Even in a show made up entirely of underdogs, sweet and silent Norma is under all of them, and ever since the season one finale she’s proved she’s also the most endearing. (Have you ever been moved to tears by someone wearing a tampon tiara? The answer is no.) Her arcs in the first two seasons were narrow, mainly revolving around whatever is happening to Red in a particular episode, but “Tongue-tied” thrusts her center stage and learning about her is as joyful as her singing.
To wonder about how someone takes so easily to being admired is irrelevant, because who wouldn’t want to be? But until her backstory, just how good Norma was at developing a fan base remained unclear. As it turns out, she has experience in the field, when as a young woman in the sixties, she took an empowerment workshop for “transformation of her mind, body, and spirit.” Almost immediately upon arriving at the workshop, young Norma was taken by the words of Guru Mack (not technically his chosen title, mind you; he just refers to himself as “a bearded guy in white pants.”) and tries to find the words to respond to his question for her: “What is the story that you are telling?” When her severe stutter prevents her from answering him, he responds with kindness and understanding. “You don’t ever have to speak with me,” he says and relief gushes from her eyes.
While attending a transformation workshop it’s exactly the kind of thing you’d expect a woman in a peasant skirt in the sixties to do, Norma seemed to be an exception, because her inability to speak clearly left her powerless to the world around her. Norma, surrounded by a room full of pretentious hippies, seemed to legitimately want help. She wanted to have a voice. Instead, Guru Mack provided her with temporary acceptance that ultimately left her indebted to this man who wound up being a cult leader. Some years later, when Guru Mack lost his followers and was facing fraud charges, Norma was the only one who stayed and remained exuberantly faithful to the cause. More appropriately, she remained the punching bag for the washed-up guru.
That is, until Mack broke her spirit by telling her the truth: he’s not a god, he’s a fraud and a false prophet, and she “wasted her life on a worthless man.” Norma may have given her life over to someone who could speak for her, but that didn’t mean she had nothing to say. And with a swift shove off the cliff, her keeper was gone.
Norma’s backstory mirrored with Red’s resurgence in the kitchen was telling: Norma is good at being a follower, but no one should underestimate her power. Not necessarily her dubious healing or “hocus pocus” powers; doubt those as you please. But to mistake Norma’s silence for stupidity is wrong, because to take advantage of her meek nature is to undervalue her as a person. The return of Red is cut short by the arrival of new “prepackaged” meals, and leaves her effectively redundant in the kitchen. Was Norma’s evil eye directed at Red a coincidence? She’ll never tell.
(But yes, it was a coincidence.)
– Killer casting in young Norma, right?!
– Piper’s panty scheme is pretty ingenious. And vile. No judgement.
– You really have to admire Cindy’s determination to keep her kosher meals.
– While I sympathize with Daya’s baby daddy troubles, I wish her plot line was more significant. She’s been on a teeter-totter this whole season.
– Speaking of drudgery, I’m not a fan of the Sophia/Gloria conflict. Their roles are being determined by other people and it’s becoming a chore.
– Taystee has become Crazy Eyes’ biggest supporter, and it’s delightful to see their relationship evolve.
– It’s just as delightful to see Crazy Eyes being accepted by more people, even if it’s for her erotic fiction.
– Best line of the episode: “My Wiccan circle is getting weird. Protchnick keeps rubbing the energy ball on her cooter, and who wants to touch it after that?”