Saturday, June 27, 2015

REVIEW: 'Orange Is the New Black' - The Inmates Find a Momentary Sense of Freedom & Happiness in 'Trust No Bitch'

Netflix's Orange Is the New Black - Episode 3.13 "Trust No Bitch"

Miracles and conversions occur, but Piper and Caputo know that some situations can't be dealt with through spiritual means.

The final minutes of "Trust No Bitch" are some of the most miraculous, heartwarming and rewarding moments Orange Is the New Black has ever produced. This season has been a transitional one for the show. It's setting up the larger stakes of MCC's corporate takeover without ever suggested that they would just be a season-long entity. So much was happening in each of the inmates lives. It was very ambitious storytelling to try telling stories on the magnitude that Orange Is the New Black did this season. It didn't always work. But spending time in this world and with these characters has always been the show's strongest quality - and that is firmly on display in the final minutes of the third season finale.

Litchfield has to replace a portion of the fence after a hole was discovered by Caputo. Cost-cutting methods allow a non-trained or sensitive team onto the facility in order to make the repairs. They cut open a huge hole and the prisoners take full advantage of it to run and embrace a moment of freedom in the nearby lake. This community has been so oppressed all season long because of the management changes. Their situations have all worsened in truly profound and devastating ways. And yet, that desire to have freedom even for a moment is something that unifies all the inmates. They all notice the hole and take a moment to wonder if it's a real opportunity or if it's just another trick that will lead to further devastation. One by one, they all accept the chance to be free of the system. The opportunity is never presented as a miracle that Norma was able to produce for the rest of the inmates (though she is the first person to notice the hole and run towards freedom). It's also never meant as a real prison break. The inmates can only get to the lake. In order to get actual freedom, they would need to go on a lengthy and exhaustive swim. No one takes that opportunity. But several great things come out of the chance for freedom.

The openness of the lake allows for a spiritual turning point for several of the characters. It represents a chance for them just to be happy and no longer forced to follow the strict rules and guidelines of the system. It also allows old bonds to be strengthened and new ones to be formed. Soso has been deeply depressed all season long. She overdosed on benadryl. Poussey found her in the library. She and her friends made certain that she stayed alive and wasn't sent to psych. In the waters of the lake, Soso and Poussey have a moment of true bonding without having to say a word. They both have been looking for that connection. And now, they may have both found it. Red hasn't been willing to get caught up in all the hysteria surrounding Norma as a religious figure. But as they sit on the dock, they once again are able to embrace like two old friends finally reconnecting. Suzanne doesn't always know how to best interact with other people. Her writing gave her a certain amount of fame but that was almost all for an artificial celebrity persona. But she and her crush are able to have a true moment of bonding while playing a game of fetch the turtle. It's simple but also shows her building an honest, new and healthy friendship. Gloria and Flaca as well as Aleida and Daya are able to once again appreciate the other and accept them as a part of their prison family. The sequence isn't entirely filled with these big emotional moments between the characters. Sometimes it's just about the inmates having fun - like Boo and Pennsatucky wrestling against Angie and Leanne.

But the lake also represents a huge turning point for at least one character in Cindy. She took her conversion to the Jewish faith seriously. It was an obsession that started with her getting the better Kosher meals. For most of the season, the show smartly kept it ambivalent whether she was actually invested in the Jewish faith as an actual religion or if it just represented something that intrigued her. In the finale, all that ambiguity is wiped away in her big speech to the rabbi. She has found a reason to connect to Judaism more than any of the other religions. Her life has been filled with regrets and mistakes. Her daughter is never explicitly mentioned but it's definitely hidden in the subtext of her big speech. She likes how the Jewish faith looks at those mistakes in context of the person's life instead of focusing on them being damned to Hell in the afterlife. That's something that she could relate to. Something that comforted her in a time where nothing else has made such a lasting impact on her. She was proud to declare that she wanted to convert. It meant something to her. But there was still the question of whether or not she would go through with it because of the one last hurdle that needed to happen for her to truly convert - the mikvah. Cindy could still choose not to follow through once this seemingly insurmountable obstacle presented itself. And yet, the episode's flashbacks do a strong service to the character by showing that her big speech was her speaking the truth. When she goes down to the water, the mikvah is one of the only things on her mind. As she submerges herself, she feels the importance of this moment. It's not presented in any kind of slanted view. This is a religion that she is willingly embracing and feels genuinely happy about.

