There’s a fitting symmetry to the fact that two actresses from Orange Is the New Black also star in Hulu’s adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale. Both shows are committed to telling the stories of women — specifically, women in confinement. Whether contained by the prison walls of Litchfield, or by a Gilead’s culture of fear and surveillance, as in of Margaret Atwood's dystopian tale, the women in these environments endure life with significant limitations.
So perhaps, when setting off to play the mentally unbalanced Janine in The Handmaid’s Tale, Madeline Brewer recalled some of the conditions her character, Tricia, were subjected to in Orange Is the New Black.
Yep, you read that right. The woman who played blonde-dreadlocked Tricia is the same one who plays the unhinged Janine in The Handmaid's Tale.
Here's a refresher, since season 1 of Orange Is the New Black feels like eons ago. At 19, Tricia is one of the youngest inmates at Litchfield and a member of Red’s (Kate Mulgrew) close-knit family. But she has something to hide from Red: Tricia’s a drug addict, and relies on Mendez (Pablo Schreiber), a guard, to smuggle in her stash. When Mendez quits his drug operation and Tricia goes into withdrawal, Caputo (Nick Sandow) grows suspicious: Where had Tricia been getting the drugs all this time? Sent to solitary confinement, Tricia gets sober.
Here’s where things get tragic. Later on, Mendez gets another shipment of oxycontin. Tricia, unable to resist the drugs, overdoses. Instead of getting help, a panicked Mendez lets her die, and positions her body in a noose so it appears to be a suicide. It's one of Orange Is the New Black's most devastating moments — and given the show's dark story lines, that's saying something.
In The Handmaid’s Tale, Brewer trades in Tricia’s blonde locs for Janine’s red hair — hence why you may not have recognised her. After behaving defiantly toward the domineering Aunts, her character is blinded in one eye and used as an example to the other Handmaids. In the fallout from that incident, Janine teeters on the precipice of sanity. The next time Offred (Elisabeth Moss) encounters Janine at a ceremony, she’s a sycophantic convert to the new world order. And, oh yeah — she managed to get pregnant.
It seems Madeline Brewer is forging a successful career through playing women trapped by extreme circumstances.
Of course, as you probably realised, Madeline Brewer isn’t the only OITNB actress on The Handmaid’s Tale. In both shows, Samira Wiley plays queer women subjugated within a cruel system. On Orange Is the New Black, her character, Poussey, is the victim of police brutality at Litchfield — perhaps the saddest death since Tricia's. And in The Handmaid’s Tale, Moira is a Handmaid with a secret — as a lesbian, she's labeled a “gender-traitor,” a crime punishable by death.
Both OITNB and The Handmaid's Tale keep us alert to the real, and potential, atrocities levied against women, and both keep us hooked until the last episode.