaint for playing her with such brilliance, and kudos to everyone who got to go deeper and peel away more layers in response to Vee’s presence in the story. Brilliance all around.
A personal note: my nickname is Vee. It’s odd to write about a character named Vee.
Season 2 of House of Cards appeared on Netflix on Valentine’s Day. If it was meant to be a little billet-doux from Netflix to sweeten up our weekend, it failed the sweetness test. It more than made up for it in the drama department, however.
I want to share my reactions to this series without revealing any spoilers about season 2 while doing it. Overall, season 2 is even better than season 1 – and season 1 is exceptionally good. Here are a few reasons that House of Cards continues to get better.
There are fascinating plot twists that keep you on your toes in this story. Not one of the politicians in this tale does a single thing for the good of the country or the people – it’s all about self-interest. It feels realistic and unpleasantly like modern politics. Yes, it feels realistic in the telling, but if you really examine the plot it seems unlikely to ever be reality.
The performances by the lead actors Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright as Frank and Claire Underwood are outstanding.
Supporting actors also do an outstanding job. It’s a big cast, because the story is involved. Every character is important as a piece of the puzzle and every actor gives a credible performance.
The look, the mood, the writing, the pace: everything works, everything contributes.
A couple of episodes were directed by women, namely Jodie Foster and Robin Wright. A series always earns extra points with me when a woman directs.
The Master Manipulator
Frank Underwood continues to be ruthlessly ambitious, a manipulator who will do anything to get what he wants. He shares some of his plans and goals with us by talking directly to the camera as he did in season 1. We see a measure of his true self thanks to this device. Other than his wife, most of the people around him have no idea what he’s doing. He’s very convincing.
In season 1, Claire Underwood was off doing her own thing, but in season 2, this power couple are working more closely together to achieve their joint quest for power. We see deeper into their relationship. House of Cards would still be fascinating if the only plot involved the complex and murky interactions between this couple.
They understand each other, they support each other, and they are committed to getting what they want. They tolerate each other’s foibles and needs and build on each other’s strengths. In some ways it’s a political marriage based on shared ambitions and convenience, but in other ways they love and care about each other.
House of Cards is about much more than a marriage, however. There are themes of good an evil, about power and whether power corrupts, about the end justifying the means, about progress, the common good, the rule of the moneyed class. Mixed in with the big thematic elements there are human stories about the desire for love, the need for sex, and appetites of all kinds.
A Few Supporting Characters
The majority of the supporting characters are ambitious politicians. There are a few journalists, sex workers, security staff, double agents, or others who somehow know too much and could be a danger to the politicians.
These are the supporting players that I found particularly impressive.
Molly Parker as House Whip Jackie Sharp is terrific. She’s strong, devoted to her own political ambitions and willing to work with Frank Underwood even though she knows he’s a snake. Her story gets fairly well developed for a supporting part. She gets involved with Remy Denton as part of that development, a choice that might end badly.
Mahershala Ali as Remy Denton is someone who is not a politician, but does what he can to influence politics in various ways. He’s an employee of billionaire Raymond Tusk and sometimes is sent to do things he doesn’t really want to do.
Raymond Tusk is played by Gerald McRaney. I have been watching Gerald McRaney on TV for over 40 years, since the early 1970s. I have to admit I’m fond of him. He’s usually a good guy, but here he’s a power junkie with billions at his disposal. He’s fantastic as a villain!
Michael Kelly is chilling as Frank Underwood’s chief of staff, Doug Stamper. One of his chores in season 1 was to get the sex worker Rachel Posner out of the view of journalists and make sure no one ever heard from her again. He’s an alcoholic with 14 years of sobriety, but he goes on a crazy “dry drunk” binge over this woman (played by Rachel Brosnahan) and spends his time obsessing about her and following her every move. Her storyline grows more interesting and important with each episode of season 2 as well.
There are many characters I haven’t mentioned because I’m trying not to reveal anything that happens in season 2 that will shock or surprise you. There’s plenty in season 2 that will do that.
