Television loves to tell stories about writers, probably in part because television is written by writers, and “write what you know” is a cliche that’s hard to avoid. But it can at times be rare to see really well-done depictions of what it means to craft a story, which is why it was such a pleasure, during Season 3 of “Orange is the New Black,” to see an author’s tale told in such compelling fashion.
Especially, perhaps, the least likely character you’d expect to see it from. Uzo Aduba, as Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren broke out in Season 1 as one of the show’s key emotional anchors. Explicitly defined as emotionally unstable, “Crazy Eyes” nonetheless spoke a lot more truth than most, whether it be in the feelings drawn out of her by her naive crush on Piper (Taylor Schilling) or her later disappointment in discovering that her “Dandylion” was “not a good person.”
This arc was only built upon in later years, but while in Season 1 the character was played much more for comedy and pathos, Suzanne became a truly dangerous presence in Season 2 under the influence of Vee (Lorraine Toussaint), who provided a mother figure to the lonely and misunderstood woman while also encouraging her worst, most violent instincts. Season 3, following Vee’s exit from the show at the end of Season 2, found Suzanne in a fragile place, and still prone to violent outbursts.
Her salvation, however, became storytelling.
Our first taste of “The Time Hump Chronicles” came in Episode 7, memorably teased during an early trailer as “It’s not just sex. It’s love! It’s two people connecting… with four other people… and aliens.”
The “Chronicles” began originally as an assignment for a drama therapy class, but when the tale was deemed too erotic for public performance, Taystee (Danielle Brooks) — maybe Suzanne’s best friend at that point — encouraged her to keep writing, citing J.K. Rowling and Stephen King as examples of writers who kept on following their dreams, no matter the public reception.
And so the full scope of the story only grew in breadth over subsequent episodes, as Suzanne fought off the pressures of writer’s block and an increasingly intense fanbase to continue the story of Edwina, whose time travel abilities allow her to, um, engage with a vast array of partners. The handwritten pages of each chapter get passed from inmate to inmate over the last half of the season, while everyone’s opinion regarding who Edwina should really end up with varied wildly. The only unifying factor? Everyone wants to know more.
Every detail the producers dish out about “The Time Hump Chronicles” makes you want to read the whole thing. Not just for the naughty bits… but yeah, sure, the naughty bits sound pretty great. (Though I’m not sure about the erotic potential of “a man made of Vasoline,” no matter what Black Cindy says about how “That shit was hot… but also tragic.”)
If you’re wondering why it’s taken so long for us to dig into this storyline, the answer comes down to the fact that it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that we heard Aduba speak in depth about “The Time Hump Chronicles,” during a roundtable interview at the TCA press tour.
“How can you not go home after work and wonder what’s going on with [Admiral] Rodcock? You can’t not start to fantasize about it?” Aduba said to reporters. “I was really excited because in the past we had seen Suzanne. She fancies herself a bit of a linguist and wordsmith. It was interesting to see, in Season 1, what she does with someone else’s words and how she uses that to craft her artistic nature. And then in this season, when she is free to create her word choices, this is what she decides to come up with. She wants to write adult erotica, set in outer space, just to change it up.”
And for Aduba, the story was quite personal, indeed, because she technically did write it. “I don’t know if they have gone and taken it and now fleshed out the entire ‘Time Hump Chronicles,’ but when we were shooting it… those pages that were walking around, that you are watching in the scene, is the story,” Aduba said. “That is actually, legitimately, a story that I had to take home with me. They were like, ‘Put it in Suzanne’s words. How would Suzanne write this if she were to write this?’ That’s my handwriting, all of it. I put it out. I was crossing out things, just how I would imagine trying to pen this story. I was crossing things out and drawing because it’s supposed to be illustrated and drawing pictures… I don’t know where I was going with that stuff, but I was like, we are just going to let your imagination go.”
So when you see a woman in Litchfield — prisoner or guard — enjoying herself thoroughly while reading “The Time Hump Chronicles,” know that it’s because Aduba herself wrote each page by hand, in character. Making this story about a woman trapped between loves — including one with two, um, “instruments” — all the more personal.
What becomes so profoundly affecting about Suzanne’s prison-equivalent-of-best-selling story is how it speaks to so many of the reasons why we fall in love with narratives.
There’s the way that as her work grows in popularity, a community of “Time Hump” fans builds in loyalty and volume; a testament to the way fandoms spring up around pretty much anything that inspire the imagination of a group. There’s the fact that women from across the spectrum of human sexuality, from the straight-as-an-arrow to the confirmed lesbian, get addicted to the ability to escape into Suzanne’s bonkers sexy sci-fi world. There’s Poussey (Samira Riley), crying in a stairwell because Edwina chose sex over love; the delicious, all-consuming heartbreak of being betrayed by your favorite story.
All of this is something anyone who loves narrative can understand, even without the fact that there’s the way that “The Time Hump Chronicles” ends up becoming the way that Suzanne makes a real human connection. One of the “Chronicles'” biggest fans, slowly introduced over the course of the season, is Maureen (Emily Althaus), who is the catalyst behind revealing that Suzanne has technically been a virgin this whole time — despite also being the author of the most popular fictional erotica of the year.
“Can you imagine being an adult and it’s all you ever hear about? You know what sex is, you’ve heard it’s supposed to be this amazing thing, but you’ve never done it yourself. It was exciting to me. It made sense to me, why she’s chomping at the bit, constantly, for a love interest,” Aduba told reporters.
There’s so much heartbreak and angst and sadness in “Orange’s” third season; relationships ruined, inner tragedies unveiled. But not only did Suzanne get to tell her love story, she got one of her own.
“Orange is the New Black” is currently streaming on Netflix.