Saturday, June 25, 2016

REVIEW: 'Orange Is the New Black' - Big Moves are Made that Carry Some Major Consequences in 'Piece of Sh*t'

Netflix's Orange Is the New Black - Episode 4.06 "Piece of Sh*t"

Piper's plan to edge out the competition could backfire badly. Cindy finds a way to make Taystee's job pay off. Luschek gets some interesting mail.

This season of Orange Is the New Black started with an episode that had no flashbacks whatsoever. That has been such a strong device over the course of the series. But now, it seems the show is realizing that it doesn't need to utilize it in every hour. It's still significant in informing the audience on details of the inmates and administrators' pasts. But they've spent enough time in Litchfield that their lives on the inside largely define who they are as people. So, the flashbacks are no longer necessary. Since the premiere, every episode has had a flashback story in it. Maria, Soso, Healy and Maritza have had those spotlight moments. Those stories didn't do a whole lot to inform the audience of new details about these characters. It largely just reenforced our basic understanding of them told through stories that have a thematic connection to what they are dealing with at that moment in time at Litchfield. "Piece of Sh*t" doesn't have any flashbacks. Part of that is because the characters of focus in this hour - Piper, Maria and Nicky - have already had their pasts comprehensively explored. Luschek has quite a bit of screen time as well. And yet, his story is so effective in the present that it doesn't require any further context. Everything that happens in this hour is brutal. The stakes only continue to rise this season. And now, the show is aware that it doesn't need flashbacks in order to hit that emotional rich material. They will probably appear again this season. But it's still very good to know that the show doesn't need them.

Before this season started, Maria's defining characteristic was that she had a baby. She was pregnant when she got sent to prison. And now, her baby daddy is looking after their child. But her baby has been taken away from her as well. She's not able to be there during this crucial time of development. She's getting fewer and fewer visits as well. Her whole world revolved around her baby. And now, that has changed. She has taken over the Dominican community of the prison. She's the one truly in charge. It's surprising that she was the one to rise up and serve as a new antagonist for Piper. But it has felt very natural as well. Piper started her panty smuggling business in order to have purpose in her life. It gave her a taste of power and control. And now, she's desperately trying to hold onto that. That's essentially what Maria is trying to do as well. She needs to full her life with something. Her baby can't do that for her as long as she is in prison. Overcrowding gave her this opportunity to expand her hold on the prison. And now, that has caused a full-on race war filled with consequences for everyone involved.

Piper was horrified by the fact that her community carers group was essentially the white supremacy portion of the prison population. That's not what she intended to do. All she wanted was a group of people to stop Maria's operation from expanding. But that has created some big racial divisions amongst the inmates and guards. Because of Piper, the guards have now started racially profiling the inmates. Piper's community carers are actually pretty good at their jobs too. Yes, it is fundamentality rooted in racism. But it provides numerous complications for Maria's operation as well as exposing the hidden panty business in the prison. That's not what Piper intended at all. And now, her business is at risk of exposure. She still thinks she is powerful. The guards aren't targeting her. They just see her as the sweet, white girl concerned about the safety of this system. She's truly the mastermind behind all of this. And yet, her actions have forced even more chaos and danger into this environment. In her bid to strike Maria's operation, she essentially ruins Maria's entire life. Piper plants evidence on her. Instead of getting the typical punishment of going to solitary for a couple of weeks, Piscatella extends her sentence by three to five years. That's a high price to pay for this panty business. It shows just how serious Piscatella is about illegal operations in the prison. But it destroys Maria. Piper has taken her daughter away from her. That's the worst thing Piper could have done. So now, she'll retaliate by bringing drugs into the prison instead of simply smuggling panties out. It's a huge risk that could continue to take her away from her daughter. It's a decision she makes during an emotional moment. But it has the high probability of ruining the lives of so many characters in Litchfield as well.

All of this especially holds true with the tragedy of Nicky's story throughout "Piece of Sh*t." She makes her return to the narrative in a big way in this hour. Yes, she was briefly seen back in "Doctor Psycho." But here, the story is set to bring her back to Litchfield from max. That could be seen as a very convenient plot device. There were severe consequences for Nicky when she was sent to max last season. That action really shook up the foundation of the show. So, it could be a huge plot contrivance to find a way to bring her back. Going to max is a big deal. That's where all of the inmates will go if they get caught doing any horrifying thing at Litchfield. Several characters have been sent there over the course of the series. They did not come back. Nicky is special because she has been such a fan favorite for so long. Between the third and fourth seasons, fans were speculating on whether or not she would return - despite previous characters being sent to max never being heard from again. So, there are a lot of plot mechanics to justify Nicky's return to Litchfield. And yet, "Piece of Sh*t" presents them in a very emotional, devastating and tragic way that should make the audience feel something. The pieces are being moved around but the horror of Nicky's situation still forces her to do some dark things.

