“We, the jury, find the defendant, Tasha Jefferson . . .”
“Orange Is the New Black” fans who pushed through a relatively slow start to the sixth season were most likely gripped by the central plot line that fought hard to not be drowned out by the blues vs. khakis kickball drama.
Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson, portrayed by Danielle Brooks, found herself on trial in the death of Desi Piscatella, a corrections officer who tortured the inmates of Litchfield during the three-day riot.
“Because I love Taystee so much, I was very devastated by the end result of what her fate had led to,” Brooks, 28, reflects in a telephone interview before the season hit Netflix on Friday. “Knowing that she had come into (the riot) really just wanting the best, having a good heart and really trying to bring about change for the good, to see that backfire was really hurtful.”
For those loyal “OITNB” fans who need a refresher: Taystee was a strong voice behind the riot, attempting to negotiate for inmate rights after Poussey (Samira Wiley) died at the hands of a guard. She was one of 10 inmates still standing ground in the pool “bunker” when the SWAT team swarmed and accidentally shot Piscatella in the eye.
The sixth season gave us insight the jury in Taystee’s case never knew: The officers transported Piscatella’s body down to the pool, in a successful attempt to frame one of the 10 inmates.
“It reminds the audience that people can make mistakes and end up in prison, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t good people and shouldn’t be treated like human beings,” Brooks says. “It doesn’t mean they aren’t worthy of love and respect.”
Interrogations — aka time-extension threats from detectives — slowly pointed a finger toward Taystee as the one who pulled the trigger in a plot progression that became only more difficult to watch as the season progressed.
Statements made by Taystee’s crew, Cindy (Adrienne C. Moore) and Suzanne (Uzo Aduba), helped provide enough “evidence” for the jury to find her guilty.
“The people who she thought would have her back failed her,” Brooks says. “The loyalty that was lost, seeing her friends turn on her for their own personal gain, that was even more devastating to me than her fate.”
It all spiraled into an emotional finale, with Taystee reaping the consequences of the riot in ways she could have never imagined.
The verdict delivery scene relies on its moments of silence to deliver the powerful punch. With music playing softly in the background, viewers feel as if they’re walking alongside Taystee as she leaves her holding cell, is greeted by a courtroom of supporters wearing “Black Lives Matter” tees and listens as her future is torn away from her.
The audience never hears the word “guilty.” Instead, we watch the emotion unfold on Brooks’ face. The episode, titled “Be Free,” was directed by Nick Sandow, the actor who plays Joe Caputo.
“I knew that we had found something good when I did one take of it, it might have been my third or fourth try at the scene, and the room was full of extras in the court and they just started applauding once Nick had said cut,” Brooks says.
She adds: “In that moment, it felt like we had gotten the moment right. I think for me that’s the biggest thing is I feel responsible to be as honest in moments like this because it’s so true to the reality.”
Brooks says she watched several verdict readings on YouTube to ensure authenticity.
“We wanted the (sentencing) to be as authentic to the moment as possible,” she says.