Jarett Wieselman

The Undeniable Importance Of Taystee’s “Orange Is The New Black” Experience


Cara Howe/Netflix

A scene from Orange Is the New Black Season 5.

Before she was sent a single script for the fifth season of Orange Is the New Black, Danielle Brooks received an intriguing warning from the show’s creator: “Get ready. You have a lot to do.” Jenji Kohan offered those two vague sentences to Brooks following a performance of Broadway’s The Color Purple, for which she earned a Tony nomination. But even if the notoriously tight-lipped Kohan had elaborated, nothing could have prepared Brooks for what happened next.

Season 5 picks up right where the action left off, with Daya (Dascha Polanco) holding the malevolent Officer Humphrey (Michael Torpey) at gunpoint and the inmates on the precipice of a riot. In Season 4, quality of life had rapidly deteriorated since Litchfield became a privatized prison. There were not enough bunks or supplies for all the prisoners, and the officers were on a terrifying power trip: The inmates were subjected to inappropriate searches, Maritza (Diane Guerrero) was made to eat a mouse, and Suzanne (Uzo Aduba) almost killed Maureen (Emily Althaus) after a guard forced them to physically fight. Those fractured inmate-officer tensions culminated in the most tragic moment of Season 4: when Officer Bayley (Alan Aisenberg) killed Poussey (Samira Wiley).


Netflix

Amanda Stephen, Vicky Jeudy, Brooks, Blair Brown, and Adrienne C. Moore.

In Season 5, the immense weight of righting all of Litchfield’s wrongs falls to Taystee (Brooks) after she stops famous lifestyle guru Judy King (Blair Brown) from speaking to the press on behalf of the inmates. In doing so, Taystee unwittingly becomes the face of the riot inside the prison and to the world at large. “She is not going to be making a statement,” Taystee tells a throng of rapt reporters who have been covering the melee. “She will not be speaking for us because Judy King can’t speak for the inmates of this prison. She was kept separate from us, held in a private room with better treatment and a seltzer maker. And moments after our friend Poussey Washington was murdered by a guard for doing nothing wrong, Judy King was packing her bags to go home on early release. Because she’s rich. And white. And powerful. Now, our fight is not with Judy King. Our fight is with a system that don’t give a damn about poor people and brown people and poor, brown people.”

“As an actor, that’s what I’ve always longed for: to tell stories that go beyond a story.”

It’s one of many speeches Taystee gives during Season 5 that has real-world implications — which is one reason why Brooks was so easily able to access her emotions when it came to performing these pivotal monologues. “A lot of these moments are much bigger than the show,” Brooks told BuzzFeed News. “To me, that moment was so parallel to what was going on with Diamond Reynolds.” In 2016, Reynolds was thrust into the media spotlight after a police officer shot her boyfriend, Philando Castile, during a traffic stop and she livestreamed the entire incident. “I remember watching so many clips of her speak after Philando Castile was murdered, and she never let her lawyer speak for her. She never needed somebody privileged, somebody white, [to] speak for her. She always did it — and she did it so eloquently. So for me that was such a real moment, because … I have a brother who is 22 years old and I have a father in his fifties and there’s times I am scared for their lives.”

The speech also highlights a brilliant acting choice Brooks made all season long: Whenever Taystee is speaking to someone in a position of power — be it the media, the governor’s liaison, or Natalie Figueroa (Alysia Reiner), the former executive assistant to the warden, who is negotiating to end the riot — she repeats and stresses the pronunciation of “Poussey Washington” as if trying to verbally cement her dead best friend’s name into their brain. For Brooks, it’s another element of Season 5 with deep roots in the real world.

“I want us as a country to really get [that] we have to start caring for people [when] we don’t know anything about [them] but their names,” she said, echoing Taystee’s passion. “We have to understand there’s a person behind those hashtags whose life really mattered, and to me I just really want us to get that, and I know we don’t.” Brooks experienced the disconnect firsthand in 2016, after Wiley’s character was killed off the show. “When Poussey died, a lot of people were connected to her character, and I’d post one picture of her and there would be hundreds of thousands of likes,” she said. “But then I would say something about Mike Brown or Philando Castile or Trayvon Martin or whoever…I mean, fill in the blank at this point, which is just devastating to even say. But there would be one-fifth of the response. That’s why I think there’s such power in art. There’s such power in storytelling. As an actor, that’s what I’ve always longed for: to tell stories that go beyond a story. Tell a story that matters and will be effective to the world that we live in and change lives. That’s the ultimate goal. I think a lot of people feel acting is a selfish business, but we’re actually here to serve.”

