As OITNB heads into the end of its third season, the narrative focus shifts away from the institutional nuts and bolts in order to refocus back to the ladies.
Let’s bitch it out…
Continuing the narrative split that begin in the last episode, Alex (Laura Prepon) and Piper (Taylor Schilling) drift apart. Alex’s obsession with Lolly (Lori Petty) makes her (according to Piper) “annoying” and her obsession ultimately drives her to attack Lolly (one of two concurrent bathroom attacks). The physical altercation reveals that Lolly isn’t an assassin so much as a paranoid, government conspiracy nut. Oops!
Unfortunately for Alex, her recent behaviour has rubbed Piper the wrong way. As the burgeoning Whispers panties business takes off, Piper grows closer – predictably – to Stella (Ruby Rose) and it’s not long before they initiate a sexual relationship. It’s likely we’ll learn how the new couple handles adversity in the near future now that their panty mules have realized how profitable the business is. A rebellion seems likely…
- Side bar: I’m unsure how to feel about the sexualized portrayal of Stella during ‘Where My Dreidel At.’ Did she really need to stand around naked for a few minutes while Piper salaciously gawks at her tattoo’d body? Seems a little exploitative to me.
The cult of Norma (Annie Golden)
The emergence of religion – and more specifically Norma’s group – has been an interesting narrative thread in S3. At this point it has moved beyond Norma’s ascension in order to focus on the differences between members of the group, specifically Leanne (Emma Myles) and Soso (Kimiko Glenn). Despite Soso’s comedic inability to know when to shut up, she’s been a relatively sympathetic figure (her obliviousness is usually endearing). Leanne, on the other hand, has always been a mildly abrasive character. In her flashbacks, we learn how vitally important Leanne’s religion is to her as a former member of an Amish community. There’s a struggle in the younger version of the character – a desire to be a little bad (sneaking away to deal drugs) that contradicts her passion for a higher purpose.
Leanne’s past pretty clearly tie into her actions in the present. She’s latched onto a substitute religion that can replace the way she left behind; what she doesn’t realize is that her argumentative and domineering attitude will ultimately destroy the group (it has already driven away Soso and put Leanne at odds with the other members). The struggles of Norma’s group to legitimize and regulate the new religion are well-documented throughout both episodes, from their brainstorming of commandments to their demands to scream their complaints in the early morning. At this point, however, there are clear fractures between group members and it seems all but certain that Leanne’s bossy side – and her lies to Norma about Soso’s defection – will lead to Leanne’s expulsion or the dissolution of the group.
Suzanne / Crazy Eyes (Uzo Aduba)
Suzanne’s erotic fiction continues to titillate and excite the inmates, but the pressure to meet their expectations clearly starts to wear on the burgeoning author. In an effort to overcome Suzanne’s writer’s block, Maureen (Emily Althaus) – who seemingly came out of nowhere this season – makes a bold proposal: some hot and heavy action in the closet. The suggestion reveals a startling truth about Suzanne: she has never had any intimate contact and doesn’t know what to do! Despite Morello’s (Yael Stone) advice, Suzanne ultimately loses her nerve when it comes time for the clandestine meeting. Something tells me that she and Maureen may still connect in the remaining episodes, though.
Sophia (Laverne Cox) vs Gloria (Selenis Leyva)
The motherly battle between Sophia and Gloria has quietly gained momentum in the second half of the season. This set of episodes raises the stakes even further after Sophia’s son Michael ends up in a holding cell for a violent act. Sophia uses this development to cut off Gloria’s son, in spite of the fact that it is Michael who is the bad seed. It’s unclear why Sophia decides not to tell Gloria the truth since the latter finds out almost immediately. That aspect needs some unpacking considering how quickly things escalate into physical violence between the pair at the end of ‘A Tittin’ and A Hairin.’
Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning)
I feel like I’ve put off writing this review all week because I’ve been trying to come to grips with this story line. Ever since Penns and Coates (James McMenamin) stopped for donuts, there’s been a flirtatious vibe between them. ‘Where My Dreidel At’ infuses this with dread when the play-acting at the duck pond takes on an aggressive/sexualized edge. Coates’ privileged position as a guard effectively neuters Penns’ agency, meaning that she has to obey his commands and tolerate his sexual advances.
