Profit generating dirty underwear, make-overs, spies and Litchfield’s brand new corporate owners dominate the narrative as Orange Is The New Black hits the mid-way point of S3.
Let’s bitch it out…
I’ve never tried to cover five episodes worth of content in a single review, so we’re going to shake up the format from the review of the first three episodes. Instead of going episode by episode, we’re gonna bulk people and storylines. Here we go!
Staff: The biggest development is the exciting news is that Caputo (Nick Sandow) finds a way to save Litchfield. Despite a less than sterling inspection in ‘Finger In The Dyke’, MCC, a private prison corporation, agrees to take over Litchfield. Almost immediately, however, the new head company – fronted by the unassuming Pearson (Mike Birbiglia) – begins making cost cutting measures. New, inexperienced guards are hired, including a donut shop attendant(!)* in ‘Ching Chong Chang’, and solid food is swapped out for cheap, prepackaged sludge in ‘Tongue-Tied’.
*I’ve never had a red velvet donut, but I love a good red velvet cupcake, so take that O’Neill!
Initially an uneasy alliance between Caputo and Pearson suggests that there would be some conciliatory measures put in place to keep Litchfield a decent place to serve time/work, but that partnership seems to have come to an end in ‘Fear, And Other Smells’. We find out that Pearson is a low level Caputo-esque lackey in his own corporate hierarchy and when he tries to go to bat for a new library, he is summarily put in his place and takes out his frustration on Caputo. Can’t wait to see how the two deal with early other moving forward.
If we take a birds eye view of this story line, the institutionalization of the prison system is an obvious commentary on the dangers of privatization and corporatization. Thankfully it has made for some amusing comedic moments, even if the overall message is pretty heavy handed. My personal favourite: MCC offers an abbreviated training program for new guards and the result is Gerber Baby blasting his pepper spray at the barest hint of problems.
Alex (Laura Prepon) & Piper (Taylor Schilling): Thankfully the drama between the reunited lovers shifts away from the “I lied to get you back into prison” story line that dominated the first three episodes. Instead two new plots develop concurrently: 1) the dirty panty business venture the ladies embark on after the prison begins manufacturing Whispers lingerie and 2) Alex’s ongoing fear that Lolly (Lori Petty) is a plant. The former I’m rather fond of, mostly because the reconfiguration of Whispers employees encourages a lot of new interactions between inmates and it gives Piper something scrappy to do. The latter I’m less interested in, not only because I simply don’t have that much invested in Alex’s dilemma, but also because it forces Petty into an uninteresting role. ‘Fear, And Other Smells’ confirms that Lolly is everything Alex believes her to be, so we’ll see where this goes in the remaining S3 episodes.
Daya (Dascha Polanco): In an unexpected development, Bennett (an unseen Matt McGorry) abandons Daya and his job at the prison, literally disappearing from the show after 3×03 (likely due to the actor’s commitment on How To Get Away With Murder). This forces Daya to seriously consider the offer from Pornstache’s mom, Delia Powell (Mary Steenburgen). When Daya finds out that her mother (Elizabeth Rodriguez) has been soliciting cash, however, she confesses the ruse and sends Delia packing. There’s hasn’t been a ton of forward momentum in this storyline, but I really liked it when Daya forces her mom to reminisce about happier times on her seventeenth birthday. Mama Diaz is so abrasive and cold, it’s nice to see these reminders that her emotional shield is a defense mechanism.
Poussey (Samira Wiley): I’ve always had a fondness for Wiley’s strong-willed, deeply loyal character and in the first half of S3, Poussey quietly becomes even more compelling. Over the course of these episodes, Taystee (Danielle Brooks) is worried that Poussey has a drinking problem after they pull a prank on her stash over 3×05-3×06. In some ways, both Poussey and Suzanne / Crazy Eyes’ (Uzo Aduba) story lines speak to the loneliness of women in prison: Poussey is in love with Taystee and yearns for a romantic connection while Crazy Eyes continues to struggle with her Vee abandonment issues. Crazy Eyes ultimately finds solace – and a certain amount of popularity – in her science-fiction sex epic, the Time Hump Chronicles. Poussey channels her desires into the fictitious relationships in the book, but when they don’t match her expectations, she ultimately turns to another kind of support in Norma’s (Annie Golden) burgeoning cult. This is one of my favourite developing stories.
