Thursday, June 25, 2015

REVIEW: 'Orange Is the New Black' - Piper Exerts Her Power While Caputo Stands With His Guards in 'We Can Be Heroes'

Netflix's Orange Is the New Black - Episode 3.11 "We Can Be Heroes"

Caputo and Piper confront labor issues. A miracle occurs in Norma's group. Suzanne's erotica winds up in the hands of the staff.

The change in management at Litchfield this season really has been a great story because it helps bring out the humanity and identity amongst the show's extremely strong and deep ensemble. The inmates and prison staff typically don't experience the same type of thematic issues. But this season and especially in this episode, they are connected in a really strong way. They create vastly different results in the end. One is extremely uplifting in its bleakness while the other simply showcases the narcissistic tendencies of one character. But it's also such an intricate storytelling device utilized well in this hour.

Both Caputo and Piper are faced with the threat of the people working for them forming unions and demanding better wages and benefits. It's easy to identify with all of the people who want to form unions. The changes that MCC has implemented have altered this ecosystem. Piper was able to use that to her advantage in order to form this new panty smuggling business. But it's no longer a story of her using the system to her advantage in a profound way. It has now become her exerting her power over her fellow inmates. Piper doesn't really know what it's like to be completely striped of power and identity. Even during her time in Litchfield, she still identifies as and is viewed as a privileged white woman. She doesn't know the kind of inhumanity and discrimination inflicted on other people of this society. She can't relate to the onslaught of transphobic comments being flung at Sophia in the aftermath of her fight with Gloria in the bathroom. She can't relate to the emotional realities of Daya and Maria as they are struggling with their children. She can't relate to Pennsatucky in the wake of her sexual assault. She can't relate to the depressed state that Soso is in as well as the bullying from Norma's group. She can't relate to the need for spirituality that drives so many inmates to Norma's embrace. She can't relate to the paranoia that Alex is feeling trapped in this place because Piper wasn't all that aware of the severity of their criminal operation out in the real world.

This season began with Piper coming to the realization that her life at Litchfield may offer her the chance at her being her most genuine self. But now, that is manifesting in her becoming even more selfish than before because she got a taste for power and wants to lord over every else with it. Flaca brought up reasonable concerns about the workers getting more money in their commissary accounts for the services Piper requires. Piper does agree to that request. It allows for a fantastic montage as Piper goes about the prison looking for a cell phone (but mostly finds drugs and shanks). Piper is albe to meet these demands with very little trouble. But she still needs herself to be viewed in a power position so that more issues don't come up later on in the operation. She fires Flaca solely as a power move. She wanted to show that she is the person in charge. She did it for the thrill which only adds to the fragility of this operation. She is fully immersing herself in the criminal lifestyle which could have major consequences for her later on.

This hasn't been a great season for Alex with her whole paranoia arc not having a whole lot of meaningful substance or weight to it. She and Lolly are able to patch things up simply by having Alex come up with some elaborate lie about being undercover for the CIA. It's all weird storytelling that is solely meant to relieve the situation. And yet, Alex's story is worth it for a moment because she is able to look at Piper with some more clarity. Alex did have awareness of the criminal operation that happened in the past. Piper was the naive fool. Alex knows the risks associated with this business. Piper doesn't because she's enjoying her power play too much. That means Alex has a point in saying that she wants no part in Piper's business or their relationship any more. Was that moment enough to justify the whole paranoia arc? Not even close. But at least for a few scenes Alex wasn't dragging the whole show down.

This has also been a difficult season for Caputo as he's been forced to continue managing the facility while hearing about the concerns of the veteran staff and implementing the new policies from MCC. It's been a system filled with mistakes that culminates here in Angie being falsely identified and released from Litchfield. It's an error that only occurred because of the new operation system MCC put into the computers. Plus, the new guards don't have that human and emotional connection to the facility and the people inside it. So many of the new guards continue to be naive and impersonal. They simply don't have the training to know how to be effective at this job. That's what allows Angie to get out for a few hours. MCC has a system that they boast has worked at other facilities. But at the end of the day, MCC is a company that just cares about how the numbers look on paper. They distance themselves from the day-to-day interactions. And then, their man on the ground, Pearson, is effectively a daddy's boy who doesn't know how to effectively do the job that he has been tasked to do.