Nicky was sent to max in the first place because Luschek placed the blame on her for something she didn't do just so he could keep his job. He's the only guard from the previous regime to stick around this season. He doesn't care about anyone other than himself. He just enjoys going to work and having a good time. He doesn't care about any of the inmates. But now, his guilt is getting to him about what he did to Nicky. She really makes him question if he is a piece of shit. It's quite an existential question. He's forced to look within to see the man he has become. He's a guard who puts his needs ahead of the inmates' safety. When Gina cuts herself on the latest housing project, he just wants to delay taking her to medical until the soccer game is over. He's that kind of person. But his actions carry so many consequences. Nicky's life has changed so much since she was sent to max. She is sober for three years. That's an accomplishment worth celebrating. And yet, she isn't able to keep the chip commemorating the achievement. Nor is she able to help Sophia when the two of them meet again at solitary. All she can provide is a magazine and some humor. That's not enough though. It seems things have taken an even darker turn with Sophia. However, the audience doesn't know what happened to her. All we see is what Nicky does. Her cell covered in blood and the magazine torn to pieces. Nicky tried to help and it only led to more horrifying displays of violence.

Emotions run high when Nicky and Luschek reunite. Luschek only reaches out because he is feeling guilty and wants to apologize. He doesn't believe he did anything wrong. He doesn't care about Nicky. But these feelings still won't go away. Nicky has a right to be angry with him as well. He has made her life worse out of his own self-preservation. It's easy to understand where both of those characters are coming from. That's what makes that scene so powerful. But it doesn't fix anything either. Nicky is still living out her sentence at max and Luschek still feels guilty. It's Judy King of all people who changes this situation. With her money and lawyers, she is able to get Nicky transferred back to Litchfield. It's what everyone wants. But she does it out of her own selfish interests as well. Her dynamic with Luschek has been so amusing and genuine this season. But now, it has turned into one of sexual servitude. Judy did this for him. And now, she expects him to the return the favor with sex. That's the consequence of this action. It's not just a simple way to get Nicky back on the show. Lushek's life will be different moving forward just because he no longer wants to feel guilty. Meanwhile, Nicky doesn't know all of this is happening for her. She just sees a dark and tragic life. She once again escapes through drugs. She gets her heroin by providing sexual contact with one of the guards. It's certainly a low point for Nicky. She has no longer she's being moved to a potentially better life back at Litchfield. And yet, Maria's plans for being drugs into the facility will ensure that things will only get increasingly darker and tragic upon Nicky's return.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Piece of Sh*t" was written by Lauren Morelli and directed by Uta Briesewitz.
  • Nicky's story at max also allows the show to bring back several of the characters who have been sent there over the years. Stella shows up and has fallen into a drug addiction again. Plus, the older inmate who killed the wrong black girl in Season 2 is briefly seen as well. But it is very curious that Miss Claudette is no where to be seen. How much should the audience read into that?
  • It's not long at all until Taystee's plan to sell a close up picture of Judy and Alison having a cell phone converge. Plus, it finally gets Cindy and Alison to bury the hatchet. Their dynamic has been fueled by their opposing religions. But now, they are bonded by both being very critical of Scientology and the belief that Tupac is still alive.
  • It seems Healy's counseling of Lolly wasn't just a one-time thing. He's actually invested in helping her now because of the parallels with his mother. He is saying things that actually make since to her. With it being Healy though, this has the potential to go wrong in so many ways.
  • Poussey and Soso only continue to get closer. Right now, Soso is worried about this being a very one-sided relationship. She is plagued by doubts that she isn't pleasing Poussey as much as she is to her. Or if she should be invested in this relationship because they are prisoners and forced to be close. And yet, those are worries about uncertainties of the future. They are closer than ever by the end of the episode with declarations of love.
  • Coates may have actually listened to what Pennsatucky had to say about the rape. He took it as a wake up call to listen to the inmates and treat them as humans. That's not something that the rest of the guards do at all which could cause friction.
  • Caputo comes up with the big idea to start offering more educational classes to the inmates to help fill their days more. Linda still has to pitch it to the rest of the MCC board. And yet, he is already boasting to the inmates that something big will be announced soon.
  • Red's sleeping troubles are apparently an ongoing story. And yet, she is able to take something that knocks her out for a full 19 hours of sleep. That's probably going to cause some concern if it continues.
  • It is very effective that the show leaves things very ambiguous as to what happened to Sophia. It seems likely that she used the staples from the magazine to hurt herself just so she could be sent to medical. But it's up to the audience to interpret that.

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.