OITNB: Her Name is Suzanne, Not Crazy Eyes

Suzanne (Uzo Aduba) lets the blood rush to her head on Orange is the New Black
Orange is the New Black (Screen: Netflix)

Orange is the New Black Season 2 Episode 3: “Hugs Can Be Deceiving” — We learn about alliances and opposition through Suzanne’s childhood backstory.

Uzo Aduba, who plays Suzanne (AKA “Crazy Eyes”), was a panelist for the Orange is the New Black session at the Austin Television Experience last weekend. A few things to note:

  • Not once during the OITNB panel or during a panel on spoiler warnings/discussions did Aduba ever refer to her character as “Crazy Eyes.” The character’s name was always referenced as Suzanne.
  • Aduba on her character: “I love Suzanne living life with complete abandon. She keeps attacking love.”

I mention all of this because Suzanne is the central backstory of this episode. As was the case with episode 1 (Piper) and episode 2 (Taystee), we go way way back into Suzanne’s childhood in the backstory sequences. As you may recall from season one, Suzanne was adopted by an upper-middle class white couple. The first flashback shows Suzanne, age four or so, visiting her mom and new baby sister in the hospital. Suzanne gets to hold her baby sister, though her parents are quite hesitant. After thirty seconds, they take the baby away and Suzanne has a meltdown. A nurse steps in and talks with the child, not about calming down or the situation at hand, but about the butterfly wings Suzanne wears. The nurse proceeds to play with Suzanne’s hair, eventually forming the style she continues to wear to this day.

The next flashback takes place six years later as Suzanne accompanies her sister to a slumber party. The mom of the party’s host isn’t keen on Suzanne joining the group. Suzanne’s mom accuses host mom of racism, while host mom claims a 10-year-old at a 6-year-old’s party seems inappropriate. This provides further evidence that Suzanne may not be developmentally disabled, but rather developmentally inhibited by an overprotective parent. The sleepover provides further opposition to Suzanne as she struggles to ingratiate herself with the other girls—princesses > dragons, according to this group.

What these scenes reveal about the character is that she welcomes allies who are willing to enter her world but struggles mightily when trying to conform to external forces. Addressing the latter, Suzanne was supposed to sing at her high school graduation. There is no indication whether she initiated this performance of if it was foisted upon her, but Suzanne’s mother urges (or pleads) from the sidelines as the audience waits. The pressure builds and Suzanne starts hitting herself in the head. I don’t think this is a sign of disability or “craziness” — I think it is the dragon defending itself from the princess.

The concept of ally/opposition becomes most clear when V enters the picture. Like the nurse from her childhood, V engages Suzanne within Suzanne’s context, not through forcing some agenda upon her.1 Through these interactions, Suzanne (V also makes a point of calling her by her given name) is better able to articulate her issues with Piper. Suzanne, the newly-minted Garden Rose, had given Piper (Dandelion) several opportunities to join her in her world, but Piper refused. We learn that it was the Garden Rose who broke up the fight between Piper and Pennsatucky after Suzanne had a performance anxiety meltdown at the Christmas talent show.

What I love about this episode is that everything we know about Suzanne has been re-contextualized, revealing new ways to approach the character. I don’t think this re-contextualization betrays anything we knew previously about Suzanne, but it adds a layer of nuance that will make me view her interactions with other characters differently than I would have had this episode appeared later.

Other items of note from this episode:

  • Red gets Sophia to give her a “fierce”2 haircut for when she re-connects with V. Oh, Red and V have some previous dealings, most likely stemming from V’s previous stint at Litchfield.
  • Piper’s new bunkmate, Brook Soso, is basically who Piper was when she first entered prison. I think the intention is to show how much prison has hardened Chapman, but it comes across as heavy-handed. It’s a situation where two people are so much alike they will either be the best of friends or worst of enemies. By the end of the episode, it’s looking like the latter.
  • Pennsatucky has new teeth. I don’t have to watch her scenes between my fingers anymore.
  • Nicky is keeping a sex journal of some sort, cataloguing her liaisons. The noise from her research is annoying the other inmates.

Next time: Ryan takes a look at episode four.

  1. V may have an agenda, but it is not yet clear what that agenda is.  
  2. intimidating, not two snaps up  

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About Mike McComb 656 Articles

Mike has been writing about TV online since 2008, when he started the blog WTF Little House on the Prairie? The blog was a project to practice writing about television analytically prior to getting an MA in Television-Radio-Film from Syracuse University, or as he likes to call it “TV Camp.” After a lengthy stint at TVLatest, Mike wanted to launch a site that brought in classic TV, diamonds in the rough, and the shows everybody watches. E-mail: mike@whatelseison.tv

  • Henry

    My assumption is that Suzanne is meant to be autistic. The combination of possible developmental disabilities and self-harm when frustrated seem to point to that.

    • Ah, that makes sense. I’m so used to television treating the spectrum with such gravity that a subtle portrayal didn’t even register.

    • Sam

      I totally agree. I’m in Australia and just watched this episode. I have an 8 year old daughter on the spectrum so similar to Suzanne as a child that it has really shaken me up. Most girls with Aspergers don’t get along with children their own age and so seek friendship from those younger or older – or don’t seek friendship so parents acts on their behalf. My thoughts were that the mother is so intent on treating her no different because of colour (evident in her speech to the mother of the birthday girl) that she fails to see Suzanne’s other needs.
      The whole episode definitely allows me to see Suzanne in such a broader depth of understanding.