Wednesday, June 24, 2015

REVIEW: 'Orange Is the New Black' - Pennsatucky's Relationship with Sex Is Explored Devastatingly in 'A Tittin' and A Hairin''

Netflix's Orange Is the New Black - Episode 3.10 "A Tittin' and A Hairin'"

Pennsatucky, Piper, Suzanne and Lorna get closer with their new admirers. Tensions between Sophia and Gloria, and Alex and Lolly escalate.

One of the greatest things that Orange Is the New Black did in its second and third seasons was turn Pennsatucky into an actual multi-dimensional character. She had a purpose in the first season. She needed to be so strongly against Piper in order to make the final moment of the season work. And yet, Pennsatucky was never more than a caricature with a few amusing bits. She needed to be revitalized in a way after that incident in a way that justified keeping her around. It helped immensely that the show didn't want Piper to be a murderer. She's done many selfish and unlikable things but that was a line the show didn't cross. It also allowed Pennsatucky to show some true growth. Her own emotional wants and needs were allowed to be on display. She has had some major maturation over the two seasons. She now works as an individual character. The audience has a strong understanding of who she is and why she is the way that she is. All of that understanding is what makes it so heartbreaking to watch as she is raped twice in the span of one hour.

Depiction of rape in TV shows has very much been a sensitive subject as of late - especially on shows such as Game of Thrones and Outlander. "A Tittin' and a Hairin'" does a strong job tackling the difficult subject because it paints a full picture of the experience. Pennsatucky has always had a certain view point on relationships. The audience has known since the first season that it's a difficult subject for her because she has had six abortions - and shooting a clinic worker is the reason why she is in Litchfield in the first place. She has experienced a lifetime of not knowing what love and intimacy actually is. It's a lack of understanding that started at a very early age. When she first got her period at 10, her mother simply used the experience to offer her own theories on sex to her. From that day forward, men were going to look at her differently and it would be best for her to just let them "sting" her with very little resistance on her part.

That understanding is brutal. In her youth, she thought that she needed to trade sex in order to just get a couple of cans of Mountain Dew. That's devastating but it's also what she was led to believe was normal. That sex is largely just an act for the men and is something that she just has to turn herself off for a few moments and pretend that it's not really happening. That's a twisted mindset but one that was genuinely a part of her identity. And then came the new boy to her small town who presented her best chance at discovering what true love and intimacy actually is. Their elongated nude sequence isn't meant to be tantalizing or graphic. It's meant to show the developing connection between two human beings. It plays in contrast to the porn that's playing on the TV. There is a genuine love between the two of them. They respect each other and want to be with each other. And yet, outside circumstances pull them away.

It's after the breakdown of that relationship - which they are both so desperate to keep going - that the episode takes its truly tragic turn. Because of the flashbacks, it's understandable why Pennsatucky would still see something innocent and romantic in her relationship with Coates. Despite the severity and ugliness of his actions during their last trip to feed the ducks, she still sees him as a decent person. And yet, he is still in an unknown world trying to figure out the structure of the prison system. They both like their time together. But it's also bringing out drastic consequences for both. Coates can't let his connection with Pennsatucky get in the way of his duties at the prison. It's honorable that he doesn't want her to think that she needs to sleep with him in order to get ice cream. That's what truly makes her trust him again in the aftermath of his power play over her. She wants to believe that he will respect her the way that her old boyfriend used to.

But once again, Pennsatucky's relationship with sex is one with twisted repercussions. Because of her seeing herself as a sexual being who uses it in order to survive, it leads to two guys taking advantage of her body. It's more destructive than when she simply trades the Mountain Dew for sex. This is clearly something that she doesn't want. It's compelling but devastating watching as she completely shuts down during both of the acts. She doesn't even fight because of remembering her mother's own advice. As much change as she has undergone over the years, this is something that can still happen to her. In that moment, she just goes into autopilot in shutting down. The high emotions are still apparent. But it's so tragic watching her in that final shot of the episode as the camera pans in on her as the tears rush down her face during this heinous act. It's a very wonderful acting accomplishment by Taryn Manning. But one that comes out of a situation filled with tragedy.

