Spoiler Alert: There be spoilers for Orange is the New Black, Season Five. Well all the seasons really, but season five is the new one so is the most warn-worthy.
So, after watching season five of Orange is the New Black, I did something I had intended to do after watching the fourth season and realising I had slightly forgotten some of the characters' names: watch it all again from the start. Yes, pretty much within a month of watching season five for the first time I was back and watching it for the second time, riding a wave that had started from the depth os season one. And I have no regrets, it was absolutely glorious. It really is one of my all time favourite shows. Mostly due to one character.
Yes, Taystee is most definitely the main character of Orange is the New Black now. We've all seen how it shifts, imperceptibly at times, from Piper's story, to an ensemble piece, with Taystee front and centre in season five. It's wonderfully done, and I'm not going to repeat what other people have eloquently written on the subject and the amazing arc that Taystee goes through over the five seasons, like this Variety piece.
Instead, I'm asking you all to go back to the beginning and think about the series differently. Obviously we need an entry point to the prison, and a new inmate such as Piper is the perfect jumping off point. We're gradually introduced to all these characters, slowly building up more information about them through the variety of flashbacks – those that show the crimes that have brought them to Litchfield, and those that just show the place they've come from, leaving us with a few mysteries.
But what if Piper wasn't our eye into Litchfield? What if we instead followed Taystee? Obviously it would need a little switching so that she is entering the prison in episode one, instead of already being incarcerated and friends with Poussey. There's an easy switch though, as Watson arrives with Piper and Diaz on day one. Watson can just as easily be the character that's already there that Taystee befriends as she gets her head around prison life, and we can see the friendship with Poussey from day one.
This is not to say that we need to see their friendship develop from the start. Absolutely not, as it already is on the screen, their friendship and Taystee's grief over the loss of Poussey is perfectly played out, due mainly to some excellent performances. There's really nothing to improve upon there.
What my proposed change would do is give Taystee's earlier story some weight. Vee turns up in season 2, a perfect villain that meets a satisfying end at the hands, or wheels, of Rosa. The way she gets into Crazy Eyes' head is the stuff of pure evil, and through it all she did make a point of empowering Susanne, making her a stronger person, though at a heavy cost of becoming a weapon, turned against even Poussey. All wonderful stuff, and of course, made more so with her connection to Taystee, having befriended her out on the streets as we see in the flashbacks. Taystee has had approximately no breaks out in the real world and Vee offered her a welcoming hand in troubling times. A complicated relationship ensues, made all the more complex on the inside of the prison - y'all know how the season plays out.
If we follow Taystee as more of a protagonist from the start, then we could see more of this relationship before Vee even turns up. I said before that we don't actually need to see Poussey and Taystee's entire friendship for the ending of it to be satisfying entertainment-wise (and an emotional minefield!) but I think seeing more of Taystee and Vee would be a really good thing. On my rewatch of the entire series, as much as I love, well all of it, Vee turning up and what she meant to Taystee could have been fleshed out a little more, in my opinion. There's mention of how when Taystee got released in the first season only to come back because she couldn't hack it in the real world anymore, that she went looking for Vee and didn't find her. In the first season we actually follow her outside Litchfield for a while, but no mention is made of this search for Vee. I have no doubt that it's because Vee wasn't remotely conceptualised at this point, as the popularity of Taystee has undoubtedly contributed to how the writing of the series has changed. It's kind of like how Vader was just a bad guy in a suit but then became Luke's father at the cost of all the continuity and sense.
Now, if we followed Taystee from the start, we could get these early glimpses into her relationship with Vee, get lots of juicy flashbacks that feature this character, and show what it means to have someone help you when you've known nothing but dead-end institutions your whole life. Then, when Vee turns up in season 2, we all collectively gasp as we all know who that newcomer is. And we're unsure as to what she's likely to be doing in prison - depending on the flashbacks, we know that she's capable of both good and bad and very bad. Is she going to just do her time, get in and get out? Or will she go for control of the prison, possibly dragging down our main character into the mud? Especially if Taystee is shown (as she is with the innocence of the Christmas pageant at the end of the first season and then with the job fair at the start of the second) to be desiring to just get on with her time, and get the hell out of Litchfield, hopefully with some new life skills. And the rest would play out pretty much as it already does from there.
I realise there is a continuity issue here of Taystee's trip outside of prison coming in the first season is weird if episode one was her first day. So I now propose that episode one is her coming back into prison after that trip out, some mixed timelines as get her reentry, flashbacks that show her search for Vee, other flashbacks that show her earlier times with Vee so we know what a big deal it was that she couldn't find her on the outside. If we then see Piper in the van next to her whinging in her own privileged way, or going on about boring Larry, contrasted with Taystee's flashbacks and the feeling of loneliness that greeted her on the outside. I think it'd work.
Of course there's probably another million or so continuity issues with what I'm proposing and it's already pretty much perfect as it is, so take it or leave it. But I thought it was another interesting window into this world, this story, and this character. Basically, I just want more Orange is the New Black, and an alternative approach is some small way of providing that.