Monday, June 15, 2015

REVIEW: 'Orange Is the New Black' - Big Boo Changes Herself in Order to Pull Off Her Latest Con in 'Finger in the Dyke'

Netflix's Orange Is the New Black - Episode 3.04 "Finger in the Dyke"

Big Boo comes up with a scheme to make money. Daya, Taystee and Suzanne confront reality. Caputo tries to make a good impression on some visitors.

Early in the episode's flashbacks - the first time the show dives into Big Boo's past - she attacks a troublesome teenager foolishly tossing around homophobic comments and then tells her potential hookup that there "ain't no dramatic origin story here. Just a big ol' dyke who refuses to apologize for it." That is one of the most meta lines Orange Is the New Black has ever incorporated into its script. Even though the show is three seasons in and the flashback narrative device has started to go stale, it's still worthwhile to see an obscure member of the show's deep ensemble take over the reigns for an hour in a way that changes how the entire audience views her. The flashbacks often show a different and more human and emotional side to these characters as they showcase just how much Litchfield has become a turning point in their lives. The flashbacks of "Finger in the Dyke" aren't an origin story as Big Boo - or Carrie - proclaims to the hookup who immediately walks away. She has always been this outspoken person who dresses and acts the way that she does because that is simply who she is. She didn't become that way do to some traumatic event in her past. But that only makes the complex emotional issues at play throughout the hour more engaging, complicated and unexpected. This isn't one's typical lesbian story. And that's why Orange Is the New Black is so important. It handles these big topical issues with such sensitivity while also making sure it is telling the most engaging and meaningful story possible. Big Boo's history is one filled with emotions that still effect her in the present day.

The third season of the show really has been living on the micro level. It's dealing with the day-to-day lives of these inmates. Big Boo's story here only happens in order to show the parallels of her past to her latest con. She learns about the Baptist Church sending Pennsatucky money every month because she shot up an abortion clinic. Boo sees that as an opportunity for her to get some money as well. All she has to do is proclaim that she is born-again and cured of her homosexuality. It's a performance that is at once hilarious but also deeply emotional. For her entire life, people have wanted to put Boo into a costume in order to create happiness for just a mere moment in their lives. It's heartbreaking to learn that everyone in her family just looks at the way that she is throughout her life as a simple costume. One that is only suppose to upset others. And yet, that's not it at all. To Boo, this is who she is. The people in her life just have to embrace that she is loud and abrasive and unlike their preconceptions of what a woman or a lesbian should be. When she is memorizing Bible verses and changing her outward appearance, that's her truly putting on a costume. It's all in the name of getting some extra money to help her survive in prison. But as she looks in the mirror after Sophia fixes her hair, all that she sees is her mother.

Boo's mother was the most outwardly oppressive presence in her early development. She couldn't understand why her daughter didn't want to wear dresses just like she did. Her father was more supportive but still had to manipulate her into making sure that everyone could be happy for those brief moments where they had to be the picture-perfect family. That's what makes the later twist of her father fully believing that Boo's lifestyle is all just a front so heartbreaking. She really did genuinely go to the hospital to say goodbye to her mother. It may not have been a happy experience. But she wanted to put in the effort. Her father took that away from her because of the realization that he was just as dismayed by her ways as her mother was. He took just as much offense and that's why she is still filled with remorse over not getting to say goodbye to her mom.

Boo has been conning people for a long time. Her gambling con is briefly seen that most likely got her sent to Litchfield in the first place. She is putting on this performance for the pastor because she wants money. But she's incapable of going through with it because of her basic desire to never apologize for the way that she is. She sees her mother in this costume and the pastor keeps hurtfully referring to her past life as a faggot and a dyke. Those are painful words to Boo. She makes sure that the pastor knows it. But she also doesn't dig much deeper into the emotional realities of her life in the aftermath either. She just accepts it as a con that she couldn't pull off because she had to change too much of herself. She instead spends that time further developing that friendship with Pennsatucky. Boo doesn't linger on the pain of her life because she simply wants to live in a way that is honest to who she is.

In fact, that's why Boo is able to embrace Litchfield so easily and carelessly. She is allowed to have fun and be open without judgment. Her fellow inmates look to her for fun and a good time. The drama is elsewhere in the prison walls. It's not with Boo. And that's her most endearing quality. This place may force others to see themselves for who they truly are. But for Boo, it only strengthens the identity she has always willingly embraced. That is an incredibly empowering statement for the show to make in this hour. And it does so flawlessly. The episode isn't without it's hiccups. But when it comes to telling this wonderfully complex story about Big Boo, it soars.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Finger in the Dyke" was written by Lauren Morelli and directed by Constantine Makris.
  • Caputo takes the folks at MCC on a tour of Litchfield in the hopes that they will be the partners he desperately needs to keep the facility open. He has staged various bits to impress them. But everything that could possibly go wrong does. And yet, that doesn't really matter. MCC likes the facility because of its relationship with Max and hopes to bring them together in a better way in the future.
  • Now that Daya and Bennett are done (she really was a moron for not coming to that conclusion by herself), is the show actually suggesting some kind of romantic tension between Red and Healy? That just seems weird. They are better as reluctant friends.
  • It's also Piper's birthday and her entire family decides to visit. They are all continuing on with their weird lives, with her parents still treating her like the family screw up. It's great that she's starting to embrace her new identity that prison life has taught her. She is no longer the fragile woman who came to Litchfield two seasons ago. But calling Alex her girlfriend already seems destined to explode in her face sometime soon.
  • That visitation room continues to wonderfully showcase the connection these inmates have to the outside world while still not being enough for them to make a difference in their visitor's lives. Gloria knows how to knock some sense back into her son but lacks the practical means to back up her threats. Soso's friend Meadow finally visits and only makes her realize just how horrible and stupid prison life actually is. A hardened Soso makes for a much more interesting character.
  • It was startling to see Morello so disheveled in the wake of Nicky being sent to the Max facility. She puts so much time and effort into her appearance that seeing her without it is like seeing someone else completely. At least she gets some of her personality back when commenting on Boo's transformation at the hair salon.
  • It seems weird to cast Blair Brown as a Martha Stewart-type character with a cooking show that Poussey loves for her to only be seen through the TV. She'll have to be important later on in the season.
  • Taystee and Suzanne's hug and moment of catharsis as they both fully grasp the reality of Vee no longer being in their lives is played for comedy in the end when Suzanne mistakenly gets into bed with her. But in the moment, it is the most powerful and significant emotional moment outside of Boo's main story. Those two characters lost a mother figure. They needed to cry about it together in order to move forward.

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.