Black’n’Orange: Season 3 Episode 6

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My first thoughts on this episode is that it left me a little numb.

In a way that only OITNB (and possibly a handful of other shows) can, “Ching Chong Chang” was that bizarre mix of everything I wanted and nothing at all. The flashback seemed like a good way to fold in a backstory with a weekly theme, while also being a far too convenient story—that I fear will ultimately be dropped.

960As we follow Chang around the prison, we’re treated to a look at her life before she arrived at Litchfield: the unwanted, “unattractive” sister who rose to power in a smuggling ring (I might’ve missed it, but I don’t think they ever actually said what position she held in the end?). It’s an interesting backstory, certainly colorful given the only intermittent flashes we’ve seen from Chang so far. It’s nice because it doesn’t seem to seek to explain much of Chang at any point; our view of her pre-prison life shows her trying to forget about the “ugly duckling” label she’s carried, but much of her activity in prison is purely observational. She makes Frito/pea balls in the microwave; she saves oranges; she reins herself in during an improv exercise.

All that is wrapped up tightly with an episodic discussion of what it means to be a woman, and perform feminity as a woman: Chang’s broken betrothal, the lingerie magazine (and all the intersectional privilege that comes with it), Marello’s creepy prison pen pal scheme. It’s as if OITNB is running through a list of boxes that allows it to facilitate a lot of important dialogue, but it also all feels a bit too neat.

Red hits it on the head when she’s confronting Healy, who’s still sour about her using him to get back in the kitchen. “I take advantage you get your feelings hurt. You forget that when I leave here, you lock me in behind you,” she spits at him. “You leave her with one coin—it’s tawdry and demeaning, but if she has to, she will spend it.”

The episode does a lot to advance several plots, actually. Red is (triumphantly) back in the kitchen. Piper has a new flame friend. The prison’s privatization is starting to grind gears a bit. Poussey is longing for love in her life. But amidst the episode trying to do all that while also make compelling points about feminism (and, on the mid-back burner/not yet front-burner, the privatized prison complex) it left nothing with a lot of breathing room. They’re all there, and it’s arguably not even done poorly. But it’s so crowded that it’s hard to make out any nuance through the haze.

Stray Shots: 

  • Red velvet isn’t a thing. You heard it here folks.
  • “God bless free market America of the United States” listening to Pennsatucky’s whole “viva la privatized prison” speech really through me for a loop. Strange to see how the other side (in this case southerners? Conservatives? People who are 100 percent behind this sort of thing?) lives. Also interested to see if Pennsatucky’s arc of acceptance continues through—what I’m predicting is—a rocky transition to the prison’s new owners.
  • “All right, this is still prison, alright?”
  • Cream in Carbonara sauce = vulgar. This week was filled with hot food takes.
  • “We got the haircuts.”

 

 

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Black’N’Orange: Episode Five

Interactions with others are often colored by the image we project of ourselves. That doesn’t go away just because you’re in prison. Episode five, “Fake It Till You Fake It Some More,” is all about pulling off those rose colored glasses.

Flaca from Orange is the New Black episode 5“People will believe what you tell them, until you don’t,” says one character in a heated exchange. And it’s true—which leaves a couple characters in a bit of a jarring whiplash. After consistently projecting a fake image of the prison (or at least attempting one) Caputo finds out exactly where he is when the dust settles. Daya is still reeling from Bennett’s disertion, and has hit an all time low in her pregnancy mood. Red’s softening to Healy only to be revealed as just another scheme to get herself back in the kitchen is true to character, but still jolts Healy awake from whatever fantasy land he had of yet another Russian woman falling in love with him for his character.

Norma, who’s been masquerading behind Gloria’s back about her healing properties, flies a bit too close to the sun and learns that sometimes the image you’re enjoying projecting doesn’t always belong to you. Appropriation is real kids, as Gloria is quick to remind Norma. “This ain’t your history; this ain’t your culture,” she warns, taking away what was never a super interesting plotline to begin with. The best things to have come out of Norma’s egg-healing was the revealing of others issues, and by the episode’s end Norma’s got her old groove back, and a way to keep that exposition going—good for us, and her.