Pennsatucky's story is the most emotionally complex and devastating twist of the season so far. Throughout the rest of this hour, it is clear that the season is setting up its end game by putting a lot of its characters into conflict. The season hasn't not earned those moments. But at times, several of them do feel rushed. It is rousing watching as so many of the inmates are now invested in the outcome of the Judy King trial. But it will be a letdown if she truly doesn't get sentenced to Litchfield. The casting of Blair Brown suggests that that twist is still coming which takes away the impact this moment should have on the inmates who've gotten swept up in the converge.

Similarly, it's somewhat frustrating that Piper takes a turn for the selfish once more. She is in a relationship with Alex, a woman who she genuinely cares about. She is throwing all of that away for the shiny, exciting, new thing in Stella all because Alex has become a little annoying with all her paranoia. Piper sure has gotten more confident after embracing the prison way-of-life. But it's still apparent that she is acting purely out of her own self-concern. She doesn't really care what is going on with Alex - especially when she's confronting Lolly over the journal, which of course brings confirmation that Lolly has been a red herring and is just a crazy person. Nor does Piper care that she is getting more out of her underground panty selling business than the woman she has enlisted to actually wear the underwear. That's all obviously building to more conflict in the future. But right now, it's in a maddening place of stasis where Piper isn't coming across all that well.

It's also devastating to watch the actions of Morello, Sophia and Gloria by the end of the episode as well. It's certainly unknown if Morello used this whole dating con in order to try and get one of the guys so passionate about her that he would then go and beat up Christopher for her or if that's just something that came to her in the moment. If it's the former, that's an incredibly dark twist for the character but one that isn't completely out of turn. It's then easy to understand why Sophia and Gloria are acting the way that they are. They are doing their best to protect their families even with their diminished influence as of late. And yet, it still seems like a very sudden shift to have them engaged in an actual fight that leads to Sophia pushing Gloria into the concrete wall.

But then, there's also the wonderful and innocent story happening with Suzanne right now. It's the polar opposite of the tragedy happening in Pennsatucky's life. Suzanne is a woman without any experience at all sexually. Sure, she has propositioned people like Piper previously on the show. But it's still sweet watching her try to work through her insecurities and the awkwardness in order to act on this opportunity. She doesn't ultimately go into the supply closet. But she was so close to. And that is a sign of meaningful progress. She may not trust other people in matters of love and connection as strongly as she did before. But this possible romance also seems genuine. She's just too afraid of what may happen to actually act on it. That's devastating in a way completely different than Pennsatucky's story but just as compelling to watch.

Some more thoughts:
  • "A Tittin' and A Hairin'" was written by Lauren Morelli and directed by Jesse Peretz.
  • Piper's panty wearers coming together to talk about the operation and how much profit Piper stands to make is only going to lead to a major complication for her.
  • Soso is still struggling with her depression. Her conflict with Leanne is another story that seems a tad underdeveloped. It does continue on the importance of Leanne's story in the previous episode. But Soso declaring that she really is better than the rest of Norma's followers was a moment that somewhat came out of nowhere.
  • Ford knowing that Luschek has come into money and that his brother-in-law sold drugs is going to be really important in the final episodes of the season, right?
  • I just love how committed Cindy is in trying to learn about Judaism in order to get back on the Kosher meal program. It's a fascination to her and not something she's searching for for spiritual enlightenment. That makes it different from the typical religion story and a joy to watch.
  • Red teaching the rest of the kitchen workers how to cook using the vegetables from the garden is a strong way to teach skills they can all use in the real world. If the job training program never returns, at least Red is doing something proactive with her new free time.
  • The Daya story continues to be great even though it is often on the sideline of each episode. Delia's visit with her son in his prison is a great moment showing how the belief of impending fatherhood is enough to keep him going in life. It's also such a strong and rewarding moment that Delia still wants to adopt Daya's baby and Daya becomes okay with that. It's a great and dynamic story that I'm guessing will lead to a birth sometime soon.

As noted in previous reviews from this series, every episodic review was written without having seen any succeeding episodes. Similarly, it would be much appreciated if in the comments section, the conversation would only revolve around the show up to this point in its run.