Red (Kate Mulgrew): Red’s tale takes some interesting twists and turns throughout these mid-season episodes. Initially it appears that OITNB‘s writers are setting her up with Healy (Michael Harney) in the wake of her self-imposed separation from her husband, but their relationship is revealed to be a shrewd attempt by the Russian to get back into the kitchen. From there it’s only a matter of time until the pressure cooker explodes and Red inherits the top chef position from Gloria (Selenis Leyva). Naturally this happens in the same time frame as the new dietary program kicks off and, to add insult to injury, Red’s biggest ally, Norma abandons her. Red now seems displaced: her role in the kitchen is little more than a figurehead under MCC’s pre-packaged food regime and her allies have disappeared.
And the rest…
- I don’t recall hearing her name mentioned aloud, but new (or new to Piper) inmate Stella (Ruby Rose) makes a splashy debut. Much was made of Rose’s casting before the season began and the Australian’s easy-going, sexy-without-trying character is a fun addition to the Whispers work room.
- Morello (Yael Stone) is one of the few characters who remembers Nichols after she is sent away. Much like Poussey, Morello struggles with a lack of intimacy in the wake of her friend’s departure, which she humourously tries to fill with a parade of mildly bizarre male pen pals.
- I’m unsure what to make of the mild-crisis developing between Gloria and Sophia (Laverne Cox) over the burgeoning friendship between their sons. There’s a certain amount of groundwork from the season premiere being picked up here as both women are try to be good parents to their children – with mixed results (I’m glad Sophia’s terrible sex advice comes back to haunt her). I just don’t really know where this is going…
- Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning) and Donut Guard appear to be getting a little close in ‘Fear, And Other Smells’. What do you think is going on here? And why does this show keep insisting on focusing on donuts when I’m hungry?
- Finally, clearly this Kosher food business is going to explode at some point. I do love how Black Cindy (Adrienne C. Moore) doesn’t care about keeping the source of their fresh food quiet, despite the repeated warnings of the other girls. She literally doesn’t give a fuck about things, does she?
- We don’t learn the details of the crime that lands Boo (Lea DeLaria) in trouble and that’s completely fine because DeLaria nails “Carrie”s evolution into the big, beautiful butch dyke that we know and love. I particularly enjoyed Carrie’s insistence to her one-night stand that she has no revealing sob story to explain why she’s so angry and adamant about her identity. The real emotional crux of this flashback is her confrontation with her father at the hospital. Boo may regret not having the opportunity to say goodbye to the mother who never accepted her, but her proclamation of staying true to herself and being loud and proud is inspirational. Go Boo!
- Marisol’s (Jackie Cruz) flashback as the teen LSD-dealer-who-isn’t is less informative. It probably works better to complement ‘Fake It Till You Fake It Some More’spresent day narrative, but I can’t shake the nagging feeling that it exists primarily as a comedic pay-off when Whispers turns out to be a sewing job. Regardless, this flashback does offers some timely insight into Marisol’s self-important attitude and mildly New-Age-y approach to life.
- Chang’s (Lori Tan Chinn) story plays out almost like the soaps she watches on her secret cell phone. We learn quite a bit about the mysterious woman, who has a variety of strange habits that she picked up from her time as an ascending crime boss smuggling black market Chinese goods. Her invisibility is part of what makes her so powerful and while it initially seems as though her story is mostly divorced from the present day action, ‘Ching Chong Chang’ is built on a series of interactions that explore when to make waves and when to recede into the background, including Red’s manipulation of Healy, Caputo’s submission to Pearson, the guards standing up for themselves and even Gloria’s admission to Sophia to dial down to glam to look more “realistic.”
- Norma’s back story is presented in a fairly straightforward sense. She is recruited into a polygamist cult that goes pear-shaped and eventually only she and Guru Mac, looking distractedly like Bill Hader in a bad wig, are the last ones standing. When he questions her faith, she pushes him off a cliff – proving that Norma is willing to follow in silence (a coping mechanism for her stutter) but only for so long. This has a pretty direct line to her walk-out on Red after the latter reclaims her throne in the kitchen. Norma has finally taken the reins of her spiritual transformation to lead her own band of idealistic simpletons from her own pulpit in the Chapel. I wonder what Sister Ingalls will think of this…
- The last flashback belongs to Alex, but this feels like the least interesting of the five. Not only does it just act as filler for the “twist” about Lolly’s true motivations, it doesn’t really tell us anything new or informative about Alex. Definitely my least favourite of this batch of episodes.