Which is something that Daya could surely use. The mom-to-be is reeling, with the loss of not just a support system but a life plan and a romance, all with an illegal baby on the way who has nowhere to go. I had always assumed that in some way her father’s boyfriend would be the legal guardian, even if it meant Bennett would be the one who actually cared for him—which still raises a whole lot of questions about child services, but I could overlook that given just how far gone this plotline already was—but when she finds out that he can’t manage that it’s just another expectation letting her down. Her exchange with Pornstache’s mom is bittersweet; I’m glad that she has someone who’s willing to be there for her, let her know her rights, and take care of the baby, but their relationship is so tenuous—something the “Grandma” is all too aware of. Maybe this seed will pay off down the road (an ol’ “get what you need” payoff to all the Pornstache lies/Bennett leaving web of the past) but I’m guessing more likely Grandma is right. More on that to come.

Of course the spotlight of episode five falls to Flaca, who’s always dreamt of being somewhere better than where she is—whether that’s the prison’s kitchen or her mother’s sewing shop. To her it’s not a choice that means she’s abandoning her family, instead it’s just her becoming the image she’s had in her mind all along. I’m a bit tired of OITNB using “family break-ups” in such a huge sort of flare-up, given that outbursts like these often lead to season-long repercussions. But I appreciate the expanding of Flaca’s character, and she’s clearly learned a thing or two about how to stake out your own territory.  I hope they take the time to let her fake it until she makes it sometime.

Stray shots: 

  • As a big fan of “Arms and the Man,” I am way into Poussey’s retelling
  • I was doing the math on what saving a $1/hour could mean for an inmate and got as far as thinking about what that could’ve meant for Taystee’s first release and got too sad to continue. Though the third season isn’t exactly putting it front and center, it is allowing for a much more frank dialogue of life in prison.
  • “I’m really wearing it ironically” says Flaca of her fashion choices, showing that it turns out no one—even the wearer—is sure where the irony line is.
  • “I’m pregnant in prison, lady. Did you really expect me to be all happy and glowy?”
  • One of the downsides to Piper being a secondary character this season is that her neuroses don’t really carry across episodes very well, or at least the writers aren’t used to it yet. Her teasing of Alex here struck me as really tonedeaf, given what a real threat hangs over Alex’s life right now. She may have been paranoid, but she at least has some cause to be. Piper is really all over the map for me lately.
  • One of the best parts of season 3, conversely, is that without a “big bad” (or Larry—praise!) is there’s more time to focus on the relationships and strains of prison life. And damn that is a good (if slow) thing.

 

Black’n’Orange: Season 3 Episode 4

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In keeping with what I noted as a big theme of the first couple episodes, episode four “Finger in the Dyke” was all about relationships’ expectation vs. reality. For some, the parallels were a bit more clear cut: Alex and Piper are, for the first time in present plotlines, offisch, while Daya struggles to understand where the hell the father of her baby went.
But it’s in the subject of the flashbacks that we find our focal point on the issue. Her identity being at odds with her parents (and later, the world) is a pretty clear cut demonstration of how the expectations or projections one has for a relationship can pan out in ways that leave both sides feeling disappointed. And though it’s hard to not let the dialogue here feel too after-school special, Boo’s episodic arc is perhaps one of the most mature I’ve seen from these flashbacks. There really is no easy answer. And while I’m really in no way on the side of her parents, the show didn’t shy away from the fact that some problems don’t get easier just because you’re out from under their roof.

orange-is-the-new-black-episode-304-recap-finger-in-the-dyke

Giving Boo some back story was painfully necessary, because despite being a major player in a lot of plot lines through the first two seasons we really don’t know too much about what she’s about. She’s cheeky, she’s out for herself, she loves women, but what makes her tick? It made me feel doubly glad that the flashback was as nuanced as it was, given how glib I often find her character.

And as we’re four episodes in plot arcs continue to roll, although not in any direction in particular. This season the writers seem to be moving away from any sort of “Big Bad” as the Buffy gang would say, and instead really digging into the roundtable of characters they’ve got (and more than ever we see meal times becoming a sort of rounds on everybody’s goings-on). But it’s definitely a slow boil.

But here that boil is more under the microscope: Where “Mother’s Day” looked at relationships strained by prison, this one pulls apart its storylines into relationships, and prison.