Heading into Season 3
Season 3 is a go. As I look at what transpired in season 2 and think about what may happen in season 3, I can’t help but think about a book I read recently called Give and Take by Adam Grant. I reviewed this book briefly in a post on my other blog, Web Teacher. The Machiavellian Frank Underwood is a taker of the highest magnitude. He thinks he’s invulnerable, he thinks everything is in his control, but he makes mistakes. He trusts the wrong people, he does the wrong things, and his empire could topple like a – it must be said – house of cards.
Adam Grant’s premise in Give and Take is that takers eventually fail and fall. Will Frank Underwood?
Laverne Cox and CeCe McDonald were the guests on Democracy Now on Feb. 19, 2014. This is how Amy Goodman introduced the program and the two women. As background for this post, I’m going to quote the entire introduction.
After serving 19 months in prison, the African-American transgender activist CeCe McDonald is free. She was arrested after using deadly force to protect herself from a group of people who attacked her on the streets of Minneapolis. Her case helped turn a national spotlight on the violence and discrimination faced by transgender women of color. In 2011, McDonald and two friends were walking past a Minneapolis bar when they were reportedly accosted with homophobic, transphobic and racist slurs. McDonald was hit with a bar glass that cut open her face, requiring 11 stitches. A brawl ensued, and one of the people who had confronted McDonald and her friends, 47-year-old Dean Schmitz, was killed. Facing up to 80 years in prison for his death, McDonald took a plea deal that sentenced her to 41 months. In the eyes of her supporters, CeCe McDonald was jailed for defending herself against the bigotry and violence that transgender people so often face and that is so rarely punished. At the time of the attack, the murder rate for gay and transgender people in this country was at an all-time high. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs documented 30 hate-related murders of LGBT people in 2011; 40 percent of the victims were transgender women of color. Transgender teens have higher rates of homelessness, and nearly half of all African-American transgender people — 47 percent — have been incarcerated at some point.
McDonald joins us on her first trip to New York City. We are also joined by one of her supporters, Laverne Cox, a transgender actress, producer and activist who stars in the popular Netflix show, “Orange is the New Black.” She plays Sophia Burset, a transgender woman in prison for using credit card fraud to finance her transition. She is producing a documentary about McDonald called “Free CeCe.” We also speak to Alisha Williams, staff attorney with the Sylvia Rivera Law Project.
“I very easily could have been CeCe,” Laverne Cox says. “Many times I’ve walked down the street of New York, and I’ve experienced harassment. I was kicked once on the street, and very easily that could have escalated into a situation that CeCe faced, and it’s a situation that too many transwomen of color face all over this country. The act of merely walking down the street is often a contested act, not only from the citizenry, but also from the police.”
Laverne Cox has been an actress since 2000, but Orange is the New Black has given her an unexpected platform and visibility. OITNB has given transgender people in general an unexpected platform and visibility. Justice for transgender people, for trans women of color, is now a topic of conversation all across the country.
It isn’t so much about Laverne Cox, as that she’s suddenly been given this moment because of OITNB. She’s been given visibility, and she’s making good use of it.
Cox seized the opportunity to promote change, up the stakes in her activism, and be a voice to whom the media will listen. She’s wonderfully suited to be a leader and public voice for the trans community. She’s brainy, she’s articulate, and she’s charismatic.
You may say that change would come eventually, that demands for justice and equality from the transgender community would eventually be heard, but I think it would have been a longer time coming. It would have been a harder struggle.
A TV show about women in prison with a sympathetic and likeable transgender woman’s story as part of the ensemble has made change possible sooner. It has given activists like Laverne Cox an opportunity to be heard by a wide audience.
Giving representation to marginalized or minority parts of society on TV shows can change the world. What we see on TV matters. It matters to real people.
If you have Netflix and haven’t watched the first season of House of Cards I recommend you watch it. It’s excellent in every possible way storytelling and acting can be excellent. The first season won 3 Emmy awards.
