Saturday, June 18, 2016

REVIEW: 'Orange Is the New Black' - The Prison Identity is Changing for Everyone at Litchfield in 'Work That Body For Me'

Netflix's Orange Is the New Black - Episode 4.01 "Work That Body For Me"

With a major security breach and a lot of new inmates, Caputo has to call in the big guns. Things get a little too real for Suzanne and Lolly.

Orange Is the New Black largely defines its main characters by their time in Litchfield. The episodic flashback structure provides a brief glimpse into their lives before their incarcerations. But their prison stints truly define the people they are. The flashbacks rarely focus on the criminal acts that get them sentenced in the first place. They instead focus on who these people were before they were in prison. That provides a meaningful glimpse into how they have changed because of this environment - for both better and worse. Being a prisoner now defines all of their lives. It's a label that will stick with them long after they leave Litchfield - if they ever do, which some won't. So, how the prisoners view that label is very important. Litchfield is changing as a environment this season. There was just a brief tease of that pending doom in last season's finale. But now, it has fully arrived and all of the prisoners are going to struggle for individuality and stability in a place that wants to view all of them as the same while shoving in as many as possible to make a profit. It's a fantastic thematic story to kick off the season with the sense of it only getting better as the season moves along.

The inmates making a run for the nearby lake once part of the fenced wall came down was such an invigorating and emotional moment to close out the third season. It provided the inmates with a brief respite to their lives inside prison. Outside the walls, they could simply be themselves. They could pursue the existences they wanted with no limitations. They still understood that they are prisoners. The majority of them return to the prison without conflict once the guards arrive. They understand that they can't just run away. The lake was simply an opportunity to embrace momentary happiness. It was a passage away from this life. And yet, the inmates return as changed people to a changed environment. The people who chose to go out to the lake enjoyed that experience. That was one of the best days they've had in a long time. Red and Norma reconnected. Big Boo and Pennsatucky got to have fun without worrying about recent trauma. Suzanne was able to explore that romantic connection with Maureen. And Cindy was able to complete her Jewish transition. It was such a rewarding time. It represented so much hope and happiness for all of them. This is something they desperately needed. It provides them with so much optimism in the face of a changing prison system.

However, the guards and management still need to treat all of the prisoners as inmates. They see this as an epic prison escape. Caputo needs to call in the security guards from max in order to restore order to the place. He is surrounded by incompetent guards. He enjoys being the man in charge on the ground. But all of his senior correctional officers have walked out on him. He only has guards still in training. They don't have the expertise or knowledge to handle something like this - especially on a day where they are receiving even more inmates. This is the worst possible first day Caputo could have. But the guards from max know how to handle this situation. They are able to get everyone back in line. But it's significant that none of the inmates are really standing opposed to the orders. And yet, the guards are still barking orders for them to keep moving forward and not talk unless spoken to. It establishes their dominance in this environment. But that's not anything new. That's something the ladies have gotten used to over their time in Litchfield. They are obeying the orders. They are just more lax about it. Things have been a certain way for so long. And now, things are starting to change which should be very frightening to all of them.

The only person who wants to escape to the outside world is Maureen. She convinces Suzanne to run off with her so that they can have a happy life together. She no longer wants to be seen as a prisoner. That's something that Suzanne goes along with for a little while because she likes these newfound feelings towards Maureen. Their flirtation last season was so sweet. It was just a minor part of the year but it was so significant too. Suzanne deserves happiness. She has been through so much. Maureen seemed like someone who could really understand her and her perspective of the world. But now, it's much more complicated than that. Maureen is leading Suzanne into trouble. Suzanne enjoys the prison world. It brings structure and stability to her life. It's comforting to her in a way that the real world hasn't been. Maureen wants to escape in order to continue living in the fantasy of their relationship. She has a vivid imagination and wants to play around with those details. She doesn't want the harsh realities of life as a prisoner. So that shows that these two maybe aren't good for each other after all. Caputo's treatment of them once they are eventually found is very telling as well. He can't be mad at Suzanne for trying to escape because he understands just how susceptible she can be. Meanwhile, he wants to punish Maureen severely. He doesn't know her as well as some of the other inmates. And yet, his whole perception of her changes once he reads something surprising in her file. That one detail completely changes his handling of the case and she receives no punishment whatsoever for running off. So, her definition as a criminal saves her from any more abuse from the system.