Soso’s sort of been in the slow cooker for a while; demystifying and then disparaging serving time. The visit from her friend gave her the opportunity to vent a lot of frustration that I feel like has been building (and slung at her) for a long time coming, and her monologue managed to feel true to herself and her arc. But poor Soso; disconnecting with friends, and realizing the reality of your relationship with them—strained by a court-mandated prison sentence or no—can be tough. But Kimiko Glenn is acting the hell out of it.

Meanwhile Piper is finding new peace in her jail stay. Whether or not that has something to do with her new girlfriend, I can’t say yet. But given Piper’s general fucked-up attitude towards people and how she adopts the lifestyle of the one she’s with, I’d say we’re in for a helluva ride.

  • Alex’s shift to suddenly very much into Piper and prison felt very abrupt to me. I often appreciate the gutter time between episodes and what writers are able to do (or not have to do) with it, but this felt too jarring.
  • Did we know Boo’s name before this? Memory for names is not my forte, but I don’t think we did. Carrie.
  • $5.37 ($1.79/meal) to feed a prisoner for a day. Jesus christ. (And the national average is $1.58) I’m really hoping that OITNB can finally really dig into the prison industrial complex, like they always promised it sort of would be. Even if it’s just popularizing more statistics like this.
  • Admittedly they are doing that somewhat by bringing in the privatized prison sale. Interested to see where that goes.
  • That was a nice brick joke with the synced up periods.
  • “White people. And other.”
  • POST MODERN ICE CREAM MOVEMENT

Black’n’Orange: Season 3 Episodes 2 and 3

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Chapters 2 and 3; in which we see a lot of people getting what they need, if not what they want.

Though I wrote “awww Dennett/Baya so doomed” in my notes, it’s hard to not see this coming. From the beginning their plotline has been doomed majorly challenged, and the passage of time hasn’t helped much. In their own way they both have a pragmatism that had gotten them this far in life, but they were constantly blinded by each other, the baby, and the idyllic life that could live in their futures.

I’m not sure Bennett’s flashbacks really did much to illuminate the story here, beyond establishing that his behavior at the end (with a touch of dramatic flair) was part of a pattern rather than finally seeing the writing on the wall about him and Daya. Similarly, in the next episode Nicky’s days on the outside didn’t illuminate too much anything that the episode’s arc didn’t accomplish. We saw how destructive drugs made her in her choices and relationships to others, Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 2.38.18 PMand her aloof relationship with her nature finally coming tragically down to Earth was clear thanks to Natasha Lyonne’s acting chops.

What I will say is that the flashbacks did a great job highlighting something OITNB excels at: making characters three-dimensional without making excuses for their behaviors. Nicky’s relationship with her mom—though slightly redundant, as I said before—were actually some of the most interesting scenes, and a great way to grow on the seed planted in the season opener.Likewise, Alex and Piper’s relationship benefits a great deal from the flashbacks. Getting to see them play out across time gives some context for the rush of emotions—good and bad—they get when they’re around each other. Piper is used to feeling like the smaller of the two in their relationship, and though she’s able to see how she was wrong, she’s still immature about letting Alex deal with her feelings. These weeks their plot lines have seemed like the least important of the bunch, but what time they do have they sell the hell out of.

Caputo and Healey are probably two characters the show has the shortest patience with, but even they are given the time to balance out their bad behavior. Caputo is really trying his darndest to make this prison work, and Healey is still terrible at working out his feelings (and is no better at dealing with women). They’re not great, but they’re not entirely wrong either.

 

Orange-is-the-New-Black-John-Bennett-Daya-Diaz-Season-3There’s a metaphor for the prison system as a whole buried somewhere in here. Trying your hardest but still being part of the problem. It’s something Alex mirrors when the new guard tries to get her to engage. “Everyone thinks they’re one of the good guys,” she says, but that doesn’t make the system any less forgiving.

In some ways the inmates are forced into more clarity on this than the guards. In their own way they are dealing with a lot and as Regina Spektor is quick to remind me, they’ve got tiiiiiiime to really focus in on it. And though the guards may all sympathize or even feel the heel of the system on their back, it’s the prisoners that are feeling the effects of it.