Season 2 will be released February 14, 2014. Here’s the trailer from Netflix.
Among the many featured actors in the series are Kevin Spacey, Michael Gill, Robin Wright, and Kate Mara. Kevin Spacey carries the lead as the ruthlessly ambitious Francis Underwood.
The latest from Netflix about season 2 of Orange is the New Black is that Lorraine Toussaint was added to the cast as a prisoner named Vee. Lorraine Toussaint was a regular on Body of Proof, Friday Night Lights and Saving Grace, but I love her most of all from Any Day Now. Any Day Now was set in 1960’s Birmingham, Alabama during the height of the civil rights movement. If you haven’t seen it you should look it up and watch it.
Netflix also announced that Danielle Brooks, who plays Taystee will be a regular. Danielle Brooks is fresh out of Julliard. Her career is off to a solid gold start with OITNB and Taystee.
Taryn Manning is promoted to being a cast regular as well. The announcement is a bit of a spoiler alert, since it means that Piper didn’t do as much damage to Pennsatucky at the end of Season 1 as we might have thought.
The news about casting for season 2 announced recently is that Lori Petty from Tank Girl has a part in Orange is the New Black. The name of her character and what part she’ll play in the show isn’t explained yet.
Let’s talk about the supporting actresses in this series. There are so many and they are all so good at telling their character’s particular story. Who’s your favorite?
It’s hard to choose. Every choice is outstanding. I liked Miss Claudette and Sophia and Nicky and Tiffany ‘Pennsatucky’ Doggett and Yoga. And Red – Red is a scene stealer. I liked Kathryn Kates in her tiny but perfect part as Larry’s mother. So many good choices.
But I’m asking you to choose, so choose I must.
I’m going with Suzanne ‘Crazy Eyes’ Warren played by Uzo Aduba.
Crazy Eyes is a multiplicity: bit off the rails, a bit violent, a bit wiser than Solomon, a bit of a poet, and smart, smart smart. Uzo Aduba gives her a certain charm and warmth that I found delightful. She also nailed the requisite crazy looking eyes when needed. Her physicality in this role made Crazy Eyes believable and real.
A favorite episode with her is when Crazy Eyes hears there might be an “acting opportunity” in the prison (a contingent of juvenile delinquents are coming and inmates are asked to talk to them), she marches in and announces, “I want to play a role. Like Desdemona or Ophelia or Claire Huxtable.” She’s smart and funny. When the juvenile delinquents appear, Crazy Eyes does a brilliant reading of some lines from Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Coriolanus.
I just finished the last episode of season 1 of Orange is the New Black. It’s a women in prison comedy/drama. My thought as I watched the last few seconds of the stunning season conclusion was, “Please let there be 1000 more episodes of this show.” It’s that good. It’s been renewed for another 13 episodes in season 2, so that only leaves 987 that I’ll be wanting. The first season of 13 episodes runs from September to December in the story of one year in prison, so 3 seasons of equal pacing might be more realistic to expect.
Orange is the New Black is a a Netflix original, created by Jenji Kohan of Weeds. I loved Weeds and I love Orange is the New Black. Apparently I am a huge Jenji Kohan fangirl. Kohan takes characters who are flawed, vulnerable, maybe a little off, often of questionable moral inclinations and she makes me care about them. Her characters aren’t Hannibal Lector, but they aren’t Mother Teresa either. They fall somewhere in between those two extremes, in a place where most of humanity struggles to get through the day.
Orange is the New Black stars Taylor Schilling as Piper Chapman. The series is based on the book Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman. Piper Kerman and her TV self Piper Chapman are blonde, pretty, perfect WASPs who should be successes in life, and who don’t expect to find themselves figuring out how to survive in a prison.
