'Escape at Dannemora': How Tilly Mitchell went from sexually dominant to submissive pawn in prison break
Three weeks in, and Showtime's latest prison drama from Ben Stiller - 'Escape at Dannemora' - has already established itself as one of the darkest, grittiest adaptations of a real-life incident; and while there are a hundred million things absolutely awe-inspiring, thrilling, and spectacular about the show, one of the things that assure viewers are in for a terrific treat is the brilliant portrayal of the downfall of one of its main characters - Joyce 'Tilly' Mitchell (Patricia Arquette).
From running the tailor shop at the Clinton Correctional Facility where the infamous 2015 prison break of inmates Richard Matt (Benicio del Toro) and David Sweat (Paul Dano) took place, to becoming an unwitting pawn in the inmates' plan - Tilly's ride through the tale was wild, but a sad one. And, 'Escape at Dannemora' showcases it unbridled.
In real life, both Matt and Sweat were serving time at Clinton Correctional Facility for murder, where Tilly was an employee. She first initiated a sexual relationship with Sweat, followed by one with Matt, and in exchange for sexual gratification, she would supply them with the tools the two would use to dig their way out of the prison.
Once they managed to burry out, Tilly as supposed to pick them up, but eventually bailed on them. The two inmates' escape lead to a $23 million manhunt and investigation and ended with Matt getting shot to death on sight, and Sweat getting shot and taken into custody.
In all of this, Tilly was charged on counts of aiding the escaped and as the show gradually proceeds with the plot, viewers finally get a glimpse of the tides changing and tables turning. Much like the character in real life, the show's Tilly is not your stereotypical Hollywood looker.
Arquette is pretty much unrecognizable in the role, but her portrayal is articulate. Escape at Dannemora's Tilly is a 50-something married mother, with a really loving, trusting, and caring husband, Lyle Mitchell (Eric Lange). This leads viewers to question why Tilly - with a seemingly settled family life - would go looking for sex from inmates, of all people.
This is where Escape at Dannemora's expertise comes in. The show vividly portrays how unrestrained desire can lead to tragic downfalls and none of the characters' plot showcases it better than Tilly's. She starts off as a prison employee in charge of her own carnal needs. She trades sex for other favors when it comes to the prison inmates, but she does it on her own terms.
Her attitude reeks of entitlement, as in the show we saw her burst into a fit of rage after an anonymous tip to the prison authorities resulted in them questioning her practice of taking Sweat into the back room. Instead of being glad about not getting fired on the spot, she accuses people of unnecessarily hurling false claims on her character, and despite her husband's blind faith in her discretion, she reprimands him for checking out another woman out.
So far, if anything, Tilly has been a woman in charge of her sexuality and unafraid to seek pleasure where risk and danger are involved. Her simple married life, with her simple husband, doesn't appeal to her anymore. She has lost interest in her marriage and isn't afraid to explore other options - no matter what level of sinister, those criminals are. But it is this excessive desire that ends up being the bane of her peace, and the cozy arrangement she had built within the prison walls.
Tilly got manipulated because she didn't know where to draw the line. Blinded by desire, once Sweat gets fired from the tailor shop, she finds both comfort and pleasure in Matt. So much so she literally gets on her knees for the man who promises to paint a portrait of her dogs. She doesn't question him "needing" hacksaw blades to create such paintings, she smuggles them in through prison guard Gene Palmer (David Morse) despite knowing the items are contraband, thereby turning both of them into unwitting accomplices of the great escape plan about to be hatched.
In the second episode, while being questioned by NY investigation officer Catherine Leahy Scott (Bonnie Hunt) after Matt and Sweat's escape, Tilly still doesn't let go of the self-righteous, holier than thou attitude which takes the form of playing the victim card slash savior complex.
She repeatedly insists she is the only one involved with the investigation who wants to help the authorities. And this only leads to her downfall further because while she's trying to convince them she's not the bad guy here, eventually she ends up pleading guilty, claiming she was manipulated.
And the gradual progression of these events has been quite intriguing to watch on 'Escape at Dannemora.' Perhaps the title in itself is an explanation on why Tilly got roped into the plan and ended up suffering the consequences.
She found her escape at the prison in Dannemora without second thoughts about how this was going to shape up for her. Blinded by desire, it didn't even occur to her Matt's promises of killing her husband and freeing her of what she considered a dead marriage, was in fact wrong on so many levels.