I watched all of season 3 in two sustained and rather vulgar gulps, in an exercise otherwise known as bingeing. The madness of this practice—the sheer velocity of it—is enough to addle the brain, devastate the heart, and twist the nervous system into a veritable knot of anxiety. It is a 48-hour coup de foudre and, if you think it is difficult for the viewer to survive this ravishment, imagine what it must be like for those of us who have created it. It is not unlike watching one’s child or one’s lover walk a tight rope without a net, so excruciating is the sense of vulnerability it engenders. I am deeply immersed in the character of Red. My investment in her, on a creative level, is inestimable. And so I scrutinized her, sitting rigidly upright on my cranberry couch, blinds closed against the bright summer’s day, and this is what I learned:
Her hunger for survival is directly connected to her mettle, which could be confused with integrity were it not for the carefully (if perversely) skewed calibrations of her moral compass. She needs to reclaim her kitchen, and she will stop at nothing to achieve that goal. We see the needle begin to oscillate when she enters Healy’s office. What is she doing? We feel that she and Healy have an “understanding.” They are far from enemies but neither are they bosom buddies, although she has animatedly and openly defended his virtues, to the chagrin of his petulant and self-consumed “mail order bride.” Red has established her willingness to fight for what is decent and, in her mind, unimpeachable. But then our throats tighten as we watch her snuggling up to Healy over a tea tray and we blink in a kind-of disbelief as we begin to form the (by now) uncomfortably clear impression that she is flirting with Healy, and that she is using all of her albeit rusty wiles to seduce him. Dear God, we ask ourselves, why? Then it comes: She wants the kitchen back. Healy recoils, stung, and Red hits him with a truism so old and so quintessentially inarguable that it stuns: A woman’s ability to seduce is the only currency she is left with, when all else fails. It is the only coin she can call her own and, if she must, she will spend it.
The kitchen is Red’s laboratory, her studio, and her nursery. It stands for everything that defines her and it facilitates her modus operandi: Above all else, Red longs to be useful. It is her nature, her instinct, and her prayer. Of course, she has sprung from the clay of that dangerously gifted and unpredictable sculptress Jenji Kohan, and therefore to that clay she may one day return. But before that day comes, I fervently hope that she will continue to tread this crooked, whimsical, brave, and unexpected path to self-fulfillment, because now it is too late for me. I belong to her. Lending, I now know, an entirely new meaning to Russian roulette.