3×04: ‘Finger In The Dyke’
- Big Boo (after Penns states her teeth won’t get cavities because they’re porcelain): “Jesus your parents didn’t even do the bare minimum with you, did they?”
- Poussey (when Taystee insults her): “My legs ain’t scrawny; they’re proportioned.”
- Boo (contesting gay stereotypes): “Everyone knows my people are stage managers.”
- Mendoza (to the young girls after they try to impress MCC): “You’re like Lucy and Ethel without the charm”
- Piper (after being asked if she can fix the microwave): “Well I sure can if focus real hard with my lady brain”
- Boo (after Penns encourages her to embrace herself): “Here’s to Heaven and Hell and nothing in between. But I’m probably going to hell”
3×05: ‘Fake It Till You Fake It Some More’
- Red (when Healy asks who’s more of a prisoner): “Still me, I think.”
- Red (when Healy describes Rogers as perky): “Perk is for coffee. It’s deplorable in people.”
- Ramos (when Marisol insists she wants to change jobs): “What if she’s mean or likes Coldplay or something?”
- Alex (surveying a random prisoner she suspects is there for her): “She’s super sketchy as hell and clearly her Disney princess is Jasmine.”
- Morello (when Marisol announces she’ll ask the girls to pee nicely): “Thanks for that”
- Soso (trying to connect with the meth heads): “So how about Walmart? I went there once. There was so much cheap shit.”
3×06: ‘Ching Chong Chang’
- Chang (when Penns calls her Chin Chong Chang): “Fuck you, cracker.”
- Marisol (when Piper asks about the model in the magazine): “She eats pills and ice cream and cries at night. And she cuts herself, but on her scalp where no one can sees.”
- Alex (to Morello, mocking Piper’s $1 per hour job): “Chapman’s pulling in so much bank now, she’s gonna buy us all a pony.”
- Gina (when Crazy Eyes infers that her story is too fictional): “You regularly talk to a mop.”
- Chang (when Piper apologizes for making fun of her): “Thank you, lesbian.”
- Dale Soules’ Freida (referring to an ex with a nose sucking fetish): “It left a very confusing hickey.”
- Morello (after Piper elaborates on her childhood mansion): “Do you hear yourself sometimes, like when you speak?”
- Black Cindy (when Taystee encourages her to stay quiet about the Kosher meals): “That’s the eye shush. Eye shush is just as bad as regular shush.”
- Male Cultist (witnessing the polgyamist marriage): “This is going to be weird. I never should have signed over the pink slip to my volvo.”
- Alex (mocking Piper’s fashion sense): “You dressed head to toe in Urban Outfitters.”
3×08: ‘Fear, and Other Smells’
- Morello (surveying the new bag food): “That’s too bad, I really liked eating. It was part of my daily routine.”
- Piper (advocating for her local business): “I’m like American Apparel, only with less implied statutory rape.”
- Caputo (after Pearson asks where the Jews are): “I know, it’s confusing. We used to have them wear the Stars of David, but that stopped shortly after WW2. I don’t know why.”
- MCC employee Michelle (asking about a new source of soap in a board meeting): “Is it the Jews?” Yikes, what is it about OITNB and Jews in this episode?
Whew! Your turn: which of these five was your favourite? Do you find one story line more engaging than the others? Did Piper’s dirty pantie speech make a believer out of you? Was Alex’s flashback pointless? Do you feel more informed about Chang, Norma, Boo and Marisol? Which of the changes MCC is making will have the biggest blowback? Are Gloria and Sophia headed for a bonding session or a knife fight? How big will Norma’s cult group become? Sound off below, but please refrain from posting spoilers about the remaining episodes.
Orange Is The New Black is available in its entirety on Netflix. While there’s a certain novelty in covering so many episodes in one go, this has probably been a bit much to read so check back next Thursday for a review of the new two episodes, 3×09-3×10.