Tuesday, June 28, 2016

REVIEW: 'Orange Is the New Black' - Piper Has to Embrace an Agonizing, Violent & Brutal World in 'Friends in Low Places'

Netflix's Orange Is the New Black - Episode 4.08 "Friends in Low Places"

A new work detail doesn't go over well with the new inmates. Judy seeks help from Poussey. Maria finds a place she can conduct business.

Piper has never been Orange Is the New Black's most likable character. She was the point of entry into the world of Litchfield. But the show has evolved past that in so many wonderful ways. Piper has grown and evolved as well. How that comes into conflict with the rest of the inmates has always been engaging and captivating to watch. This season started with her on quite the power trip. She believed she was the badass prisoner of Litchfield. She was in control because she finally found purpose in her imprisonment. She maintained that power by being a very alienating presence. At first, the panty business story was played comedically. It was funny watching her rally the troops to her cause. But it was a story that quickly built to dramatic tension and upheaval. Piper was getting too big for her shoes. She needed to be taken down a peg or two. And now, that has finally happened. But the show is also very smart in pushing things much further than it needed to. Piper got more time added on Maria's sentence. She didn't plan on that but it's what happened nevertheless. Maria retaliated by branding Piper with the swastika symbol. The community of inmates were right to shun Piper for how much she has changed. Why would anyone want to be close with her after what she did to Stella and Maria? But did she deserve to be branded with a swastika? That was such a harsh and brutal act. Some people would say yes. It's hard to argue with it. But the show provides a much more nuanced analysis with its breakdown of Piper throughout "Friends in Low Places."

The show once agains eschews flashback in this episode. It does not allow the characters or the audience to escape the tragic and devastating reality of life in Litchfield. The flashback stories can be pretty dark in their own right. But their purpose has always been to show the inmates' lives before they were in prison. It's not about showing them as criminals but as flawed human beings. It's a way to escape the tension and atmosphere of the prison. The show getting rid of them from time to time this season continues to be a phenomenal decision. Here, no one is able to escape the horror of this season. Everything is starting to boil. People have to deal with the consequences of their actions. Yes, there is still time for a comedic subplot. It's fantastic to watch as Judy comes running up to kiss Cindy just to get the picture. But those moments are getting smaller and smaller as the season develops. The prison has changed. So much darkness now defines this world. Piper isn't able to just retreat into her thoughts and avoid the rest of this universe. This horrible thing happened to her and she needs to keep on living in a system that wants her as slave labor. She still has to face the cruel and unforgiving faces of this world.

The panty business is done. Maria and her crew have moved on to bringing drugs into Litchfield while Piper no longer has access to the materials nor the drive to pursue it. The inmates in the sewing room have all been transferred to the new "educational program." The factory was the most lucrative job in the entire facility. And now, they have all been transferred to a program where they aren't being paid. They are just learning the skills that might come in handy later on after they are released. It shows that MCC only thinks felons can find jobs in construction after they get out. That's all they aspire to do with their rehabilitation program. But this change only further stirs up the animosity against Piper. All of the inmates lost a great job because of her. She needs an escape and there is nowhere for her to go. Everywhere she looks, pain is already there waiting for her. It's a brutal way to live. She hopes to escape the prison by calling her brother, Cal. But his happiness only further highlights the tragedy of her own situation. She has fundamentality changed as a person. It's startling and horrifying to her. She is now the kind of person who gets branded for her actions. She doesn't know how she got there. But it's where she is right now. Nothing can ease this pain. Cal is no help while smoking crack with Alex and Nicky only allows Piper and Alex to finally open up with each other. That release was so moving. And yet, I hope it doesn't lead to yet another romantic reunion between the two. That's such a played out dynamic. It's exciting to watch them unload the horror of their lives to each other (and Nicky). The only thing they can do is embrace the pain. Piper needs more of it in order to cope with the swastika. Red burns her more so that it becomes a window instead of a hateful image. It's a small gesture. That's all anyone can give Piper right now. But that compassion feels great despite all the horrifying things that have happened this season with no end in sight either.

Alex telling Piper that she intentionally killed a man is a cathartic moment for her as well. For so much of this season, the reaction to that event has focused on Lolly and needing to make sure that she won't tell anyone about it. And yet, Alex has opened up to several people. She has brought Red and Piper into this mess. She needed to in order to keep her sanity. It's a crazy situation that was bound to only get more chaotic if she kept it to herself. She needed the release and freedom that came from the drugs just as much as Nicky and Piper did. She has struggled connecting with Piper all season because of how much they've changed and grown apart. They haven't been there to comfort each other during these dark and depressing times. They weren't there when they both needed it the most. They are both sorry for that. Alex wasn't able to prevent Piper from being branded. Piper wasn't able to stop the hitman from coming for Alex. They can't go back in time and change that now. All they can do is move forward with what they now know about each other. Things aren't easy for Nicky either. And yet, her drug relapse isn't as monumental to Alex or Piper because of their own problems. They simply don't care that she's using again because it affords them an escape from their own struggles. Red cares. She knows Nicky has been stealing from her to afford her addiction. But she's too busy with Piper to do much about that right now. But something will need to be done sooner than later because Maria is only expanding her control of the prison.

