Monday, June 27, 2016

REVIEW: 'Orange Is the New Black' - All of Litchfield's Changes Build to a Horrifying Assault in 'It Sounded Nicer in My Head'

Netflix's Orange Is the New Black - Episode 4.07 "It Sounded Nicer in My Head"

Paranoia strikes deep for Lolly and Judy, aggravating an already tense situation. Red sticks to a Russian tradition for an important occasion.

The walls are closing in for everyone at Litchfield. This season has been such a slow build of tension and chaos that affects all of the inmates. It's been magnificently structure so far with the amount of devastation only getting started. The audience is privy to all of the decisions being made at the top that are completely overhauling the lives of the inmates. The season is showing the thought process behind every single decision that Caputo, Linda and MCC make. It shows the tough decisions the guards have to make in order to maintain order in an overcrowded prison. But all of this is just creating a world filled with danger and chaos. All of this change and upheaval is jarring. But it's fascinating to watch as the main characters try to cope with their changed surroundings. Litchfield this season is different than all of the past seasons. There's an amusing running plot thread that reminds the characters of what life used to be in this prison. Caputo keeps running into his former guards in the outside world. And yet, Litchfield can't go back to the way it was before. That's just not possible. All these characters can do is accept the present and try to move forward even though things are only going to get worse.

All of this is why this season has been so fantastic so far. It's creating a world where an entire system of characters are bringing chaos and dysfunction into the prison. That's a story the show has dramatized in the past. Vee brought change and danger to Litchfield during the second season. And yet, she was a sole motivator of change. She uprooted the system. But there was also the easy solution of Miss Rosa running her over in the season finale. That's simple compared to the problems that now plague Litchfield. The decision to become a private prison has been made. That happened in order for the prison to stay open. If MCC didn't come in and save Litchfield, all of the prisoners would have been transferred to different facilities. It's because of MCC that all of these characters have been able to stay together for as long as they have. And yet, MCC is a private corporation. They can't just go away. It's become an impersonal business to them. They don't understand how their decisions affect the prisoners on a daily basis. They are just focused on what they can do to make Litchfield as financially successful as possible. Caputo is being lured into that dark side of thinking. He's still so optimistic about his new education program. But the final product is a stark contrast to what he promised Pennsatucky in the previous episode. Linda has essentially sold a free labor program that's being billed as educational so MCC doesn't have to pay the inmates. That's horrifying and indicates that things are only going to get worse. Plus, there's no easy way out of this arrangement. Litchfield is a business that's working for MCC. Unless some big scandal happens that creates a public outcry against them, they are here to stay for the foreseeable future to continue messing up the inmates' lives.

None of this is especially new to Lolly. She has lived her entire life in a world that just doesn't know how to handle her. The prison system is broken and all of the inmates are battling that change. But that's just one part of their lives. As the flashbacks have always pointed out, the inmates are much more than the crimes they committed. They are human beings. MCC wants to dehumanize the decision making process. They can afford to do that because they don't have daily interactions with the inmates. But even the staff on the ground have to be vigilant because they are looking after so many people. Overcrowding means issues can fall through the cracks and lead to some pretty major and nasty consequences. And yet, that has essentially been Lolly's whole life. She has always been labeled as the crazy lady who hears voices. The systems of the world don't know how to help people like her to ensure that they have the best chance at a happy life as well. The flashbacks of this episode are the most devastating and effective of the season so far. Lolly's mental illness has kept her from being a "normal" part of society. She simply isn't given the opportunities for success because most people just want to label her as crazy and do nothing to actually help her. She's a conspiracy nut who you just can't take seriously. But that leads to a life of chaos and dysfunction. She gets into a solid routine of living in an abandoned lot and making coffee for the whole neighborhood. Whenever the voices appear, she is able to send them away with her magical stick of bells. And yet, all it takes is for one wheel to break for her life to spiral in a demoralizing way. The police officers who arrest her don't know her story. They don't know how she processes the world. But they still arrest her for disturbing the peace without doing anything to actually help her with her problems.

And yet, Lolly is the beneficiary of actual help in Litchfield. That's a luxury that is getting increasingly smaller for all of the inmates. Healy wants to do good for these women. But the majority of his time is spent on helping Lolly. He doesn't have time to focus on anyone else. He has so many new inmates to look after. But Lolly is the only one getting his attention. He wants to be her therapist. He wants to help her so that she doesn't have to go to psych and be pumped full of drugs that probably won't help her at all in the long run. Yes, he sees his mother in her. But he also sees his past failings and a lack of connection with the women at the prison. He gets closer to Lolly more than any other inmate. It's not a romantic dynamic either like his weird thing with Red last season. He actually listens to her too. Piscatella is reaching his wit's end with her. He's ready to send her to psych. She is just one of many problems he needs to deal with. Healy cautions against that. But Lolly's trajectory this season only seems to be heading towards painful abuse from the system once more. She finds peace in this moment with Healy. He is there for her and understands her desire to go back in time to correct the mistakes of the past. And yet, no one can go back in time. That's impossible. They just have to live with the lives they have right now. It may suck to look at the sad reality of their worlds. But it's all they have. It's not all that comforting. But it also suggests that Lolly has a friend who can help her.

