Thursday, June 30, 2016

REVIEW: 'Orange Is the New Black' - Litchfield Goes on Lockdown After a Surprising Discovery in 'People Persons'

Netflix's Orange Is the New Black - Episode 4.11 "People Persons"

Caputo's leadership is challenged and the inmates are in for a long night of lockdown after workers make an unsettling discovery.

"People Persons" deals entirely with the immediate aftermath of the construction crew finding a dead and chopped up body buried in the garden. It takes priority over every other story. A lockdown begins and forces all of the inmates into their bunks. Piper and Blanca are able to come off the tables and rejoin their group of friends. Of course, the tension and paranoia is still high. Everyone is reacting to this horrifying news of a dead guard being found. It forces some very visceral reactions from a number of characters. None of the guards know who the dead guy is. That's very indicative of how broken the system has been over the past two seasons. And yet, they stand united because it was a man in uniform being pulled out of the ground. They don't have the knowledge that he was a hitman in Litchfield for the sole purpose of killing Alex. All they want to know is who's responsible. That brings out some truly awful and nasty moments that show that the prison is only getting worse with each passing episode because of the guards.

There is such a disconnect between Caputo and Piscatella's leadership decisions. Caputo has the level head to approach this horrifying situation in a rational way. None of the guards are detectives. They don't know how to solve a crime of this caliber. He knows that they just need to sit back and maintain order until the FBI arrives to look into the matter. And yet, Caputo is incapable of enforcing his leadership. None of the new guards respect his authority. He has become the administrative figure of MCC. He's not able to stay at Litchfield to navigate through this crisis. He's instead called to MCC headquarters to make sure all of their stories match up for when the investigation into the facility begins. Caputo's absence is so significant to the overall story of the season. He has been seduced by MCC. His libido and sexual appetite for Linda has clouded his judgment. Instead of being a leader on the ground, he's escaped the problems of the prison in exchange for a spot in Linda's bed. Meanwhile, Piscatella is leading the charge at Litchfield. The guards look to him for how to handle this situation. He does the opposite of what Caputo asks. He needs to solve this mystery before the FBI arrive in order to properly handle the prison. He doesn't want this scandal to get out of control and build to a riot amongst the prisoners.

And yet, Piscatella's leadership only leads to more profiling of the inmates. He assembles a group of potential suspects. He selects over a dozen inmates because there is something in their files that could possibly match with this new crime. To him, the inmates are just the criminal acts that got them sentenced to a minimum security prison. Piscatella comes from max and knows just how dangerous these women can be. He needs to keep a lid on things even though the inmates as a whole aren't doing anything to truly challenge the status quo. But dark things still happen in this hour. Piscatella puts most of the pressure on Red. She is a criminal with a very murderous past. The show has purposefully not told the audience about the crimes that got many of the inmates sentenced to Litchfield. The flashbacks have humanized them in a way that shows they are more than their crimes. And yet, their crimes are all Piscatella and the guards want to see. They haven't formed the attachments to know who these women are. They don't know how to treat the inmates. That's entirely because of a complete lack of training. They don't know how to handle this situation. And yet, they are in charge anyway and quite possibly making it even worse.

All of this becomes so devastating once it involves Suzanne. Over the years, the audience has really gotten to know and love Suzanne. She's simply a misunderstood woman who is frequently labeled the crazy person. That's all anyone wants to do with her when they first see her. And yet, she's a person too who deserves love. People just need to make the time to get to know her. They will come to cherish her for who she is and love the brain that she has. She sees the world differently. That's a very beautiful thing. But here, her differences are highlighted in how they can be misconstrued and manipulated. It's some pretty brutal stuff. The flashbacks get their first repeat of the season by focusing on Suzanne once again. They provide some insight into how she got arrested in the first place. Suzanne had a thriving and wonderful life as a greeter of a big box store. She was even the employee of the month. She was happy. She was a people pleaser. But she hasn't yet learned that you can be too friendly. She is left all alone in her apartment after her sister decides to take a vacation with her boyfriend for the weekend. It's not something that her sister does out of malice either. She believes Suzanne is ready to take this step. They are cautiously optimistic that it will go well. It does not. Suzanne runs into one of her favorite customers, Dylan, while in the park. She invites this young boy back to her apartment for popsicles and video games. She desperately wants it to be a sleepover. And yet, she essentially kidnaps this child. It's a story that escalates quickly and a bit awkwardly too. It was always going to have a tragic end. It's just surprising to see how the story ended. The boy was fleeing for his life because he was scared of Suzanne. One bad move and he falls off the ledge outside the window.