That means it has been up to Caputo to pick up a ton of the slack. That effort hasn't really been noticed by MCC and has only led to more frustration on Caputo's part. The episode's flashbacks don't show any kind of true depth behind Caputo's past. He took the job at Litchfield because he needed to support a family. But it also brings out the idea that Caputo is always opening the door for other people but is continually unhappy when they don't thank him for it. MCC has brought so many horrible changes to Litchfield over the course of the season. Caputo has that personal connection to the facility even though he no longer has anyone to support except himself. He has been forced to obey MCC's rules. But this prisoner escape is an error too big to just ignore. And yet, he takes it upon himself to go out, find her and bring her back in order to not create any more chaos. He is able to find Angie so easily because of the depressing state of her release. Because of her life at Litchfield, she has no idea what to do or where to go in the outside world. She's given $40 and a bus pass to Jersey but has no clue what to do with her life. That existential crisis allows Caputo to find her easily. But it also highlights the depressing state of his own life. He wants to stand up to his new corporate overlords but he doesn't know how.

Caputo really is left with a huge decision to make in the episode's final sequence. He's going to continue holding that door open for people. The choice is who is he going to do it for - the corporate folks at MCC or his veteran staff. The guards have expressed their desire to form a union in order to get some of their benefits back. But they have no idea how to organize themselves. Caputo walks into that bar ready to be MCC's man on the ground with an impersonal approach to the business. But he has spent a lifetime at Litchfield and understands the emotional realities of the people imprisoned there and the people who work there. The veteran guards all have lives and families they need to support. They are the underdogs in this battle. Caputo choosing to help them get what they deserve is a rousing moment but one that doesn't promise to produce results anytime soon. It's great that he gets a Les Miserables song directed at the valiant thing he is doing. He is finally getting appreciated for his actions. But is that enough to bring about meaningful change to an environment where the one employee who is actually passionate about making a difference (Berdie) is the one who gets placed on leave during this tumultuous time?

Some more thoughts:
  • "We Can Be Heroes" was written by Sian Heder and directed by Phil Abraham.
  • Big Boo and Pennsatucky's friendship started as a purely comic device. A pairing so weird that it could only produce hilarious moments. But now, there's such a huge amount of emotional resonance between the two of them. Big Boo genuinely cares about Pennsatucky's well being once she discovers the bruises over her body. She handles the situation in the most blunt way possible. But that's also the only way to get through to Pennsatucky that her being flirtatious was not an invitation to be raped. Such a strong moment of pure emotion.
  • Leanne's bullying of Soso is straight out of middle school. Seriously, the foot tripping and hair cutting is so immature. And it's going to end tragically because of Soso's depression.
  • Also, Norma seems to have lost so much control of her religious organization. She is happy to be given lots of stuff. But she has also created a monster in Leanne who believes that she can speak for the entire group and that it's okay to bully Soso in this way even though Norma just wants to preach about kindness.
  • Suzanne is relieved not to be the center of attention and fame anymore after the staffs finds her erotic fiction and confiscates it. It allowed her to form actual connections to the other inmates. But it was entirely because they liked her writing not her as a person. That's what makes her confession to Poussey such a strong moment about why Vee meant so much to her. Vee treated her like a person which is more than most of the inmates are willing to do.
  • Berdie tries to get to the root of why Healy hates her so much and why he enjoys taking her down. She thinks it's because he's a misogynist and a racist. But it's mostly that he's petty and territorial. He doesn't want anyone to be able to come into Litchfield and do his job better than he can.
  • There's simply no reason why Fig needed to return except for the fact that the show obviously loves having her around as a character. She was an important kickstart for the episode's focus around Caputo though.
  • Again, the flashbacks didn't provide a whole lot of context to Caputo's life. But they were worth it entirely because of a cameo appearance by Rosa! And she was still such a great character even in that all-too-brief moment of screen time.

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.