Elsewhere, Alex and Piper start the season changed as well. Neither one of them make it down to the lake to enjoy it before the guards come running. In Alex's case, she can't because the hitman has finally found her and is trying to straggle her to death. That was a pretty lame cliffhanger at the end of last season. In fact, Alex's whole paranoid arc last year was really lackluster. But now, it holds new resonance to it. Lolly returns to the greenhouse to rescue Alex just in the nick of time. And yet, the two have a dead body they now need to deal with. Alex is grateful but recognizes that all of her fears have finally been come true. She was willingly a part of a criminal organization. She enjoyed it because of the lifestyle it afforded her. Over the course of the series, she has spent time both in jail and on the outside. She got released because she testified against her former boss. She has been living in paranoia ever since then. Her return to prison brought her no peace. She was right to be worried about her life. But now, that threat has been eliminated. It happened right in front of her. But it's also significant that the hitman doesn't die from being kicked repeatedly by Lolly. When Alex returns later in the night, she has to finish the job. She is now a murderer. She does so out of self-preservation. But it's still a violent character shift for her that will change her moving forward. Life in Litchfield has only made her more of a criminal. She has killed a man, chopped up his body and buried him in the garden. She can breathe easier moving forward for a little bit. But it's really only a matter of time before that body returns to haunt her once more.

Meanwhile, Piper now believes she is a "gangsta with an a at the end" simply because of her badass and ruthless move to get Stella sent down to max. She spends the entire premiere searching for validation of just how much power she now has in this prison. She has always seen herself as above all of her other inmates. At the start of the series, she believed she wasn't suppose to be her. She unknowingly committed a crime all in the name of love. But over the years, Litchfield has changed Piper. It has provided her with new opportunities for power and control. It has brought out her inner criminal. It's a move she has really enjoyed as well. She is quickly turning into quite the villain for the prison environment. She believes she runs life on the inside just because of her booming panty business. And yet, no one seems to live in fear or respect of her. Her attempts to show her dominance only leads to more awkwardness. Red pushes for her to let their new bunkmates know who is in charge. She does so largely to mess with Piper and show the new inmates just how benevolent she can be. She understands how to manipulate Piper. And all Piper has in return for her aggressive pursuit of power is an infected tattoo that looks more like an angry eight than an infinity sign. But the premiere also closes with a couple of the new inmates talking to her as the person in charge. They got that intel from Flaca. As soon as they arrived, they wanted to know more about the person running things. So, either Piper now has a target on her back from some even more dangerous women or her command of the prison is about to get much greater moving forward. Either way it should make for quite a captivating season.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Work That Body For Me" was written by Jenji Kohan and directed by Andrew McCarthy.
  • Natasha Lyonne is still listed as a series regular in the opening title sequence. So, that means it's highly likely Nicky will be seen again sometime this season despite being sent to Max. In fact, the presence of the new guards from Max could be an indication of how she returns. And if she returns, what is the likelihood that Stella and Miss Claudette appear again too?
  • Sophia is nowhere to be found either. She was sent to solitary confinement near the end of last season because she became the target of trans hate amongst the inmates. It was a brutal and emotional close to her story last year. It showed just how poorly managed the prison is under its new leadership. But hopefully, she's not gone for too long.
  • That Bill Cosby joke Lolly makes is so fantastic. It was blunt but really funny and helped alleviate the tension of the situation with Alex. And yet if the entire series takes place over Piper's original sentence, what's the timeframe of this season? And does that line up so it makes since within the world as well?
  • Judy King really is the only new inmate the premiere spends any time introducing to the prison. Her hanging out with Luschek is quite a funny story too in a pretty dark and emotional premiere. But her presence also showcases how the prison acts differently towards celebrity criminals. The people in charge know who Judy is. The audience does to from her weird introduction last season that was all too predictable. But how that changes things should be really interesting to watch moving forward.
  • Coates talking to Bayley about not understanding the change in his relationship with Pennsatucky shows just how casual he views his rape of her. He thinks nothing is different. And yet, Pennsatucky's whole world has changed because of it. At least, she has Big Boo to comfort her.
  • Chang doesn't run down to the lake because she figures they wouldn't build a prison next to anything nice. She instead uses the time to enjoy a nice warm shower in the good bathroom. It seems she made a good decision too because many of the woman return from the lake very itchy.
  • Morello got married and consummated the relationship while everyone was enjoying the lake. It's great how her group of friends just slowly break down how she feels about this day in relation to their adventures in the lake. 
  • This was the first non-finale episode not to have any flashbacks. They weren't really necessary either. The audience has a strong grip on so many of these characters. So honestly, how much more can flashbacks reveal about them that we don't already know? I still expect them to play a role this season though.

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, the conversation would only revolve around the show up to this point in its run.