Talk of being able to change the past has been a crucial element of these last two episodes as well. Lolly built a time machine in the laundry room as a means of escape from her brutal and uncertain reality. And now, news of its creation has spread amongst the inmates as they each theorize on what they would do. Yes, it leads to a debate about Hitler and who would go back to kill him or nurture him or advise him with better war strategies. But it also provides an opportunity for the Pennsatucky and Coates dynamic to come back into focus. The rape was one of the most emotionally devastating moments of last season. Pennsatucky hasn't been able to escape it because she has to see Coates every single day. He thought nothing was wrong with what happened. She has had to accept her situation and call him out so he would stop pursuing her. And now, he shows some true introspection over his actions that is really quite revolutionary when it comes to the conversation about rape. He blows it when Pennsatucky first asks him the time machine question - opting to bring up an awkward story of not being able to go to a concert. But he does own up to what he did. He has clearly been thinking about his actions ever since Pennsatucky told him how she felt. He has no explanation for what he did. He sees his actions as treating her as an animal and not as a human. That's not right. He is sorry about that. He does seem genuine about it too. This dynamic won't just go away either. The two will continue to live in close proximity to each other. But now, things have changed because Coates has been willing to look within and judge what he has done and why he did it. It's not an easy or simple resolution. But it is growth.

Not everyone is capable of embracing such introspection though. The battle for Caputo's soul has been such an engaging story this season. He's the new face of MCC but still wants to insist that he's not the one making all of these life-changing decisions. He has become seduced by this new corporate mentality. But he has to live with all of the inmates on a daily basis. Yes, he hasn't interacted with them as much as he did in previous seasons. But he's still a part of the Litchfield ecosystem. He has changed because of his promotion. He has embraced a relationship with Linda because he views it as something healthy for him. And yet, he's also shown difficulty in being able to separate Linda from the work she does at MCC. The two go hand-in-hand. Caputo can't escape from the shadow of his actions as a part of MCC either. Here, those issues present as Crystal banging on his door. It's a private moment between Caputo and Linda. Yes, he's frustrated by what the educational program has turned out to be. But it's still a moment that doesn't need to be defined by work. Crystal makes sure he can't relax comfortably knowing that someone's life is being ruined while under his watch. She's just so desperate for answers. She doesn't even know if Sophia is okay or alive. That's horrifying. MCC simply has too much power and is able to hide behind lawyers. It's not personal to them. But it's everything to Crystal. Her presence makes it important to Caputo. He can't just forget about Sophia. And yet, it's just a minor part of his world that doesn't seem to be changing anything either. Instead, he just finds himself once again seduced by the wiles of Linda. That will likely only continue to add to the chaos and destruction at the heart of the story this season.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Friends in Low Places" was written by Alex Regnery & Hartley Voss and directed by Phil Abraham.
  • Aleida gets released in two days. Before then, she's practicing her nail skills on several inmates in the salon. But she is also faced with the harsh realities of what this kind of job will actually mean in the outside world. Daya makes sure she knows just how difficult it will be. Plus, Maria quickly moves in to the salon which could jeopardize Aleida's release.
  • Cindy, Alison and Suzanne were able to get a picture of Judy but weren't able to send it anywhere because the phone died and they can't find a charger. That's a very realistic issue in prison. And yet, another phone quickly pops up that Poussey is able to use for Judy.
  • Big Boo is able to get out of the arduous construction work by using her image as the butch lesbian to work on the broken machine. She has no idea what she's doing but that doesn't stop from her from manipulating the people in charge.
  • It's clear that Hapakuka didn't really know what Maria had planned for Piper when she delivered her to the Dominicans. When Piper is laying in bed in pain, Hapakuka is filled with regret and wants to know how she's doing.
  • Cal and his wife are pregnant and have a new successful business. That's such happy news that he feels like sharing as soon as Piper calls. Yes, they are a weird couple. But it's nice that someone is happy and filled with joy right now. Life in Litchfield is horrifying. Plus, isn't it great that Piper calls Cal and not Larry?
  • Judy's struggle of racism informing her thoughts and actions despite her best attempts not to be racist are interesting. It's especially compelling to watch when it clashes with Yoga Jones saying she's not into material things while embracing more luxuries that come from a private room.
  • Nicky has to know just how sensitive Morello is about things, right? Sure, the inmates don't know just how crazy she really is when it comes to her romantic relationships in the outside world. But it also feels like a plot is being set up where Morello has created a fantasy where Vince is cheating on her. It's all because Nicky opens her mouth.

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.