While many of the inmates begin to lose sight of the bigger picture as the riot carries on — they stage talent shows, open up craft shops, and begin selling coffee — Taystee stands as the odd woman out, driven by something greater than a desire for freedom. She never sways from her commitment to obtaining justice for Poussey; long after her compatriots have gone to sleep, she is standing strong at the negotiating table and keeping Figueroa on her toes. Taystee’s season-long advocacy offers her an opportunity that winning Litchfield’s job fair and working alongside Caputo (Nick Sandow), the prison’s exasperated but sympathetic warden, never could: a sense of purpose. “I’m good at this,” Taystee says, almost surprised, after taking charge of negotiations. And while Taystee’s success caught her off guard, Brooks was never surprised by her character’s ability to thrive.


Netflix

Taylor Schilling, Brooks, Jeudy, Moore, Stephen.

“I’ve always felt like Taystee was a natural-born leader … but this is a moment in her life where she is taking it further because she has a cause and something to fight for that goes beyond herself,” Brooks said. “It’s so complicated to me, because people look at Taystee, especially in the first four seasons, and they’re like, ‘She’s super upbeat and always the light of the prison and always making a joke.’ But so many people make jokes to hide their pain. This is somebody who was abandoned by her biological mother, manipulated by someone she thought loved her deeply, and lost her best friend right in front of her face; she’s been through a lot, but she’s always covered it up with laughter or lived in denial. Now I think it’s all come to a head, to a boiling point, where she can’t do that anymore. She witnessed the only person who has ever shown her what love looks like — true love without wanting anything in return — and that person is taken away from her right in front of her face. It was her breakthrough moment.”

After a thoroughly exhausting negotiation process, Taystee actually gets the governor to reverse course and agree to expand the state’s budget so all of their demands can be granted — except for one: He’s unable to promise that Bayley will be prosecuted for Poussey’s murder because it’s outside his jurisdiction. But Taystee is relentless in her pursuit of justice — perhaps to a fault — and after an unexpected betrayal by Ruiz (Jessica Pimentel), who releases all of the hostages in hopes of shortening her sentence, Taystee loses all her hard-fought gains.

Following several episodes of watching Taystee flourish in her role as prison advocate, this perceived failure might sting, but OITNB writer Lauren Morelli explained that there was no other option. “I think it’s always been very important to us to accurately reflect the reality of our prison system, and having the prisoners win these negotiations on any level felt to us very unrealistic,” she told BuzzFeed News. “So we started to think about how Taystee has an individual, emotional win.”

Cue the harrowing capture of Officer Piscatella (Brad William Henke), a figure who was, in many ways, to blame for all the ills that befell Litchfield’s inmates in Season 4: He ruled with an iron fist and fostered the toxic energy that unequivocally led to Poussey’s death. So, although it looked like Season 5 was culminating in a giant negotiation win, bringing Taystee face-to-face with Piscatella was actually what the writers were building toward all season long. And with a gun pressed to Piscatella’s head and no one to stop her, Taystee makes the choice to spare his life. She refuses to become the monster he perceives all criminals to be, and that, more than any institutional triumph, is the greatest victory she could experience.

“It breaks my heart that she didn’t win in that way, and to be honest, I don’t know if Taystee will ever realize this, but I think she did win,” Brooks said. “I really don’t think she lost, because in that last scene when she’s holding the gun at Piscatella and she chooses not to shoot him, that’s when she realizes what justice really means. It’s about your character. Are you going to treat somebody the way in which they horribly treated you, or are you going to say, ‘No, I’m not going to do that’? I feel like that’s her win. Saying, ‘You’re not even worth me changing my character and me leaving without my dignity. You’re not worth it.’ I do feel like she won.”

“Halfway through the season, she starts to feel like she’s fighting this battle by herself. But that’s the moment where she realizes, I’m not alone in this. And that’s how we should feel as a society, too. We have to support each other.”

While Taystee may have won, the rioters lost, and the final scene of the season shows Taystee linking arms with her Litchfield family as they wait for the CERT team to break in and reclaim their authority. But even in that dire moment, Brooks sees a beautifully uplifting end to Taystee’s Season 5 journey. “It’s a reminder that she’s not alone,” she said of Taystee standing united with her fellow inmates. “Halfway through the season, she starts to feel like she’s fighting this battle by herself. But that’s the moment where she realizes, I’m not alone in this. And that’s how we should feel as a society, too. We have to support each other.”