The freedom trip to the lake is a very powerful moment for so many of the inmates. This is a momentous day for them. They typically don't get such an opportunity - and another one just like this won't come again anytime soon. They all have to just seize the moment and enjoy it for as long as it lasts because they don't know what the next day will hold. All of that happiness is counterbalanced with the reveal that the devastation and chaos at Litchfield is only going to get worse. MCC has big plans to expand the population of the facility as quickly as possible. It's a powerful final reveal. The hints were being dropped all throughout the finale. Several people talked about the new beds coming to the bunks. Red pointed out that the food shipments had doubled all of a sudden. Pearson's father and the guards pointed out just how big and important this day is. In the end, the audience realizes just how daunting and chaotic this future presents for Litchfield. The cast has the potential to double in the fourth season. That's a scary proposition as the regular inmates of the show struggled to find any sense of individuality and identity throughout this season. What will adding even more people to the system actually do the environment and the people who live there?

On top of that, Caputo has decided to accept the position of being the man on the ground for MCC. It's a disarming and sudden twist for the character who was recently respected as a hero figure for the veteran staff. But it's also a twist that occurs out of genuine and understandable emotion. Caputo's flashback episode showed just how rarely appreciated he has been his entire life. He respects the humanity of his position at the prison and desperately wants to do right by the inmates and the guards. And yet, he also has to accept the position and MCC's stance on the various issues in order to remain the man in charge. He would rather be the face of opposition and corporate power to the rest of the facility. It beats getting fired and the risk of someone new and even more heartless coming into the position. He's trying to do what is right. But it's also presented as if he has a choice. He really doesn't but he has convinced himself that he's doing what's best for the entire facility. It's exactly what Pearson said would happen when they drove to the meeting with his father. Pearson ended up quitting and Caputo still didn't get Sophia out of solitary. Instead he got a promotion and convinced himself it was the start of the "year of Caputo." That's the reasoning he needs to accept in order to deal with the reality of the situation. And the guards promptly call him out on it before walking out for good in the time MCC needs them the most. Their absence is what allows so many inmates to flee to the lake. Adding more inmates to the facility will only bring about more chaos without an experienced staff to keep the system in line. Caputo recognized that before. But now, he has to deal with those same concerns as a member of the corporate entity who wants to vastly overhaul the prison system.

MCC really is just getting started with the changes at Litchfield. That does make this season seem more like the set up for something even bigger and more ambitious in Season 4. But this season may actually include a strong origin story. One where without a system to check on her and keep her in balance allows Piper to become the true villain of Litchfield. She is cold and calculating in handling her business when faced with threats from Flaca, Cal and Stella. And she is given an extremely badass moment in the end by giving herself a tattoo. Piper has relished in the power and control over her business. At times, she was frivolous in flaunting her power or lack thereof - basically when it came to firing and rehiring Flaca. But she has also become a monster that is a legitimate force to be feared. Her handling of Stella's betrayal is brutal. Stella stole from the business in order to build a life on the outside. Lately, Stella has been so focused on living in prison that she hasn't even thought about how to survive after she got out. It was a selfish act and one that she paid for severely. Even though she and Piper had gotten extremely close, Piper still had no problem planting contraband in her bunk and getting her shipped to Max. It's a very cold move that should give her more respect and fear from her employees. It's a vastly different Piper from the start of the series - and even the season. She has become a criminal mastermind. Even though there's a ticking clock on how much time she has left at Litchfield, she is still willingly embracing this new criminal lifestyle which could cause her so much additional time in this place should she get caught.

The system allowed for Piper to become that version of herself. It's also what led to Soso taking those pills and Sophia being thrown into solitary. It's an ineffective system where the staff think they are doing a good job but, in reality, are just doing the inmates more harm. Healy's advice did nothing to help Soso. It was the friendships presented by Poussey and Taystee that did that. And she's blunt in saying that Healy is really bad at his job. But the system also doesn't allow that thought to linger in Healy's head all that much. Despite all the evidence, the show itself still wants Healy to be seen as a somewhat complex and complicated character. He has a tragic past with his own mother and is currently in a somewhat flirtatious relationship with Red while his wife at home is seeing that he can be a good man as well. And yet, his handling of Soso's situation is so horrendous. He is a petty man and there really isn't a whole lot of redeeming for that.

