Thursday, June 23, 2016

REVIEW: 'Orange Is the New Black' - The Prison System Tries and Fails to Help the Inmates in 'Doctor Psycho'

Netflix's Orange Is the New Black - Episode 4.04 "Doctor Psycho"

Nothing stays hidden for long when emotions run high, but Red, Healy and Caputo try to keep the peace. Piper has a business competitor.

Orange Is the New Black tells the story of Litchfield and how its prison structure affects everyone who exists in it. It's a broken system. It's a system that can lead to meaningful and genuine moments of growth for its inmates, guards and counselors. But the majority of the time, it only adds to and intensifies the chaos and dysfunction of their lives. How the characters evolve in such a place is the sole driver of story on the show. They have to make do with what they are given because they are in a prison with not enough resources that is owned by a private company solely looking to make a profit. It's a demoralizing place that has led to some fantastic drama and comedy over four seasons so far. It has presented opportunities for the characters as well. It isn't completely soul draining. The broken system allowed Piper and Maria to take advantage of a business opportunity. Poussey and Soso were able to connect because the poor state of the facility pushed them together. But more often that not, the prison is broken with a systemic sense that no one genuinely wants to help the inmates that are forced to spend their time here.

The big story of "Doctor Psycho" centers around Healy. As a character, Healy really hasn't grown all that much over the years. He is still providing the same purpose that he was back in the first season. He's one of the few counselors in Litchfield trying to make the inmates' lives better. But he isn't able to truly connect with them or impact their lives in a beneficial way because his motives and tactics are so misplaced. His blatant sexism and homophobia dominate his thought process. He's a man who craves power and enjoys wielding it over the ladies who can't rise up against him. He says he wants to help them better their lives. But he honestly has no idea how to do that. His inability to do so has forced a number of characters into action. He has made attempts in the past to make Litchfield better for the inmates. But he's largely just a part of the problem who doesn't understand just how he is failing this facility. All of this is a good and necessary component of the show. However, does it really need to be the focus for an entire episode?

The flashback structure has largely been beneficial when it comes to understanding the personalities and nuances of the various inmates. Healy is not the first person from the administrative side of things to be given that focus as well. In the past, Caputo and Bennett had such treatment as well. But now more than ever before, the flashbacks need purpose. They need a reason to exist. They can't just continue to be a part of a formula that has worked for the show in the past. Each setup needs to inform the audience of something new and exciting about the character spotlighted in them. The story of Healy's troubled past here doesn't really do anything. His past has been glimpsed at before. His mother struggled with mental illness. It was a blatant attempt to blame all of his behavioral problems on mommy issues. But he's just too disruptive of the Litchfield ecosystem for it to be that simple. Unfortunately, that's exactly what the show is trying to do. It's trying to make Healy a little bit more sympathetic. And yet, his entire purpose on the show is to be incompetent at his job to the point that the inmates need to work around that. It's a difficult character to maintain over several years. And "Doctor Psycho" just doesn't do anything to validate having Healy fill that same void. So, it's important that Healy forces Judy into teaching a cooking class for the inmates and helps Lolly with her "delusions." But again, that only reenforces the core root of that character. It's not a story that needed to be fleshed out more with flashbacks into his past showing he has always struggled connecting with women. But if that's not known by now, the audience has really been missing the point.

The ineffectiveness of the system forces the inmates into action as well. The incompetence and cruelty of the people in charge can have such a profound effect on the women in Litchfield. That's a theme that comes across magnificently in Sophia's first appearance of the season. She was sent to solitary confinement at the end of last season. It wasn't because of anything she did. She was simply the target of anti-trans hate. MCC didn't know how to handle that. So, it blamed the victim. They locked her up and Caputo has had to enforce and support that decision. He has made a better life for himself with his promotion at MCC. But he has never been able to forget about Sophia. Her wife and the fellow inmates won't let him. They are acting out to make their voices be heard. Sophia is as well. And yet, it's not making a bit of difference. Sophia is flooding her cell and starting fires. She's trying to get Caputo's attention so he'll have to treat her like a human. But those actions could actually be damaging her case. It provides Caputo with an excuse to continue treating her this way. Solitary has made her more violent so he believes she can't return to the general population. Caputo is at his most despicable when he claims that Sophia's wife is doing nothing to get her released from this condition. It's a lie. But it's one that psychologically messes with Sophia and forces her into action. Caputo isn't that bad but he makes a point of showing Sophia just who is in charge of this place. He treats her with civility when he's not facing off with her. He makes sure she is transferred to a non-flooded cell even though the guards don't want to do it. But he's still upholding a horrible decision and is only continuing to mistreat Sophia. She can't accept that. But nothing is changing for her either.