After a season of onscreen events that had immediate connections to offscreen life, it’s fitting that her final moment — like much of Taystee’s journey this year — was directly informed by real-world events. “When we filmed that scene, a few of us had just been to DC for the Women’s March,” Brooks said. “To be in DC at that march with what felt like millions of women and feeling supported with whatever cause that brought us all together was an overwhelming feeling. I think that’s how Taystee feels in that scene. It does feel overwhelming, but it also feels doable. Yes, we can fight if we fight this fight together.”


Netflix

Dale Soules, Moore, Kate Mulgrew, Schilling, Laura Prepon, Natasha Lyonne, Selenis Leyva, and Laura Gómez

What The Shocking Season 5 Finale Means For The Future Of “Orange Is The New Black”

By the time Orange Is the New Black Season 5 reaches its closing moments, a riot at Litchfield has left two guards dead, the prison in shambles, and the future of every character up in the air.

“It felt very important to us that if we were going to commit to doing a riot that you can’t go back from that,” Lauren Morelli, who wrote the season finale, told BuzzFeed News. “In the real world, prisoners would not riot and then everything would be fine.”

Actually, nothing is fine at Litchfield. As a CERT team takes back the prison and forcibly removes the inmates, the show’s carefully formed families are literally torn apart: Flaca (Jackie Cruz), Maritza (Diane Guerrero), Lorna (Yael Stone), and many more are randomly placed on several buses headed for destinations unknown.

But one cluster remains carefully hidden from the brutish group of officers as they punch, shock, and gas their way through the halls: Frieda (Dale Soules), Suzanne (Uzo Aduba), Black Cindy (Adrienne C. Moore), Taystee (Danielle Brooks), Red (Kate Mulgrew), Piper (Taylor Schilling), Alex (Laura Prepon), Nicky (Natasha Lyonne), Gloria (Selenis Leyva), and Blanca (Laura Gómez) are holed up in the abandoned swimming pool in the basement.

Their secluded spot doesn’t stay secret for long and the final frames of the season show the women joining hands just as the CERT team sets off an explosion that decimates their makeshift barricade and sends shrapnel flying. And with 10 of the most significant Orange Is the New Black characters staring down their would-be assailants, the finale suddenly cuts to black.

It’s one of the show’s biggest cliffhangers to date, and it’s clear Orange Is the New Black will never be the same.

“I think this thing is going to change — big-time. We’re going someplace else,” Mulgrew told BuzzFeed News. “It was extremely live or die; drama at its most heightened. Who knows what’s going to happen when the dust settles — I know nothing — but I don’t think everyone is going to survive that last moment. They may initially, but I think there will be repercussions. There were 10 of us holding hands … I think someone will get hurt. I don’t know who.”

Though she’s in the dark as to what journey awaits Red in Season 6, Mulgrew believes the choice to close out this season on those 10 characters is a sign of what’s to come. “I think that signifies, perhaps, a more concentrated view going into Season 6,” she said.

OITNB creator Jenji Kohan is no stranger to blowing up the world her characters live in; she ended the third season of Weeds by having Mary-Louise Parker’s character burn down her picture-perfect neighborhood and go on the lam with her family.

“I think we always try to be responsible — primarily because it’s going to be us who is stuck with whatever we do,” Morelli said with a laugh. “So we try to be really responsible about, Okay, if we make this decision, what happens next? And of course, Jenji is such an incredible leader in terms of making sure we’re thinking ahead, but she’s also such a badass, such a renegade, and she’s so willing to just leap. She’s so willing to be like, Let’s take the big swing and we’ll figure it out,’ versus, Let’s make sure we have a good plan in place.’ I think it’s really exciting to get to watch these women who have been powerless for four seasons suddenly have the power and what are the ramifications of that.”

Of course, Morelli wouldn’t speak to the plan for Season 6, but she did offer up this small tease: “I think it’s going to be different in a really great way. This ending allows us to explore a lot more of prison that we haven’t seen yet.”

