Tuesday 26 July 2016
More black than orange
Any evening at home between Proms and summer jaunts usually includes one episode of Orange is the New Black, Series 4. Netflix's ever-surprising drama about a women's prison is too rich for binge watching. Not only are so many characters and strands involved in each episode, but often their treatment goes so deep that you need time to digest it. So we go one at a time.
Episode 7, which we watched yesterday afternoon, seemed especially layered. Usually there's one 'back story', and this time it belonged to Lolly Whitehill, the mentally unstable character whose past was plumbed so painfully that it raised questions many must ask in America - and actually here too: how can conditions like schizophrenia and paranoia pass undiagnosed, and why should that person end up in prison without proper mental health care? Actor Lorin Petty is carrying a difficult burden here, but she executes it brilliantly, on a high wire between pathos, scariness and humour.
Interestingly the younger Lolly is played (though I'd never have guessed it) by another actress, Christina Brucato (pictured above), and though I haven't looked back to check I presume Petty has taken over by the time we see Lolly on the streets, selling coffee to willing buyers and giving some of it away. You fear something dreadful's going to happen in the prison, but scriptwriter Nick Jones settles for a quiet coda - hope this isn't too much of a spoiler - as Lolly shares a moment inside her 'time machine' with the intermittently touching, flawed inmate counsellor Sam Healey (Michael Harney). Full marks to Jones for giving her so many good and strong lines about the voices in her head.
The terror of the episode belongs to the ongoing story of initial protagonist Piper Chapman (Taylor Schelling) and the upshot of her opportunism in selecting a gang of white racists to be her bodyguard. We love the return of the terrifically sympathetic, big-eyed Nicky (Natasha Lyonne), while our favourite group including Uzo Aduba (Suzanne 'Crazy Eyes' Warren), Adrienne C Moore (Cindy) and Tasha Johnson (Danielle Brooks) are part of a semi-amusing thread involving the exposure of Marth Stewart-alike Judy King (Blair Brown) as the one-time manipulator of a tinted-tainted puppet on TV. Brown is one of the latest additions to a flawless team of actors, any one of whom could garner a special award*. And the main thing is that Orange is the New Black doesn't seem to be falling into the formulaic trap of so many American series, however well they start out. And I always found House of Cards phoney anyway... Now, how the HELL I gonna catch up on RuPaul's Drag Race?
Meanwhile, American 'real' life continues to be as scary as it is comic-grotesque. To learn the extent to which Trump is just one of many Republican fruitcakes, read this brilliant article by Eliot Weinberger in the London Review of Books**. And to plumb the seriousness of Trump's connection to Putin - much of which has yet to come properly to light - this is good (and good on Vilnius, which has every right to feel very scared about Trump's election, for the above; my thanks to Sue Scheid for drawing my attention to the report). Fine coverage, as always, on how it's playing in Russia from The Interpreter. Anything positive to shout about our side of the pond? Only the speechifying of Nicola Sturgeon, the one limelight politician who calls a spade a spade.
* 4/8 Having finished the series, I can say that the last three episodes are well up to the standard of this one. There's a heart-wrenching flashback sequence for Suzanne within a tense lock-down strand and another for the adorable Poussey (Samira Wiley).
**Postscript - and this LRB article, which I've only just discovered, is the best long read on Brexit of any I've come across.