Other well-known actors appearing in the series include Jason Biggs as Larry Bloom, Piper’s fiancee. Laura Prepon is Alex Vause, Piper’s lover from a decade ago. Alex was a drug smuggler and the reason Piper is in prison all these years later. And, oh yeah, Alex is in the same prison. Kate Mulgrew is Red, an inmate who runs the kitchen in the prison. Pablo Shreiber is a corrupt and cruel guard. Michael Harney plays the prison counselor. Natasha Lyonne is one of the inmates.
This is a big cast, the names I mentioned above are ones you may recognize. I feel like I should list the name of every single cast member because every performance is outstanding. Michelle Hurst, Taryn Manning, Samira Wiley, Uzo Aduba, Laverne Cox, Dascha Polanco, Matt McGorry – I didn’t mean to start listing them, but I can’t help it. And there are more names that should be applauded. Every character in this ensemble has a story, makes a real contribution, and every actor in the ensemble produces brilliant work. The acting is true, believable, powerful and at least 85% of the reason the series is so good. The other 15% goes to great writing. My math must be a little off, because I think there should be some percentage given for directing and costuming and set design and that Regina Spektor song at the beginning of every episode. Well, okay, I’ll say that the acting is at least 50% of the reason why this series is so good.
Can you give an entire cast an Emmy for best supporting actress?
A Few Mild Spoilers
Orange is the New Black is both a comedy and a punch-in-the-gut drama. There are a few laugh out loud moments and some running gags that will make you smile. A favorite running gag was the woman who was crying on the phone next to Piper each time she made a phone call. One scene where everyone in the cafeteria stood up and started dry humping everything in sight had me rolling on the floor.
There were moments of cruelty, fear, pain, and brokenness. There were moments of insight. There were moments of love. There are thieves, drug dealers and murderers – and those are just the people in charge of running the prison. There is fornication, masterbation, revenge, overdosing, insanity, sanity, rage, delusion and denial, pragmatism and surprising beauty. Storylines include race politics, religious politics, prison politics, uses for screwdrivers, Shakespearean recitations, and good hair. In short, this series has multitudes to offer and a cast that is capable of delivering it.
Our pretty blonde WASP princess heroine is afraid of everyone at first but soon finds that the women in prison are just like her. She finds people to respect and admire, and to like, which surprises her a bit. Taylor Schilling goes all out in this part. You can be sure there’s plenty of drama and tension involving in getting from fear to admiration.
There is love and relationship drama. With sex. Within the first 30 seconds of episode 1 we see Piper having lesbian shower sex with Alex and straight bathtub sex with Larry. Seems these two super clean moments were flashbacks to happier times as Piper takes her first prison shower, which wasn’t nearly as much fun.
Flashbacks are used often to reveal more about the characters. We see into their childhoods, meet the parents (or lack of parents), see the abuse or the quest for drugs, and learn about the crimes that brought each one to the prison.
One thing I liked about the flashbacks was that the actors could look more like we normally see them. In the prison garb, with no makeup, horrible hair, and possibly awful prosthetic teeth it was a little hard to match up actors faces with the images on imdb.com for the cast. (I do have a tendency to look at cast bios and photos while watching a show.) It took me nearly all 13 episodes to figure out that Taryn Manning was the person playing the crazed Jesus-freak character. That was partly because I could never catch her character’s name and partly because she looked so crazy-scary in the role. Damn, was she good, too.
Laura Prepon never looked bad. Not once. She had blonde hair in Are you There, Chelsea?. She’s been a redhead in some shows. She has black hair here and big black glasses. Her hair never seems to be stringy or wild and she doesn’t need makeup to be stunning. Which partly explains why Piper can’t stay away from her and we have the lovers triangle of Piper, Larry, and Alex through most of season 1. Larry, so straight and normal out there waiting in the real world – Alex, so gorgeous as she offers up her very warm body right here inside the walls. What’s a girl gonna do? I cast my vote for team Alex, drug smuggler though she is. Alex seems to love Piper with a beautiful eternal flame that makes poor Larry’s conditional acceptance pretty lame by comparison. If you’ve read the book and know how this all turns out, don’t rain on my team Alex parade, okay?