MTV’s “The Challenge” Taps The Best Of The Worst For Season 30

Amanda Garcia (Are You The One? Season 3)

Chris Ammon “Ammo” Hall (The Real World: Go Big or Go Home)

Aneesa Ferreira (The Real World: Chicago)

Ashley Mitchell (The Real World: Ex-plosion)

Johnny “Bananas” Devenanzio (The Real World: Key West)

Britni Nicol (Are You The One? Season 3)

Camila Nakagawa (Spring Break Challenge)

Cara Maria Sorbello (The Challenge: Fresh Meat 2)

Cory Wharton (The Real World: Ex-plosion)

Chris “CT” Tamburello (The Real World: Paris)

Dario Medrano (Are You The One? Season 2)

Darrell Taylor (Road Rules: Campus Crawl)

Derrick Henry (Are You The One? Season 5)

Derrick Kosinski (Road Rules: X-treme)

Devin Walker (Are You The One? Season 3)

Hunter Barfield (Are You The One? Season 3)

Jemmye Carroll (The Real World: New Orleans)

Jenna Compono (The Real World: Ex-plosion)

Jordan Wisely (The Real World: Portland)

Kailah Casillas (The Real World: Go Big or Go Home)

LaToya Jackson (The Real World: St. Thomas)

Leroy Garrett (The Real World: Las Vegas)

Maria Roda (The Real World: St. Thomas)

Nelson Thomas (Are You The One? Season 3)

Nicole Ramos (The Challenge: Battle of the Bloodlines)

Shane Raines (The Challenge: Battle of the Bloodlines)

Simone Kelly (Are You The One? Season 1)

Tony Raines (The Real World: Skeletons)

Tori Deal (Are You The One? Season 4)

Veronica Portillo (Road Rules: Semester at Sea)

The “Sweet/Vicious” Team Wants You To Help Save It And Here's How

“Looking at the cancellation of our show, it is easy to feel like maybe your story doesn’t matter and that could not be more false,” Robinson said. “Shows get canceled for reasons that, literally, have nothing to do with the show. That is what happened here. Unfortunately our show is about something extremely important. The disconnect between the business and the heart sucks.

The Surprising Story Behind The Best “Alias” Episode Ever

“The scene where you first see the double of Francie [Merrin Dungey], where you pan from Francie to Francie dead,” revealed Ken Olin, who directed “Double Agent” and was one of the show’s executive producers.

“We were going to find that out there … but that was the coolest shot, so they put that at the end of the Super Bowl episode and everybody thought Jack Bender did it. It’s fine, he did Lost,” Olin said with a laugh.

How “Sweet/Vicious” Would Have Ended If It Didn't Get Canceled

(Creator Jennifer Kaytin Robinson with stars Taylor Dearden and Eliza Bennett)

“In terms of the five-year plan, I always knew how I wanted to end the show,” Robinson said. “And I also purposefully ended this first season in a way where Jules’ story, you got closure there. Because I was like, who knows? For Jules and Ophelia, that show would have evolved with everything that’s happening in the world.”

“Bachelorette” Contestant Under Scrutiny For Racist, Sexist, And Islamophobic Tweets

Lee Garrett, a contestant on the current season of ABC’s The Bachelorette, has locked his Twitter account after a series of racist, sexist, and Islamophobic tweets from before the show filmed were exposed.

“What’s the difference between the NAACP and the KKK? Wait for it… One has the sense of shame to cover their racist ass faces,” he posted, according to a screenshot from Twitter user @emesola. Garrett also appears to have tweeted a petition to have Black Lives Matter recognized as a terrorist group. In another tweet, he allegedly wrote, “When is the last time you saw a pretty feminist? There is a reason for this,” and in another: “I don’t hate Muslims, I do hate Islam. I just mindfucked a few liberals for standing for something while making reasonable sense.”

Garrett is currently vying for love on of The Bachelorette with Rachel Lindsay, the franchise’s first black lead.

More than a dozen alleged tweets from Garrett throughout 2015 and 2016 have been published by a handful of websites in the last 24 hours.

ABC and Warner Bros. — which produces The Bachelorette — had no comment on the matter, and Garrett did not immediately reply to BuzzFeed News’ request for a comment.

A three-minute promo for what’s to come hinted that Garrett may emerge as this season’s villain.

The announcement that Lindsay had been chosen as the next bachelorette felt like a long overdue decision as the franchise had infamously never featured a black Bachelorette or Bachelor.

Lindsay, who originally appeared opposite Bachelor Nick Viall earlier this year, was instantly a fan favorite and while her search for love got off to an awkward start, it appears that Lindsay’s time on The Bachelorette was well-spent since she — spoiler alert! — posted on Instagram that she is currently engaged.

Jarett Wieselman is a senior entertainment editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles. Wieselman writes about and reports on the television industry.

Contact Jarett Wieselman at jarett.wieselman@buzzfeed.com.

Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.