Friday, June 9, 2017

REVIEW: 'Orange Is the New Black' - Daya Makes a Life-Changing Decision in 'Riot FOMO'

Netflix's Orange Is the New Black - Episode 5.01 "Riot FOMO"

As the standoff at the prison spirals into a full-blown riot, enterprising inmates take advantage of the confusion. Taystee confronts Caputo.

Orange Is the New Black has spent the last two seasons dehumanizing Litchfield because of the privatization of the prison. It's been a very effective story because it has been very brutal and compromising of the main characters. Because of the expansive cast, the show has been able to explore so many different angles and perspectives on the subject. It makes it so it can't all easily be blamed on one person making the lives of all of these characters difficult. It is instead a systemic problem where a series of choices made by a number of people all contributed to the breakdown of the prison ecosystem. It all built to the tragedy of Poussey's death last season. That was a heartbreaking and harrowing moment. It then triggered a riot amongst the prisoners. The fourth season ended on a major cliffhanger of Daya pointing a gun at Humphrey. It was a tense way to close out the year that showed that things had hit their breaking point. The inmates are now going to be pushing back to regain some of their humanity. They are passionate and angry. And now, they aim to do something about it. However, their efforts to make change by taking action could have grave consequences for them as well. Violence could only add to their sentences and force the administration to double down on their efforts to oppress them. Anything can happen which gives "Riot FOMO" a very chaotic feel to it as the new season starts with a full-on riot.

The show isn't looking to get out of the cliffhanger as quickly as possible either. Yes, it does resolve the mystery of whether or not Daya shoots Humphrey pretty early on. She shoots one bullet into the ceiling to get the inmates to settle down so she can think. Then, she shoots Humphrey in the leg. She doesn't kill him. But those gunshots put a severe lockdown into place. The guards and inmates are scrambling to get control of the situation. It's a thrilling way to start the season. However, it's clear that there is a big dissonance amongst the characters regarding the riot as well. Some of them are rioting for a reason. They are upset about what happened to Poussey and need to find justice for her tragic death. Other characters are just reveling in the chaos. It's a chance to overthrow the system and get the leverage necessary to make their sentences more enjoyable. It's a way to fill the time and bring some excitement into their ordinary and boring lives. And other characters still are just looking for a way to avoid the riot at all costs by finding places to hide out for awhile. All of these reactions are valid. Not every character has the same reaction to Poussey's death. Every inmate has a different opinion of the way the prison is being run. That variety of story has long been a strong narrative achievement for the show. But in a story like this, it's odd and feels like tonal whiplash because things are serious one moment and silly the next.

This series has always blurred the lines between comedy and drama. It's done so effectively as well. It doesn't matter what you classify it for awards shows. It's a very unique thing that is confident with its tone and voice. It has something to say about prison that is important and very topical - even more so in 2017. However, the stories in this premiere that deal with the emotional fallout of Poussey's death are the strongest. They are that way because it's clear to understand why the characters are so angry. That emotion is fueling their actions. Taystee needs to do something because Caputo didn't even say Poussey's name during his press conference. It was in that moment where the riot began. Taystee saw how the administration was planning on silencing this story and protecting the guard in the process. That wasn't right. And now, she and her friends have taken Caputo and the PR rep from MCC hostage. They force him to tape a new statement in the hopes of getting the true story out there. This story still has its comedic moments - like Black Cindy enjoying Caputo's personalized coffee. But that quality enhances the overall story. It makes it feel grounded and human in a very personal way. These characters are upset. Their emotions are raw. They want justice for their friend's death. This is the only way they can think to do that. However, they don't really have an end game for the riot either. This could be the opportunity to make the living conditions better at Litchfield. But the inmates haven't organized. They don't have a shared, cohesive message. So, it's unclear just how big and important this riot is going to get. It may find justice for Poussey. But what else is it going to accomplish?