The flashbacks in ‘A Tittin’ and A Hairin’ casts things in a different light and forces us to reevaluate Penns’ present day reaction to the assault. Back in the season premiere, we learned that Pennsatucky’s mom concocted a financial scheme that involved feeding her Mountain Dew. Pennsatucky’s love of the fizzy soda continues into her teen years, as does her mother’s sex advice, which boils down to “let men do what they want and just wait for it to end”. The result is that teenage Pennsatucky didn’t regard sex as anything more than a transaction – there was no pleasure in it aside from the Mountain Dew the local boys traded her for sex. The flashbacks are heartbreaking because she learns that sex can be enjoyable, but ultimately she defaults back to her mother’s advice when she is raped by a boy who won’t take no for an answer.
This passive, no resistance mode is a depiction of rape that I’ve never seen before. The lack of screaming or fighting doesn’t make it any less violent or horrifying to watch, however; there’s something devastating in the final image of Pennsatucky as she’s raped by Coates in the back of the Litchfield van. The close-up on her face, slow tears trickling down her cheeks, is far more powerful than any scene of violence because it makes this act that much more personal and painful. By focusing on Pennsatucky’s quiet, prone defeat, Orange Is The New Black crafts an incredibly powerful and upsetting final image. I really hope that we get to see Penns exact bloody revenge on her attacker before the end of the season.
- As predicted, the Kosher meal scheme is exposed when Pearson (Mike Birbiglia) calls in a rabbi to assess the Jewish ladies costing the prison a fortune. The montage of terrible answers is predictably amusing, especially Black Cindy (Adrienne C. Moore) whose Jewish movie watching doesn’t help save her bacon in the slightest.
- In Daya (Dascha Polanco) news: Delia (Mary Steenburgen) surprises her with a visit to once again offer to take care of the baby, despite knowing the truth about Pornstache’s (Pablo Schreiber) lack of paternity.
- I love how Chang (Lori Tan Chinn) makes fun of Leanne using Witness references.
- Lest we forget how crazy Morello is, she uses the misguided affection of her young Italian pen pal beau to wreak revenge on her (non) ex-fiancée, Christopher. Oh dear…
- Red (Kate Mulgrew) doesn’t have much to do in these episodes aside from shout from the heavens that she’s not responsible for the food (I echoed Gloria’s sentiment when she tells the Russian to let it go). There may yet be hope, though, as stolen produce from the garden allows Red to do some real cooking and earns her the accolades she so desperately desires.
- After so much focus on the Judy King scandal, it’s a bit of a surprise to see the Martha Stewart-esque character assigned to another prison. Considering that Blair Brown (of Fringe fame) is cast as the white collar criminal, I’m fairly certain that we haven’t seen the last of Judy-time.
3×09: ‘Where My Dreidel At’
- Cupcake Coates (to Penns): “Lotta red velvet haters out there all of the sudden.” Seriously, what is with this show and Red Velvet?
- Taystee (telling the new religion to get out of the TV): “Either get out or I’m calling the Po-po. This is Judy time.”
- Leanne (speaking a few word at her confirmation): “I had fun in the English world. I mean, who doesn’t like zippers?”
- Rabbi (after Black Cindy makes a suspender reference): “So you’re familiar with Annie Hall?” Black Cindy: “Annie who?”
- Gloria (reinforcing Sophia’s status as female): “She’s got a perky little cooch.”
- Leanne: “I’m not that great with apologies.” Soso: “I’m sorry is usually a good place to start.” Leanne: “Let me work up to it.”
- Cal (describing Gerber’s dog): “You know he dyed his dog to look like a tiger?”
3×10: ‘A Tittin’ and A Hairin’
- Taystee (after Sister Ingalls can’t understand her when she says “scurry”): “Where my girls at?”
- Stella (when Ruiz states she doesn’t like surprises): “Yeah my accent can be very alarming.”
- Black Cindy (when her designated Jew admits she’s in prison for money laundering): “Ok, now we talking”
- Delia (when Pornstache names Romeo & Juliet, Lolita & the old guy, Susan Sarandon & Tim Robbins as other star-crossed lovers): “Honey, none of those couples ended up together.”
- Morello (when Suzanne asks what to do with her hands during sex): “Put them inside her”
- Morello (to her Italian pen pal): “There’s something about a man in a gold chain that makes me feel safe.”
Your turn: are Alex and Piper dunso? Was Stella’s nude scene a little exploitative? Is Leanne’s dictatorship going to ruin Norma’s religion? Do you sympathize with Gloria in her beef with Sophia? How upsetting did you find Pennsatucky’s rape scenes? Do you think we’ll see more of Judy King? Sound off below, but please refrain from spoiling future episodes.
Orange Is The New Black is available in its entirety on Netflix. Check back next Thursday as we review the final episodes of S3. See you then!