Stray thoughts

-Alex has a salt tattoo on her shoulder, which I find interesting and maybe no one else does.

-“Nice is for cowards and democrats”

-I will, apparently, forever associate Mary Steenburgen (Pornstache’s mom) with playing awkward mother characters. See this, and “30 Rock.” Really that’s it, but I suppose we can throw “Back to the Future III” in there for good measure.

-God help me I root for those two guards in love.

-“I will potato her at a later time” says Suzanne towards Penn. Please do.

-Given the kind of hopeless nature of the plot line, it was nice to have Daya’s mom being so anti-Bennett talking in their meet-up. A little silver lining on a very dark cloud. “Really shit, tbh” as my notes say.

-Aww, Red does know about her store. And she’s not afraid to call Piper, Healey, or anyone else on their shit.

 

-I always read Piper’s sabotage of Alex as a sort of protection, and it felt like the show was leading me to think that as well. Maybe they’re just really cooling on her, but now the whole thing seems kind of selfish—which, really, is just classic Piper. Right down to the line of “helpfully” calling Alex a cockroach.

-I’m not sure why we needed that extended “Hollaback Girl” but also we needed that extended “Hollaback Girl.”

 

-Taystee bringing the analogies this season

 

 

 

 

 

Black’n’Orange: S3 Episode 1

“Orange is the New Black” has always been about how prison can dehumanize you, can break you down and pull the humanity—or at least the normality—out of your existence. In many ways the lives of the inmates at Litchfield Prison are on an indefinite hold. But season three’s opener, “Mother’s Day,” reminds everyone that some things don’t go away just because you’re stuck in prison.

Episode one is a sort of check-in with all the characters we’ve grown to love over these past two seasons: Alex is back, Daya’s pregnancy is trudging along and her relationship with Bennett is confusing, Morello is struggling with life in prison while Red has a renewed outlook, and Piper doesn’t make it on screen until 12 minutes into the premiere.

Threaded through all of these situations is the upcoming Mother’s Day event at the prison, where inmates’ children can come join them for a sort-of carnival day. It gives the episode a natural context for framing how relationships are grown and broken in prison. Sophia and Gloria’s relationships with their children are strained, and the prison walls don’t help, similar to how Yadriel tells Maria he’s going to stop bringing their daughter to visit her. oitnb-season-3-premiereConversely, Alex and Piper find a renewed (though no less fucked up) bond through their shared space, and Pennsatucky finds some comfort in Boo, even if it’s still not perfect.

It’s one of the things the show has toyed with before, but never quite as serenely, across the board as it does here: that there’s some good to come out of the relationships here, even if they’re just made here out of necessity. Those bonds that form may be for your own good, but there’s more to them than meets the eye. Suzanne still aches for Vee, even if she was a manipulator (which, it’s unclear how much Suzanne is read in on that master plan), Rosa’s effect is felt even after she’s gone, and hell, Poussey and Taystee should go down in the history books.

But it’s a dramedy, and by the end of the day the inmates are each reminded where they are, and who they are to the system. The show played it just the right amount this episode, I’d say, between all the make-shift decorations and activities and the heart-breaking scene where the kids are confused why all the prisoners need to get down on the ground.

OITNB is the sort of master of its own pacing style, showing both too little and too much. With all the characters it does the round with here, there’s not much to be said for full interpersonal plotlines. But then, this episode doesn’t care to. It’s planted the seeds of a lot of things (Poussey’s mother, Boo/Nicky trying to get rid of their drugs, Alex and Piper?? *eye roll*). Now we’ll just have to see what grows.

 

Stray thoughts:

  • Welcome to OITNB reviews! These will likely come faster than “The Affair,” because hellooo binge-watching.
  • Apologies on the scatter-brained nature of this one; I took notes when I was watching episode one last night, but it didn’t save, so I’m writing it on the fly. Hopefully the next ones will be more coherent!
  • Alex and Piper are so fucked up. More on that to come, I’m sure. 
  • Multiple people flashbacks! It’s a fun thing to do, and in an episode that’s such a scattershot it makes sense. But at the same time it was a lot more noticeable how convenient some of these events are for the narrative they exist within.
  • “This is such a metaphor for their lives.” I didn’t feel good about it, but I laughed.