That ambiguity is abundantly clear in Daya's story. She hasn't always been my favorite character on the show because she has been so passive or forced into a love dynamic that didn't really work. Since Bennett left, she's struggled with having an identity on the show. Last season presented it as a choice between Gloria (the surrogate mother who wants to protect her from the violence of prison) and Maria (an inmate who can actually be her friend because they are similar in age and circumstances). Maria has been a powerful voice in Daya's ear. She took control over the illegal operations in Litchfield last season. And now, she still wants to be the person in charge. Except Daya has the gun. It's her decision. She has to figure out what to do with it. Of course, the gravity of the situation doesn't hit her until much later. After she shoots Humphrey, she wants to take a nap. She wants to lead in that moment but not in the aftermath. She has the gun and can do a lot. She is able to get to Healy's office and use a working phone. But it's all seemingly for nothing. She spirals about going to max and getting a longer sentence because she shot a guard. But it's hard to really engage with that moment because it's not abundantly clear why Daya was thrusted into this position in the first place. It allowed an unexpected character to have a new sense of power. The aftermath will give her new and better dimension. But right now, it's largely just propping up a new cliffhanger with someone knocking her out in Healy's office and probably stealing the gun.

Those are the two major stories of this premiere. The rest is completely table setting. It's putting the characters into specific places throughout the prison to best dramatize their stories. The season isn't looking to get out of this situation as easily as possible. In fact, it's a point that the under-trained guards really don't know how to handle the riot. Most of them are taken hostage by the Latina crew. They are being held in one of the dorms. Meanwhile, two of them are stuck in the kitchen with a couple inmates that they've locked up too. It's a lot of moments like that. They are necessary in order to convey just how important this event is for all of the characters. But it's sporadic and chaotic as well. It's very effective when Morello worries about Nicky relapsing in her drug addiction because of the freedom that comes from the riot or Judy trying to comfort Soso in the prison in order to best survive. But it's a little silly and random to give Pennsatucky and Coates a brief moment amongst all the chaos. And then, there is Piper and Alex who want nothing to do with the riot. They are perhaps the most comedically driven story of the premiere. Piper laments about not being involved in any of the big moments at Litchfield. She missed the lake. And now, she's missing the riot. That is funny considering she was once positioned as the lead character on the show. But she has importance in this narrative as well. She and Alex are helping Linda from purchasing who gets trapped in a bathroom because of this. They give her an inmate uniform to blend into the crowd. That decision could come back to hurt them once they or someone else realizes the role she played in the privatization of the prison. That's an exciting tease. It just means the premiere is full of setups as the characters lock down on what is going to be a lengthy riot.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Riot FOMO" was written by Jenji Kohan and directed by Andrew McCarthy.
  • The claustrophobia of keeping the action in one specific location could be very good for this particular story arc. This premiere is very busy that it doesn't have time for any flashbacks. That plot device has gotten less and less necessary over the years. The show can fill an hour of story with the characters in the present. It would be good if it got rid of the device but I don't think it will. I wonder how that will affect the intensity of the riot then?
  • How much should the action cut away to how the rest of the world is reacting to the riot? The show has spent more time in the outside world with the administrators lately. But should the audience see how the CEO of MCC is dealing with all of this? He and Piscatella do see the video Taystee shot. Will they be making their way back to the prison? Or will they stay out of it?
  • The show rightfully shoots down any attempts to humanize Humphrey. He was a horrible man who got what he deserved. He abused the inmates. And now, they're getting their payback. He's not dead yet. But he's going to continue to suffer. That includes a penis shot while Sophia is trying to save his life and a bed in the infirmary between Suzanne and Maureen, who he made fight last season.
  • The moment between Gloria and Sophia where Gloria is asking Sophia to save Humphrey's life in order to protect Daya is incredibly powerful. They've had such a complicated relationship. And now, Gloria is simply trying to do the right thing to protect the people she cares about. Of course, it's weird when they show up at the infirmary and the one nurse there is completely calm and has no idea what's going on.
  • Piper and Alex were also talking about the dead guard in the bathroom before they knew that Linda was in there. They worry about all the attention that will come to the prison because of the riot. They don't want to get caught up in a murder investigation. So, that could complicate things with Linda as well. She knows information that very few people know.
  • Red and Frieda want to find a place to lay low together. And yet, Frieda gets trapped in the kitchen while Red tries to find leverage in Healy's office. The premiere doesn't give an update on whether or not Healy killed himself. But it's also not one of the mysteries I care about. Right now, it's just important if the book Red found will actually help the situation at all.
  • It's absolutely horrifying that the characters all mention different mass shootings to provide context for what's going on in the prison. Everyone has a different reference point which is a very pointed critique of America in 2017.

As noted in previous reviews from this show, 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.