But the system also does offer rewarding and redeeming moments in its handling of Morello and Vince's wedding. It's a development in their story that comes out of the blue. It's certainly a very ambivalent direction for that pairing to take. Is it something that Morello genuinely wants after he beat up Christopher for her? Or is it something that she came up with on the spot in order to keep her hooks in him when he wanted to break up with her? They are both very delusional people. It's surprising that Vince hasn't looked up who she is on the Internet. Is he that blind in his love for her? It's a messed-up story that will probably only get darker next season. But it's also positioned as the system having a compassionate side as Bell allows them to consummate their marriage up against the vending machines in the visiting room. It's an emotional moment for both sides of the equation. During the ceremony, Bell was crying just as much as Morello was. Giving the happy couple that moment together was something good that Bell could do for them - even though it was hard to block out the noise even with headphones on.

But then the system goes straight back to being messed-up as it allows for Alex to be caught in a very compromising and deadly situation. Lolly hasn't made a whole lot of sense when it came to her conspiracy theories about the new guards. That craziness is what got Alex to stop worrying that Kubra was sending someone to kill her. The fact that that has now come true only serves to point out just how mishandled this whole story was all season long. Alex is one of the few inmates not at the lake in the closing minutes. Other people are missing as well like Piper and Lolly. But Alex's absence comes from deriving a cliffhanger over whether or not she will live when one of Kubra's associates is revealed to be a new guard at Litchfield. The audience has no idea what his plans for her are. But it does point out just how isolating a quality she was all season long. She's not really missed in that final sequence. She hadn't formed any kind of meaningful relationships that needed clarity and resolution. She was largely just by herself which makes her absence go unnoticed by virtually everyone. The arc wasn't all that bad. It certainly had some momentum in the second half of the season. But it was too ambitious for a story that the show only rarely knew what to do with.

Again, Season 3 was a very transitional year for the show. It didn't quite hit the high points that it did during the first and second seasons. It still offered plenty of devastating moments and reveals - like Pennsatucky's rape and Sophia being punished for being the victim of a hate crime. But the season also didn't always know how to get to those points in a compelling way. There was a lot of plot whiplash leading up to that big Sophia moment between her and Gloria. But so much of the story the show set out to tell had compelling emotional repercussions for the deep ensemble. This is a world and atmosphere that is great to live in despite all the emotional horrors it can provide. It's still compelling to watch the show. Plus, the season set up so many great things to come in Season 4. The happiness of freedom was a truly profound way to end the season. And yet, there is darkness just hiding around the corner waiting to strike the inmates as soon as they are forced back up the hill and into the facility.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Trust No Bitch" was written by Jim Danger Gray & Jenji Kohan and directed by Phil Abraham.
  • The bait-and-switch with Judy King was such an expected twist for the finale. She actually will serve her time at Litchfield. That's the only kind of conclusion that could happen when casting Blair Brown in the role. However, that moment does strongly showcase how ill-equipped Litchfield is in handling such an expansion.
  • Daya accepts that her mother did the right thing when it came to her daughter. She may not be able to be there for her right now. But that happiness is still possible once she gets out. Unfortunately, their lives are about to become so much more complicated because Cesar has been arrested and all the children will be going into the system.
  • Faith and motherhood have been the big themes of the season. They bookend the season when it comes to the flashbacks - with the premiere focusing on moments of motherhood and the finale dealing with moments of religion. They were nice glimpses into the various inmates' lives on the sensitive subject but they also didn't provide that many great individual moments.
  • Norma's religious following and Piper's business are two stories that will likely continue into the next season. Norma's followers grasp onto the idea that her image has been branded into a piece of toast. But even that revitalizing is taken away after the reveal of what Soso did to herself.
  • Taystee, Poussey and Suzanne's handling of the Soso situation in the beginning of the finale was very humorous. Taystee really has become the mother figure of the group. But just because she's sensible and knows what to do doesn't mean she has to be the one to stick her fingers down Soso's throat to get her to throw up.
  • It's also great that the one veteran guard who notices all the inmates escaping to the lake is Luschek who just wants to walk back and act like he didn't see anything. The new guards aren't trained to handle a situation like this. The veteran staff need to be back next season. They are important characters on the show. Their reactions and personal lives would be missed - especially Bell, O'Brien, Ford and Maxwell.
  • Pennsatucky and Big Boo share a moment at movie night relieved that they didn't have to become rapists in order to get pay back on a rapist. Pennsatucky is then able to fake a seizure to get out of van duty and more sex with Coates. But that happiness is short lived as the two notice that Maritza has been tapped as the replacement and they are fully aware of the horrors that await her.
  • That's a wrap for reviews of the third season. It has been a lot of fun writing about each episode - even though I'm sure most of the audience watched them much more quickly than I did. It was a lot of fun. I can't wait to do it all again next year.

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.