But the same can't be said for the majority of inmates at Litchfield. The prison has changed so much this season that it has once again become a dangerous world of racial gangs and drugs. Nicky notices how much things have changed the moment she returns to Litchfield. It's a celebration for all of her former friends. They are happy to see her back. And yet, none of them are there to greet her at the door. Instead, she is welcomed by Lolly rambling about conspiracies, inmates being patted down for contraband and the guards not being able to answer the simple question of where she is suppose to sleep. This is a Litchfield very different than the one she left behind. It's even more chaotic than the system at max. That was a debilitating experience. But it at least provided her with some glimmer of hope when it came to her sobriety. However, that wasn't enough to get her to resist the temptation of drugs once again. It's a major victory that she has returned to Litchfield. Red, Morello and Big Boo are so happy to have her back. But she has returned as a changed person as well. Yes, she's able to help Morello solve the mystery of who's pooping in the showers. But she does so as a way to get the drugs she is so desperately craving right now. Red just got her daughter back. And yet, she immediately knows that Nicky has once again gone down a dark path. And this time she may not be able to come back from it because the system has gotten so broken and disparaging.

And that's not even the most brutal aspect of this episode. No, that honor belongs to Piper as she is faced to deal with the consequences of taking action against Maria. She made that move out of her own self-interest. She relied on the panty business much more than any of her employees did. She needed it for purpose. Everyone else did it for fun and to get some more money. They weren't worried about Piper not paying them. That fear was all on her. So, it's not surprising that she gets all the blame for Maria getting more time in prison. That's the worst thing she could have possibly done. She didn't expect it to happen. It had never happened before. And yet, it did. The same is true of her community carers essentially turning into the white power group at Litchfield. She's horrified by that prospect but she keeps them close just to have people to protect her. She doesn't want to be associated with these Nazis. And yet, that's precisely how the world sees her now. They see a power hungry racist who needs to be punished for her crippling actions. None of her former friends want to be with her anymore. They all run away from her for a chance to escape the dark and depressing realities of their lives in prison. Nicky's party is a happy occasion. But it's marred by darkness because of Piper's presence. It's not at all surprising that Hapakuka betrays her as retaliation for her poor treatment. But it is so devastating to watch as Piper is taken by Maria and her friends and branded with a swastika. It's hard to feel sympathy for any of the characters involved in such a brutal action. But again, the show has created a system where it's easy to understand where all of the characters are coming from and why they are making these increasingly darker actions. And how there's nothing that can be done to stop it now.

Some more thoughts:
  • "It Sounded Nicer in My Head" was written by Nick Jones and directed by Mark A. Burley.
  • The show has always been so wonderful when it comes to casting. And yet, the actress who played a young Lolly here is perhaps the best thing the show has ever done. The similarities are phenomenally accurate. I had to make sure that it wasn't Lori Petty in those scenes.
  • The only people who have seemingly escaped the chaos and dysfunction of Litchfield are Judy King and Yoga Jones. They are able to retreat to their private room under the guise of protection for a new controversy Judy's past has stirred up in the outside world. It's a story worth it completely for seeing how much Yoga Jones is enjoying her new life.
  • Of course, Judy King has a secret and racist past. And yet, it's so amusing that she also had a sex tape that got out and she didn't care at all.
  • Taystee, Cindy, Suzanne and Alison are able to get their picture of Judy as well. It's quite an amusing subplot that brings some levity to a very dark and emotional hour. Yes, it's a picture of Cindy looking like she's attacking Judy. But that's a picture that could really sell based on Judy's new scandal.
  • Piper and Morello have different rationale for not wanting to be a part of the white power group. Piper doesn't want to be associated with a brand while Morello thinks racism shouldn't be a group sport. Both are very funny reasons.
  • Aleida has already given up pursuing her GED. Daya's upset by that but it's Gloria, Maritza and Flaca who convince her to focus on something else. And then, Judy's appreciation of her nails gives her the inspiration to open her own salon.
  • In case you didn't notice, Elizabeth Rodriguez's name was added to the open title sequence as a series regular. That's a curious move to make midseason. Though it also seems to suggest that she'll remain important even after she leaves Litchfield.
  • Gloria and Sister Ingalls press Nicky for more details about what's happening to Sophia. She provides them with the grim state of affairs regarding all the blood in her cell. But the mystery of what's happened to her is still present.

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.