The flashbacks actually show the crime that Suzanne got arrested for. That's a huge change to the way the show typically tells stories. The crimes are all that the guards are interested in right now. So, it's not surprising that they want to question Suzanne. That don't know that she's basically harmless unless she's being manipulated by someone with evil intentions. She is capable of violence. But most of the time, she's simply a woman misunderstood by the world. The system wants to call her a child kidnapper and murderer. She is responsible for that. But she also didn't know what she was doing. That's hardly an excuse - and likely the reason why she's only in minimum security prison. But it's still significant. Suzanne has been on the show since the very beginning. She has been a very human and loving presence. So, it's hard to see anyone be afraid of her. But it's also easy to understand as well. She's a victim of her circumstances. In the past, it got a boy killed. And now, she's being put into a fight for the guards' own amusing. Piscatella really doesn't have to question every inmate he has assembled in a room. It's just tense because they know they are under suspicion. Humphrey simply decides to have some fun. It comes at the expense of Suzanne. She's had a happy and easy season so far. This is the biggest episode for her all year. It's brutal too. Sure, it's weird that it's ultimately Suzanne and Maureen in a fight. It felt like Maureen was volunteering to take Suzanne's place and fight the other girl. But that wouldn't have been very dramatically satisfying. So instead, Suzanne beats Maureen up just to get her to shut up so she can fully understand the world again. She may have gone too far yet again. She could have beaten Maureen to death. The audience doesn't know. If that's the case, then she'll get the blame and not the guards - even though Humphrey was the one who provoked her in the first place.

The guards reaction to all of this is very telling. They enjoy watching the inmates under suspicion squirm while behind glass. They enjoy messing with them. It's meaningful that the terrible guards from last season look at the actions of the new ones and are horrified. The COs have changed so much over the course of the series. And yet, neither Bayley nor Coates know just how horrible things have gotten. Coates calls out Piscatella for disobeying Caputo's orders. And yet, he is simply punished by needing to watch over the crime scene. Meanwhile, Bayley sees what Humphrey forces Maureen and Suzanne to do. He's horrified but doesn't do anything to stop it. Instead, he just escapes to Coates believing that it's simply what happens in prisons. He just sees this as a part of the job. That's chilling because these actions are wrong and should end immediately. But no one is there to put a stop to them. It could be a huge plot contrivance to have Healy run away from Litchfield after learning about the dead body in the garden. He knows that that matches what Lolly has been saying all along while he's been working with her. He could easily point Piscatella in her direction and get this whole lockdown over with. Instead, he spirals on a journey of frozen yogurt and a suicide attempt. It's brutal. But it's still hard to get a read on what the show is hoping the audience gets out of Healy as a character. He is coming to realize just how horrible he is at his job. It would be very understandable if he decided to kill himself. I'm not promoting the suicide of a character as something that should happen. But if it were to happen, it would make sense. It doesn't and that's entirely to set up the haunting final moment with Lolly.

Lolly isn't even under suspicion until the final moments of the episode. She's not called to the room for questioning. Nor is she actually questioned by Piscatella. Red is the only inmate put in the hot seat. The guards even manage to find the keys in her office that can connect her to the dead body. That seems like a mistake Red wouldn't make. It happens largely for tension. But Lolly still takes all the blame in the end for this heinous crime. Healy's insight into her also allows the guards to act in a very sensible way as well. He knows where to find her when she goes missing. The guards don't have to further push the lockdown with a blaring alarm. They've already disrupted life in the prison enough. But this is still going to be a significant change for Lolly. Instead of going to max, she is sentenced to a life in the psych ward. It's a horrifying sight from the brief glimpse the audience sees of it. Healy is essentially handing her over to the very doctors he was trying to protect her from earlier this season. She is beyond his help - at least what little he is actually capable of giving. This punishment for Lolly hopefully doesn't signal the end of her time on the show or the end of this murder investigation. The guards get away with some truly dreadful stuff here. They need to be held accountable for their actions. But it seems only more pain and destruction is going to happen. Change needs to occur. It's just unclear if any actually will.

Some more thoughts:
  • "People Persons" was written by Nick Jones and directed by Lev L. Spiro.
  • Not everything is about the murder investigation. The most interesting subplot and new character pairing is probably Pennsatucky and Nicky. Pennsatucky helps Nicky through the night as she detoxes yet again. It's a struggle but the two really seem to bond because of their shared pasts with addiction.
  • It's probably a bit too comedic in an overall heavy and dark episode but it was still a lot of fun to escape to Judy and Yoga Jones' room with Luschek. They basically get high on ecstasy and have a threesome. That's weird but worth it completely for the look of delight on Judy's face afterwards while the other two are confused by what has just happened.
  • The guards weren't even consistent when it came to treating Piper and Blanca the same as they stood on the table. Piper was able to get assistance from her friends and Blanca was not. When Maria called that out, Humphrey continued to be a massive dick.
  • So was there anyone out there at the crime scene with Coates? Or was it just his imagination given the gravity of the situation? It's most likely the latter. The murder story doesn't need yet another twist added to it.
  • While all of the chaos is going on at Litchfield, Danny confronts his father with pictures of Sophia in solitary. That means that Sophia will likely be returning to the general population soon. She'll return as a changed woman from solitary. But what's it going to be like for her back at Litchfield? It wasn't exactly pleasant when she left.
  • It's not at all surprising that Linda has never been to a prison before because she never thought it was necessary to do her job. That just adds to the impersonal nature of MCC as the owner of Litchfield. Also, it's weird and hard to understand why Caputo follows Linda back to bed instead of returning to Litchfield.

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.