Elsewhere, Judy's cooking class finally forces Pennsatucky to confront Coates. She has done her best to avoid him ever since he raped her. And yet, she has been incapable of escaping his presence. She is trapped in this prison. No matter where she goes, he can be there too. Plus, she can't even put aside these feelings because of the urgency of Coates possibly doing the same thing to Maritza. Coates has a fundamental inability to understand what has changed in this relationship. He loves Pennsatucky. He believes that entitles him to take advantage of her. That's so sick and twisted. But it's also played very understatedly. It would be so easy to vilify this situation. Coates could be a one-note antagonist that Pennsatucky would have to take down for what he did to her. But the situation is a lot more nuanced than that. Pennsatucky has had a lot of time to think about what happened. She's not afraid to tell him exactly what she thinks. She does so in a calm and rational way as well despite the severity of the situation. She needed things to change between them. She needed to tell him how she was really feeling in order to get him to stop acting like everything is the same between them. It's unclear how the show moves forward with this story. But it's so fantastic in this moment that it should be interesting to watch no matter what happens.

And lastly, the threat that Lolly poses to Alex and Frieda is getting increasingly out of control. They see her losing her mind about the dead body in the garden. Frieda was absolutely serious with her suggestion to kill her. That's not something that Alex can take as lightly. Killing someone really messed her up on the inside. She hasn't been able to process that because she has had to worry about Lolly. Not even Red can offer a rational way to handle this situation. Alex pulls her into this mess to get Frieda to back off. And yet, Red becomes convinced that they should kill Lolly as well. It's a story building to a big moment. But it's a big moment where the ineffectiveness of the prison system actually helps Lolly cope with this secret to the benefit of everyone else. She was freaking out about the government using the drone to kill her for what she did. Healy believes he understands her because she is acting like his mother. He sees a crazy women ranting about conspiracies and listening to voices in her head. His words actually help him understand the situation in a way that doesn't pose a threat to the rest of the inmates. She got the help that she needed. It wasn't the kind of help any of the guards or counselors were trying to give her. But it was the precise kind of help that should prove very effective moving forward.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Doctor Psycho" was written by Carly Mensch and directed by Erin Feeley.
  • Again, it's not surprising at all to see Natasha Lyonne pop up again as Nicky considering her name has been in the opening credits since the season premiere. But it's definitely surprising to see her in solitary confinement alongside Sophia. She's seeing first hand just how bad things have gotten. Though I wonder how she get there from max and what that experience was like for her.
  • Maria has officially started a rival panty business that is threatening Piper's operation. Piper wants to believe she's in charge. But Maria has so swiftly taken over the prison and does so with relative ease. All Piper gets in return is a bunch of human excrement on her hands.
  • Also, who does Piper still have working for her? Yoga Jones and Anita quit earlier this season. And now, Flaca and Maritza have left as well and have joined Maria's operation. Plus, Stella has been shipped to max. So how much business does Piper still have left?
  • Overcrowding has been a major story this season. It has influenced a lot of small moments with the characters. Here, Flaca and Maritza complain because their breakfast time is over with before they even get to eat. And later, some of the new inmates complain to Healy that they can't pay for anything because they don't have work assignments yet.
  • It's meaningful to see the show address early releases as well. The recipient of that is a tad surprising too. Aleida has had good enough behavior that she will be released soon. It's surprising and overwhelming to her. She knows she needs to re-enter society and get her children and grandchild back. It won't be easy for her. But this story also shows just how strong the bonds in prison can be as Gloria and Daya help motivate her to do this for her family - even though she may fuck them all up.
  • Poussey and Soso are just really charming and sweet together. It's just nice and simple to see them disagreeing over what lucid dreaming means as they get even closer together.
  • Piper wants to be there for Alex. She can sense that something is going on with her. But she also wants to understand everything that is happening. Alex just wants to have sex late at night in the bathroom. It's simple and Piper doesn't allow her to have that. So, this dynamic is still pretty dysfunctional for both of them.
  • Piscatella has been an intense and imposing new presence this season. And yet, he's still very good at this job. When he sees Lolly ranting in the garden, he sees an inmate having a psychotic break who needs medical attention when the other guards are just laughing at her.
  • Bayley notes to Coates just how chaotic it really is seeing all of the inmates in one room together. He also fears that they could easily rise up against them because they have the numbers. That has to be an eerie piece of foreshadowing, right?

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.