With a new season of Orange Is The New Black comes a new villain. While the Netflix series has veered between the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, it has usually managed to at least give viewers a great villain. Remember when Vee Parker (Lorraine Toussaint) was Litchfield’s own Stranger Things Shadow Monster, wrapping her dark, drug-running tentacles around everyone in sight? Or even the zany, horrific, sometimes deeply sad, dastardly deeds of Pornstache (Pablo Schreiber)?
Unfortunately, the dramedy’s brand-new season 6 baddie, Madison “Badison” Murphy (Amanda Fuller), doesn’t exactly live up to the high bar set by the ne'er do wells of OITNB past. The problem with the very Bahstan-accented, very yell-y Badison, and the prison gang lieutenant’s entire backstory, can be understood with her flashback episode, “Changing Winds.” While her boss Carol Denning (Henny Russell), and Carole's sister Barb (Mackenzie Phillips), are scene-chewing sharks, there simply aren't enough layers to Badison to make her seem legitimately scary.
When Orange Is The New Black flashbacks are good, they’re great. Of course, season 4 finale “Toast Can’t Never Be Bread Again,” which follows one beautiful, Alice In Wonderland-ish New York City night for the recently murdered Poussey Washington (Samira Wiley), stands out as the platonic ideal of an OITNB flashback.
Others truly excel when they reveal an unexpected, touching detail about a character we’ve already made a lot of assumptions about. The episodes dedicated to Rosa Cisneros (played as a young woman by Stephanie Andujar; as a cancer-stricken older woman by Barbara Rosenblat) and Norma Romano (played as a young woman by Kristin Parker; as a silent older woman by Broadway legend Annie Golden) are shining examples. Here, viewers got stories of cults, broken hearts, bank robberies, and murders. You look at Rosa and Norma differently after getting a glimpse at their past.
With Badison From Boston, that isn’t exactly the case. In “Changing Winds,” we find out that the present-day inmate was bullied as a teen for farting once in the fourth grade. Her nickname was “Fartison.” It was used so much that even her teacher accidentally called her Fartison once. Badison eventually becomes so upset over her teasing that she breaks a giant beaker in the middle of science class, getting herself expelled. Since Badison is now a bully, it’s not especially surprising or revealing to learn she was bullied in the past. That is the case with most adult bullies.
Badison’s backstory dives directly into the bizarre as we later see a showdown between the teen and her parents over her imminent expulsion. In a scene that looks like it’s pulled from a 1990s after-school special, teen Badison literally hurls a book directly in her mother’s face. It’s not the kind of moment that increases sympathy for Badison. Instead, viewers are merely reminded this is a person who has always lashed out in confusing, inexcusable ways. When Madison’s mom Colleen (Frances Mercanti-Anthony) asks, “What did we do to you that was so bad?” the answer is clearly, “Who knows?”
From what we see, the Murphys are hard-working parents who are fed up with their daughter’s antics. Do they have the emotional depth necessary to handle the inner chaos of a bullied teen girl? No. Does Colleen, who physically stops her husband from even considering corporal punishment for their daughter, deserve to get assaulted in her own home? Also no.
The key to a great villain is stakes. You have to understand what a villain wants and why they want that thing. While CO Piscatella (Brad William Henke) was an irredeemable monster, at least his flashback revealed where his boundless hatred for inmates came from: the torture of his own inmate boyfriend Wes (Charlie Barnett) years earlier. Piscatella was broken by Wes’ assault. That kind of trauma, paired with inexplicable misogyny, created the hell that was Piscatella’s season 5 kidnapping scheme.
Badison doesn’t possess that kind of tension. Her malevolence is arbitrary, poorly planned, and without any internal weight. There was barely a reason for Badison to shatter that beaker, or chuck a book at her mother, or, as we find out in the final flashback of “Changing Winds,” set another young woman on fire. That latter scene only reinforces that Badison acts out due to random desperation, as she — eventually placed in a program for rebellious teens — begins dousing the nerdy Roach (Chandler Acloque) with bug spray in an attempt to seem bad. The plan spins out of control when Roach, covered in flammable spray, runs through a fire to escape Badison, setting her entire body alight.
If viewers weren’t supposed to fear Badison, this would be a fine level of characterization. But we very seriously are. That’s why she viciously trips Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) within moments of meeting her in season 6 premiere “Who Knows Better Than I.” And why, a few episodes later, “I’m The Talking Ass” closes with Badison menacingly staring at Piper while she sleeps. It’s definitely why she breaks a random inmate’s face just to mess with Piper. Badison, despite her ridiculous, self-created name, is supposed to feel like maximum security’s very own Joker.
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